Tuolumne Meadows Winter Conditions Update for December 27, 2023

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« Tuolumne Meadows Winter Conditions
Update for December 27, 2023
December 27, 2023 Posted by: Laura and Rob Pilewski
New Snow: 1 inch
Settled Snow Depth: 4 inches
High temperature: 45°F (December 25)
Low temperature: 11°F (December 24)  

Ski Conditions and Weather
It was a dry week with seasonal temperatures here in Tuolumne Meadows. Snow coverage remains about the same as last week, with the low angle of the sun not having much affect on all but south aspects. The rain that fell below 9,200 feet has formed a rain crust which is mostly supportable and now has three inches of soft snow on top of it resulting in good touring conditions. Subsequently, the Tioga “Road” has good coverage and skiing from about the Saddlebag Road junction westward through Yosemite National Park.

It is still a toss-up as to whether it is ski season or hiking season in the Sierra Nevada. There are a lot of icy conditions due to the shallow snowpack and saturated soils from last year. This is the time of year when many visitors get lulled into complacency when the sun is shining, and the trails start off snow-free. But the weather and conditions can change in a hurry so one must be even more self-reliant. The safety margin is much less than when traveling in the wilderness in the summer months. Help may be a long way and many days away…

The Tioga Road is closed from the west at Crane Flat in Yosemite to the east at the Inyo National Forest Service gate (4.5 miles west of Lee Vining). The road within the park (Crane Flat to Tioga Pass) is managed as wilderness once it is closed for the winter and mechanized and wheeled vehicle use is prohibited. Visitors traveling by foot, skis, snowshoes, and/or split-boards are permitted with a wilderness permit (for overnight trips).

Christmas day view from Pothole Dome on December 25, 2023.
View from Pothole Dome on December 25, 2023.
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions
Please refer to the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) and the Bridgeport Avalanche Center for the avalanche advisories for this part of the Sierra Nevada.

We patrolled to some north aspects up to 10,200 feet this week and observed that there was about sixteen inches of snow depth consisting of mostly faceted grains. The snow surface is not supportable and boot penetration is to the ground. Even ski penetration is near to the ground in the soft and unconsolidated snow. Although the current avalanche hazard is low in the Tuolumne Meadows area, this weak foundation in the early season snowpack could become problematic if it is buried beneath subsequent snowfalls.

Wildlife
The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a tradition that dates back all the way to 1900. Scientists and everyday people band together not just to count birds but to appreciate one another’s company. And suddenly the enthusiasm for seeing even the ordinary little gray bird is contagious. Yosemite’s participation began in 1932 and has since contributed over 100,000 observations to the growing database of bird population trends. For many people, spending the day observing birds, reuniting with birding friends, and contributing to bird conservation makes their holiday season complete. The CBC is the longest-running community science survey in Yosemite and in the world.

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On the morning of December 17, 2023, we saw a rather wide variety of bird species on Lembert Dome and nearby surroundings: red crossbill, Clark’s nutcracker, mountain chickadee, brown creeper, red-breasted nuthatch, dark-eyed junco, Steller’s jay, Townsend solitaire, and common raven. Large flocks of American robin and cedar waxwings, along with one rogue evening grosbeak, were feasting on juniper berries for the holiday but appeared to have moved on after a bit of inclement weather. Two great horned owls bantered to one another on Christmas Eve. And on Christmas Day we spooked a bald eagle from its fishing hole along the Tuolumne River which is still somewhat free of ice.

Questions

The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open. This primitive cabin is the campground reservation office in the summer and is located along the Tioga Road at the entrance to the campground. It is marked with a sign. There is firewood and 8 bunks that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For those visiting the Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut from the east (only) permits are self-issued at the Ski Hut. For those entering from other areas, please see Yosemite’s website: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildfaq.htm#winter or you may contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740. As of this writing, there is electricity and limited phone service in Tuolumne Meadows.

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