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  1. #1
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    Default Sierras starting June 4th?

    Attempting a NOBO thru and it looks like based on my start date (May 1st-3rd) + projected mileages, I am going to hit the Sierras around June 1st to 4th.

    Would the Sierras be passable starting June 1-4 in a low-snow year, mid-snow year, and high-snow year? Are there any additional considerations for an early crossing?

    I could potentially kick-off 1 month later (June 1st) but that wouldn't be ideal given company time off policy (spanning in to new FY).

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  2. #2
    CDT - 2013, PCT - 2009, AT - 1300 miles done burger's Avatar
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    Low snow year: no trouble.
    Average snow year (like what I hiked in--I left KM June 3rd): you'll have snow on the passes, but it's doable. You will want an ice axe and to be familiar with snow/ice travel.
    High snow year: people do it, but it's hard. You're talking about the possibility of continuous snow for many miles. In some high snow years, early hikers use snowshoes.

    If you get a big snow year, you can always just hike slower through SoCal.

  3. #3
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    Thanks burger, super helpful! I've done some mountaineering around WA so comfortable with an ice axe. How obvious is the trail/natural reference points for nav in your average snow year?

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    There's a misconception that low snow yr means no PCT snow or it's uniformly low snow conditions throughout the Sierra. Not necessarily so. If you look at all the Snotel reporting locations close to the PCT one location might be close to or below historical snowpack avgs while another location could be well above the historical avg.

    I think it's Postholer who posts recommended suggested Sierra entry times which is a decent baseline for most PCTers to work from.

    In a avg to higher snowfall than avg snowfall yr I was able to move up my Postholer suggested Sierra entry time, which can change depending on how fast snowpack is melting, by 16 days from KM because I was already familiar and comfortable with spring Sierra winter snowpack backpacking, glissading, using an ice axe(which I did have but didn't ever have to use), and having microspikes(which I had and wore over passes) and I had already thru-hiked the JMT for example in early-mid May mostly in the snow so by visual sight I pretty much knew the route and where to cross the passes and where the tread and switchbacks were even though for many miles the PCT was well under several feet of snow...more so than just some snow on the passes. On that trek 7 other PCTers were in my group with no one other than myself having experienced heavy consistent snow travels nd no one with workable GPS. When we got separated several times some mistakenly climbed incorrect snowed under ridges and mis identified the correct passes to ascend. So the route isn't so obvious under snow and without GPS when it is. On another PCT NOBO Sierra hike I think I was one of the very first through because Eric D who usually is was of the or one of the first through I was able to follow his tracks in almost continuous snow travel.


    So, it depends on not just the snowfall yr but how comfortable you feel in winter wonderland backpacking scenarios.


    Who knows, with the way things are going climate/drought wise perhaps it will be fire and fire closures that could be the bigger PCT thru-hiker issue.

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    I left KM on June 9th this year and was astonished at how quickly my friends' instagram pictures were at certain points who left KM a week earlier. A week makes a huge difference in the % of time on snow.

    Plan on being flexible and know your bailout points for extra food if you move slower than planned. That being said, the snow this year was far more hype and nervousness than an actual problem. If you are prepared to move slower, have an ice ax, and hit the passes in the morning, then it isn't a big deal.

    If the snow is higher than usual, take a few zeros at the trail angels in the desert and at KM. Snow melts fast in June.

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    Thanks Dogwood and Leanthree! Super helpful

    My main desire to go thru the Sierras earlier is because I need to be off trail by Aug 29th (time-off policy) so don't want to stretch myself too thin on days post-Sierras. Hopefully big miles come easier after the Sierras. Based on the above, I'll be brushing up on my snow nav in prep and just have to play it by ear based on snow-levels.

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    There's a tendency for PCTers not from Cali or familiar with the west coast to perceive the Sierra Nevada from a narrowed perspective. The Sierra is a much larger geographical area than just SEKI and Y NP. When the Sierra are mentioned concerning PCT hikers there's a tendency to perceive it only in regard to the High Sierra. This could be a problem for those on a fast paced tight itinerary because the Sierra and PCT tread extends well beyond SEKI and Y NP that includes elevations well in excess of 10 K ft north of these areas. These areas - Carson Iceberg, Emigrant, Desolation, etc can hold significant snow deep into late June and even early July depending on that yrs snowpack, warming trends, etc that can affect encountering snow after SEKI and YNP for a fast hike. In other words, if one is maintaining or ramping up from a 25 MPD avg(175 a wk) as you are without zeros in the first 700 miles between Campo and lower KM expecting no snow at all after Y NP that may not be the case. This usually isn't that big an issue but it's not necessarily true once out of the High Sierra you will not encounter or be slowed down by snow post these NP's.

