top of the Gondola, Green Valley, Crystal MountainToday my daughter and I went skiing at Crystal Mountain, which will probably be open well into June and perhaps even July this year. They just set a new record for snowfall, surpassing 600 inches for the year. Sure, in some places it was a little grabby, and the water content is high, but there is a lot of snow left on the mountain above 5000'. I couldn't help but think of this year's backpacking season and the amount of snow right now, and based on previous year's experience I think it's going to be a late season. Late on the flowers, late for the higher elevation trails to be snow free, late for the bugs. Those planning for a Wonderland Trail hike better be prepared for these conditions. I would expect that Panhandle Gap will never melt out this season, and anyone attempting the trail in June....well, good luck. A few years ago, also with a late deep snow pack, I hiked to Panhandle Gap in the middle of June and was on snow from step one, right out of the parking lot. We were able to make a beeline straight for the gap, breaking trail as no one else had been that way. A ranger told me that attempts had been made on the trail, and no one had succeeded at that time. Expect this year to be similar, with snow on various parts of the trail well into late July. Prepare for camping on snow, for lots of foot time in wet and muddy snow conditions, and possible route finding problems with the trail covered for some distances. June will be tough, eventually easing into the mid to latter part of July. Early season this year might be a good time to dust off the GPS and reacquaint yourself with basic map reading skills. The park does an excellent job of trail maintenance and bridges should be secured as soon as they can get to them, and areas like Panhandle Gap and upper Spray Park will probably see wands to help in route finding. Icicles at 6000' /Crystal Mountain
Last year had a fair amount of late snow and we were battling the bugs in late August. Of course, we also had some great flower shows even in August as they waited to make their appearance after the snows had melted. I took a trip to the Success Cleaver on July 15th and Indian Henry's was still snow covered, with mushy travel almost from Devil's Dream camp.
So those planning on a thru hike of the Wonderland in 2011 take heed and prepare yourself. Check with the park service on trail conditions, and perhaps even call and talk to a ranger; inquire about thru-hikers up to your date and success rates. This will give you a good idea of what you can expect. As of this writing the Wonderland Trail is 100% snow covered. Check back on williswall.com as I expect to provide some updates in late June.