When getting an early alpine start (3-5 am or earlier) it will probably be before the sun comes up. Hopefully, the weather will be better in the morning (that is often the point of an alpine start), but the lack of sunlight can make it difficult to see the clouds.

It usually possible to tell if there are clouds are not, by whether or not the stars are visible as well as whether or not the clouds are raining/snowing/sleeting or if there is fog, but observation options are limited compared to what would be visible if the sun was up.

Given these limitations, how would you assess the weather when getting a really early start?

  • 1
    You have to know something about the local weather patterns. In the Sierra, in summer, there is a cycle of several perfect days, followed by several not-so-good days, in which you can expect snow or graupel or rain in the afternoon, followed by what we called a "bottom of the pit day" which is what it sounds like, followed by a pretty good day followed by several perfect days. It is, I think, an evaporation/precipitation cycle. We've never started out at 3 to 5 am, nor do I know if this is just Sierra-specific, so I can't answer
    – ab2
    Nov 23, 2016 at 18:50

2 Answers 2


I think you have already answered. Check for clear sky or how the overall weather feels like. A barometer could give you a brief indication as well.

Ideally, you have left home with an idea of the forecast.

We have a service of mountain radios here in my part of the world where you can hire some radios and they do a daily broadcast of weather forecast and you can check in to let them know you and your party is OK. When we do our mountaineering here, we always hire one of those radios so we can get weather forecasts and plan accordingly as weather here changes often and some times from a calm day to a bloody blizzard.

  • Speaking of barometers, would you have an answer to this question? outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/14394/… Nov 22, 2016 at 22:13
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    Yeah. I saw the question but I'm an old school and don't use too much technology to give you a sound advice. I do use one of those Garmin watches and I can notice when altitude changes a bit but I usually disregard and try to rely on the good old gut feeling. True enough I'm never alone climbing mountains and the end decision comes from a general mix of gut feelings form the party. :)
    – Desorder
    Nov 22, 2016 at 22:58

It's usually not that hard to detect clouds at night after your eyes have adjusted to the darkness. So assessing weather at night is not much different from doing it when the sun is out.

However, the real problem is that morning weather is a poor indicator of what is to come that day. Morning weather is usually the calmest, then stuff starts happening after the sun has warmed the land for a few hours.

Looking at the weather in the morning, no matter how well you can see the immediate conditions, is poor information for forecasting more than a few hours into the day.

A good example of this that I've personally encountered a number of times is hiking in the Flagstaff AZ area in August. In the morning, you have blue sky most days. The weather looks great. However, some days, clouds start rolling in by mid morning. By noon you can get caught in a thunderstorm, and by mid afternoon they can be quite severe. On other days, the morning starts out cloudless, and the day stays that way. There is nothing from just observing the conditions from before sunrise into early morning that gives you any indication which way the day will go.

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