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  1. #1

    Default The Sierras in October: a thread to share knowledge and experiences

    As always, my plan to do a solo 60-day section hike of the PCT is constantly morphing. The plan of now is to start somewhere near Kennedy Meadows early September and go north to Castella. Then transfer over to the Bigfoot Trail for about 15 days, and end on the Pacific coast near the end of October.

    Due to injury/legal related matters from a car accident I remain in a purgatory state doing my best to make sure this trip does not become a phantom adventure.

    It should be noted that I have no experience long distance hiking, but have been diligently researching, preparing, and training everyday for 4 months now. I feel like 4 months has been a long time for me because much my energy goes into this hike on the daily as opposed to working full time and/or having a family. In two weeks I am taking a survival wilderness course with this dude in Ocala, FL that seems to really know what he is doing. I am definitely respecting the magnitude of the hike.

    Due to recent updates, there is a chance that I will not be able to get out to the Sierras until late September. I know snow can be expected during this time, and it may not be the best time to be there. However, weather is different every year. I would appreciate anyone sharing their experience or just overall feedback of the idea of being in the Sierras in late September into October.

    Thank you!

  2. #2
    Registered User colorado_rob's Avatar
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    We did a NOBO JMT thru hike starting mid-late September 2012, into October, basically 15 minutes of rain on the entire trip. Glorious weather. but, yeah, you should probably expect some dustings now and then in October.

    Have you considered going SOBO, starting in Yosemite or just north, so that by late October you'll be in the friendlier lower elevations south of the Sierra's ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_rob View Post
    We did a NOBO JMT thru hike starting mid-late September 2012, into October, basically 15 minutes of rain on the entire trip. Glorious weather. but, yeah, you should probably expect some dustings now and then in October.

    Have you considered going SOBO, starting in Yosemite or just north, so that by late October you'll be in the friendlier lower elevations south of the Sierra's ?
    I have considered it, but after discovering the bio-diversity of the Klamath mountains and the amazing option of hiking part of the Bigfoot Trail I can't let that idea go. Also on the BFT there are only a couple of places of 7k elevation, which can be a bit friendlier as October rolls on into November. Plus I will be working my way towards the temperance of the Pacific coast doing the BFT which will help with weather.

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    But that is promising to hear that you had such a good weather situation.

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    In my experience, you should be fine in early October. It will be cold and there will be a dusting of snow, but no snow pack or anything that you should have to trudge through. By late October and early November you should expect a snow pack to start building. That said, I've summited Half Dome on Christmas day with no snow anywhere.

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    Now that is a good Christmas.

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    It is true that the weather is different every year. I have been skiing in Tahoe on 2-4 Ft of snow in October. And I have seen zero snow and 75 degree days in October and November and even December. You can look at NOAA predictions and guesstimates for the fall based on ocean temps, etc. But, you will get the weather you get.

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    PS... It is not accurate that the High Sierras get all the snow and that the lower elevations in Northern California get less snow. Northern CA gets as much, or more, snow as the southern Sierras. The reason people believe that we get less is that thru hikers hit the high Sierras in April/May and hit Tahoe and Northern CA in June/July or even August.
    Last edited by DLP; 07-28-2016 at 18:32.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by DLP View Post
    PS... It is not accurate that the High Sierras get all the snow and that the lower elevations in Northern California get less snow. Northern CA gets as much, or more, snow as the southern Sierras. The reason people believe that we get less is that thru hikers hit the high Sierras in April/May and hit Tahoe and Northern CA in June/July or even August.
    Thank you for clarifying that. Do you think a month out from the hike could be a time to maybe at least get a feel for what the weather is generally going to do out there?

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    It is the Fall in the mountains. It is an unpredictable crap shoot. You may get absolutely glorious weather the first two weeks of October and it may snow 3 feet the week before Halloween. Or maybe it won't snow until November or December. Or maybe it will snow 24/7 your first week out and not snow again for 6 weeks. There's just no way to know.

    It is like 60 days of weather in October and November in New York or Michigan or Wyoming or lots of places with seasons. The weather on September 25 tells you nothing about the weather on November 15.

