Fall is a great time of year to explore the Sierra. Days are shorter, temperatures are colder, and there may even be a soft carpet of snow on the ground. Swampy green meadows have dried up, adding their soft gold color to the changing leaves of aspens. The warm weather crowds have all left, and the wildlife seems to know it. We always see more animals in the fall. Mushrooms, too, after the first rain. And permits are easier now--in many cases you self-register.
But hiking this time of year has its disadvantages. Creeks turns to trickles, waterfalls disappear, And access roads begin to close down. You don't want to be on the wrong side of a gate when it gets locked for the winter!
Here are a few of our rules for hiking in the Sierra after Labor Day:
>> Check the weather. It can be anything from toasty warm to snowing, and you need to be prepared. If a storm is on the way, make sure you have an escape route---and that includes getting your car out of the snow as well.
>> Plan on shorter hikes. Not only are the days shorter, meaning you will hike fewer miles each day, but the chances of you getting a solid two weeks of great weather are slim. It's better to take two short trips than one long one.
>> Plan on snow. It may not snow during your trip, but if it does, you need to be prepared, both with your shelter and with your clothes. Yes, your pack will weigh a bit more, but you will also sleep better, and hike more comfortably. Those are good things.
>> Plan your water sources carefully. There's every chance that seasonal creeks will be dry, and even some of the larger river turn into stagnant pools in places. Take an extra bottle of water if you're worried. And drink it.
>> Take a book. After the autumnal equinox, you will only get twelve hours of daylight...and far less than that if you are down in a canyon. Yes, this will add weight to your pack--another reason to aim for a shorter itinerary in general.
>> Take plenty of light. You'll need a light to read that book...and maybe one to find your way around camp after dark, which will be around 7 p.m. or so.
>> Always have a plan B. This is good advice for any trip, but especially in the fall, when a change in weather can signal the coming of winter. You'll want to be able to get out and get warm from wherever you are. And you need a plan to do that.
>> Stay Found! That soft blanket of snow can cover up a trail, and you might find yourself wandering around. Not a good thing. Use GPS, or know how to stay found. We don't want to have to come looking for you!