Forum Index » Pre-Trip Planning » How late in the year can you hike the high sierras in 3 season gear?


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Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: west coast best coast
How late in the year can you hike the high sierras in 3 season gear? on 04/22/2012 03:03:14 MDT Print View

For a 3 season hiker, I am wondering about what time would be the cut off where it becomes dangerous to hike in 8,000-11,000 foot elevations? Around what time would you need to upgrade down to a 10 or 15 degree bag for safety reasons and be worried about snow storms?

Edited by justin_baker on 04/22/2012 03:31:37 MDT.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Sierras on 04/22/2012 09:13:31 MDT Print View

Oct. generally would be the rule. Depends on watching the weather. No two years are alike. I have done trips in Oct. and have great weather. Other times I have been snowed on. Just pay attention to the weather reports.

The latest I have been up in the Sierras was Thanksgiving weekend.

Edited by kennyhel77 on 04/22/2012 09:14:06 MDT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: west coast best coast
Re: Sierras on 04/22/2012 15:17:36 MDT Print View

That's what I figured. Would the weather in September be all that different than August?

Bruce Tolley
(btolley) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
How late in the year can you hike in the high Sierras in 3 season gear on 04/22/2012 15:33:52 MDT Print View

+1 to October but I have done short trips out of Sonora pass in mid November.

You can go to wunderground.com and find a reporting station near your trailhead and see the difference between highs and lows in Aug, Sept, and Oct. The night time lows tend to trend down a bit.

Edited by btolley on 04/22/2012 19:23:33 MDT.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: How late in the year can you hike the high sierras in 3 season gear? on 04/22/2012 20:29:18 MDT Print View

"Around what time would you need to upgrade down to a 10 or 15 degree bag for safety reasons and be worried about snow storms?"

I would be more concerned about my shelter, if I were you. You can use your clothing as part of your sleep system and get down close to 15 degrees, but if your shelter won't handle a potential 10-12" snow dump you could have even bigger problems. Also, consider your footwear, for the same reasons. My 2 cents.

Edited for content: I am talking here into mid to late October. After that, all bets are off because you could easily end up in full winter conditions. Happens occasionally in October, too.

Edited by ouzel on 04/22/2012 20:30:41 MDT.

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: How late in the year can you hike the high sierras in 3 season gear? on 04/22/2012 20:45:33 MDT Print View

In the decades that I've been backpacking in California, I have been snowed upon during every calendar month. It is seldom very much during the summer months, but as soon as you start moving into the shoulder season, it can get surprising.

--B.G.--

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: How late in the year can you hike the high sierras in 3 season gear? on 04/22/2012 20:51:54 MDT Print View

What sort of risk-tolerance do you have?

Cheers

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: How late in the year can you hike the high sierras in 3 season gear? on 04/22/2012 21:39:30 MDT Print View

I did a Yosemite trip mid-January this year with my fall weather gear. It was snow free and lows were right around freezing!

Normally, I make sure that I have warmer gear (but still 3 season in my book) starting in mid-September. I've spent a few weeks in the higher areas the last week of September. Lows between 15-22F seem to be the norm. That's "3 season" to me. I bring my winter gear when the forecast calls for lows around 15 or below, or if there is snow predicted. I'd say early to mid-October (at 12,000ft). I generally prefer my 3 season gear, even mid summer, at high elevations. I leave my 40 degree bag at home when I'm heading above 10,000ft.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: west coast best coast
Re: Re: How late in the year can you hike the high sierras in 3 season gear? on 04/23/2012 03:06:19 MDT Print View

Thanks! Shorts weather would be pretty nice. Based on these posts, I am getting the sense that early September weather would be okay, not that different from August? I am pretty new to Sierra backpacking so I really didn't know. September is when I am thinking about heading out of Mineral King for a week long trip. Right now I'm trying to get a temp job and want to stay in it for a long as possible before I quit and take some trips while I still have the chance.

I am generally more tolerant of bad conditions that my hiking buddies and kind of hard headed... but I know when to not mess around, unless I don't now, which is why I am asking. It's more of a logistics issue with my gear and insulation gear. If I was in a thick forest I wouldn't worry about the shoulder season too much, with a good buck saw and some time before sunset you can do a lot in an bad situation. But hiking above the treeline or in thin treeline is completely different, obviously you are totally dependent on the gear in your pack.

Stephan Doyle
(StephanCal)
Re: How late in the year can you hike the high sierras in 3 season gear? on 04/23/2012 08:51:30 MDT Print View

It all depends. This last year it was safe through January.

Generally, the weather takes a turn starting in October.

