Author Topic: Gt Divide Snow  (Read 5226 times)

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Offline Lowly Swale

Gt Divide Snow
« on: May 03, 2011, 05:10:53 am »
I've just been watching Tour Divide film/DVD. There were some passes with quite a bit of snow in mid June. An interview with Matthew Lee gave an impression the snow levels were remarkable and he seemed to have much experience.
I was just wondering if there are forum readers who know what sort of a winter the Rockies has had this year. How are the snow levels comparing to previous years? Is the spring coming sooner/later/warmer/colder this time?

Offline jamawani

Re: Gt Divide Snow
« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2011, 08:00:42 am »
Hi - I'm from Wyoming and follow snow levels fairly closely - although I am not a professional hydrologist or anything.  In Wyoming the snow in most high elevations is anywhere from 125% to 150% of normal.

Here is a map of snow pack in the West:

As you can see - with the exception of Arizona and New Mexico - most of the West has significantly higher than normal snow this season.  Southern Colorado is about normal.

June is still an iffy month anywhere north of Monarch Pass/US 50.  June snows are the norm in the Central and Northern Rockies.  Plus you have all that winter snow to melt out.  That is why I have always suggested a south to north direction for the Great Divide Route.  (Also June is the end of the dry season in New Mexico, while August is much drier than June in Montana.)

A number of years ago I navigated Schofield Pass north of Crested Butte when there was still moderate snowpack.  I had to chisel my way through - should have had crampons - was rather foolish.  And that was in a relatively light snow year.

If a person were to leave from the Mexican border in mid June, then there should be ideal conditions for the GDMBR.  Don't think a departure from the Canadian border is advisable before mid July.

Offline CMajernik

Re: Gt Divide Snow
« Reply #2 on: May 03, 2011, 12:27:39 pm »
We're having a very heavy snow year here in MT, and a late spring, so snowmelt hasn't really begun yet, just at lower elevations.
Carla Majernik
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Offline Lowly Swale

Re: Gt Divide Snow
« Reply #3 on: May 04, 2011, 05:38:01 am »
Hello Jamawami and C Majernik,
Thank you for your advice, you sound experienced and knowledgable. Unfortunately I made a decision about booking flights before I'd read J's last reply in February (to ground conditions/mudguards).
So I'm now committed to flying 15th June, hoping to start the route in Banff about 21st June and finish 1st week September.
Mind you, I'll be relaxed about whether I complete it or not. My goal is for an experience and escape from routine but I'm hoping for some good riding.
Is there a discussion North verses South somewhere?
I think I looked at that some years back and had decided N-S, that might have been before the Canada section was added.
Would be interested to know how the Tour Divide has fared over it's history. Have they succeeded starting 2nd week June from Banff.
I'll certainly be checking out their progress in June this year before I set out.
In fact I might just check out their history now and give myself more to worry about.

Offline jamawani

Re: Gt Divide Snow
« Reply #4 on: May 04, 2011, 08:18:55 am »
I Know I'm on an ACA blog -
But I really cannot understand why they suggest a north to south direction -
Especially since they are in Missoula, Montana.
Maybe when they developed it in the late 1990s and early 2000s there were low-snow years.
But moderate to heavy snow years make the northern sections tough to use until July.

I've lived in Wyoming for 20 years and have hiked/biked the high country a lot.
July may seem crazy to people unfamiliar with the Northern Rockies -
But if you hike in the national forests, you know to expect snow banks.

Think about it -
You can easily get 10 to 20 feet of snow over the winter.
You definitely get snow into May - although snow melt starts in April.
Short June snow events are not unusual, either.

Even if the snow is gone - the dirt roads are often mudholes.
All of that moisture has to go somewhere.

Here's a link to last year's opening of Glacier National Park's Going to the Sun Road.
It can be used as a proxy for how long it takes to clear out the winter's snow.
And remember, GTTS is plowed - most forest roads simply melt out.

Then there's the precipitation patterns.
As I stated before - May/June is the peak precipitation period in the Northern Rockies / High Plains.
May places see half of their annual rainfall in those two months.
By contrast, July/August is the peak precip period for New Mexico - again, maybe half.
When you are riding dirt roads, it generally is a good idea to plan for less rather than more precip.

I've ridden most of the Canadian section.
I really don't see how you will be able to get over Elk Pass. (on the border of AB / BC)
You can follow the Paved route from Peter Lougheed to Highwood Junction
And then take the Forestry Trunk Road (dirt) to Hwy 3.
It generally follows the Livingstone and Oldman Rivers and is lovely.
Highwood Pass - on pavement - may still be closed.
The store at Highwood Jct may not yet be open.
Another store is at the Hwy 22 Jct.

Offline Lowly Swale

Tour Divide
« Reply #5 on: May 05, 2011, 03:17:19 pm »
It appears that the route from Banff has been completed by quite a few riders every year since 2005 in the Tour Divide Race. Looking at the entry list for 2011, the North South entry is quite a bit more numerous than the South-North entry list.
Any insights into the reasons for this?
They'll be going lighter and faster than me, also a week or two earlier.
So hopefully there'll be some advance information available about conditions ahead.
Thanks for the advice on alternatives. I'll take note.

