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  • Writer's picturebalzaccom

We are dry

It's been a dry winter in the Sierra. Really dry. Current conditions are about 2/3 of normal, and in some areas of the Southern Sierra (SEKI) it's much worse than that: 46%. Here's a link to the state's website on the snowpack. It's sobering stuff.

What does that mean for us as backpackers?

First of all, the High County of the Sierra will probably open earlier this year than usual. That means roads (and hiking passes) that are usually snowbound in early July might be open in June. That's good news, in the sense that it gives us all a bit more time to enjoy the Sierra. We have a couple of trips planned for the early part of the summer that we wouldn't normally try. But we're betting that the conditions will allow it. So that's good.

And since there is no indication that these conditions are likely to change any time soon, it also means that we get more months to go backpacking. What is usually a July through September activity might well be a June through September...and even this rate. More months=more trips. That's also good.

But those are small potatoes compared to the bigger picture. We are running out of water in California. Areas of the Central Valley are literally sinking due to the deficit in groundwater. And these conditions don't look like they are going to change.

Those drought conditions also make wildfire hazards much more dangerous. We were almost caught in a fire last year near Lake Thomas Edison, and with another dry year ahead of us, we've added a new danger to backpacking: don't sweat the bears or the snakes, but do worry about fire.

And just in case you're thinking that a lot of rain this spring could change all of this, the weather report for Yosemite for the next two weeks doesn't show a single day of likely rain.

So yes, get out there and enjoy the Sierra. But for God's sake don't make a fire. And see what you can do around your house to save water. This is going to be a difficult summer, and it won't end quickly.

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