Record Heat Triggers Massive, Potentially Dangerous Runoff Conditions

Wendilyn Grasseschi
Times Reporter

Just like that, winter turned to summer this week, triggering a massive – and potentially dangerous – influx of snowmelt into area streams and rivers.

Following on the heels of cold and wet months of April and May, most of the Sierra snowpack was still in the high country right up until early this week when a high pressure ridge settled in, producing the hottest temperatures of the year.

That leaves the Mammoth area in a serious state of flux, still a lot of snow above 9,000 feet and with creeks and rivers bursting.
The whole thing can be amazing to see or recreate in; it can also be very dangerous.

It’s almost like the “good old days” when big snowpacks held summer off until July. But after four drought years, people were finally beginning to adjust to the new reality, and the big snowpack is confusing a lot of visitors who have gotten used to the drought years, according to Inyo National Forest authorities.

“Many people are eager to get in the high country right now and have gotten used to the less snowy winters of the past few years,” said Deb Schweizer, the Inyo National Forest’s public information officer.

“If you are planning to head out on the trails this weekend, please plan on the snow level to be around 9,000 feet. Hikers should have the skills to navigate in snow. Many trails will be quickly lost under snow. Ice ax and crampons will also be needed in steep terrain.”

She said she has had reports that many people are getting disoriented or lost in the backcountry due to losing the trail because trails are covered with snow. People are also heading out into the backcountry without winter supplies and equipment, she said.

Here are some of the areas to watch:
Trails in the Lakes Basin are still under snow above 9,000 feet. Creeks are running extremely high. Snow bridges over creeks are unstable.

High country trails above 9,000 feet outside of the Basin are still subject to a lot of snow coverage, especially on north slopes. 
Now that the snow is rapidly melting, it is unstable to walk on in some cases, adding another layer of danger to backcountry activities.

Tioga Road is open for the season but has been temporarily closing and reopening so often, it's giving people whiplash. Sonora and Monitor pass roads have been in a similar state of flux.
 This could change, if the warm temperatures are finally here to stay, and the roads will stay open on a more consistent basis.

The road to Saddlebag Lake is open, but no facilities are available and there are several feet of snow lining the road.

Reds Meadow Road, and thus the Devils Postpile National Monument, is several weeks away from opening

White Mountains, Schulman Grove/Patriarch Grove: Expect snow along the Patriarch Grove Road to the parking lot so visitors will have to hike to the grove. The road towards Barcroft Gate is closed at the Patriarch Grove turnoff.

Reds Meadow area: work to open the Reds Meadow Road has begun, and the road will be closed to pedestrians and cyclists while hazard tree work is underway. Hikers trying to access Reds Meadow Valley over Mammoth Pass should be aware of ongoing work in the area and be prepared for snow on the pass and in shadowed areas of the trail.

Rock Creek Road: the road is open up to the Rock Creek Resort and Pack Station, but expect substantial snow after that.

Whitney Portal Road: ongoing construction work to re-design the popular road is underway. Expect 30 minute delays from 6:30 a.m-6:30 p.m.