Snowpack 2019 and Starting Too Early

Trail Tip Tuesday – 2019 DEEP SNOWPACK and STARTING TOO EARLY – May 7, 2019. A spring snowstorm is in the forecast for the next few days. It’s likely to drop maybe a foot of new snow in the Colorado mountains including along The Colorado Trail. This is pretty normal for early May and it is likely this new snow will melt fairly quickly. CT Segments 1, 2 and 3 that have been snow free for weeks now will be blanketed by new snow but it will melt quickly and, within a few days, 1-3 will become easily passable again. Not so for the other segments that all have old, dense snowpack; it will melt much more slowly and it’ll be weeks before they become passable.

Snow conditions along The Colorado Trail, Segment 12, on May 6, 2019.

Snow conditions along The Colorado Trail, Segment 12, on May 6, 2019.

Good guesswork in this deep snowpack year suggests that, if you’re not wanting to hassle with much snow along the CT, start from Waterton around July 15 or after, around 2 weeks later than normal. For the Collegiate West we’re guessing you should start around the end of July or later.

If you start earlier than these dates, it’s a good guess that you might encounter significant remaining spring snow that, through the process of thawing and freezing, has become rotten and unsupportive. You could be post-holing a lot and it’ll be surprisingly slow and tiring, and maybe a little dangerous including due to hidden deadfall.

If you’re traveling southbound from Waterton, likely your first big snow might be on Georgia Pass in Segment 6. Based on your experiences near Georgia Pass, you should reassess and first decide whether to push forward, stop altogether, or maybe skip ahead. Likely the deepest snow will be on the north side of the pass where you’re traveling downhill. If conditions make it exhausting and even dangerous, it might be prudent to reconfigure your CT plan.

It will help you to know that when Segment 6 is still troublesome due to deep rotten snow, Segment 7 is likely to be more challenging and dangerous, requiring travel on steep slopes and negotiating a cornice overhang at the top that can be insurmountable. Segment 8 will likely have an even larger expanse of snow and it has a steep hill traverse where a fall could easily result in serious injury.

There is no sure way to predict these conditions in advance. For updates and reports, revisit this blog page, https://coloradotrail.org/blog/. Likely you can also find updated conditions on the CT related Facebook pages, including https://www.facebook.com/ColoradoTrailFoundation/.

If you start too early and face overly troublesome remaining snow, you can skip the segments that reportedly still retain serious snow. Depending on your timing, you might skip to Segment 11, or maybe by then Segments 9 and 10 have melted enough and you could skip forward there.

Stay safe and enjoy your trip on The Colorado Trail.