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Early Sierra Entry - False Information

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Early Sierra Entry - False Information

Postby postholer » Fri Dec 01, 2017 3:44 pm

Entering the sierra early is a choice not a necessity. It creates adversity. The odds of completing a thru-hike are against you. Introducing additional adversity will not improve those odds. The following is based on an average winter and melt.

The melt is less dangerous if you enter the sierra early.

False. An early season hiker is exposed to the melt for a longer period of time and more miles. All drainages see peak melt before June 15th. Entry after June 15 means dealing with a receding melt only and primarily in the south. Entry on say, May 15th, the hiker possibly faces an increasing, peak, then decreasing melt all along the south to north route in the sierra.

If there is too much snow for me on early sierra entry, I can always flip north.

False. Leaving early means you've forfeited your flip options. You will likely find snow in NorCal, Oregon and Washington. The extra travel and lodging may impact your expenses and it will certainly disrupt the hiking rhythm you've developed.

I'm an average hiker. I need to leave early to get to Canada before the snow flies.

False. Snow travel adds days to your trip. If the average hiker (152 days) leaves Mexico April 22, they will arrive at Kennedy Mdw on June 3rd and Canada on September 21st. It's possible, but unlikely winter will close the trail down before the 21st. For a hiker of reasonable age and fitness, it takes very little effort to shave a week off over the course of a thru-hike. 5 months is a long time to be on the trail.

Walking on snow is easier and faster. You don't have to follow the trail, everything is straight line.

False. Walking on snow is exhausting, requires more energy, more food, more equipment, more weight and you'll travel significantly fewer miles per day. Further, a common resupply over Kearsarge is all on snow. Typical resupply locations like MTR, VVR, Reds Mdw or Tuolumne Mdw may not be open. Most importantly it requires knowledge and skill the average hiker won't have and doesn't want.

Water is everywhere in the sierra.

Not necessarily. In the early season, all the frequent water sources the sierra is noted for may not be exposed, only major creeks. The terrain can actually be an extension of the desert in one sense. You'll require extra fuel to melt snow. Dehydration is a real issue in early season.

Early sierra entry means less mosquitoes.

False. You will still deal with mosquitoes, but not in the usual places.

Extensive snow travel is less efficient, introduces additional adversity, more costly, subjectively rewarding and it's a choice, not a necessity. The added adversity further reduces your odds of a successful thru-hike.

Most hikers understand that early entry is more difficult, that's why the vast majority just don't do it. Completing their thru-hikes is more important. Recently, there's been a few people heavily promoting early entry, for all the wrong reasons, personal gain. They want you to hike their hike. They are selling services that they will profit from. They will never tell you, 'Wait till the snow melts.' It doesn't serve them, yet it's what the majority of hikers have been doing for decades.

Be aware of what you're getting into. If hiking 2,650 miles is not enough adventure for one summer, then by all means go for it. Hike your own hike!

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Re: Early Sierra Entry - False Information

Postby Slowlane » Wed Jun 20, 2018 8:27 am

Nothing new here, just echoing the post: In 1979 we got to Whitney during the week before Memorial Day. According to what I can find online, 1979 was a slightly below avarage snow year, but it still meant miles of post holing, snow under the trees and on north facing slopes at lower elevations, snow/suncups above ~ 9,000', and hard 6 to 8 mile days until abeam Kearsarge Pass, and then better mileage as the spring progressed. That cost in time meant any additional delays were critical, and by Belden I was concerned about not making it to Canada by winter. I took the bus to Ashland and walked north from there. This is the punch line: By Washington I was walking with people who had left Campo a month and more after me, who saw little to no snow in the passes, and were able to keep good mileage up throughout the trail. I made it to Manning Park, took the bus back to Ashland to walk south to Belden, and ran out weather luck for that year.
The Sierra Nevada from Whitney to Toulome Meadows was my favorite part of the PCT I walked. If you have to make miles every day to complete the trail in your time frame, plan to arrive later in the season. This website and others can help you make a pretty good guess of when to hit Whitney northbound. Consider learning to use and carrying an ice axe and micro spikes if it looks like the snow will linger in the passes. It's a shame for the last of the season's snow to cause you to skip this section of the trail.
If you go earlier in the season, train, equip, expect it to be harder work and take longer. Get Zen and be willing to let safety considerations dictate your pace for snow conditions and river crossings. Do it for the experience of the Sierra in spring, not to get to Manning any quicker.
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Re: Early Sierra Entry - False Information

Postby Miner » Sat Jun 23, 2018 6:07 pm

While delaying entering the High Sierra for more melt off can make it easier/faster to go through there, it isn't going to make you finish earlier on the Calendar even if you take less days.

I hiked in a slightly below average year of 2009 (though the unstable weather that lasted through the 1st half of June) delayed the meltoff making it more like an average year. Having started on April 17th, I was injured near Idyllwild and got off for 3 weeks. People I hiked for awhile before getting injured entered the High Sierra 20 days before I did in early June while I entered on the 24th. Due to less snow, I was able to close some of the distance by pushing long very physically tough days over the passes; doing daily mileage that I would have found impossible to do had there been a lot more snow. Just a week can make a big difference in the melt off so almost 3 weeks certainly worked in my favor. But in the end it only added up to about a week of gain on those people and I ultimately finished on Oct. 2nd, still ~2 weeks behind them. So sure I made better time by entering the Sierra later, but it wasn't enough to make up for the later entry date on the calendar.

I was 39 with a 12 lbs baseweight, but perhaps someone in their early 20's could have made up more time than I did. After my injury, I thought I was pretty disciplined in making sure I put in my daily mileage by hiking most of the daylight hours and avoiding multiple zeros except when I was stuck in Cascade Locks due to Labor Day weekend keeping the post office closed. I was certainly passing plenty of other hikers that weren't as committed to staying on a schedule while rarely getting passed by faster hikers. Though it's easy saying that being at the backend of the herd, back when the herd was smaller and more condensed. Faster hikers were likely those that I never caught to begin with.
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Re: Early Sierra Entry - False Information

Postby markv » Wed Jun 19, 2019 10:50 pm

Just nitpicking, but when you say "It's possible, but unlikely winter will close the trail down before the 21st.."(of September), that's just not true. The earliest ever in PCT history that non-melting snow has hit Washington has been September 27th, most recently in 2013 and 2007. I know, i was out in it. The earlier storms have always melted off.
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