Sunrise light on a grove of tufa towers emerging from the water of Mono Lake with soft green and dusty-red wild grasses in the foreground, Canada geese in the shallow water with reflections of the rocky towers, and desert hills in the distance.

Removing snow and rumors along the Tioga Pass Road

Tioga Pass Road at 8,000' on April 4, 2017.
Snow is minimal below 8,000 feet on the east side of  Highway 120, but snow depth increases exponentially above 8,500 feet. Photo by Bartshé Miller.

As everyone in California knows, it’s been a remarkable year for precipitation. At the highest elevations above Mono Lake in the vicinity of Tioga Pass, we may be facing a snowpack over 200% of average. April 1 snow surveys revealed nearby sites at all-time record snow depth and water content, while other sites, including Tioga Pass itself, fell just short of past record levels. Snow depth in the region likely moved upward with recent April storms, cold temperatures, and generally unsettled spring weather.

Tioga Pass Road is full of avanlanch debris, April 2017.
Rocks, silt, and one of the many avalanches that have buried the Tioga Pass Road. Photo by Bartshé Miller.

It will require a lot of time and effort to clear Highway 120 West (Tioga Pass) through Yosemite National Park at the higher elevations. Avalanches, debris, large rocks, fallen trees, record snowpack, runoff, and road damage will slow the process. The effort will likely involve not only the National Park Service, but also Caltrans, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, and Mono County road crews.

Work to clear the road officially began on April 14, and Caltrans also did some preliminary work clearing some of the large avalanches that have fallen across Highway 120 on the Mono Lake side of Tioga Pass.

A 10m avalanche pile on top of the Tioga Pass Road.
This is the view looking west, from the top of a 10-meter-tall avalanche slide over the Tioga Pass Road on April 4, 2017. More slides, rocks, debris, and a record snowpack continue above 8,500 feet/2,590 meters elevation. Photo by Bartshé Miller.

Currently there is no estimated opening date, but based on past big snow years, it’s likely that the Tioga Pass Road will not open until sometime during the second half of June. The opening date depends on many variables, including how long snow keeps falling in the high country. Every year we hear fantastic rumors about when the pass might open, and no doubt the rumors, like the snowpack, will be at a record levels.

Tioga Pass Road on April 4, 2017.
Removing Sierra cement from beneath an avalanche chute along Highway 120 West,  several miles below the Tioga Pass entrance. Photo by Bartshé Miller.