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James Winstead
(James_W) - M

Locale: CA
Weather in the Sierras on 11/19/2010 12:42:04 MST Print View

Hey all-

I've recently relocated to the San Francisco bay area from the midwest and want to learn more about what to expect in the sierras. I'm also newish to this site and happy to be part of such a great community.

Last summer (July-Sept) I did a few weekend trips at relatively low elevations (6-8k) in Yosemite. I'm planning on doing a week-long section of either the PCT, JMT etc spring or summer 2011, and want to know more about what to expect. My major concerns are nighttime low temps, and snow. I know it can be t-shirt weather all day long and then sleet or snow on you at night or other crazy things like that.

I'm not exactly decided on where I'll be as I'm still figuring out transportation logistics, and a possible resupply. However Generally I'd probably not be further north than Tahoe, or further South than Kings Canyon.

Anyone know any good resources along these lines? I know I can contact the rangers if I know a specific trailhead or destination but I don't think I'm quite there yet.

I also do not intend this as a gear thread. As in, right now I'm not worried about R values, or debating tarp vs tent etc.

Thanks all!

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Weather in the Sierras on 11/19/2010 13:06:13 MST Print View

I've been snowed on during every month of the year somewhere in the Sierras. So, even if you think there will be mild summer weather, think about what you will do if the snow falls.

--B.G.--

James Winstead
(James_W) - M

Locale: CA
12 months of snow on 11/19/2010 15:35:53 MST Print View

Bob,

Thanks for sharing. That is the kind of thing I've been hearing. Good to know! I'm not dumb enough to leave warm stuff at home just cause it's nice at the trail head. I'm also pretty excited about the idea of hitting some 10,000k plus elevation passes and lakes and such! As I said, coming from the midwest(flat) i want to head into the sierras clear eyed about what to expect.

Anyone else?

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: 12 months of snow on 11/19/2010 15:49:21 MST Print View

You'll love hiking in the Sierra's. Bob is right, it can snow any month of the year in the Sierra's. I have had it snow on me May-Aug. A few things here. If it were to snow, or you have hail and sleet, it won't last long nor will it stick. Most of the time you get afternoon thunder showers and that is built up from the Cental Valley heat. Just watch your clouds and hit your high passes early in the day. Most of the time thundershowers happen in the afternoon. But ever now and then, you might get some strange low and have a rain storm come through. Since you are new to the erea, a little heads up for you. We are having our Bay Area BPL trip in Feb. in the Ventana Wilderness. There should be 50+ folks attending. If you want to meet others for possible hikes, then this trip is a good way of networking. Many of us hike with folks that we have met on those. This year will be our 3rd year of doing this. The trip is located in the Hiker Partners/Trip Announcements section of the forum. Oh and they are a lot of fun too. There is also a gear swap again this year. Hope you can attend. Ask away on other questions about the Sierra's

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: 12 months of snow on 11/19/2010 16:00:42 MST Print View

Lows can be in the 20-30's or higher depending on how hot it is during the day. Also, take into account that the higher you go, the colder it can be. Yosemite, Kings, and Sequoia are all awesome places to visit. Many of your trailheads along HWY 395 on the eastern portion have awesome access to beautiful places. Kearsarge being one of the easier passes to tackle

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Weather in the Sierras on 11/19/2010 16:59:39 MST Print View

Just a heads-up on altitude issues. Take your time when climbing to higher altitudes. Learn to recognize the symptoms of altitude sickness. The only cure is to descend. Prevention is the key--ascend slowly, plan your trip so you climb high and sleep low the first few days, keep well-hydrated, eat a high-carbohydrate diet. Lots more detail here: http://www.elbrus.org/eng1/high_altitude1.htm

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Real Data on 11/19/2010 17:40:13 MST Print View

Ypou can see precisely what the temperatures and snow levels are in various places in the Sierra. CDEC is ca data exchange center and has monitoring stations all over the sierras. Here is the address for tuolumne meadows. http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cgi-progs/staMeta?station_id=TUM

If you want to get some perspective of where stations are relative to the PCT, go to postholer.com There is a button at the top for Google maps. The center drop down menu is location type. Pull it down and select snow sensors. When you zoom into the sierra area you will see the automated snow sensors. Clicking on them will give you current info like min and max temp and snow level. If you click on the tabular button you can get some historical data.

