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Sierra conditions in May and August
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By Derek DeBruin
Nov 26, 2012

My brother-in-law is a semi-pro photographer. He and I will be taking a trip for about a week in the summer of 2013 to the Sierras so he can get some landscape and outdoor photos. We may also do some moderate alpine climbing when we're there. (He's fairly athletic and climbs with me on occasion, but by moderate I mean 3rd class to easy 5th.)

My role on this little excursion will be technical support, as I have the backpacking, climbing, and mountain experience that he lacks. However, I have never been to the Sierras before. We will most likely be hanging out in the area from South Lake to Bishop Pass. Our potential dates include either late May/early June or late August. What can we expect for conditions during these times? How much snow is still around in late May? How close we will be cutting it for the first autumn snow if we go late August/early September? Will roads be passable up to the South Lake/Lake Sabrina/etc. trailheads in late May?

Thanks in advance.


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By Travis Madsen
From Denver, CO
Nov 26, 2012

Derek,

Bottom line is that just about any time of year is a good time to go to the Sierra.

Conditions in late May usually involve some snow, but how much can be really variable from year to year. Two years ago, there was epic amounts of snow into June. Last year, most of it had melted by late May. Either way, odds are strong that you'll find the roads above Bishop passable up to the trailheads. Any snow above the lakes will probably be consolidated and relatively easy to walk on, especially early in the morning.

Late August and early September, you'll find summer conditions. There will be little to no snow on the mountains. You might get some thunderstorms, but generally the weather is prime in late summer. Snow is always possible, but usually the first major storms come later in the fall.

Have fun!


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By Derek DeBruin
Nov 27, 2012

Thanks for the info. Thinking we'll shoot for late August then.


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By Fat Dad
From Los Angeles, CA
Nov 27, 2012

August is definitely the better choice. Late May can have a substantial amount of snow. If it's been an average snow year, in many place the trails may mostly be buried and the snow will be soft in many spots. People can and do head back in their without skis or snowshoes though and do fine. The snow can linger on the trails well into July. At places like Sam Mack Meadow in the Palisades (11,600'), there will be lots of snow left. Some peaks may still have a fair bit of snow in August, depending on their aspect, but you'll have no problems getting around, even if you decide to head over the crest into Kings Canyon/Sequoia. Also look into heading up to the Little Lakes Valley by Tom's Place, about 30 min. north of Bishop. The road ends at 10,200', so you have instant alpine scenery for minimal effort.


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