Saturday, May 26, 2018

Hiking Lookout Peak

I often think that one way to alleviate pressure on the Cottonwood Canyons is to better promote the recreation opportunities that exist in other areas around Salt Lake City.

With the holiday weekend upon us, we opted to hike this morning up Lookout Peak, which sits at the head of upper City Creek Canyon and is most easily accessed from Affleck Park along State Route 65.

In a previous life, I had mountain biked down the hiking route after circling into it from Big Mountain Pass.  Those were the good old days, pre-Bonneville Shoreline Trail and extensive mountain biking in the Park City area, which necessitated riding all sorts of narrow trails and avoiding face plants as we descended with hard-tail bikes with about 2 inches of front-fork travel.

Today we found ideal hiking conditions, with plenty of wildflowers.

It's about 4 miles and 2700 vertical feet to the summit, depending on where you start.  The views today were fantastic and include vistas of Little Black Mountain, Lower City Creek Canyon, and the Great Salt Lake.

Upper City Creek Canyon and Grandview Peak.

Closeup of Grandview.  This might be my next hike once the Skyline Drive is open (supposedly June 1st).  I've always thought it would make an interesting ski adventure in the spring to ride up City Creek and approach it up the canyon.

Hikers on the false summit, with the Uinta Mountains in the distance.

The central Wasatch showed off their coat of white today.  Sadly, it is going fast.

Now is really the time to hike these mid-elevation peaks.  Check out how green it is in Emigration and Parleys Canyons.

The route is not well signed and takes a little sleuthing to start.  It begins in the Affleck Park campground, which was open for camping, but gated today for access.  Thus, we parked at the Quacking Aspen Grove Historic marker and walked into the campground, finding the trail near the northern end.  After that, one ascends to the divide with Killyon Canyon, turns right (north) and works their way to the summit.

Enjoy while the grass is green and the heat is not too stifling.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Memorial Day Weekend Outlook

Mass exodus from northern Utah begins shortly with the annual pilgrimage to southern Utah and other environs for Memorial Day weekend.  I'm not traveling this weekend, but am taking a keen interest in the staycation forecast. 

Today looks to be a hot, dry one, but a closed low lurks over California.  This closed low will drift eastward and be located over Nevada tomorrow.  Thus, tomorrow is a transition day for Utah, with cooler air spreading in from the east.  The southeast part of the state will continue with dry, warm, windy conditions, but the western half of the state should be cooler tomorrow afternoon.  Northern Utah has a slight chance of a late day shower or thunderstorm. 

NAM 700-mb temperature (color contours), 500-mb geopotential height (black contours), 700-mb wind (barbs) and 3-hour accumulated precipitation (color fill) forecast valid 0000 UTC 27 May (1800 MDT 26 May) 2018.

The closed low drifts slowly eastward through the Memorial Day weekend.  By 1200 UTC 28 May (0600 MDT Monday), the low is centered over northwest Utah.

NAM 700-mb temperature (color contours), 500-mb geopotential height (black contours), and 3-hour accumulated precipitation (color fill) forecast valid 0000 UTC 27 May (1800 MDT 26 May) 2018.
By and large, I don't think this is a disastrous forecast for the weekend.  This is not an especially cold trough, although we will see a cooling trend through the period.  It is also not going to produce widespread rainfall, although there are going to be showers and thunderstorms (more on where in a minute) and the possibility that a persistent rainband gets going that might prove to be a real annoyance for a few hours if it sets up right over your location of interest. 

Forecasts from the SREF illustrate where precipitation is most likely for the period through 1800 UTC (Noon MDT) Monday.  Precipitation odds are lowest in southeastern Utah.  Northern Utah has higher precipitation odds, including a small number of ensemble members generating more than an inch of precipitation in a few regions. 

The plume for the Salt Lake City International Airport shows most members generating less than 0.2" of precipitation, but one member puts out 0.7".  Thus, while heavier precipitation isn't likely, it could happen if there's a strong thunderstorm or a slow moving precipitation system parks over you.
Bottom line: Tomorrow is probably the day for long-duration outdoor activities in northern Utah, with a mindful eye on how things evolve late in the day and in the evening.  While there is a chance of showers the rest of the weekend, keeping an eye on the forecast and the radar should allow you to get most activities in, provided that you're not skunked by a slow moving area of precipitation or thunderstorm. 

A quick reminder that lightning is Utah's top weather-related killer.  When thunder roars, head indoors.  Tents and awnings provide no lightning protection.  Move to your car or RV if you are camping.  If caught in a storm hiking, move quickly to lower terrain (avoiding areas that might pose flash flood threat), avoid large trees, crouch low on the balls of your feet, and spread your group out. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Wee Bit of Snow Left

Pretty disturbing late May snowpack numbers from around the state as a super majority of SNOTEL stations are now reporting zero or near zero snowpack water equivalents.

