New Snow: 3 inches
Settled Snow Depth: 90 inches
High temperature: 51°F (February 9)
Low temperature: 6°F (February 8)
Ski Conditions and Weather
The mercury topped 50°F this week for the first time in nearly two months. There was also a wind event over the weekend that saw northeast winds in excess of 50 mph for a 24-hour period. The weather this week was dictated by a couple of low-pressure troughs that slid down the California coast before the jet stream pushed them north and east over the southwestern United States. This kind of weather system typically only yields light precipitation over the Sierra Nevada along with high winds. The winds initially blow from the southwest and then as the trough moves east the winds subsequently switch to the northeast. The juicy Atmospheric Rivers of January are being replaced by prolonged dry spells like we saw last January to April. Thankfully, there is one significant difference between this time last year and today: there is well over twice as much snow and snow water equivalent (SWE) already on the ground. Take heed snow and water enthusiasts, it is still deep out there!
Ski conditions fluctuate from day to day with the weather du jour. There was good powder skiing on most aspects until the wind event which altered the snow surface conditions. The calm weather prior to the wind also gave the solar aspects a chance to set up and there was corn snow to be had on select open south slopes at the middle elevations over the past few days. Touring conditions are quite good as well.
Plan accordingly for a trip to the Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut! In a year like this, even the most fit visitors will find it difficult to make it in from the Lee Vining Gate to Tuolumne Meadows in a day especially with a heavy pack. It is a tough balance between being prepared to bivy and traveling light and fast.
The Lee Vining approach to Yosemite remains a mountaineering experience. We recommend an ice axe and crampons in the kit as hard and steep snow will likely be encountered, if not on the way in, then on the way out. Remember snow surface conditions are variable depending on time of day, wind, aspect, and elevation. What might be a moderate boot pack or ski traverse on softer snow may turn into a fearful slide for life scenario on hard snow at another time. To elaborate, the Tioga Road grade has been replaced by steep, consequential, side hill traverses in places by the heavy snow, winds, and avalanches of January. There are countless alternative routes into Tuolumne Meadows, but they too require mountaineering skills. It is not just a “walk in the park” when snow blankets the ground.
Snow Travel Tips: Technology
While the winds are still blowing and the snow conditions are slowly transitioning from winter to spring, many of you may want to start trip planning. There are countless Smartphone applications that you can couple with a Personal Location Device (PLD) to help plan your adventures. Make sure you have already downloaded maps of the area prior to your trip! Many of those apps prove useful when travelling in or trying to avoid avalanche terrain. But one should recognize that “slope angle” layers may differ on the ground real time depending on snow deposition. Some apps have a pro layer for when you’re wondering if there’s snow still lingering on a mountain pass come spring/summer. Do I really need to carry my ice axe, or can I bring more chocolate instead? Websites such as California Data Exchange Center also give real time beta about snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.
Of course, nothing replaces the ol’ map and compass when it comes to navigating and you should still carry those with you and know how to use them. When tired or in a hurry, people accidentally drop their devices or leave them behind by accident. Batteries or electronics die (often due to cold or getting wet). Sometimes due to terrain, dense forest or cloudy weather, there can be poor satellite coverage. Practice with all of these tools when you know where you are; not when it’s getting late, dark, cold and/or cloudy. Please see our weekly posts from January 2022 through April 2022 for more Snow Travel Tips.
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions
Like ski conditions, avalanche hazard, too, is dynamic and can change throughout the course of the day. Though we did not see any wet slides this week, we did observe “roller balls” of wet snow beneath rock bands on steeper terrain. This will occur during the warmth of the day as the sun heats up the snow surface (even more so when heating up exposed rock) and the surface snow loses its bond with the snow underneath. Although we really like cinnamon rolls, if you start seeing them rolling down the slope you are on, then it might be time to call it a day on that aspect or head down to a bakery for the real ones.
Clark’s nutcrackers, red cross bills, mountain chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches have been around all winter, sun or shine. And, it would appear that a couple of not-so common (this winter) ravens paced around the Tuolumne River Bridge. During a winter like this with the deep snowpack, these open water holes attract all kinds of wildlife as they too need water to drink. It’s not unlike the bird bath in your backyard.
The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open. This primitive cabin is the campground reservation office in the summer and is located along the Tioga Road at the entrance to the campground. It is marked with a sign. There is firewood and 8 bunks that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For those visiting the Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut from the east (only) permits are self-issued at the Ski Hut. For those entering from other areas, please see Yosemite’s website: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm (#3: Do I need a wilderness permit during winter?) or you may contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740. As of this writing, there is electricity but no phone service in Tuolumne Meadows.
Come prepared, and please make good decisions while traveling in the wilderness!
Read through the following two pages before embarking on any day or overnight snow travel within this park:
You may contact us with any additional winter Tuolumne Meadows related questions but response times may vary if we are away on patrol.
Laura and Rob Pilewski - Tuolumne Meadows winter rangers