Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gaining Perspective on the Central Wasatch

Eighteen years in Salt Lake City and I've never hiked up Clayton Peak, which lies above Brighton in upper Big Cottonwood Canyon.

I did it today and discovered that there might be no better place to sit and think about how the topography influences the snow climate of the Wasatch Mountains.

The image below, in particular, was taken to highlight the high terrain surrounding Little Cottonwood Canyon (LCC, click to enlarge).  Mt. Timpanogos to the south is higher than any of the topography surrounding LCC by a couple hundred feet, but it is an elongated ridge.  As a result, it sees heavy snowfall primarily when the flow crosses that ridge (i.e., out of the south or southwest), but not so much in other patterns.  The island of topography surrounding LCC, however, while famous for snowfall enhancement in northwesterly flow, usually helps out some during storms featuring a wide variety of flow directions.  The great diversity of storms that can affect the high terrain surrounding LCC is one of the reasons why Alta and Snowbird are so snowy (the Snowbird tram is indicated below, while Mt. Baldy sits above most of the lift served terrain at Alta.

Although it is pretty snowy in Big Cottonwood Canyon (BCC), it actually hooks around the higher terrain surrounding LCC.  In addition the topography to the north and northeast of the canyon is lower than found around LCC.  Thus, although BCC certainly gets the goods, the climatological snowfall is not quite as great as found in LCC.

If you turn around and look east, you peer down on Deer Valley, which is just past the small lakes in the photo below.  Climatologically downstream of the bulk of the Wasatch Range, it's little wonder why Deer Valley gets considerably less snow.  They like the groomers over there anyway.

After summiting and heading down, it was a great relief to discover that the avalanche hazard was low.

More about the weather and climate of the Wasatch Mountains and how to find great snow in other ranges throughout the world can be found in my forthcoming book Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth.

It's now finished and going to the printer, and should be on the street in November, although you can pre-order from Amazon now.  The publisher (University Press of Colorado) did an unbelievable job and I'm really excited about how it's going to look in both print and e-book versions.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this one. I think you just insured another year of contribution to the Mountain Meteorology Fund. Backcountry snowboarding off of Clayton Peak is a special part of my winters in Utah.

    It doesn't show on the topo maps the way it does when you are up there, but I really get the sense that the entire central Wasatch ski industry sort of revolves around that summit. It pretty neat to think that the weather does too.

    I think that I have said this before, but it's worth repeating: The existence of Wasatch Weather Weenies was actually one of the factors that figured in our selection of SLC as our permanent winter vacation home.