Offline jamawani

Re: Gt Divide Snow
« Reply #6 on: May 06, 2011, 06:37:09 am »
I have ridden Elk Pass four times - all later in the summer.  It is not a particularly high pass - just a saddle between the mountain ranges, but given that it is at the summit of two valleys, its elevation exceeds 1900 meters.

The road over the top is a two-track that has no maintenance or snow removal during the winter - I do not know if there is any clearing in the spring, but this rarely happens on fire roads unless there is an emergency need for access.

Furthermore, this has been a heavy snow year throughout the West.  Many mountain areas of the Pacific Northwest received another foot of snow last weekend.  The years 2003 to 2007 were low snowfall years - snow fall increased in 2008 to 2010.  I suspect that riders last year had to negotiate some snow - esp. in Elk Pass.

I do not have any detailed data.  Your best bet would be to contact the main warden's station at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Alberta.  Elk Lakes Provincial Park in BC has minimal staffing.  (Sometimes none even in summer)
Think about it - a provincial park that does not even have one warden even in summer.  That should tell you how remote and unpopulated some areas of the Rockies are.

My guess is that the Divide racers are in for a cold awakening this year.

Offline jamawani

« Last Edit: May 06, 2011, 07:15:09 am by jamawani »

Offline jamawani

Re: Gt Divide Snow
« Reply #8 on: May 06, 2011, 04:13:17 pm »
Peter Lougheed Center Staff reports:

Record to near-record snow depths.
Almost certain that Elk Pass will not be melted out by mid June.
Highwood Pass is required by law to be open by June 15
But will be difficult because of avalanche danger.

Current packed depth at Highwood 120 cm - 4 feet.
Other areas have 150 cm and more - 5+ feet.

Smith Dorien/ Spray Lakes Road is plowed from Canmore.
You will most likely have to take the Livingstone/Oldman option.


Offline Lowly Swale

Re: Gt Divide Snow
« Reply #9 on: May 31, 2011, 09:01:32 am »
Hello JE,
After seeing, on TV, stage 1 of Tour of California cancelled due to snow and the cold weather on subsequent stages I figured this year must be different to recent ones.
I have been checking web cams at Peter Lougheed Park and others linked from the Tour Divide website.
Until last week it was looking quite good, snows disappearing and I'd heard that rivers were high indicating rain and melt.
Then the last few days the snow was back again and it seems to be around freezing at dawn (seems to be going down again now). I note your warnings on Wyoming for Trans America riders.
Still feeling optimistic for a start on Great Divide Banff about mid summer - June 21, I can afford to be delayed or diverted if need be.
Do you know of any web cams which might indicate snow conditions of Elk pass or similar?
If you are interested in seeing how I get on, I intend keeping a blog, .
After having this trip in mind for a long time departure day is rushing toward me ever quicker.
Think I am just about ready.

Offline jamawani

Re: Gt Divide Snow
« Reply #10 on: May 31, 2011, 01:47:33 pm »
Lowly -

We got another 1 foot + of snow in the Bighorns this weekend - and they got snow all over the Rocky Mountain region.  Even by June 21st, I would expect there to be a lot of snow remaining at higher elevations and extremely muddy conditions where it has melted.  The first half of the trip will be really, really tough.  A month ago I said it was bad - it has gotten worse since then.  If it were me, I would spend the extra $$$ and do south to north - - but that may also mean passport and visa stuff.  If you do north to south you should have detailed maps available in order to do frequent alternates.


Offline Lowly Swale

On Elk Pass Now
« Reply #11 on: June 09, 2011, 05:00:39 am »
Just looking at the Tour Divide Race site.
Rob Collier is on Elk Pass right now.
Mind you I saw a picture from June 4 on Glacier Park-Going to the Sun Rd and it did look a bit un-rideable.

Offline indyfabz

Re: On Elk Pass Now
« Reply #12 on: June 09, 2011, 07:48:36 am »
Mind you I saw a picture from June 4 on Glacier Park-Going to the Sun Rd and it did look a bit un-rideable.

A bit is an understatement.  Logan Pass is covered in what looks to be about 20-25 feet of snow.

Offline Lowly Swale

Re: Gt Divide Snow
« Reply #13 on: June 11, 2011, 04:51:16 am »
Watching the Tour Divide racers, they seem to be making reasonable time on Elk Pass.
Looking ahead they are taking the Fernie route rather than Red Meadow.
Some time ago someone advised missing Red Meadow and going via Polebridge.
Can anyone advise on the choice between Polebridge or Fernie?
If I went via Polebridge I could maybe have side trip to go see how the Logan Pass clearing is going on Going to the Sun. Once rode that road in rain, cold and mist, it would be nice to see the view.
It is still the best part of 2 weeks before I expect to be getting to Banff and I don't think I'll be hurrying.

Offline Lowly Swale

« Reply #14 on: June 11, 2011, 06:13:53 am »
Ignore that last Q about Fernie or Red Meadow, got mistaken between map loops. Still interested in conditions going via Flathead  and Polebridge.