Backpacking — Sierra Nevada Water Report — April 26, 2017

Go with the flow!  It has started in earnest.

With the weather warming up in California, all that record-breaking snow is beginning to melt.  Today, daytime temperatures are in the 40’s to 50’s (F) to the north and the 50’s and 60’s to the south.  And, there are widely scattered rain showers throughout the range.  Hopefully, the temperatures don’t warm up too much or too quickly so we can keep that snow “bank” account full through the middle of the year.

The graph below shows how one particular river in the southern Sierra is behaving.  It is a popular kayaking river that flows mostly uncontrolled (no gates or dams upstream) from the high mountains east of Fresno/Bakersfield southward into Lake Isabella.  There are a few observations that can be made:

  1. The diurnal (daily) variation (peaks and valleys) shows how the amount of water in the river increases as the  afternoon heat melts the snow at the lower elevations, then decreases as the night chill slows the melting process and even refreezes the rivulets dripping from the lower extremes.
  2. This rhythmic diurnal variation is typical of a natural, uncontrolled stream/river.  The river flows into a storage reservoir, Lake Isabella.  The outflow from Lake Isabella is not so rhythmic because the US Army Corps of Engineers controls the gates that tend to be reflected with somewhat squared off flow curves of extreme “rails and channels.”
  3. The peak seasonal flows have not yet arrived.  While from a downstream water supply perspective it is best for the snow to melt slowly and evenly so as to keep water stored in the mountains through the peak summer irrigation season, the heartiest kayakers would probably like to see it all melt fairly quickly thereby creating some awesome high-water, turbulent flows.
  4. The Upper Kern River drains water from some of the highest peaks in the Sierra Nevada including the great divide along the eastern ridges.
  5. This river is the most southerly of the major rivers flowing from the Sierra,  so it starts to flow slightly earlier and at a greater increase than those to the cooler northern portions of the Sierra.
Kern River Flows
Source: –thanks for the nice work!

That’s enough observations for now.  Keep an eye on this site for more as the backpacking season progresses.

Early PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) hikers are already on the trail and headed for the 2017 snowbank called the Sierra Nevada.  Hopefully, they are all prepared to sweat through the desert, suck dust in the low altitudes, slog it through the middle altitudes and crunch through cold, dangerous snow crust with crampons and ice axes in the high country.

One great thing for sure in 2017 — there is going to be plenty of ice-cold, clean drinking water through most of the trip.

Let us know what snow/water conditions you find out there so we can pass it on.