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Tag Archives | Early-Season Conditions

In early-season conditions, the trail is just a tool. If it's there, great. If not, oh well, you can manage without it.

The trail is just a tool: Navigation skills, resources & gear for early-season backpacking

Even if your itinerary is entirely on-trail, you should expect an occasional off-trail experience when backpacking in the Mountain West in early-season conditions. On trade routes like the John Muir Trail, a continuous boot-track across lingering snow will develop by July, especially where the terrain funnels the foot traffic (e.g. at a pass). In less popular […]

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At the lip of Knapsack Col in the Wind River Range, the south side of which holds a lot of snow. Personal comfort on snow is a big factor in the value-added of crampons and an axe. I was fine without them, but I know that others have struggled here.

Early-season backpacking || Merits of skis, snowshoes, crampons & axes

The early-season is a messy inbetween — it’s no longer winter, but not yet summer, either. Snowpack and cornices still linger in the higher elevations and on shady and leeward aspects, while snow-free trails are found lower down and on sun-blasted slopes higher up. This inconsistency presents backcountry travelers with a dilemma: What will be […]

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Tag-teaming a swift channel of Alaska's Yanert River, which was safer than doing it alone. Put the lightest/weakest person on the downstream side.

High water: Gear & skills for hazardous creek fords

Unbridged creek crossings are the greatest hazards in the early-season. High water volume (due to snowmelt) and steep gradients (due to mountain topography) is a dangerous combination. In comparison, other early-season conditions like sun cups, postholing, intense bugs and even hard snowfields seem like a mere annoyance or inconvenience. Let’s discuss how to safely manage […]

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Four shoes that would I think would work well in early-season conditions, due to breathable uppers, abrasion-resistant toeboxes, and aggressive outsoles. L to R: Cascadia, Lone Peak, Ultra Train, X Ultra.

Footwear & foot care for early-season conditions

What must you absolutely get right when selecting footwear for early-season conditions? As with every other season, they must fit. Period. All other footwear characteristics are secondary. However, if you get these right, too, you’ll be much better off than having a well-fitting shoe that never dries and performs poorly on snow. Boots & shoes “Waterproof” […]

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Prepared for biting insects and intense sun exposure, with full-coverage clothing and permethrin-treated shirts.

Backpacking clothing for early-season conditions in the High Sierra

Outdoor clothing brands and retailers present backpackers with a paralyzing number of options. The situation is exacerbated by marketing hype and the infusion of “outdoor lifestyle” clothes, which perform relatively poorly in the field. Two years ago I published a series on Core 13 Clothing, and those posts remain as relevant as ever. These items can […]

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The author atop Muir Pass on May 18, 2007, after a dry winter. Travel was excellent in the morning, when the snowpack had a solid crust. But by early-afternoon I would badly posthole.

Tutorial: Backpacking in early-season conditions || Recommended gear, supplies & skills

Recently I explained how an exceptionally snowy winter in California will affect summertime backpacking conditions throughout the Sierra Nevada, including in Yosemite, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, and Desolation Wilderness, and along the John Muir Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra High Route, and Kings Canyon High Basin Route. For all the details, read the post. In short, expect: […]

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Extensive snow coverage on the north side of Mather Pass, looking towards Palisade Lakes, after a very wet winter. Taken June 28, 2006.

Reader question: Should I change my High Sierra itinerary due the heavy snowfall?

A reader question from Gabino: I’m sure that every backpacker planning to undertake the PCT, JMT, Sierra High Route, Kings Canyon High Basin Route, or any other high-elevation route in California’s High Sierra is wondering the same thing right now. Here are some thoughts: California’s snowpack: The Facts There are many ways to record and analyze […]

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