Pondering the 2016 hiking season…
I have tracked how Klamath Mountain snowpack is correlated with the beginning of summer hiking season since 2003. In 2009 I started the Bigfoot Trail on the summer solstice, and it worked out perfectly—I found the perfect mix of snow, open trail, and manageable river crossings. 2010 was a late snow year and June was only open for hiking in the Southern Siskiyous. In 2011 I began a section hike from the Trinity Alps to the Siskiyous on June 29th in a snowstorm and we trekked across snow for nearly two weeks while in the Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains. Our time also included numerous, often stressful, fords of raging rivers in the low-country. What follows is an analysis of the El Niño winter we are emerging from and what snowpack trends seem to be saying about the 2016 hiking season.
There is limited data for snowpack in the Klamath Mountains, with only only 6 locations updated frequently enough to present information here. But the trend seen in this limited data set is that we are having a just above “normal” year for snowpack—but it appears this is only true above 6000′. The regional weather trends since the big storms in late December 2015 has been that storms are warming, meaning higher snow line. Check out the Bigelow Lake Station (1) data below for proof of this statement. The times between storms have been, on average, sunnier and warmer. With average daily temperatures rising due to climate change the snow pack is melting faster and earlier in the season.
Obviously, I have no power to predict the weather patterns this spring. There could be a cold, wet weather pattern that sets in between now and the beginning of summer which significantly delays the ability for hikers to travel through the high country. However it appears that, even with another major storm or two, summer high-country hiking will be open for travel starting in early June.
Areas for consideration:
How snowpack could impact a hike when starting southbound on the Bigfoot Trail before early June.
- Section 1
- Average elevation in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel is around 7,000′ but the walking is mostly along open ridgelines, so snow should not be a major issue.
- Watch for the crossing of the upper South Fork Trinity Mountain.
- Section 3
- Fording Stuarts Fork is the toughest crossing on the trail.
- The pass and basin around Caribou Lake will hold late snow
- Snow will be encountered regularly between Packers Peak and Fish Lake
- Section 4
- Snow will only be an issue around Waterdog and Russian lakes
- Section 5
- 6 North Fork Salmon River fords start this section
- Wooley Creek must be crossed once
- Entire section of the PCT between Marble Valley and Grider Creek has high potential for snow, especially on steep north-facing slopes.