Edited by gg-man on 11/19/2010 17:41:40 MST.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: 12 months of snow on 11/19/2010 17:52:36 MST Print View

When I moved from the Midwest to California many moons ago (maybe during the Harding administration), I didn't know where to go in the mountains. About one year into my California residency, I saw a double photograph on the desk of one of my co-workers. One photo was a portrait of an attractive gal. One photo was of the same gal wearing a backpack in Yosemite. I asked him who the gal was. He said that it was his wife, and that the photo of her with the backpack was shot on the backpacking trip when he met her, and that there was an organization just for single people who do that. My response was: Where do I sign up?

It happens to be a well-known tree-hugger organization, but I found that I could ignore most of the politics and just enjoy the mountain trips.

--B.G.--

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Weather in the Sierras on 11/19/2010 22:55:33 MST Print View

Here's my take on Sierra weather/conditions for a typical summer/fall (the hiking months):
June - buggy as all get out, warm days(70's), cool nights(30's), a few afternoon thundershowers, slight chance of snow showers early in the month, usually plenty of snow patches still on the ground if you go high, swimming pretty arctic, creeks running high making for sometimes tricky/dangerous fording, trails often pretty wet from melting snow.
July - still moderately buggy, wildflowers going strong, warm to hot days, cool nights, regular afternoon thundershowers, very slight chance of snow, creeks easier to cross, swimming still very brisk.
August - bugs thinning out or gone, wildflowers tapering off, warm to hot days, cool nights, some afternoon thundershowers, snow patches disappearing, creeks easy to ford, swimming at its best, especially last half of the month.
September - bugs gone, most of the people gone, wildflowers gone (usually, but not in a wet year), warm to hot days , cooler nights, usually dry but chance of rain, chance of snow, swimming still good the first half of the month. Second half of September gets into the anything can happen weather period - fabulous, or 40 degree rain, or two feet of snow overnight.
October - more of the anything can happen thing, with higher chance of big weather and generally colder, and you almost have your own private mountain range, since very few folks are out.

To me the last half of August and the first half of September are the best time to backpack in the Sierra. Bugs are pretty much gone, the weather is at it's best, the lakes are as warm as they will get.

James Winstead
(James_W) - M

Locale: CA
Bugs and Snow!! on 11/20/2010 23:45:19 MST Print View

Thanks guys!!

These answers are so helpful.

First, I was idealizing CA a bit for it's lack of skeeters (at least in SF and marin etc) compared to Wisconsin, Minnesota or IL. Thanks for the head's up not to leave my deet or netting at home!

Second, good to know about the likely-hood of snow or extreme weather. I wasn't planning on ditching my insulating layers quite yet, but it's good to have this info in the back pocket for that final trailhead moment when you questing whether or not you really need that...

Ken - Thanks for the invite. That sounds fun! I'm a bit of the 'quiet type' and much of my motivation for hiking is the solitude and quiet of it all. However, there is nothing wrong with geeking out with some fellow hikers and having a good time! If I can work that into my vacation days (around other planned 2011 hikes) I'll be there for sure!

Mary - Thanks for that link! It is a very concise breakdown of what to expect. I've spent some time backcountry snowboarding which involved alot of time on snowshoes at relatively high altitude and had not problems. Not to say that this means I am immune, but I'm confident that I'm not one of those 5% who is really susceptible.

Greg - that link is great! thanks for such specific info. As I mentioned, I'm looking at alot of those trails so that is a huge help.

Thank all!

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
June ... on 11/21/2010 11:02:32 MST Print View

To Paul's comment about the Sierras in June:
"June - buggy as all get out, warm days(70's), cool nights(30's), a few afternoon thundershowers, slight chance of snow showers early in the month, usually plenty of snow patches still on the ground if you go high, swimming pretty arctic, creeks running high making for sometimes tricky/dangerous fording, trails often pretty wet from melting snow."

