Total settled snow depth: 12 inches as of December 31, 2014 (snow stake located at Ranger Camp)
High temperature: 55 degrees F, December 23, 2014
Low temperature: -6 degrees F, December 29, 2014
Skiing Conditions and Weather: The ski conditions and weather have held a bit of everything since our last post. It has snowed a little and the wind has blown a lot over the past ten days. It was unseasonably warm for a couple of days and now it is bitter cold. That being said, one can imagine the changes that have taken place with the ski conditions. There is a melt freeze crust at the old snow surface, which fortunately (for the skiing) is now buried beneath several inches of windblown snow. The high winds out of the northeast have formed impressive snow drifts, most notably in the Dana Meadow area. Some alpine areas have "bullet proof" snow/ice along with a wind crust and some wind board out there in the mix. Every turn is different and if you're lucky you'll hit a pocket of powder. The bottom line is that there is a mixed bag out there folks. The coverage is still good, however, and there are ample opportunities for ski touring and even a few good turns to be had in this part of Yosemite National Park!
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions: For the latest avalanche advisory for this area go to www.esavalanche.org for the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) and click on advisory. The ESAC site is updated several times a week and more often during weather events. The avalanche hazard in the Tuolumne area is presently low. At the higher elevations travelers should be wary of newly formed wind slabs that are now overlying soft snow and a hard melt freeze crust. There is potential for human triggered avalanches where these wind slabs exist.
The changes that occurred to the snowpack over the past week were due to warm temperatures and high winds. Most aspects and elevations were affected by the two day warm spell on December 22nd and 23rd. This caused a layer of melt water at the snow surface which has subsequently frozen, forming a hard crust. The snow that fell on Christmas Eve covered this crust and has subsequently been wind affected by two significant wind events. Travelers need to exercise caution in the alpine zone where newly formed wind slabs exist on this hard melt-freeze crust layer. There are also persistent weak layers below these within the snowpack that could pose a hazard in the future.
Wildlife: The coyotes are conserving winter energy reserves by taking advantage of ski tracks along the road corridor. So far, it appears to be a banner year for the Snowshoe hare as their trails can be found from the summit of Gaylor Peak down to Tuolumne Meadows. And, last but not least, the Clark's Nutcrackers are ringing in the New Year with their lovely alpine song. Squawk! Squawk!
Questions: The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open! There is an ample supply of firewood and 10 bunks that are available on a first come-first served basis. There is power but no public phone service in Tuolumne this winter. We can be contacted via email, but we may be delayed in responding if we are on patrol. Contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740 with any questions or concerns. Come prepared; don't count on electricity or phone service at the ski hut.
Happy New Year!
Laura and Rob Pilewski -Tuolumne Winter Rangers