Update for January 22, 2020

January 22, 2020 Posted by: Laura and Rob Pilewski

New snow: 13 inches
Total settled snow depth: 30 inches (at 8,600 feet)
High temperature: 48°F (January 19)
Low temperature: -3°F (January 17)

Ski Conditions and Weather

This week saw unsettled weather with cloudy skies, windy conditions, and some welcomed precipitation. Though January is still well below average for new snow and water, the ski conditions and snow coverage remain good. The cold and clear weather for most of January has turned much of snowpack below tree line into a faceted, sugary consistency. This unconsolidated snow has proven difficult for the animals without wings or large padded feet. One of the local coyotes was recently seen struggling through Tuolumne Meadows. Its tracks told the story of its plight. It ambled about looking to gain purchase and cover some ground. But every time it would take a step, it would sink up to its belly. It even tried jumping but this only left craters in the snow and not much progress. When the snowpack is like this we are sure happy for the invention of skis and snowshoes!

Coyote tracks meander through Tuolumne Meadows on January 22, 2020.
Coyote tracks meander through Tuolumne Meadows on January 22, 2020.

Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions

Please refer to the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) for the avalanche advisory for this part of the Sierra Nevada.

Presently the avalanche hazard in the Tuolumne Meadows area is low. There was a 24 hour period following the snowfall on January 16 when some of the weak layers buried in the snowpack reminded us that they existed. We observed one natural slide that occurred underneath a cliff band during this cycle. There was widespread “whumphing” heard and felt as we traveled up the northeast aspects above Elizabeth Lake and near some rocky terrain features where even more facets tend to develop. Our weight on this new snow collapsed the faceted weak layer that has developed adjacent to the melt freeze crust that formed in early December. This was enough of a sign for us to keep on low angle terrain until the snowpack had time to stabilize. After a rather warm day, we did not observe this or any other signs of instability on any subsequent patrols. These weak layers in the snowpack can persist, however, and this is something to be aware of if the snowpack were loaded with new snow in the future.

Looking east toward Johnson Peak and Sierra Crest on January 21, 2020.
Looking east toward Johnson Peak and Sierra Crest on January 21, 2020.



Upper Echo Creek Drainage on January 21, 2020.
Upper Echo Creek Drainage on January 21, 2020.
Yesterday while on patrol we topped out on a ridge and saw some peculiar looking bird tracks in the snow. Tucked in among the branches of a mountain hemlock was a female sooty grouse apparently unperturbed by our presence or the howling wind. It continued to amble about while nibbling on the buds and pollen cones of the tree. Since the sun was setting, we slid back towards home leaving our feathered friend to dine in peace.


General Information

The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open. There is firewood and 10 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. There is no phone service in Tuolumne Meadows. We can be contacted regarding winter travel to Tuolumne Meadows via email, but we may be delayed in responding if we are on patrol.  

Come prepared, and please make good decisions while traveling in the wilderness!

Think Snow!
Rob and Laura Pilewski - Tuolumne Meadows Winter Rangers

6 Comments Comments icon

  1. Barbara
    January 29, 2020 at 12:10

    Thank you for posting more pictures! They're excellent, and informative.

  2. Tuolumne Winter Rangers
    January 29, 2020 at 10:46

    Yes, Thomas, we occasionally see the endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn sheep while on patrol. They are monitored closely throughout their range both by the National Park biologists and California Fish and Wildlife. The winters of 2016-2017 and 2018-2019 were particularly hard on the Cathedral Range herd as you can imagine.

  3. Carol
    January 22, 2020 at 11:14

    Dear Rangers, thank you so much for your posts!!! The photos and descriptions make me feel like I'm there!! I'm blown away by your courage to spend the winter in Tuolomne Meadows!!! It must be amazing!! Please take good care!!

  4. Thomas
    January 22, 2020 at 07:58

    The Bighorn Sheep that were transplanted up in the Cathedral Range a few years back...... Ever get any sightings? Any insite as to how they fair during the winter?

  5. Beth Pratt
    January 22, 2020 at 07:25

    Thank you so much for these wonderful reports! I look forward to each one. I study pika so any sightings, please be sure to let us know. Especially in the Gaylor Ridge area. Thank you!

  6. Clark
    January 22, 2020 at 06:12

    Thanks for the report, and glad you got some snow this week! I hope it sets up better so that coyote can get around a little more easily. Looks like a little more snow (and possibly rain) is headed your way, but we may be in need of another "Miracle March" to get up to seasonal averages. Heck, I'll even take a "Miracle February" at this point. Stay safe!

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Last updated: January 22, 2020

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