As things stand today, the family and I will almost certainly be at the start of the 2017 Bob Open, if for no other reason than we rented the (superlatively gorgeous) forest service cabin at the start for the nights of the 26th and 27th. I’m less certain I’ll actually start the course, but knowing what the obvious routes are and what an extraordinary winter Montana has had it will be difficult to say no.
Not having been in Montana since early November, I find myself in the new to me situation of having to assess conditions and plan from a distance. Though naturally having done this for each of the last six Mays makes generalizing data to what is on the ground quite a bit easier.
Of all the Snotels in the Bob I find Badger Pass the most useful, for reasons discussed here. While I won’t be going especially close to the pass itself, it should give me a decent ideal of how much and more importantly what kind of snow I might find on the passes I will go over.
Badger tells us that a lot of snow fell in the Bob this winter. More importantly, it tells us that unless a truly remarkable heat wave rolls in there will still be lots of snow at the end of May. The top graph tells it best, showing snow depth holding steady over the past 30 days, while snow water equivalent slowly increased. This tells me that the ~80 inches of snow currently lurking in the spruce up at Badger is exceedingly dense and solid, and will take a long time to melt even with warm temperatures. For the Open I’ll expect snow down to 5000 feet, maybe lower in the trees on north facing slopes, and well over 6 feet in most places above 6500. Navigational challenges will be a bit more extensive than usual.
It seems likely that lower and low-mid elevation snow will be well cleared out by a fairly warm April, as steadily high but not egregious flows on both relevant rivers show. This removes the unlikely, but after a winter like one not improbable, scenario of snow persisting below 5000 feet well into May and even June. Flows this high for this long also mean a high probability of wood being moved around, not necessarily of more wood jams, but certainly in different places. So much snow does mean that increased deadfall on trails is a certainty. Only the weather close to go time will determine how big the rivers and streams in fact are. As the Snotel sites tell us there is still more than enough middle and high altitude snow to make things truly huge, but the elimination of low altitude snow does mean that it will take a more sustained warm period to really bring the waterways up.
Planning wise this data doesn’t necessarily change much. Lots of snow might prompt you away from a trail on a north facing aspect into a neighboring drainage which is likely to be more melted. On the other hand, depending on temps in the week before more snow in live forest might be preferable to less snow in a burn, and the tons of downed trees which might there be found. The potential for problematic stream crossings, a la 2013, certainly has my attention, as does the omnipresent question of whether to bring snowshoes or not. Hard not to lean yes on a year like this one.
See everyone next month!