“We’re going to end this year with a very large Sierra snowpack and given the outlook…it’s very possible that we’ll end up vying for one of the top two snow years on record in parts of the state,” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said in an online video update on Monday, February 27.
PCT Snowpack in the Sierra Outpaces Historic 2017 Season
Following a series of winter storms, snow levels along the PCT in the Sierra Nevada mountain range are officially higher than record 2017 snow levels for this date, according to Postholer.com. Snowpack in the Southern California mountains is also at a record high. Another atmospheric river is expected to dump additional feet of snow in the mountains at the end of this week, pushing accumulations even higher.
2017 previously saw the highest levels of Sierra “trail snow,” or snow within the PCT corridor, since Postholer began tracking PCT snow conditions in 2004. Trail snow data can be different from regional snow data reported by the California Department of Water Resources. Statewide snowpack, at 190 percent of average to date, is also rivaling the all-time record set in the winter of 1982–83.
Winter storm Piper, the first in a series of recent weather systems, brought record rainfall, flash floods, and light snow to low-elevation regions in Southern California starting on Thursday, February 23. Meanwhile, the Sierra mountains and mountainous regions of Southern California saw heavy snowfall from the storm through the weekend. Mountain High Ski Resort, located west of Wrightwood, was reported to have received the highest snowfall from Piper: 93 inches, or nearly eight feet.
The National Weather Service issued rare blizzard warnings for multiple regions across the southern part of the state, including the LA mountains and Ventura and San Bernardino Counties. Blizzard warnings were also issued for the Sierra, including Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Avalanche warnings were issued for various regions across the state as well. On Sunday, February 26, a rare avalanche occurred on the north face of San Jacinto Peak.
After a brief break following Piper, another powerful weather system arrived last Tuesday, bringing more snow and rain to Southern California and heavy snow to the Sierra. The Sierra remained under a blizzard warning until 4 p.m. PST Wednesday, March 1. Yosemite National Park, which received significant snowfall, was reported to have snow depths of up to 15 feet in some areas. The park is closed for the foreseeable future until park crews can restore critical services.
What This Means For PCT Hikers
According to current data from the California Department of Water Resources, on March 7, statewide average snowpack was 192 percent of average. In comparison, the statewide average snowpack for the same date in 2017 was 182 percent of average.
In the Sierra, current average snowpack is also higher than it was at this time in 2017 for the Northern Sierra/Trinity, Central, and Southern regions. Postholer says that trail snow in the Sierra is 268 percent of average for this date.
According to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, a cold, stormy weather pattern continued through this week, which brought more heavy snow to the Sierra.
Parts of the PCT have also been closed in the interest of public safety:
- San Jacinto State Park: northbound mile 183.3 – 188.8
- San Bernardino National Forest: Northbound mile 149.5 – 206.5 and 234.5 – 361
Hikers should continue to monitor the PCTA’s trail closure page to get the latest updates.
Founder of non-profit organization and wilderness school Mountain Education, Ned Tibbits, has urged PCT hikers with early March permit dates to postpone their start until the last in the series of winter storms has passed. The organization held several PCT ’23 Snow Hiking Safety Virtual Google Meetups, which can be watched here.
Hikers should be prepared to contend with high snow levels within the first 50 miles of trail as early as Mt. Laguna. Conditions will become more dangerous as hikers approach Mount Jacinto State Park. (As stated above, the park’s backcountry is closed for safety reasons due to the unprecedented snowfall.)
According to the San Jacinto Trail Report, seasonal snowfall for Idyllwild now totals 71.8 inches, which is 233 percent of average and the most since the winter of 1963–64.
In March 2020, PCT hiker Trevor “Microsoft” Laher died near Apache Peak in the San Jacinto Mountains (NOBO mile 169.5). If you’re not familiar with the details of this tragic accident, you can read about it here. Current conditions in the park are not to be taken lightly.
READ NEXT – Trevor Spikes Program To Ship Discounted Microspikes to PCT Hikers in Memory of Trevor Laher
In a recent Instagram post, The Trek offered the following advice to 2023 PCT thru-hikers wondering how to deal with this year’s snowpack:
1. Acquire the skills necessary before embarking to face the potentially record-breaking conditions on trail.
2. Switch to SOBO.
3. Be prepared for a very unconventional hike with flipping or waiting for additional thaw up north.
4. Wait for another year.
Backpacker Radio has also dedicated a pair of episodes to the challenges that will be faced by this year’s PCT hikers.
Continue to monitor the weather for the rest of winter as you make your final preparations for the hiking season. Postholer.com and the California Department of Water Resources are excellent resources for tracking the status of the PCT snowpack leading up to and during a thru-hike.
Featured image: Photo by Fred Greaves, California Department of Water Resources.
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