    I'd watch the weather week to week and have a bailout plan and maybe a backup plan to hit the coast or desert or something.
    Last edited by DLP; 07-28-2016 at 19:13.

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    Just so you realize, snow is probably going to be the least of your problems since you are skating in just before winter. I will throw out two very big issues you will have for your trip. By the way, which Kennedy Meadows are you referring to? The one on the south side of the Sierra's or the one by Sonora Pass?

    Anyway, about your two big issues. Everything will be closed. KM in the south will be closed. The gate at Whitney Portal may be closed/locked by Late September/Early October, so you may have to walk into Lone Pine. Muir Trail ranch, VVR, Reds Meadow, & Tuolumne will all be closed for the season. There's nothing at Sonora or Carson. Echo lake will be closed, of course most people can't resist going down into S.Lake Tahoe, so no big deal there. And as you go north along the PCT you will run into this constant problem of everything being closed. It will be nice and peaceful but those are some long stretches without many of the resources most hikers rely on.

    Second problem is water. Spring melt comes and goes. Then the long summer takes it's toll and even more water sources stop flowing. Then cold weather hits and it freezes up what's left of others. By late fall only the most consistent of water sources flow. this will be compounded with the freezing of lakes and ponds. Now, the whole lake or pond may not be frozen but the edges will be at higher altitudes. I'm not going into all the details of water problems, I'm just giving you a basic level understanding of the problems you may face.

    Anyway, I'm not trying to sway your decision but I think these are factors you will have to prepare yourself for.
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    Sounds like snow would be a welcome source of water. Food may be more scarce than water.
    Wayne


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    +1 to everything being closed.

    Don't know how fast you are planning on going but you'll be carrying shoulder season/winter weight gear and many days of food.

    The following average weather info may be helpful. Although, you may get zero inches of snow. Or you may get 5 feet. Really no way to tell.

    The median day that Tioga Road in Yosemite closes due to snow is November 12. Half the time it closes in late October/earlier in November. And half the time, it closes later in November or December. This is not the first day with snow, just the day that they stop plowing the road for the winter.
    https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/seasonal.htm

    Sonora and Ebbetts Passes also close about this same time.

    Carson Pass is open year round but is very snowy.
    Kirkwood Ski Resort is near Carson. The average Oct. and Nov. snow fall for Kirkwood is 66".
    https://snowfall.weatherdb.com/l/135...ood-California

    Donner Summit is "only" 7075 feet in elevation.
    I-80 also stays open all winter.
    The average date that the snow becomes a "permanent" fixture on the ground (until April, May or June) is November 19. The earliest date is Oct. 24.
    http://www.sierracollege.edu/ejourna...tesummary.html

    From Wiki:
    Winter weather at Donner Pass can be brutal. At an average of 411.5 inches (10.45 m) per year, Donner Pass is one of the snowiest places in the United States. Four times since 1880 total snowfall at Donner Summit has exceeded 775 inches (19.69 m) and topped 800 inches (20.32 m) in both 1938 and 1952.[14] To take advantage of the heavy snows, the Boreal Ski Resort was built to the north. Ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area report an average of 300 to 500 inches (7.62 to 12.70 m) of snowfall per season. Winds in the pass can also become extreme and wind gusts in excess of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) are common during winter storms. Winter temperatures in the area drop below zero several times each year; the all-time record low for California of −45 F (−42.8 C) was recorded at Boca (east of Truckee) in January 1937.


    The winter of 1846–47 was especially severe, and this is generally cited as the single most important factor in the disaster of the Donner Party. In the winter of 2010–11, over 700 inches (17.78 m) fell by May 23. Snow depth peaked in early April 2011 with over 250 inches (20.83 ft; 6.35 m) of snow on the ground.[15]"


    Lassen National Park gets seriously mega snow.
    "Annual snowfall at Lassen National Park is epic, the most recorded in California. At the Lake Helen snow survey site, elevation 8,200 feet, an average annual 660 inches (55 feet) of snow buries the area each winter. Some years more than 1,000 inches (83 feet) of snowfall has been measured there. Despite Lassen’s relatively modest elevation, the heavy snowfall sustains 14 permanent patches of snow in the park.

