New snow: 0 inches
Total settled snow depth: 3 inches (at 8,600 feet)
High temperature: 56°F (December 29)
Low temperature: 17°F (December 30)
Ski Conditions and Weather
The average high temperature for the month of December was 47°F, which is 7 degrees warmer than average for our weather plot here in Tuolumne Meadows. Total snowfall for the month was a paltry five inches with an even more meager water content of 0.17 inches. Thankfully, the wet storms that came through in November have resulted in there still being some snow in the Yosemite high country. Above 9,300 feet there is still 24-30 inches of snow on the ground. Around Tuolumne Meadows, at 8,600 feet, the snow depths are 3-6 inches, with areas of bare ground.
The ski touring at the higher elevations is pretty darn good. Hard snow and good coverage means one can cover some ground without the typical effort of breaking trail. We got out this week and patrolled the drainages that head north of the Cathedral Range. Visitors arrived to Tuolumne Meadows over the holidays from Yosemite Valley and Lee Vining via skis, snowshoes, and by foot. One can travel without snow equipment along the road corridor, due to packed out snow. Waterproof boots, gaiters and ice cleats are advisable. However, we strongly recommend that visitors planning to travel off of the road above 9,000 feet have skis or snowshoes especially on north facing aspects. Ice axe and crampons are recommended for the higher mountains and passes.
The Tioga Road is closed for the season. There are closed gates to the east in Lee Vining Canyon and to the west, east of Crane Flat. It is 15 miles from the Lee Vining gate to Tuolumne Meadows. The road is bare pavement for the first 5 miles to Saddlebag Road, and then mostly snow covered from there to Tuolumne Meadows.
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions
Please refer to the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) for the avalanche advisory for this part of the Sierra Nevada.
The avalanche hazard in the Tuolumne Meadows area is low. The snow that has been sitting on the ground during the dry spell of December has gone through changes more indicative of the continental climate of the Rocky Mountains than the maritime climate of the Sierra. The shallow snowpack and clear nights have resulted in a sugary consistency of the snow crystals (known as faceted snow) which could pose avalanche hazard if they are subsequently buried beneath future snowfall. Although the current hazard is low, wilderness travelers should keep this in the back of their mind for the future.
Since we’ve been here this winter, large flocks of pine siskins have been scouring the lodgepole pine canopy for pine cone seeds. A pair of common ravens and a red-tailed hawk has been lurking around the meadows.
The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open. There is firewood and 8 bunks that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no phone service in Tuolumne Meadows at this time. We can be contacted via email, but we may be delayed in responding if we are on patrol. Contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740 with any questions or concerns. Come prepared, and please make good decisions while traveling in the wilderness this winter.
Happy New Year!
Laura and Rob Pilewski - Tuolumne Winter Rangers