Here’s more evidence that impacts from a big winter snowpack melting in the high Central Sierra continue: the concessioner that runs catered backcountry camps in Yosemite has decided not to open the popular, pricey outposts this summer.
High Sierra Camps in Yosemite cater to people who enter a lottery for reservations and are willing to pay $139 to $146 a night for meals and lodging in shared canvas tents. Jobs tied to the camps include caretaker-hosts, cooks and packers.
The oldest High Sierra Camps in Yosemite date back a century, and this is the third time the camps will not open for the entire summer season. The other two times were 2005 and 1995, said Scott Gediman with Yosemite National Park public affairs.
Representatives for Yosemite Hospitality and Aramark, the concessioner that runs the High Sierra Camps and most other visitor services in the park, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
On Sunday at Glen Aulin, five miles below Tuolumne Meadows on the Pacific Crest Trail, a footbridge to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp lay smashed in snowmelt-swollen Conness Creek downstream from its foundations, before the creek flows into the roaring Tuolumne River.
This past winter brought atmospheric river storms and heaps of snow to the high Central Sierra. National Park Service staff in Yosemite said April snow surveys showed high elevation regions in the backcountry sustained record-setting snowpack levels. Many locations above 8,000 feet elevation had snowpack greater than 200 percent of average based on water content.
“Based on the huge snowpack, the decision was made not to open the High Sierra Camps this summer,” Gediman said.
People with Yosemite Hospitality came to the Park Service this spring to request permission to not open High Sierra Camps this summer, Gediman said, and the Park Service on June 3 authorized the concessioner to keep them closed all summer.
“At that point, Yosemite Hospitality reached out to guests with reservations and presented two options: full refunds or the same dates next year,” he said.
There are five backcountry High Sierra Camps in Yosemite: at May Lake, Glen Aulin, Vogelsang, Merced Lake and Sunrise. A sixth location, White Wolf, also will not open this summer.
“As you may have heard, Yosemite National Park is seeing a record amount of snowpack in the high country, which includes the High Sierra Camps,” a June 7 Aramark email to a customer states. “The National Park Service has noted that this year’s snowpack is bigger than the previous four years combined. We are sending you this email to inform you that unfortunately the High Sierra Camps will not open this year due to the record snowpack, lack of access to water for bathrooms and kitchens and other infrastructure challenges.”
High Sierra Camps have drinking water systems and vault toilets, Gediman said. Most cooking is done on propane or gas. High Sierra Camps do not have electricity, unless a packer brings in a generator.
Tuolumne Meadows Lodge off Tioga Road, which is also operated by Yosemite Hospitality and Aramark, is expected to open in the next few weeks, Gediman said.
Asked if it’s possible to estimate how many High Sierra Camp reservations were canceled by the concessioner this year, Gediman said “several hundred people” use the camps each summer.
According to park historians, the first High Sierra Camps in Yosemite date to the early 1900s and before that they were outposts for U.S. Cavalry who patrolled the park. White Wolf was first homesteaded back in the 1870s.
Farther south in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, there are two more High Sierra Camps: Sequoia and Bear Paw both opened in June and close in September.
Gediman said he’s heard people who had reservations for High Sierra Camps in Yosemite have so far been understanding about cancellations and closures.
“They understand this was a big winter and there’s a huge snowpack,” Gediman said. “Yosemite National Park is a wild place by definition. The High Sierra Camps are a great service for visitors, part of the history and fabric of the park. The snowpack this year means they can’t open and it’s part of life in Yosemite. The High Sierra Camps are in the wilderness, where there’s lots of impacts and this is just one of those impacts.”
Tioga Road, the name for Highway 120 in Yosemite National Park, remained closed Nov. 16 to June 29 due to what NPS staff have described as record-breaking snowpack. Since 1980, the average opening date for Tioga was in late May, and before this year, the latest opening dates were June 29, 1983, June 30, 1995 and July 1, 1998.
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or (209) 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter @GuyMcCarthy.