    Starting later as you are helps avoid deep snow but it really depends on your rate of travel and when you reach late season snow prone holding areas...as you know. It is not just the High Sierra that can hold significant snow late into typical NOBO PCT timeframe thru-hiking windows. The later start date could make you vulnerable to wildfire trail closures. Seems like Cali is on fire more and more. Thought I'd mention this as you are contemplating fixed periods off from work that you're fitting a NOBO PCT thru into.

    I'd say plan for a fast hike from the get go but be flexible as to fluctuating weekly and daily mileage depending on conditions knowing you can ramp up weekly and MPD avgs in OR and southern WA with your start date. Other words, don't stress over trying to so narrowly maintain the same milage avgs during the entire thru. Thru-hiking doesn't have to be approached as one steady pace the entire 2700 mile hike.

    I personally read through all the Wilderness Press PCT books(3 of them),- southern Cali, northern Cali, and OR and WA - as part of my pre hike prep noting the authors comments on which segments had a tendency to hold snow late. I adjusted my mileage to account for reaching these areas so I had very little snow travel past Y NP on an avg snowfall yr. I also took into account melting trends which changed from wk to wk.

  8. #8

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    I am looking to do a short 40-50 mile hike in Sequoia/Kings Canyon specifically the Raes Lake Loop which I believe follows the PCT for a bit. Since I am not a Cali hiker, what can I expect on an average year for snow up thru this area? Any help would be appreciated.

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    I hope I didn't give the impression that a June 4 Sierra entry Date at KM for a PCTer absolutely means a snowfilled Sierras?

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by stormin norman View Post
    I am looking to do a short 40-50 mile hike in Sequoia/Kings Canyon specifically the Raes Lake Loop which I believe follows the PCT for a bit. Since I am not a Cali hiker, what can I expect on an average year for snow up thru this area? Any help would be appreciated.
    stormin


    You did not mention what your window of time to start is so that makes it a bit harder for anyone to answer. But here is some help.

    1. The official CA snow pack report - it updates daily almost. It is pretty macro but useful to track what the year is doing.

    http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cdecapp/snowapp/sweq.action

    2. Postholers snow report. It takes a little practice to use it but it is much more granular and specifically oriented towards the PCT. Updated very regularly also.

    http://www.postholer.com/snow/Pacific-Crest-Trail/1

    3. Then there is this which is the NOAA 3 month averaged predictions which go out about a year in advance. These were dead on the money for 2016 by the way. I find them very helpful as well. Find the list on the left of the map and select for each running 3 month average until you get to where you want. Recheck during the year as they update as they get more data and identify new trends. Use this in conjuction with Postholers chart and it works even better.

    http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/product...nal.php?lead=1

    Wyoming

  11. #11

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    Yea that would help. We are looking to go the week of May 21-28.

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    You'll likely find snow. Definitely at Glenn Pass, probably at Rae Lakes. You should be prepared to sleep on snow. YMMV

  13. #13

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    The other part of early entry in the Sierras is snowmelt. We were ahead of the pack by about a week (left KM on June 2) and snow was melting rapidly. Every side creek was a torrent. Some of the crossings that were normally mid-calf were high thigh or hip deep. That is where the real danger lay.

  14. #14

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    I went through in a normal snow year (2009 - ~95% of snow pack). It was fine on June 5th. Snow level was ~10,500ft, which added up to about 90 miles of slogging. Passes were slow, but I had no need for a ice axe or spikes (I wore running shoes). I did go straight from KM-->Tuolumne, so YMMV.

    You need to know how to navigate without features on snowfields, especially in Evolution basin. There are snow bridges over several streams/lakes, and falling through has been fatal in the past. I got caught in a whiteout 30 minutes after leaving the hut at Muir pass, and it was pretty sketchy visibility for about 4 hours (I used my compass extensively there, didn't have a gps).

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    The Sierra is passable June 4th regardless of the snow year, it's just a question of how much snow you will encounter. I have done the Rae lakes loop and the Junction Pass loop, near Forester in late April and early May with complete snow and I enter the Sierra June 14th on the PCT in a massive snow year in 2011. So yes, it can be done. The only question is whether you want to hike through hundreds of miles of snow which is a possibility depending on the year. I did in 2011 but I also knew that I was capable of handling it due to doing the other trips (and more) in 2009 and 2010. This picture will give a good indication of what a high snow year looks like on June 17th in a big snow year. This is looking North from Forester.
    308.JPG
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    And here and here is a photo from May 22nd 2010 looking North over one of the Rae Lakes. THere was solid snow from Bubbs to Woods Creek on the loop but Glen Pass was very doable and a very fun glissando if you scout the route.
    IMG_3253.JPG
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