Yosemite Tuolumne Meadows National Park Winter Condition Update – It was a dry week with temperatures above seasonal averages

News now: nothing
Packed snow depth: 48 inches
High temperature: 12°C (January 12)
Low temperature: 9°F (January 18)

Ski conditions and weather

January 20, 2022 – By Laura and Rob Pilewski – Tuolumne Meadows Winter Rangers – It was a dry week with temperatures above seasonal averages. The high temperature this week of 58°F has caused a thin crust of molten frost to form over most aspects here at mid elevations. Strong easterly winds on January 14 littered much of the snow surface with tree debris (needles, cones, etc.). Above the treeline, the snow surface covers the full range of wind-affected snow.

Left image: Tree debris on a ski slope on January 17, 2022; Right image: Lake Obata on January 17, 2022.

We did a patrol west of Tuolumne Meadows last week. Travel along the Tioga Road corridor became faster as the snow settled in. Despite the last three weeks of dry weather, the snow cover remains excellent in all respects except where it is bare to the bone in the highest of the Alps. If approaching the high country from Yosemite Valley, visitors should expect to hit the snowline just below 7,000 feet. The Snow Creek trail becomes skiable at the bridge over the switchbacks. East of Tioga Pass, the snow line starts at about 8,000 feet with a few patches of sun and wind sparse. There would also be some attention-grabbing steep snow near the green deck which could be quite firm depending on weather conditions and cloud cover.

Sunset from Mount Watkins on January 11, 2022.
Sunset from Mount Watkins on January 11, 2022.

Avalanche and snowpack conditions

Please refer to the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) for the avalanche advisory for this part of the Sierra Nevada.

Avalanche hazard is currently low, but beware of ice, slush, and/or rockfall when the sun hits these solar aspects. We observed many old avalanches during our patrol at Snow Flat this week. Many of them were along the northern slopes of Tenaya Peak and Clouds Rest. Most impressive was at Olmsted Point where a major slab retreated and deposited a large amount of debris on and above the road. Presumably, these avalanches that were on the more solar aspects occurred after the December storm cycle and during the first warming that occurred in early January.

Avalanche debris on Tioga Road below Olmsted Point on January 12, 2022.
Avalanche debris on Tioga Road below Olmsted Point on January 12, 2022.

Snow Travel Tip

Alpenglow before sunset from Mount Watkins on January 11, 2022.Alpenglow before sunset from Mount Watkins on January 11, 2022.

Well, we were going to wait and cover sharp gear in the spring, but since there are so many places with firm snow, we might as well be talking about one of those pieces of gear now: ski crampons. Many companies make ski cleats, which are U-shaped metal pieces that clip into bindings and drape over the ski. These are slick (or aren’t) because they have a hinge that allows for a gliding motion when going forward, but they bite into the snow when descending. They grip more than skins alone and are usually used together. Ski crampons are nice at this time of year when the top layer of windsurfing snow can be greased with a light dusting of powder. Sure, in some spots you might be able to take off your skis and boot bag, but then you’ll be wasting all your energy after the hole. Ski cleats are especially handy on traverses provided they aren’t so stiff where most tines won’t bite. They are also nice for skipping wide switchbacks and bombing straight uphill. The only catch with this strategy may be when they can allow a person to climb where one becomes like a cat stuck in a tree; when it gets too steep to shift gears to either boot crampons or ski downhill mode. It’s a good idea to be calculated ahead of time and look for a natural feature of the terrain to do this with. Otherwise, a shovel can sometimes work in a pinch to dig out a platform. Like all mountaineering gear, it’s good to train in a more controlled environment with a safe runout before trying to keep up with your friends.


Sooty Grouse follows on January 10, 2022.Sooty Grouse follows on January 10, 2022.

Typically, we hear the low, mysterious cries of the sooty grouse in the spring, but we don’t see them. With this extended pause in time, we not only saw their tracks (one apparently patrolled the ridge of Mount Watkins before us), but we may have seen this same bird, or its neighbor quietly perched a hundred feet in a imposing Jeffrey pine. It seemed to feed on buds and pollen cones among the highest branches while basking in the morning sun.


The desert is open! But, especially during this pandemic where local resources may be limited, we implore you to be self-reliant and not put others at risk. Please #RecreateResponsibly by carefully planning and preparing for your outdoor activities in the park.

Read the following two pages before embarking on a day or overnight snow trip to this park:

You can contact us for any other questions related to the Tuolumne Meadows winter.

Good tour!
Laura and Rob Pilewski – Tuolumne Meadows Winter Rangers

Source: NPS

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