High Sierra PCT under snow in 2019

This winter turned out to be a very good year for precipitation in the state of California, as experts working with the California Department of Water Resources kind of predicted last fall. This means that right now, in July of 2019, the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail through the High Sierra from the Mt. Whitney area to the Yosemite Wilderness is buried under deep snow everywhere above 11,000 feet. That means for most of over 150 miles the trail cannot be seen by walkers except in the tracks of those who have gone before, if they have gone before.  This means rookie thru-hikers on the trail right now are “post-holing” — walking in heavy snow day after day and often before dawn through miles of snow, working up to the passes of Forester, Glen, Pinchot, Mather, Muir, Silver and more, but (for me at least) Mather especially haunts the memory.

This means getting lost, probably, and slushing down snowy slopes, and taking a deep breath before deep stream crossings at places like Evolution Creek. It means risking having a snow bridge over icemelt collapse and drop you into a torrent, as sadly happened in that era to a great wilderness ranger. For a lot of people, including the notorious Cheryl Strayed, back in 1995, it means skipping the Sierra entirely. And yes, as someone who walked those snowy passes and scary ridges in 1995, it was dangerous. Somewhat. Hard to say. On Mather Pass, for example, it’s so wet and steep and chaotic that it’s unclear if it’s safer trying to follow the trail switchbacking across the cliff face or going down a snowy face where you’re not likely to fall far.

But it’s such a great adventure, and so so beautiful. I’ve been following and loving all sorts of posts from Instagram hikers this year, I admit, and encouraging excited but nervous hikers to go for the Sierra, despite the risks. It’s a once in a lifetime adventure. Enough — even seen vicariously — to take your breath away.

It’s truly a different world up there, and I’m so happy to have seen it in its virgin glory. This one’s from Nick_Hikes, in the Cottonwood Pass area (near Whitney) in the underappreciated southern Sierra.


This (below) is the western side of the Whitney Crest, I believe, with the walls of Mt Hitchcock looming awesomely to the south and west. From ElizabethAnn128.

Denizens of the southern Sierra will probably recognize Rae Lakes in this picture, but have you ever seen it more spectacularly depicted (despite an apparent lack of processing) by Jon Schwarze?

I think you can see how thrilling it is to be up there on top of California in the adventures of people posting from the trail this week, such as adventuresofdotdot, from the top of Muir Pass at dawn:

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

One thought on “High Sierra PCT under snow in 2019

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