Wildfire smoke dodging: Where are you going?

Questions and reports related to Sierra Nevada current and forecast conditions, as well as general precautions and safety information. Trail conditions, fire/smoke reports, mosquito reports, weather and snow conditions, stream crossing information, and more.
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c9h13no3
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Wildfire smoke dodging: Where are you going?

Post by c9h13no3 » Sat Sep 12, 2020 2:04 pm

Given the crazy conditions, it's probably better to talk about where we would go rather than to constantly preach about how the majority of the Sierra sucks right now.

I'm on call for my job this weekend, so I'm stuck locally. Given how crappy it is, I'm gobbling up on call shifts so I can have more free weekends later. But if I was free, I'd probably try to go somewhere. I wouldn't trust the smoke forecast for more than a day or two at a time, so day trips or overnighters would be the ticket. If you want a longer trip, string a bunch of day hikes together following the good air.

The Airnow Map is below for Sunday the 13th, and as you can see, the options are pretty limited. The south eastern part of the state has the best air & smoke forecast. There are other smoke forecasts (Windy.com, the USFS's BlueSky), but the EPA's I find to be the most predictive, at least anecdotally. PurpleAir.com is the best for real-time data, but no forecast.

AQI_Forecast_12-Sep.PNG


The other issue here is that Forest Service land is all closed. So I go to Caltopo.com and turn on the public land layer (click "Map Layers" in the top right). So we're looking at a combo of BLM & National Park land.

The last thing I do is check the fire activity in the area. Mineral King, for example, has a Moderate (50-100) AQI forecast for Sunday. But that seems a bit risky to me. If you click "Map Layers" in Caltopo, and check out the Castle & Rattlesnake fire (click "Fire Activity"), you'll see they're super close. I just don't buy that the air quality can be good with an actively burning fire 9 miles away. Red dots on Caltopo indicate actively burning fires, while yellow checked areas show the burned area. Plus the other air quality forecasts put smoke in the Mineral King Valley on Sunday.

So what jumps out to me for tomorrow is the Chimney Peak/Owens Peak Wilderness, the Inyo/Keynot peak area, or driving far into Nevada (Arc Dome, Mt Augusta). The 5.5 hr drive from the Bay Area to Walker Pass wouldn't violate my rule of having more driving than hiking time, and the weather isn't crazy hot. So if I were itching to get out, that's probably where I'd go. The San Benito peak area also has decent air, but the asbestos in the soil and likely hot weather would keep me out of hiking around there.

What are your plans for upcoming trips?
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Re: Wildfire smoke dodging: Where are you going?

Post by Enigmagic » Sun Sep 13, 2020 8:06 am

Some trails in the parks are closed. Most of Mineral King is closed due to the Rattlesnake Fire, as is the High Sierra Trail east of Kaweah Gap. Tioga Road is currently closed due to the Blue Jay Fire. I have a five day trip planned out of Lodgepole on Wednesday and I'm debating on what to do too.

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Re: Wildfire smoke dodging: Where are you going?

Post by c9h13no3 » Fri Sep 18, 2020 2:17 pm

The air quality forecast for tomorrow in the Sierra is actually half decent, with a smoke-free window somewhere between Tahoe and Tioga pass. Unfortunately, everywhere is closed except BLM land. I'm wary about driving 4 hours to find out that the BLM land is also closed and they just suck at updating their website or something. So I'm planning to stick local and just go cragging at Castle Rock or some place similar.

If I cared about completing the Tahoe OGUL list, I'd go climb Mt Siegel. And people I know will probably be stealthing their way onto National Forest land this weekend, but that doesn't seem worth it to me. Summit views will still probably be hazy, and the air & smoke forecasts are often wrong. Tack on the possibility of getting a ticket, and it just seems like way too much hassle for what will likely be a mediocre experience.

AirnowForecast19-Sep.png
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Re: Wildfire smoke dodging: Where are you going?

Post by Enigmagic » Sat Sep 19, 2020 3:05 am

fwiw Hoover has been open all week

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Re: Wildfire smoke dodging: Where are you going?