In my (one) experience of walking through the Sierras starting (PCT, NOBO) in early June, it wasn't buggy until I was nearly done, past Tuolumne Meadows, but in terms of "plenty of snow patches still on the ground" --- there were a lot more than just "snow patches", just lots and lots of snow on the passes and approaches to the passes, with a lot of cases where the trail is basically a creek from melting snow. And indeed the creeks running pretty high, some possible issues for fording at times.

But OTOH, I think there's a lot less people out then, which for me at least was kind of nice, one day I literally didn't see anyone else the whole day. I don't think that's at all typical of hiking on the JMT.

Elizabeth Tracy
(mariposa) - M

Locale: Outside
Recommendations on 11/22/2010 11:07:02 MST Print View

1. Aug 1 - Sept 20 is the very best window IMO, for the reasons given above. I schedule multiple trips during that time, and if it's a ridiculously crowded area (like Mammoth/Ritter Range) I save it for after Labor Day. I don't care for hauling through snow so I simply don't go in June (unless it's a low-snow year).

2. The higher you go, the more spectacular it is. 10,000 feet is where it starts to get interesting. In the Sierras, alpine (above treeline) is way more interesting than the forest. Pick high trailheads. (If you want interesting *forest* hiking, go north to Trinity Alps or Mount Hood or Washington State; or try any coastal Redwoods hikes in the Bay Area.)

3. South or East are generally more dramatic than North or West. My faves are the (eastside) trailheads accessed from the highway 395, such as from Mammoth, Bishop, and Independence. Get out a CA map to see where that is. Normally from the Bay Area you would cross Yosemite on Highway 120/Tioga Pass (open only summer/early fall) to get over there. It's a longer drive but it's worth it.

4. The most spectacular *backpacking* scenery/experiences are not necessarily in the national parks. I've been everywhere in Yosemite but no longer go there b/c frankly the backpacking isn't very interesting. It is simply more beautiful south of there, in the so-called High Sierra that extends from southern Yosemite to Sequoia NP. Don't make the mistake of most newbie packers in San Francisco who end up slogging up hot ridges in Yosemite for years just because they didn't know about all the places south of there that are so much better, e.g. Ritter Range, Silver Divide, Pioneer Basin, Evolution Valley, Kearsarge/Rae Lakes, Mineral King, to name just a few fav areas.

5. Any trip in the book, Trekking California, is your friend. That author does a great job picking the most spectacular hikes IMO. Be aware that some of those trips are long and ambitious though.

6. After a couple of short hiking trips to try out equipment, you should (time permitting) hike the entire John Muir Trail, which is the best possible introduction to the High Sierra. Once you've done that trail, you'll know which areas you'll want to come back to, to explore.

7. Weather is mild in the Sierras. I've been snowed on extremely rarely, almost always it's been after Sept 20. Compared to 99% of places in the world, the Sierras weather is stable, warm and dry. Thunderstorms do happen but they're often predictable, they come in 5-day patterns where clouds build in the afternoon and (by the 3rd or 4th day) start to dump rain mid-afternoon, and only for 1-3 hours. Extremely rare to have, say, several days of hard rain to slog through. That said, I always bring my shelter and some light rain gear just in case.

- Elizabeth

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Two Great pieces of Advice on 11/22/2010 11:30:44 MST Print View

4. The most spectacular *backpacking* scenery/experiences are not necessarily in the national parks. I've been everywhere in Yosemite but no longer go there b/c frankly the backpacking isn't very interesting. It is simply more beautiful south of there, in the so-called High Sierra that extends from southern Yosemite to Sequoia NP. Don't make the mistake of most newbie packers in San Francisco who end up slogging up hot ridges in Yosemite for years just because they didn't know about all the places south of there that are so much better, e.g. Ritter Range, Silver Divide, Pioneer Basin, Evolution Valley, Kearsarge/Rae Lakes, Mineral King, to name just a few fav areas.

6. After a couple of short hiking trips to try out equipment, you should (time permitting) hike the entire John Muir Trail, which is the best possible introduction to the High Sierra. Once you've done that trail, you'll know which areas you'll want to come back to, to explore.

Great advice. I followed point 6 but spent an extra year hiking marginal trails in Yosemite vs the locations mentioned above. Another point: You can go to the same location in different seasons for entirely new experience.

