Through the beginning of March, California was having an extraordinary winter. Snowpack in the High Sierra was keeping pace with the wettest winter on record, 1982-83.
If the trend had continued, conditions would have been very challenging for aspiring Pacific Crest and John Muir Trail hikers, due to extensive lingering snowpack and high run-off, probably until August. The High Sierra would not have been “impassable” in June or July, but early-season gear and skills would have had premium value.
Coming up short
Early-season travel in the High Sierra will still be challenging in 2017, but probably less so than previously feared. The 2016-17 winter is no longer a #snowpocalpyse. Rather, it’s just an average big winter, about on par with 1997-98, 2004-05, 2005-06, and 2010-11.
During these seasons, many hikers successfully pushed through the High Sierra early in the season. They didn’t quit, change their itineraries, or wait at Kennedy Meadows for the snow to melt. Read up, gear up, and go.
Now, it is only April 10, and things can still change — but probably not dramatically, if at all. In the charts above, you’ll notice that the snowpack rarely grows at this time of year. The days are too long, the sun is too high in the sky, and the temperatures are too warm for snowfall to regularly exceed snow melt.
At best, these “average big winters” seems to flat-line until mid- or late-April, before spring/summer conditions finally prevail. In an average winter, the snowpack peaks on April 1.
If I were planning an early-season High Sierra trip right now, I would be expecting extensive lingering snow and high run-off, but not of never-seen-before proportions. Early-season gear & skills will most definitely still be a value-added.
And I would continue to check the CDEC snowpack plots weekly. An exceptionally wet-and-cold or dry-and-hot spring will delay or accelerate the great spring melt.