Source: NRCS
In the central Wasatch, only Snowbird is reporting what I'll call "above the noise" snowpack water equivalent values with 6.2 inches.  The freefall over the past month is quite obvious if you follow the blue trace below.  

Source: NRCS
That gives us about a "weekish" of snow cover duration left at that site.

In the western Uintas, the Trial Lake SNOTEL has maybe a day or two left with 1.0" of water equivalent on the pillow.

Source: NRCS
Bald Mountain Pass, which is a bit higher, looks like it still has about a footish of snow on the ground.  With effort, there's probably some skiing to be had up there, but this is a pretty meager snowpack for the approaching Memorial Day weekend.  

Whose got the most? The Doc Daniel site in the Bear River Range is the statewide leader at present with about 15 inches. 

Source: NRCS
For what it's worth, the Alta web cams suggest we should have reasonable top-to-bottom ski touring this weekend, despite the skimpy Snowbird SNOTEL numbers.  

Source: Alta
The snow depth at Alta-Collins this afternoon sits at 55".  

More Info on the GFS FV3 Upgrade


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Little Cottonwood Terrain Shading

I'm on a short road trip to La Jolla, California where I'm visiting the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  There's a lot of great research happening here, so the trip has been quite invigorating.  Morning walks on the beach have been nice as well, although San Diego has been draped in "May Gray" since I got here. 

Flying out of Salt Lake City late Sunday revealed some curiosities about terrain shading in Little Cottonwood Canyon.  In particular, note how the high terrain north of the canyon is casting a shadow on the north facing sidewall. 

This can happen at our latitude between the spring and fall equinoxes when the sun sets north of west and is most pronounced at the summer solstice (late June).

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Uinta Misadventures

My son and I have thought about skiing Kings Peak all season.  We figured we'd wait until the road was melted out and then give it a shot.  Then, work, weather, and other factors conspired to prevent us from doing it, until yesterday.

Our plan was to do it as an overnighter, skiing in, setting up camp at about 11,000 feet, summiting, spending the night, and then skiing out on frozen snow the next morning.

There were, however, two major problems with this plan.  First, there was very little snow.  Second, it was exceptionally warm.

The trailhead sits at 9400 feet.  Bone dry. 

That was somewhat expected since the road was open, and we naively thought we would hit snow shortly up the trail, but alas, that wasn't to be.  Instead it was 3 or 4 miles of hauling overnight packs with an additional 12-14 pounds of AT gear up the trail. 

In addition, the Kings Peak trail is nearly pan flat.  So you don't get an abrupt transition from no snow to snow.  Instead, one gets miles of patchy snow.  To ski or not to ski that is the question we asked for some time.  Further, the snow was totally rotten, with postholling aplenty.  This led to rat-maze-like routes on snow patches, frequent ski removal, and lots of skinning across grass, mud, and rocks.

Did I mention swimming?  Well, none of that was done, but it was plenty boggy in many places.  Did I mention collapsable snow?  Plenty of that, even with skis on. 

This continued for some time, but we were hopeful that when we reached Elkhorn Crossing at 10,500 feet, things would surely improve.

Sadly, they didn't.  Look at all that bare ground!

We had hopes that perhaps the western side along the trees would be better, so we crossed the bridge, which thankfully was there as fording the stream here would have been impossible.

We then tried a few options.  One was working our way through the woods above the trail, which proved extremely difficult due to the limited snow cover, downed trees, bare spots, and the like.  We then dropped down to nearer the trail and moseyed along some more, but finally shortly after this photo was taken, we realized we were well behind schedule. 

At that point, we had a few of options.  Reaching the summit that day seemed nearly impossible.  Our pace was much slower than we expected.  If we were to make it, it would be late and we'd be exhausted.  At 25, I would have surely given it a shot, but at 50, it seemed like a recipe for disaster.  Further, at this point we had seen absolutely nobody.  It seemed a foolish move.

Another option was to go a bit further, camp for the night, and summit in the morning on firmer snow.  That seemed doable, but the exit out then would be a painful one involving the same sorts of travel conditions we'd experienced so far.  Two days of this wasn't looking like fun.

Ultimately, we decided it wasn't our day and to pack it in.  We then trudged 6-7 miles back to the trailhead, taking a few photos above the crossing for memories.

Over the past couple of weeks, I had tracked the snowpack at SNOTEL stations in the Uintas.  Several were at zero prior to our trip, but others had 10-15 inches.  I found it hard to believe that there was zero snow along the Kings Peak Route, and really, there wasn't.  There just wasn't enough to piece together a reasonable approach.  Confirmation bias and wishful thinking led me to conclude that there would be more snow than there was. 

Lessons learned: Kings Peak is really meant for light weight backcountry gear on a healthy snowpack.  A time machine to take me back to my 20s might also be helpful!