Snowpack 2019 and the word Passable

Trail Tip Tuesday – SNOWPACK and “PASSABLE” – April 23, 2019. It’s late April and snowpack questions about The Colorado Trail are becoming more numerous. Recent CTF blogs have discussed some of the related aspects including start dates, swollen creeks and avalanche impacts. In coming weeks we will try passing along the volunteer and user reports we see and hear as to what portions of the CT have become passable. For example, right now reports indicate that (only) Segments 1-3 have melted to the point we consider them passable.

PASSABLE. We will be using the term “passable” to mean snowpack that has melted enough to where it is not overly arduous or hazardous for the average CT user to pass through, for example, on a lengthy hike, bike or horse ride.

Thru-hiker struggling in deep snowpack on north-facing and tree-shaded slopes.

Early season deep snowpack is often arduous and sometimes hazardous.

SUBJECTIVE. Trail travelers have widely varying perspectives about how much snow is too much for them. Some are mountaineers and comfortable with expeditions where they might expend huge energy to move a relatively short distance in an entire day. Others don’t even want to encounter snow at all and get their feet wet tromping in it. Most CT users are in between these extremes, wanting to travel a lengthy section of the CT without suffering snowpack related exhaustion or the risks that include post-holing and being off Trail. When we use the term “passable,” we’re trying to guess whether each CT portion has melted enough for this average Colorado Trail traveler.

GUESSWORK. It is impossible to know exactly how much snowpack is left along each portion of the CT. Same goes for ice and mud, we can’t tell for sure. We stay present with the eleven SNOTEL sites that are closest to the Trail. While helpful, the SNOTEL locations don’t track the exact conditions on each section of the CT. The best information comes from Trail travelers and, sometimes, from our volunteers who arrive during melt-off. So, if you go, please let all of us know, for example on Facebook. Report how much snowpack you encountered in terms of how deep it is and the distance(s) it lasted, as well as how arduous and hazardous. Much appreciated, thanks!