I suppose it’s still possible for the Sierra Nevada to get significantly more snow this spring, but it’s not likely. Barring a weather event just short of miraculous, the winter of 2012/2013 will go down as getting a little more than half of an average winter’s snowfall. (Some areas are a little better than that; others aren’t quite as good.)
Putting the significance of that aside for the California communities that rely on the melting snow for fresh water, what should John Muir Trail hikers expect?
It’s a mixed bag.
Hikers who reserved wilderness permits for July, even early July, might be feeling pretty smug right now. July is often too early for JMT hikers who want to avoid snow and the problems associated with trekking and navigating over it. This year, the trail will likely be completely snow-free by the end of July, and should present few problems at the beginning of the month.
You will undoubtedly see snow, and there may be some very short stretches where there is snow on the trail, but it should be more of a novelty than a challenge.
The white stuff won’t be the only thing missing. A few years back, over an extended Fourth of July vacation, my wife and I hiked between Tuolumne Meadow and Lake Edison, when the mosquitos were just about at their peak. We dealt with them when we camped, when we ate, and even as we walked. It was my only trip when I actually used my head net. The swarms in the Rush Creek drainage were especially unforgettable and ravenous. Less snow means less water; less water means fewer of the flying, persistent pests.
Less snow also means fewer swollen streams and creeks. By the end of July it’s possible that the only stretch of water deep and wide enough to require hikers to remove their footwear would be Evolution Creek. Other crossings with bad reputations, like Silver Pass Creek, the North Fork of Mono Creek, and Bear Creek should present few problems from snow runoff. (Note that any of these can become dangerous during and after heavy rains. Snow isn’t the only source of water in the Sierra Nevada.)
If all this paints a pretty pleasant picture, I should warn you that there are some definite disadvantages, as well. I’ll talk about those next week.
Good hiking, Ray