Post by c9h13no3 » Sat Sep 19, 2020 11:35 am

Enigmagic wrote:
Sat Sep 19, 2020 3:05 am
fwiw Hoover has been open all week
I’ve heard that, but a friend of mine walked by a closed sign when stealthing up Horse Creek Pass. Reminds me of COVID times, no one really knows what’s open until you get there.
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Re: Wildfire smoke dodging: Where are you going?

Post by jfbruin34 » Mon Sep 28, 2020 11:19 pm

First time posting on HST but so happy to have found this community a few weeks ago!

Just got back from two nights on a last-min car camping trip to Yosemite after our wilderness permit for Shadow Creek got canceled but YNP opened up its campgrounds. Stayed in the Valley at Lower Pines because all wilderness permits must be booked at least 9 days out this year. No fires permitted anywhere in the park. Fri we hiked Taft Point and Sentinel Dome and the visibility was quite good. Could easily see Half Dome and well beyond. Saturday we day hiked out to Glen Aulin from Tuolumne Meadows and again had near perfect air. Did drive through some really smoky patches and even some live burns on Tioga, but the road was fully open with no stops/delays. Sunday the smoke rolled back in and visibility from Tunnel view was really bad. You could barely make out Half Dome. Seems to be very much hit or miss depending on the day, but we certainly had a great time!

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Re: Wildfire smoke dodging: Where are you going?

Post by Harlen » Tue Sep 29, 2020 8:53 am

Hey jfbruin, Welcome, and thanks for posting what for me was great news. Are you saying that YNP is open again? ... I just called around, and the consistently helpful staff at the Sierra NF, Prather office [559-855-5360] told me that though they were not open, many of the northern cal. forests are open, with some restrictions. She gave me this number for the Stanislaus NF [209-532-3671], and I am now waiting for a call back. I am hoping that the North Fork T River/Cheery Cr. area is relatively clear???, as it is between the fires-- Creek Fire to the south, and ?" "? to the north west. At this point, as long as we're not choking, we'll be happy to just sit by a lake.

We're glad you got some nice hikes in-- good choice of Badger Ridge, as the near view from Sentinel of Half Dome is brilliant, and one of the best views from Taft Point is straight down!! "Bruin", did you see any other bears up there? We'll never forget the Momma bear and 2 spring cubs we saw at Taft, with our own two cubs up on our shoulders watching.

Thanks for posting, The Harlens.
Last edited by Harlen on Wed Sep 30, 2020 3:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Wildfire smoke dodging: Where are you going?

Post by jfbruin34 » Wed Sep 30, 2020 12:03 pm

Thanks for the warm welcome Harlens!

Yes, YNP was open and last time checked the website they were keeping it that way until at least 10/3. To get in you need to either have reserved in advance a daily vehicle access pass (good for 7 sequential days) OR a reservation at lodging/camping in the park. They also just opened up Lower and North Pines campgrounds in the Valley (Upper Pines was already open) on 9/25 so there is a little more availability. The vehicle passes and campgrounds are all reservable on recreation.gov. All wilderness permits still must be reserved at least 9 days in advance, no walk-ups.

No bear sightings this time around, the bruin comes from my alma mater of UCLA :)

FWIW, I called the rangers office and Hoover Wilderness is also open on the Humboldt-Toiyabe side, so basically anything north of Lundy Canyon. The Inyo NF side remains closed.

Safe travels!

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Re: Wildfire smoke dodging: Where are you going?

Post by c9h13no3 » Fri Oct 02, 2020 1:00 pm

Headed up to the Desolation Wilderness for a quickie on Saturday. Forecast calls for the hazy air to move in around 11AM-noon, but the air should never get unhealthy. We'll just lose our summit view around noon.

The farther east you go, the better the air gets on Saturday. We thought about the Sweetwater Mountains, Reynolds Peak/Ebbetts Pass, and Mt Rose which would all have better air quality, but the shorter drive and more visually appealing hike in Deso won out.
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Re: Wildfire smoke dodging: Where are you going?

Post by BardoPond » Sun Oct 04, 2020 8:46 am

Our permit for Desolation Wilderness two weekends ago got canceled because of the partial forest closure, so we headed to Lassen NP instead (camping at Manzanita Lake). We got blue skies all weekend and it wasn't too crowded (the only trail with some traffic was Lassen Peak, but most people had masks). Looks like we lucked out.

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