Setting a PCT SOBO Start Date

Uh oh. It’s only January and the SOBOs of 2016 are wringing their hands about start dates.  I hear you. Snow melt in the North Cascades is a topic of much wailing and gnashing of teeth. This post explains my methodology for choosing a start date…

 

IMG_0524

Harpo using her ice axe on a melting avalanche chute north of Harts Pass on 6/14/15 (10 days after the snotel for Harts Pass reached zero in an exceptionally low snow year)

Colloquial  wisdom suggests starting your SOBO hike once the Hart’s Pass Snotel reaches zero. Or better yet a week or so later, unless you love postholing and are really looking forward to using that ice axe.

Hart’s Pass is 30 miles from the Canadian border and elevation 6,100’… not the highest elevation in the North Cascades, so once snow is melted at the pass you may still have snow-filled avalanche chutes to traverse. Be prepared for snow travel and know your own limits.

We began our 2015 hike 9 days after the Snotel data reached zero at Hart’s Pass. I STILL carried an ice axe despite the exceptionally low snow year, and as you can see from the photo above, I was happy to have it for balance, leverage and peace of mind.

But how can you guess when the snow levels will reach zero?

Yung buck, it is still too early to tell.
HERE’S THE A SPREADSHEET WITH SNOTEL DATA FROM THE LAST 5 YEARS AT HARTS PASS AND MY NON-EXPERT METHODOLOGY FOR USING SNOTEL TO HELP DETERMINE SAFER START DATES

UPDATE: I recommend clicking on the link above for an overview of snotel stats from the last few years, and my analysis of that data… but a few highlights:

  1. January’s data is nearly equal for ALL years, high and low. Therefore it is not easy to tell looking at January’s accumulation whether it will be a high year or a low year.
  2. In the last 5 years, snow levels peak in late March/early April. This is a better time to look at data and determine if it is a high or low snow year.
  3. In 3 of the last 5 years, snow has melted to zero before July 4. This average is probably why folks plan to start after July 4.
  4. Are you anxious to leave in early June? Remember that in a high or average snow year, there may still be over 50″ of snow (or more) at elevations of 6,000 in early June.

 

2 thoughts on “Setting a PCT SOBO Start Date

  1. Patrice

    Thanks Harpo! This is very helpful. I’m *hoping* we can swing a 2017 PCT SOBO thru hike, but I am a planner by nature and am already doing the research (aka, dreaming).

    Reply

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