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Winter Conditions on Baden Powell

Article added by TractorUp on 04/24/2015
Full Article Title: Winter Conditions on Baden Powell
Winter temperature and snow condition prediction on Mount Baden Powell in Southern California, Angeles National Forest, San Gabriels:

I've spent a bit of time in all seasons on Baden Powell and here's generally what I come to expect as far as temperature conditions on the mountain. Disclaimer: This is a general guide from my experience only and is for information purposes only. Winter mountain travel is inherently dangerous and should only be performed by experienced people with a wide range of mountaineering experience. I am certified in nothing and these are my opinions only. Injury or death occurs easily in winter mountain situations. Travel at your own risk.

The parking lot at Vincent Gap is at just under 6600' elevation and the summit is at 9400'.

One might consider the data on mountain-forecast.com but I have seen that it is sometimes accurate and sometimes not and it also may change drastically in the predictions from day to day. Regarding the predictions at mountain-forecast, low temperatures are generally not low enough, high temps not high enough, and snowfall depth is sometimes erroneous and sometimes under predicted by as much as 100+% from what I have personally observed on the mountain.

I have found a good year-round approximation of the summit temperature to be 20 degrees F lower than Phelan, California or 10 degrees F lower than Wrightwood, California at any time of day.

Nightly low on the summit is approximately 30 degrees F below the temperature in Phelan, California at 5-7pm.

In winter conditions, the temperature may change noticeably around the 8800' level becoming much more harsh. The temperature at the PCT trail junction just before the summit may be considerably calmer and warmer than the summit itself. However, above 8500', the winter temperature and conditions continue to deteriorate toward the summit. While one can take off from Vincent Gap in reasonably nice conditions, the 8800 foot level can be like entering a freezer in comparison to the conditions experienced lower.

If there are high winds at Vincent Gap there is some degree of shelter from the wind on the PCT up Baden Powell with only a few spots of heavy wind exposure until the final ridge and summit push. Here, the winds increase again. The final flattish ridge before the summit is slightly protected from the wind. Wind speed will be much higher on the summit than on this ridge and higher on this ridge than the rest of the trip up the mountain, excluding the Vincent Gap parking lot itself.

Regarding travel and snow accumulation on the mountain, there are a few lower switchbacks that remain snow covered and icy well into spring (snowfall dependent of course) while the rest of the trail is free of snow until higher elevations. Trail may be broken up to 8500' most of the year but after this point, one must make their own path thru the snow toward the summit. Travel beyond this point takes significantly more energy than travel up to this point. Depending on temperature and freshness of the snow, microspikes may or may not be of any use above here. In powdery snow one will be post-holing, while in firmer untraveled snow microspikes will generally not provide sure footing unless the path being followed has already been traveled on by others and the snow is somewhat packed. Slushiness of the snow surface will also decrease the effectiveness of microspikes. Crampons are preferable to microspikes on this section of mountain but also may not grip well in certain freeze-thaw snow conditions. Snow will generally fall as powder on the mountain and will last until the temps warm or the sun glazes it over. When snow melts from the trees it will drip on the snow below and form icy patches under the trees.

While snowshoes will work great in the powder, the window of opportunity for quality powder snowshoeing is small usually only a few days after a major snowfall. Powdery conditions will remain longer at higher elevation but as soon as the snow warms for the first time a crust will begin to form on the powder and will also form rather quickly under trees as snow melts from the trees and drips onto the snow below. So roughly speaking for general winter travel other than immediately after a deep fresh powdery snow, my preferred setup is microspikes and an ice axe. The microspikes do well on the icy conditions of the lower slopes and provide some bite into freeze-thaw snow at higher elevations as well as allow one to kick steps with more ease and security than an unshod boot or shoe. The ice axe provides stability, self-arrest, ability to cut steps and glissade. After higher elevations have had a chance to freeze-thaw a few times a crust will form over the powder. This crust may be annoying and energy sapping. It can also be dangerous as the thickness of crust may vary from place to place (thicker under trees) and make the snow somewhat patchy and unpredictable. While post-holing without microspikes or crampons is possible in rather safety, if one hits a snow area with thicker crust which does not break as expected under the person's weight traction will be minimal and a fall might be incurred. At this point, without an ice axe there may be no way to self-arrest. For this reason I consider microspikes and a mountaineering ice axe to be standard equipment on this mountain in winter snow conditions. Microspikes are also useful if snowshoeing at higher elevation, they will provide a secure means by which to approach the higher elevations of powder on the icy, traveled trail down below. Speaking of the lower switchbacks, ice on these switchbacks can make many sections of trail hazardous. Thickly crusted snow above or below the trail in colder temperature conditions may be just as impassible as the ice on the trail. For this reason microspikes should be a requirement in any such conditions as they can provide a nice level of surefootedness and security in an otherwise unsafe environment. Also note that it is less slippery ascending on icy slopes than descending on icy slopes... this causes people to get themselves in trouble as they can get up with rather ease but coming back down may be significantly more hazardous.

The final bump up to the summit is the most dangerous place for winter travel. The snow up here is generally thin and windblown and the ground below is frozen. In some instances this can create impassible or highly dangerous conditions with or without crampons. If the snow is thicker it gets ice glazed fairly quick and trail forms off-camber on the side of the summit bump. There is significant exposure in this small section if a fall were to take place thus ice axe and knowledge of self-arrest is a must through this small section. On the ridge before the junction with the summit trail, cornices may form overhanging the east edge of the ridge and it is necessary to stay back from the edge in these conditions as a fall off the eastern side of this ridge in these conditions would almost certainly be fatal.

Time of day is important to snow travel on this mountain as it is generally affected by freeze-thaw most of the winter season. Assuming freeze-thaw has already taken place and others have already traveled on the trail (this is the most common state to find the trail except immediately after a large storm), microspikes are a necessity as much of the trail will be hard ice or slippery compacted frozen snow. As temps warm up or later in the season, the amount of hard ice or slippery compacted snow decreases. The snow has more bite as the surface warms and melts and the ground below unfreezes. In these conditions, only the shadier areas such as a few of the tight switchbacks may remain rather slippery while the warmer snow becomes slushier. This generally occurs more toward mid-day as the snow has warmed. In the morning it may be significantly more icy/slippery than a few hours later. Also, the reverse can be true later in the day as the temp falls and freezing occurs, the snow surfaces can become more solid and slippery. Thus, if one wishes to avoid using microspikes or crampons in warmer conditions during freeze-thaw periods, time of day becomes important.... what may be safe at 1pm may be unsafe earlier or later in the day. That being said, the shadier areas will still remain icy in freeze-thaw and one should plan accordingly.

In conclusion, if one can leave the parking lot at Vincent Gap and immediately gain traction on a snow covered trail, then the snow will be powdery above and post-holing will ensue and this is a good day for snowshoes, microspikes will only be needed lower down if at all. These conditions only occur directly after a large storm and there will probably be snow players down in the parking lot at Vincent Gap. For normal average winter snow travel conditions, microspikes will be necessary and an ice axe one's best friend. Later in the season when the snow has melted at 8800' there may be patches above and below that are generally softer due to warmer temps and steps can be kicked if needed. I personally do not use an ice axe or microspikes in such conditions but falls still can occur and others may want them depending on their comfort level. Late season icy/hard snow switchbacks do remain lower down even after temps have warmed and caution must be exercise thru these sections. On cold windy days with snow present, temperature may feel as much as 15 degrees cooler on the summit factoring wind chill than the temperature at 8500 feet elevation.
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