Early-season Conditions

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PSA | Hazardous High Sierra creeks: List, map & alternates

By Andrew Skurka / June 10, 2019 / 23 Comments

Every spring, creeks in the High Sierra rage with snowmelt. For one to two months, they are a grave danger, especially after wet winters like 2018-19. Backpackers can still hike, camp, and explore safely, but they should be aware of and respect this hazard. Swift and deep creek crossings will be found throughout the range,…

Snowpocalypse 2019: Expected “summer” conditions in the High Sierra & southern Rockies

By Andrew Skurka / March 28, 2019 / 47 Comments

California, Oregon, Nevada, and the Four Corners states have been drenched this winter, with snowpacks now about 150 percent of their normals. If you have scheduled backpacking trips in the High Sierra or southern Rockies in June or July, and to a lesser degree August, here is some reading for you: 1. Today on my…

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

By Andrew Skurka / April 3, 2017 / 1 Comment

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…

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

By Andrew Skurka / March 30, 2017 / 68 Comments

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…

High water: Gear & skills for hazardous creek fords

By Andrew Skurka / March 17, 2017 / 19 Comments

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…

Footwear & foot care for early-season conditions

By Andrew Skurka / March 14, 2017 / 74 Comments

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”…

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

By Andrew Skurka / March 13, 2017 / 6 Comments

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:…