BACKPACKER ALERT: March 22 2017, PCT High Sierra Spring Status and Disposition factors

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 22 March 2017


March 22

Hey Hikers.

We face the Spring Thaw. Below I discuss where we are and what I see as the most important factors controlling how Spring will play out into Summer. I link to the resources necessary to track these factors.

The questions we address here are first, fording conditions and safety, then trails, specifically, "when will the trails open for PCT hikers and hikers geared for Summer travel?"

Those are the key questions facing PCT, JMT, and other hikers planning on or expecting to cross the Sierra early this season. The epic snowpack is going to change the character of the Summer for the rest of us. I expect moist conditions and skeeters to mutually support each other all Summer long.


2017 has decisively broken the last six year's (excluding last year) increasingly earlier and earlier Spring Thaw and High Sierra trail opening dates.

Last few year's weather characterizations

This Year
Steady flows of tropical rains from November through February deposited a record snow pack while overfilling and flooding many reservoirs, lakes, and rivers. Oroville Dam is not out of risk at the time of this writing in late March, in my opinion.

High Sierra News: Feb-March 2017

High Sierra News: Dec 2016-Jan 2017

At this point we are looking at the potential for incredibly dangerous Spring Thaw conditions when the thaw begins in earnest. The main rivers and streams will not be crossable during this phase. This year's thaw may come all at once, or over a series of warming and heating events.
The potential for warm rains or a heat wave bringing a catastrophic thaw and flooding conditions exists generally across California, and locally, in all the individual Sierra Watersheds.

February 2017 Backpacker Alert

In the meantime, ski resorts along the Sierra Crest are planning on being open until July 4. This is indicative of how much snow ski resorts and experts believe could be on the Crest long past the point most PCT hikers are planning on, and going to be expecting clear trails.

This can set up dangerous conflicts between hiker's expectations and reality on the ground.

The trails through the high passes along the Sierra Crestline may not clear of snow until August, if at all. Dangerous fording conditions will begin to rise with the temps. When this begins and how it evolves depends on exactly how the weather and temps work out through Spring.

I've discussed the basic factors controlling our
Likely weather outcomes on March 8,

and in a... 

March 18 Update

These short essays identify the key forces controlling our weather and link to resources to track them. 

PCT hiker expectations of an early start and an early passage through the Sierra should be moderated, if not dashed, right now. Unless you are very experienced travelling in very difficult Spring snow conditions.
Current conditions should create expectations that the Sierra will not be passable for Summertime-geared hikers, and especially those deploying ultralight gear, until at least late-July or early August for those without snow travel skills and the proper snow gear.

We are tracking weather and snow conditions closely on Tahoe to Whitney to determine exactly how this Spring works out and when access dates for various hikers open up.

Right now I would say that this upcoming hiking year is going to set records for the number of PCT hikers requiring rescue...


2017 Backpacker's Calendar



I've built a Backpacking Star Chart.

We've connected the Gear List to the Member's Favorites, and now linked all the member's favorites pages to each other. The gear list offers a seasonal progression of gear and layering levels, while the Member's Favorites offer their favorite solutions for each gear requirement.



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