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Fall/Winter hiking

Posted: Sat Oct 24, 2009 11:00 am
by gdurkee

Maybe anecdotal, but it seems like the number of Fall hikers is going up and the overall experience/preparedness level is dropping. So maybe it's worth mentioning that, over about 8,000 feet, it can rapidly turn into full winter conditions (as a few of you out in that storm 10 days ago found out).

For whatever it's worth, here's some thoughts on hiking after about mid-September in the Sierra:

- Definitely be prepared to spend as long as 3 days hunkered down waiting either for a storm to clear or for the snow to melt enough to travel in.

- If it's self registration permit at the trailhead, fill it out! Leave your car license number and a phone contact number of someone who knows where you're going. Leave a written and detailed trip plan with that person which includes contingencies for bad weather E.G.: if it snows when I get here, this is where I'll try to go; or I'll stay here until it's good to travel again. Also leave that person a list of the gear you're taking.

- Carry a good tent (NOT one of those tarp things that's going to blow around) and fairly good cold weather gear (balaclava; good gloves, good rain jacket & pants, extra fuel & maybe 2 days extra food). The first week of October this year, it was 0 to 10 degrees at night for several days at 10,000 feet.

- After about 8 inches of snow, it can be really hard to find the trail.

- check the long range (5 day forecast) before you leave -- the very morning you leave if at all possible. Don't trust it for more than 3 days of your trip. Replan your trip accordingly if there's even a chance of weather moving in.That last storm was predicted at least 5 days out and stayed accurate in all forecasts, yet a number of hikers claimed they were surprised.

- After about the first week of October, I wouldn't be happy doing a long trip (over 5 days) and especially one where you'd have to exit over a high pass (e.g. being in the Kern or going from, say, McClure to Kearsarge -- nothing in between where you can easily get out except Woods Creek).

- Check the maps and have exit points planned if the weather is closing in or you get stuck. Best exits, of course, are downhill to lower elevation not up and over high passes.

- This is a really good time to have a SPOT or PLB. Just remember to only hit the "mommy" button if you REALLY need help. If you hit the "help" button that goes to friends, have a definite agreement on what that means -- do they come to try to find you? Meet you at a different trailhead? If they just call the NPS or USFS, it's essentially like the 911 button, but more ambiguous... .

It's true, the odds are with you. That is, most people hiking this time of year have everything go fine. But even one search/rescue costs around $10,000+; puts a lot of people in danger; and yanks a lot of people from their regular jobs.

I think about 3 years out of 5, it snows in September -- anywhere from a few inches to 2 feet and that can come even the first week of September. Maybe 1 year out of five you get a really serious storm in early October -- enough snow where you can't move for a couple of days.

It's definitely a nice time to hike, but I think I'd just look at it as "early winter" hiking and not the more bucolic "fall hiking."


Re: Fall/Winter hiking

Posted: Sun Oct 25, 2009 9:37 pm
by paul
Well said. The way I look at it gear-wise is that in late september or october I take all the same gear I would take on a snow-camping trip, because I know that's what it might turn into.

Re: Fall/Winter hiking

Posted: Sun Oct 25, 2009 10:07 pm
by oldranger
Welcome back George! Great message!


Re: Fall/Winter hiking

Posted: Mon Oct 26, 2009 7:17 am
by BSquared
oldranger wrote:Welcome back George! Great message!

Hear, hear!

Re: Fall/Winter hiking

Posted: Mon Oct 26, 2009 10:48 am
by TehipiteTom
Excellent advice. I've been snowed on in late September, mid September, and the very end of August. If you're going out after Labor Day, go prepared for anything.

Re: Fall/Winter hiking

Posted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 10:00 am
by maverick
Good advice George, but I would add, if you did not know these things before you set
off on your trip, what the hell were you thinking?

Re: Fall/Winter hiking

Posted: Wed Oct 28, 2009 7:43 pm
by paul
As Goerge Mentions on another thread, besides the right gear, you should really pay attention to the weather forecast. Keep watching it right up until you leave home. Myself, I think of the fall as a great time for short trips. I just don't trust any mountain weather forecast in the fall for more than a few days, so I wouldn't take a trip longer that that. And I would keep my plans conservative - no high passes to get in, short days - so that there is plenty of leeway. Being caught in a big storm can be a cool experience when you have an easy few miles out to the trailhead, the right gear and plenty of food and fuel.

Re: Fall/Winter hiking

Posted: Thu Oct 29, 2009 8:27 pm
by copeg
Good advice all around. Come late fall I find myself carrying full winter gear and with a winter mindset: trip lengths greatly reduced in duration and the itinerary and actual occurrence dependent upon short range forecasts.

Re: Fall/Winter hiking

Posted: Fri Oct 30, 2009 11:19 pm
by hikerduane
I had high winds the first couple days out in early Oct. where I headed for those big fish lakes around Whitney. Suffered some stretched seams at one corner of my tent, the gust would hit, then give an extra whooz, this happened all night long. Kept me awake most of the first two nights, single digits the second and third nights, the coldest night at four degrees felt the warmest with the lack of wind finally that night and the cold but beautiful next morning got my spirits up. I had enough of the high winds and lack of cover above tree line so I cut my trip short a couple days. Dropping down into the Crabtree Lakes, I could see the snow showers to the NW. My fifteen degree WM bag felt good and did the job. After five nights out, when I got in my car, I had the heater on all the way home.

Re: Fall/Winter hiking

Posted: Sat Oct 31, 2009 9:38 pm
by markorr
Has anyone been at elevation in the last couple of days and comment on if there is still any significant snow from the storm ~10 days ago? Watching the 11'000 forecast for the area west of Bishop it appears as though its been in the mid 50's during the day and freezing at night for the last several days.