This coming fall could come early or late again.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: How late in the year can you hike the high sierras in 3 season gear? on 04/23/2012 17:48:06 MDT Print View

"If I was in a thick forest I wouldn't worry about the shoulder season too much, with a good buck saw and some time before sunset you can do a lot in an bad situation."

Depending on exactly where you go out of Mineral King, you could drop down into Kern Canyon in an emergency. Lots of timber down there, water, too.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: How late in the year can you hike the high sierras in 3 season gear? on 04/30/2012 16:32:50 MDT Print View

To me, Mid-September is the end of summer. But the real issue is not the colder nights. The possibility of snow is more significant. To be ready for that you want to have a shelter that can be fully enclosed (not just a tarp unless you have a serious bivy sack with it), and you need to have footwear that will handle slogging in wet snow without causing you problems. That might just mean gore-tex socks to wear in your trail runners, or you may prefer a light waterproof boot, and gaiters can be a very good idea. I'd also be carrying extra fuel in case of being tentbound and wanting more hot drinks.
I would point out that I don't consider that there is a point on the calendar where it becomes dangerous to travel at higher altitudes - it just requires more experience, more skill, and different gear. It's always dangerous in the high mountains if you don't know how to handle the conditions and are not experienced with them.

Another thing to consider is choices of route. When the weather is iffy, it's wiser to choose a route that does not go in over a high pass. Always easier to bail in bad weather if all you have to do is get down the same drainage you came up.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Late season on 04/30/2012 16:47:37 MDT Print View

The thing to remember with late season hiking is not just your gear kit. Its whether your car can get you home after a bail. A friend of mine and I almost got stranded in Colorado when an October snowtorm hit us. If we've been a bit later getting out I don't think our car could have made it back the dirt road.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: west coast best coast
Re: Late season on 05/06/2012 18:40:44 MDT Print View

Hey Luke, what would have happened if you your car got snowbound?
Would it be completely stuck there until spring/summer?

Edited by justin_baker on 05/06/2012 18:42:06 MDT.

Elizabeth Tracy
(mariposa) - M

Locale: Outside
In an average Sierra year... on 05/08/2012 23:35:22 MDT Print View

In an average year in the Sierra,

"Shorts weather" ends around Sept 10-15. (Although I have hiked in 80-degree weather around October 15. Exceptions abound.) Nights are cold. I tell my friends to bring warmer sleeping pads and clothes. But storm-wise, I have always felt pretty safe through the end of September.

Oct 1 seems to be about the time the first snow storm or two will arrive. Most are quick and melt right away.

Oct 5-10 is the date after which I get seriously concerned about my car being stranded if there is a big storm. In 2009, that very nearly happened to me on Oct. 4. A snowplow only came because a local muckity-muck whose car had also been stranded by the storm made a lot of noise. (We also lost the trail on the way back to the car...That's another story.)

The thing about hiking after Labor Day is that the crowds are gone. That means you can pick any trailhead you want in the Sierra, and just get a walk-in permit. Get a last-minute weather forecast and then plan your trip accordingly.

If there is a chance of storm, I agree that you might not (a) make your itinerary dependent on returning over a high pass (over ~10,500 feet); nor (b) park your car at a high or distant trailhead (where either the road to the trailhead, and/or the trailhead itself, goes over the ~8000-foot mark).

The period immediately following Labor Day is the BEST time all season to visit some of the spectacular spots that are very heavily used prior to Labor Day. That's my favorite time to visit places like the Ritter Range, Dusy Basin or Evolution Basin. Those locations are at 10k-12k feet, so you generally don't want to visit them too late, either (after ~Sept 20), if you mind the nights which can get very cold that high by end of September.

Roads End in Kings Canyon is a great place to go for a mid-October trip.

- Elizabeth

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: In an average Sierra year... on 05/09/2012 00:17:14 MDT Print View

"The thing about hiking after Labor Day is that the crowds are gone. That means you can pick any trailhead you want in the Sierra, and just get a walk-in permit."

Elizabeth, that doesn't necessarily happen immediately after Labor Day. Generally it is before October, but the exact date varies from place to place. Last September I waited until the 24th to hit the change.

--B.G.--

Elizabeth Tracy
(mariposa) - M

Locale: Outside
September on 05/09/2012 14:45:00 MDT Print View

Hmmm. So maybe the crowds are starting to catch on about how great September is.

I am remembering my last trip to Evolution Basin, around Sept 15, 2006. We hiked around there for days without seeing a soul.

In August that place is so jammed, it's hard to find a private rock to pee behind.

- Elizabeth