    Lassen Volcanic National Park is the least visited of California’s national parks. Due to deep snow cover the road through the park often isn’t plowed until late June or early July and is closed again by late October."
    http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/art...NITY/101019946

    It is a myth that all the snow in California is on Forester Pass and above 10,000 feet.
    Last edited by DLP; 07-29-2016 at 01:59.

  14. #14
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    Just a wild, crazy guess.
    CDT.
    New Mexico.
    SOBO.
    Or wait until next year if possible.

    PS: DLP, thank you for the detailed information. Very interesting.

    Wayne
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    Quote Originally Posted by Venchka View Post
    Sounds like snow would be a welcome source of water. Food may be more scarce than water….
    It does, doesn't it. It's also a mistake that I made when I was inexperienced. Early snow usually has a dry powdery consistency and often forms in small drifts that makes it hard to collect. Anybody who has had to cook-up snow knows that it takes water to do it. Sometimes a wet snow can be melted but it is an extremely tedious process that burns a lot of fuel and results in minimal amounts of water. I'm not going to spend an hour typing up a long dissertation of cooking/melting snow. I'm just warning that it is an ordeal that Rybir will have to face.
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  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by magic_game03 View Post
    Just so you realize, snow is probably going to be the least of your problems since you are skating in just before winter. I will throw out two very big issues you will have for your trip. By the way, which Kennedy Meadows are you referring to? The one on the south side of the Sierra's or the one by Sonora Pass?

    Anyway, about your two big issues. Everything will be closed. KM in the south will be closed. The gate at Whitney Portal may be closed/locked by Late September/Early October, so you may have to walk into Lone Pine. Muir Trail ranch, VVR, Reds Meadow, & Tuolumne will all be closed for the season. There's nothing at Sonora or Carson. Echo lake will be closed, of course most people can't resist going down into S.Lake Tahoe, so no big deal there. And as you go north along the PCT you will run into this constant problem of everything being closed. It will be nice and peaceful but those are some long stretches without many of the resources most hikers rely on.

    Second problem is water. Spring melt comes and goes. Then the long summer takes it's toll and even more water sources stop flowing. Then cold weather hits and it freezes up what's left of others. By late fall only the most consistent of water sources flow. this will be compounded with the freezing of lakes and ponds. Now, the whole lake or pond may not be frozen but the edges will be at higher altitudes. I'm not going into all the details of water problems, I'm just giving you a basic level understanding of the problems you may face.

    Anyway, I'm not trying to sway your decision but I think these are factors you will have to prepare yourself for.
    I was referring to the south side KM. I actually have been calling and checking and KM south said they will be open into November. Sonora Pass Direct Resupply said they deliver up into mid-late October as long as roads are clear too. Also if RM is closed then Mammoth Lakes should be viable. I think I am actually surprisingly good on resupply after some diligent research. But of course freak weather could change that.

    Now in terms of water, this is all new to me haha. Thank you. These factors are totally important to consider.

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by DLP View Post
    +1 to everything being closed.

    Don't know how fast you are planning on going but you'll be carrying shoulder season/winter weight gear and many days of food.

    The following average weather info may be helpful. Although, you may get zero inches of snow. Or you may get 5 feet. Really no way to tell.

    The median day that Tioga Road in Yosemite closes due to snow is November 12. Half the time it closes in late October/earlier in November. And half the time, it closes later in November or December. This is not the first day with snow, just the day that they stop plowing the road for the winter.
    https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/seasonal.htm

    Sonora and Ebbetts Passes also close about this same time.