James Winstead
(James_W) - M

Locale: CA
Again... on 11/23/2010 15:00:49 MST Print View

thanks again and again guys.

This is all great info. I think I've dealt with most of these kinds of conditions (bugs and snow) enough to be confident heading up there. Altitude is my only unknown variable which is part of why I was looking at yosemite to start off. Sticking to the (relatively) well traveled trails would ease my concerns about being totally alone if AMS or HAPE or HACE symptoms show up. I know to take it slow as I get to altitude and sleep as low as is prudent and all the general good ideas like that, but it is nice to know that if I get in trouble there would be someone else along the trail relatively frequently.

Good call to check out the less known areas and the eastern slope too. I think that by those ideal late summer months in 2011 I will be all over those trails once I get a few yosemite hikes under my belt.

hopefully I'll see some of you out there!

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Again... on 11/23/2010 15:22:01 MST Print View

You can pretty much forget about HACE in Yosemite. HACE tends to be a very high altitude problem, like at 18,000 feet and above.

Although it is possible to have HAPE at lower elevations, it is more likely that AMS is the culprit at the Yosemite elevations. You simply feel like a Slucky Duck for a day or two. The whole secret is to go there and ramp up very slowly for the first day or two, and to be well-rested and well-hydrated. After a few successful trips that way, you will find out exactly what pace is needed for moderate altitude adaptation.

--B.G.--

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Again... on 11/23/2010 16:11:02 MST Print View

"I know to take it slow as I get to altitude and sleep as low as is prudent"

James,

If you are in good health and take your time getting acclimatized, there is no altitude attainable in the Sierra that is likely to cause you to contract AMS, HAPE, or HACE. Attain altitude slowly, gaining perhaps 1000-1500' per day up to 8000-9000', until you get a feel for how you acclimatize. After that, you should be fine at any altitude you are likely to attain if you stay on trails. Also, know the symptoms of the illnesses and be prepared to descend immediately if you start exhibiting any of them.

Happy hiking!

Frank Deland
(rambler) - M

Locale: On the AT in VA
Sierras on 11/23/2010 20:43:41 MST Print View

Google "herbs for altitude sickness"

Drink lots of water (enough to pee clear, not yellow or gold) especially if you get a head ache.

Two weeks on the JMT and 10 days in Yosemite in August = 15 minutes of sprinkles, though one storm had hail. One night did have rain, but thunder storms twice passed by in the distance without getting me wet.
One lake in Yosemite had mosquitos (McCabe), but never saw a flying bug on the entire JMT mid-August. Luckily adjusting to altitude was not an issue.

I thought the Yosemite scenery was fantastic, and one day I hiked all day without seeing anyone until I camped, and then I had to walk 10 minutes to reach the people to talk to. Privacy was never a problem on the JMT either. In fact, I enjoyed talking to all I met.
I talked briefly to a couple who practically ran past me on the JMT just south of Tuolumne. They had left San Fran at 5AM and were planning to climb Mt. Lyell that day as a day hike.

Edited by rambler on 11/23/2010 20:49:17 MST.

garry pollard
(pollardg) - F

Locale: SF east bay
Sierra not Sierras on 11/24/2010 16:08:29 MST Print View

As my college environmental science professor stated many years ago...there is NO such thing as "Sierras" only Sierra or Sierra Nevada. there is not more than one Sierra Nevada in California. Just a bug of mine.

even the local news stations have caught on to this and finally refer to them as the Sierra.

JAMES CALL
(Conductor) - MLife

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Sierra Nevada on 11/24/2010 16:26:11 MST Print View

Garry, I share your peeve. Sierra is already plural. Sierra Nevada means snow covered mountains. It's what the Spanish explorers saw when the looked to the East.
To be constructive, it can snow there anytime of the year and thundershowers are common. I thinks its best to look at the weather just before you go.

Edited by Conductor on 11/24/2010 16:28:24 MST.

Dave T
(DaveT) - F
YES on 11/24/2010 18:26:08 MST Print View

Yes, Sierra not Sierras.

Please, let's all say it together.

Sierra. Sierra Nevada. High Sierra.