Mountain Safety Affects the Deer, Too: More than 100 deer perish on Sierra migration routes

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 11 December 2017



Mountain Safety

Affects the Deer, Too

More than 100 deer perish on Sierra migration routes,
Kaweah Commonwealth, December 2, 2017.

It's A Dangerous Life
This year's Fall Mule Deer migration over Bishop and Shepherd passes plunged over a hundred deer to their deaths while crossing over frozen remnants of last Winter’s vast snowpack as they made the steep approaches to both of these potentially dangerous high elevation passes.

Object Lesson
These deaths illustrate the depth of dangers in the High Sierra, even to those creatures tailord to traverse them through their seasonal cycles. The deer would have been fine, if it was a normal snow year.
So too would have many backpackers survived, had they heeded the signs of the dangers that were sounding all Winter long, and delayed or cancelled their Spring and early Summer of 2017 backpacking plans, as their observations made it apparent that the excessive snow pack and dangerous fording conditions would persist all the way through Spring into Summer.

Many backpackers let expectations overcome the reality on the ground, after the last ten years of High Sierra trails opening earlier and earlier every Spring. Personally, I was doing everything possible to warn all early departing PCT & JMT backpackers about the extremely dangerous Spring and early Summer conditions. Even a cursory inspection of the High Sierra weather and conditons through the end of the Winter of 2017 into the start of Spring would instantly dissuade all but the fittest and most skilled of Winter-capable backpackers!

That's why we watch the weather so closely. It's crucial to mountain safety.

High Sierra Weather Page

High Sierra Backpacker's Calendar

This high number of deer deaths speaks to the extremety of last Winter's conditions. It also speaks to deer behavior and movement. I've noted trail sign indicating that deer appear to congregate before making their seasonal migrations, before making key transits over passes, before dispersing into their new seasonal range.

That strategy would put a lot of deer at risk, if conditions are bad when they make their collective move across the high passes. That's the way it rolls with herd animals.


Trail Guide

High Sierra Deer Migration & Movement

Many simultanous tracks through Brown Bear Pass

The image above shows tracks laid out the night of September third, when a large number of deer passed South through Brown Bear Pass, in Emigrant Wilderness.

High Emigrant Basin Map

I ran into this young buck a few miles Southeast of Brown Bear Pass:

Young Buck in High Emigrant Basin


I have not yet finished the trail guide pages for the PCT-JMT very far South of Donohue Pass (guide page), crossing into the Ansel Adams Wilderness, although I've got the basic, raw maps up from Donohue Pass to the Whitney Portal covering both Bishop and Shepard Passes. 


Large Scale Backpacking Maps

Bishop Pass at the top & Shepard Pass at the bottom, just North of Mount Whitney

Little Pete Meadow to the Whitney Portal
JMT-PCT Raw 30 minute backpacking map

Detailed Backpacking Maps

Bishop Pass Map

Bishop Pass to Pinchot Pass
JMT-PCT Raw 15 minute backpacking map

Shepard Pass Map

Vidette Meadow over Forester Pass to Tyndall Creek
JMT-PCT Raw 15 minute backpacking map



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