    Carson Pass is open year round but is very snowy.
    Kirkwood Ski Resort is near Carson. The average Oct. and Nov. snow fall for Kirkwood is 66".
    https://snowfall.weatherdb.com/l/135...ood-California

    Donner Summit is "only" 7075 feet in elevation.
    I-80 also stays open all winter.
    The average date that the snow becomes a "permanent" fixture on the ground (until April, May or June) is November 19. The earliest date is Oct. 24.
    http://www.sierracollege.edu/ejourna...tesummary.html

    From Wiki:
    Winter weather at Donner Pass can be brutal. At an average of 411.5 inches (10.45 m) per year, Donner Pass is one of the snowiest places in the United States. Four times since 1880 total snowfall at Donner Summit has exceeded 775 inches (19.69 m) and topped 800 inches (20.32 m) in both 1938 and 1952.[14] To take advantage of the heavy snows, the Boreal Ski Resort was built to the north. Ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area report an average of 300 to 500 inches (7.62 to 12.70 m) of snowfall per season. Winds in the pass can also become extreme and wind gusts in excess of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) are common during winter storms. Winter temperatures in the area drop below zero several times each year; the all-time record low for California of −45 F (−42.8 C) was recorded at Boca (east of Truckee) in January 1937.


    The winter of 1846–47 was especially severe, and this is generally cited as the single most important factor in the disaster of the Donner Party. In the winter of 2010–11, over 700 inches (17.78 m) fell by May 23. Snow depth peaked in early April 2011 with over 250 inches (20.83 ft; 6.35 m) of snow on the ground.[15]"


    Lassen National Park gets seriously mega snow.
    "Annual snowfall at Lassen National Park is epic, the most recorded in California. At the Lake Helen snow survey site, elevation 8,200 feet, an average annual 660 inches (55 feet) of snow buries the area each winter. Some years more than 1,000 inches (83 feet) of snowfall has been measured there. Despite Lassen’s relatively modest elevation, the heavy snowfall sustains 14 permanent patches of snow in the park.

    Lassen Volcanic National Park is the least visited of California’s national parks. Due to deep snow cover the road through the park often isn’t plowed until late June or early July and is closed again by late October."
    http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/art...NITY/101019946

    It is a myth that all the snow in California is on Forester Pass and above 10,000 feet.

    What a great post. Thank you, I will be referencing this. I am starting to feel like the more information I have the more power I have and do this hike no matter what (excluding extreme conditions)

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Venchka View Post
    Just a wild, crazy guess.
    CDT.
    New Mexico.
    SOBO.
    Or wait until next year if possible.

    PS: DLP, thank you for the detailed information. Very interesting.

    Wayne
    A very good backup plan. The trend is that my start date just continues to become a distant, far off thing...so yeah.

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    Shasta Lake is the largest reservoir in California. Google the Wiki page for Shasta Dam and see where it is on the map. The snow on "low" mountains at 5000, 6000, and 7000 ft fill Shasta. These mountains are right in the area where the PCT meets up with the Big Foot Trail. The diversity on the Big Foot Trail is because of snow in the mountains or lack there of in the Redwoods. BTW, isn't the BF trail mostly "route"? I believe that it is several trails strung together via off trail routes. Could be wrong about that... You will want to check.

    Much of the tension between Northern and Southern CA is about water. We (Nor Cal) have it. They want it. In California, water falls as snow in Northern California.

    I think that it is a very bad time of year to do your first long solo hike. And it WILL be a SOLO hike, because nobody else will be out there. But the weather will either be with you or not. But keep in mind that MOST of the hwys that run over the Sierras close for hundreds and hundreds of miles because of snow. This is the part of California you are planning on hiking. Could close in October or November or December.

    Last year, it started snowing in early October and we went into November with some crazy optimistic number like the snow pack was 150% of normal. But then we finished off the year with a snow pack of only 89%. But no idea what the weather will be like this year.

    Have fun planning. Be safe.
    Last edited by DLP; 07-29-2016 at 11:28.

  20. #20
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    I highly recommend a stop at Fish Cr./Iva Bell hot springs just south (about 10 miles) of Reds Meadow on the JMT (not PCT). Best hot spring in America and a hidden gem. If the going is cold this is a great place to warm up. The top pools are super hot, the valley to the west makes for beautiful sunsets, and the 10+ mile hike from RM or Mammoth Lks makes it pristine secluded experience.

    Much better than Olympic, Cougar, Rainbow, Umpqua, Muir, Bagby, Travertine, Reds Meadow, Sykes, Drakesbad, Conundrum or any of the rest that I've tried.

    (My list starts with #1: Iva Bell, #2: Deep Creek, ….)
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