High Sierra Snow Pack
The High Sierra in California is a major road block in completing the Pacific Crest Trail in one season. The first major snow pack heading north from Mexico is encountered heading out of Kennedy Meadows at mile marker 703 and this makes timing critical. Arriving too early in the High Sierra and you could find yourself moving too slow and consuming too much food to safely make it to your next resupply. Arrive too late and you could find yourself in waist high snow by the time you arrive in the North Cascades in Washington. Because of these factors estimating the right day to reach Kennedy Meadows is important. A simple equation, shown below, is commonly used to approximate the ideal time to arrive at Kennedy Meadows. The chart above shows the calculated Kennedy Meadows Day from 1958 to 2009 with an average calculated day of June 18.
Kennedy Meadows Day Equation
Kennedy Meadows Day= June 1 + April snow depth (in.) at Bighorn Plateau divided by 3.5
The 2010 hiking season will be falling on an El Nino year. This may result in heavier than average snow fall. The snow pack levels from 1958 to 2009 at Bighorn Plateau (BGH) in the High Sierra was on average 60 inches (See Chart Below). El Nino years, 1958, 66, 78, 88, 93, 95 and 03, showed an average snow pack of 71 inches, with an average Kennedy Meadows Day of June 22. Strong El Nino years, 1973, 83, 92, and 98, showed an average snow pack of 90 inches, with an average Kennedy Meadows Day of June 27. The snow pack in 1992, a Strong El Nino year, was just 37.3 inches, a calculated Kennedy Meadows Day of June 13. Therefore predicting the snow pack for any specific year based on El Nino would be difficult. However, on average the snow pack appears to be greater on El Nino years.
Source of All Snow Depth Data: California Department of Water Resources
HikeThru recommends that all hikers hiking on snow and ice to take the appropriate training.