late may backpacking in the sierras

2:22 a.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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a friend and I are looking to backpack for maybe 2 nights somewhere in the sierras, hopefully around Kings Canyon.  we'd be going memorial day weekend. does anyone know of a good trail for such a short time that wouldn't still be covered in snow at that point?

thanks!

5:07 a.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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Snow pack that time of the year varies considerably, depending on if we get a late season storm or not.  Passes are typically still snow bound. Sometime much of the high Sierras is snowbound that time of year too.  The only reliable suggestion is select something in the lower elevations, and consult Cal Trans or the forest service as to when they expect access roads to open up in the various locations.

Ed

11:14 a.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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Kings Canyon on the lower altitudes, for the most part will be risky because of snow melt and problem water crossings.  The two significant trails out of the canyon to the high country could be, if snow covered, too steep to be low risk.

In the more staid, low slope, western Sequoia NP, snow travel then can be a lot of fun.  It will be equivalent to cross country without all the rocks.  You will want a pair of crampons that fit your boot well and trek poles with snow baskets on them.  You will have to be cautious on creek crossings and being too close to large trees and rocks.  You might have unsteady footing near a tree melt out or over/near running water.

The daytime weather can be warm, clear and perfect and the snow surface will by then live up to the name of 'Sierra Concrete'.  The crampons are a good aid to keep you upright and from doing the Irish River Dance too often.

A favorite hike of mine at end of May is up to Alta Peak area in Sequoia from Wolverton.

http://mapper.acme.com/?ll=36.58934,-118.70144&z=14&t=T

If the snow pack is very light, the lower trail to Bearpaw Meadow (from near by Crescent Meadows) may even be mostly snow free.  If it is, that would be a perfect hike in the area with spectacular scenery from the viewpoint/bar at the meadow.

Closer to the date, as WhoMeWorry suggests, the park offices should have some excellent suggestions for day and overnight hiking - depending upon your skill, equipment and fitness.

Any overnight trekking requires a wilderness permit.

10:17 p.m. on February 21, 2012 (EST)
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Speacock brings up excellent advisories about the perils of traveling the Sierras in the transition season.  He reminded me of an early June solo excursion on the Westside Sierra.  The upper slopes were still under snow, but day time temps and sun were already t-shirt and shorts weather.  I made my way up to the area around the Silver Divide, and spent the next several days exploring the region, cheese, cracker, salami & brandy skiing.  The last evening at base camp a storm blew in, and lingered to the early hours of my departure day.  I awoke at dawn under breaking clouds and a ground level fog cloaking the meadow.  I left camp on skis, breaking trail through about three inches of new fresh, spring snow, under a blue bird sunny day.  By noonI was walking well below snow line and arrived at a stream that is normally crossed via a jam of fallen trees.  Earlier storms had washed the jam away.  This crossing posed little challenge on the way in, but the runoff generated by snow melting under a very bright sun made it a cold, wet ordeal.  Miles further downstream a subsequent crossing wasn’t safe enough to even consider as group, let alone doing it solo.  I dropped pack, and decided to sit out the heat, anticipating the night chill to refreeze the snow pack, and make the stream crossable.  Well that didn’t happen; the stream remained too risky to ford.  Next morning I studied the map, and determined it was best to recon for an alternate route further up canyon.  Late in the day I came upon a guided group completing an east-west trans Sierra trip.  They also were stymied by high water.  We compared notes and agreed the best way out was by what turned out to be a very scenic route involving some difficult bouldering and cramponing over two steep, secondary passes, and arduous cross country through dense scrub, lower down, tacking three days onto my trip and a thirty mile detour.  The guides were able to get a clear signal to outsiders, notify them of our intended route, that we were all safe, but will be late getting out.  I went back, got my kit, and traveled with these folks for the remainder of the trip.  The only thing on everybody’s mind when we reached civilization was a shower, beer and pizza.  By the time I reached my truck late in the day, a nap also seemed a well deserved indulgence.

Even though I was prepared for these conditions, it was still a difficult trek, more like my experiences inAlaska than the Sierra.  So keep in mind the transition season in the Sierra has it own challenges; the way out may differ significantly than planned if weather or runoff change while you are under way.

Ed

12:37 a.m. on February 26, 2012 (EST)
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Spring cross country is usually a grand time to joyfully float above the scrub, willows and boulder.  Adding three unplanned extra days to a good trip can be an adventure of an arduous march through newly exposed mud and slippery windfall.  We've had friends 'lost' after a late overnight heavy snowfall that covered any semblance of where the trail could be expected to be.  On Father's Day at 11,000' our family with 8/10yo kids would have had an adventure with a 4' dump of snow on the eastern Sierra.  If I hadn't forgotten to bring the rain fly (we bailed early because of the wet snow melting on the exposed tent), we would have been up to our ears in it.

Early June on the eastern side (up US 395) provides some of my favorite day trips with visitors or guests. Usually mid-June, trails are snow covered from 11,000' upward, but Shepherd Pass trail (Independence CA) starts around 6,000' and for the expenditure of energy, is some of the best bang for the buck for sightseers. 

http://www.topo.com/explore?lat=36.69705320010033&lng=-118.31231689453125&level=6&type=topo

Except for a few early crossings of Symmes Creek, the trail will be dry and should be clear of snow to above Anvil Camp.  The snow melts cause temporary spectacular waterfalls from the near vertical walls on the left and a torrent of water in Shepherd Creek.  From Mahogany Flats there is a long switch back that takes you above the waterfall coming off the head wall of a long gone second tier glacier.  A wonderful day hike for the mostly fit and a chance to see Tyndall and Williamson do a slow strip tease.

Another is the Bishop Pass trail up to Long Lake - trail head 9700'. 

http://www.topo.com/explore?lat=37.13832722224801&lng=-118.55499267578125&level=6&type=topo

There will be snow above the lake but you should be able to find the bottom of Bishop Pass going cross country on firm (given that the snow is firm) snow and you have brought along a good trail map for general guidance.  The surrounding 13,000' ridge has water tumbling over and down from the snow melt.  This year may not be so spectacular.

You could make these two hikes a longish weekend, doing them back to back with a good place to sleep in between in Lone Pine/Independence/Bishop and splurge on a good meal.  You will cover about twice the distance without an overnight pack.

Most of the trails on the east side start above 9000' (up to 10k+' at Horseshoe Meadows TH to Cottonwood Lakes) so they are generally late June+ fun for most.

http://www.topo.com/explore?lat=36.49849932138356&lng=-118.2103271484375&level=6&type=topo

2:12 p.m. on March 30, 2012 (EDT)
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Ahhh RATS!  TOPO went with the dark force and is now no longer a cheap resource to maps.

2:34 p.m. on April 1, 2012 (EDT)
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a nice time of the year

December 22, 2014
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