High Sierra Drought

Regional discussion and conditions reports for the Golden State. Please post partners requests and trip plans in the California Climbing Partners forum.
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sierraman

 
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High Sierra Drought

by sierraman » Sat Aug 14, 2021 3:37 pm

Just returned from 8 days at 10,000 ft in the Margaret Lakes area. The scarcity of running water, this early in the season, was shocking. I spoke with the operators of the High Sierra Pack Station on my way out. According to them, water availability (or lack thereof) this year is unprecedented. From the summit of Silver Peak not a single remaining snow field was visible. Anyone planning a back country trip this summer should be advised that camping will likely be practical only at lakes and small lakes may be stagnant and unusable as a water supply.

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asmrz, myles, ROL, Romain, seano

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Romain

 
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Re: High Sierra Drought

by Romain » Sun Aug 15, 2021 7:35 am

Indeed. As early as May I experienced difficulties finding water in the Mulkey Pass / Trail Pass area in the Southern Sierra. As of last week Sunrise Creek in Yosemite was essentially dry. The situation is really dire this year.

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Re: High Sierra Drought

by Sierra Ledge Rat » Mon Aug 16, 2021 6:32 pm

So sad. I count myself fortunate to have known a High Sierra that was packed full of snow until August.

I really disliked a snow-free Sierra. It was ugly.

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Re: High Sierra Drought

by asmrz » Mon Aug 16, 2021 9:35 pm

Without the snow, the Sierra is just another desert range.

Snow brings with it the element of alpine conditions, ie. alpine snow, alpine ice in the couloirs and water.

I too remember the range in full alpine conditions lasting into August. Those days are most likely gone for good. Too bad, alpine is what most of us look for. But just knowing it was once that way and I spent my best years in it, is wonderful.

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Re: High Sierra Drought

by Donno » Tue Aug 17, 2021 4:22 pm

Has anyone seen the tarn E of Humphreys at 11,000' this month?

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Re: High Sierra Drought

by myles » Wed Aug 18, 2021 3:38 pm

Anybody seen the lakes in Dusy and Palisade basins recently? We're going to be in the area Sept. 2. I usually prefer camping away from the lakes, but if there's little running water I'm guessing we'll be setting up closer. Sounds as if the tarns in upper Palisade Basin will be low or dry.

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Re: High Sierra Drought

by seano » Thu Aug 26, 2021 10:54 pm

asmrz wrote:Without the snow, the Sierra is just another desert range.

Indeed. This really struck me when I came back to the Sierra after some time away in places farther north. There are still big snow years in the Sierra occasionally, but they hold much less appeal as a smoky desert range.

Perhaps the Winds now are close to what the Sierra were. Too bad about their t-storms and early winters.

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Re: High Sierra Drought

by asmrz » Fri Aug 27, 2021 1:10 am

Not only is the drought problematic, but overcrowding at the highly visited areas and the newly enacted permit system that makes it so much more difficult to go.
I think that The Winds, Absaroka-Beartooths, Sawtooths, Bitterroots, Rubies, Lemhi and Lost River Ranges, to name a few, with no permits, no campsite reservations and no policing, are the way to go. Yes, they are remote, but they offer some great wilderness experience which is slowly being lost in our dried out and overcrowded Sierra.

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Re: High Sierra Drought

by seano » Mon Aug 30, 2021 8:10 pm

I've been greatly enjoying the Winds and Absarokas lately; the unstable weather adds an unwelcome kind of challenge, but almost none of Wyoming is on fire now. I saw a half-dozen bighorns and four grizzlies yesterday and only two people, and climbed a prominent peak that probably averages less than one ascent per year. Too bad winter comes so early up here...

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Re: High Sierra Drought

by hightinerary » Tue Aug 31, 2021 12:25 am


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Re: High Sierra Drought

by myles » Tue Aug 31, 2021 3:38 am

Yeah, just got notification of our Sept. 2 permit being cancelled. Guess we'll go to Utah, which we've never seen. Lemonade from lemons time!

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Re: High Sierra Drought

by sierraman » Wed Sep 01, 2021 2:12 am

I agree with asmrz's observation that there will be "overcrowding at the highly popular areas". If the current trends continue, come August, a 'highly popular area' will be anywhere you can get potable water. Backpackers will be concentrated at the larger lakes compounding environmental impact there. For many years I scheduled my annual week long climbing trip right after Labor Day. Last year I moved the trip up to mid August, thinking we would avoid dry streams and smoke. We saw running water twice in 7 days and barely made it out before the Creek Fire closed the entire area. This year I moved the trip up to August 4 and still had dry conditions and drift smoke. Now we are looking at mid July for 2022.

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Re: High Sierra Drought

by Humphrey » Sun Mar 20, 2022 3:31 pm

I know this is once again a low snow year for California, and the Sierra gets all the attention as it is a major source of surface water for the state.

How are the White Mountains doing? Obviously, they have a snow pack percentage around the same amount as the central Sierra? Which, according to the plot from the state is 56% of the April 1 average. https://cdec.water.ca.gov/reportapp/jav ... e=PLOT_SWC However, I have no idea how much snow the White Mountains hold. The bristlecone groves and protected east faces probably hold more, the windy aspects and surface in the alpine tundra probably hold almost none in a normal year?

I ask, because I would like to visit the Whites this summer, probably hiking the peak, but more to enjoy the alpine area and visit the bristlecone groves. I am not at all concerned with snow getting in the way. I am more interested in whether or not there will be any green in the tundra. Most photos always have dead brown plants. It would be nice if there was some green up there. July, is my best guess for that.

I am also concerned with smoke from Sierra Fires, which I am sure will once again be bad to severe this year with less than 2/3 of the normal snowpack. Finally, gas prices, but that has nothing to do with the snowpack.

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Scott M.

 
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Re: High Sierra Drought

by Scott M. » Mon Mar 21, 2022 2:17 am

I look out at the Whites from my house and ski the roads near there periodically and would estimate that it isn't unusual up there this year. I would also not use any Sierra data as a general estimate for the vitality of that area. From my point of view it appears we got a few inches of new snow up there last night above 10k'. You should be fine in July. Your comments about green tundra are curious. There might be a green Toyota Tundra parked nearby but even in normal years the terrain above Schulman Grove is more characteristically devoid of "tundra". Expect the look of rock, decomposed granite, and a sparse smattering of vegetation. Too early to worry about what fires will impact the area in July, IMO.
Last edited by Scott M. on Tue Mar 22, 2022 1:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: High Sierra Drought

by Humphrey » Mon Mar 21, 2022 3:10 pm

Thanks for the reply.

When I write, "green", I am referring to a few of the images on the page which have some green grass or flowers/ plants in them. I expect this will be the lower elevations of the hike from the road closure gate, but it isn't a deal breaker and it would be nice to see.

I know from the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, AZ that the summer green up starts in late June but is really July and August, however that mountain has a lot of July to September rains. That is Colorado like, and I rather CA/NV weather for hiking high peaks. On the Peaks, the Bristlecone Pines don't really start to grow until July, too. So, my thoughts are that there might be some green if I am hiking in July. Its just a preference if I can swing it.

The fires are not predictable, I just won't go if the smoke is like it has been the last few years. I have canceled trips to Utah and other locations due to the smoke, over the last few summers. The mountain won't go away, so I can always wait.

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