Trail update 5th April 2020

The extent to which the Covid-19 crisis is impacting hiking in the San Jacinto mountains continues to evolve rapidly. Idyllwild-Pine Cove had its first confirmed case yesterday, with three in nearby Anza. All trailhead parking is now closed (see paragraph i on Page 2 of the Public Health Order issued yesterday).

Adjacent National Forests such as the Angeles and Cleveland have closed parts of their trail systems, and this may happen here in the San Bernardino NF soon. Mount San Jacinto State Park “remains open for locals…visiting parks near their primary residences”. As trails are now open only to local residents who can walk to access them, the Trail Report will reduce its level of coverage accordingly.

This rapidly evolving situation coincides with the arrival of a potentially dangerous multi-day spring snow storm. The conditions are reminiscent of the May 2005 storm that famously led to the disappearance and subsequent death of PCT hiker John Donovan. PCT hikers who remain anywhere near the San Jacinto mountains are strongly advised to leave the trail and find safe shelter for the duration of this storm. I posted a video discussion of the major snow storm, and some frank and honest suggestions for PCT hikers to safely deal with the conditions, on YouTube a few days ago, which seems to have been well-received. In addition to weather considerations, unequivocal statements by the PCTA and US Forest Service regarding the Covid-19 situation, plus numerous federal, state, and county orders, should give any remaining PCT hikers abundant reason to reconsider their hike at this time.

We have hiked to San Jacinto Peak three of the previous five days, with hikes on the Ramona and South Ridge trails on the intervening days, to assess conditions. Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting.

Trail conditions have not significantly changed since the last update available here. Starting tonight this situation will change dramatically however, with substantial snowfall expected everywhere above 6000′ elevation between 6th-9th April.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing when considering windchill effects.

Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed indefinitely since 12th March (currently until at least 30th April). The USFS gate at Humber Park has been closed since 18th March.

WEATHER A dramatic spring snow storm (including an “atmospheric river” event) arrives tonight, and is forecast to last up to four days. Snowfall in Fern Valley (6000′) may be as much as 6-8 inches, with 1-2 feet possible at San Jacinto Peak. Snow may be mixed with periods of rainfall from 5000′-7000′, potentially creating very challenging conditions underfoot in that elevation range. Predictably, this storm will be followed by rapid warming, accompanied by considerable melting, starting on Friday 10th and extending into the following week.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Sunday 5th April 2020, at 1055 the air temperature was 27.4°F (-3°C), with a windchill of 10.4°F (-12°C), 78% relative humidity, and a sharp SW wind sustained at 9 mph gusting to 19.8 mph.

At the Peak on Friday 3rd April 2020, at 0850 the air temperature was 30.3°F (-1°C), with a windchill of 19.2°F (-7°C), 32% relative humidity, and a cool WNW wind sustained at 5 mph gusting to 11.9 mph.

SNOW DEPTHS measured today. Note that average depth is given, drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 20″

Wellman Divide (9700′): 7″

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 14″

Long Valley (8600′): 2″

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 0″

Saddle Junction (8070′): 2″

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6550′): 0″ (0″)

These signs appeared at several trailheads in the San Jacinto mountains this weekend, this one at Devil’s Slide Trail photographed today 5th April 2020.

Trail update 31st March 2020

[UPDATED 3rd April 2020: a new discussion of the major snow storm expected next week, and some suggestions for PCT hikers to safely deal with the conditions, is available on YouTube. I have also updated some trail information below based on recent hikes.]

We hiked to the Apache Peak area this morning to assess conditions there (discussed below and in the short video available here), and to San Jacinto Peak two of the previous three days. A very light snow storm on Sunday night produced a barely measurable 0.25″ of graupel everywhere above 7000′, which briefly greatly helped traction early yesterday morning.

Otherwise, a cool and very unsettled March is giving way to a warmer April, and it has felt like the snow conditions have almost been changing by the hour on recent hikes. Icy, reliable snow in the early morning can turn to the consistency of warm ice cream by late morning in many areas, depending on exposure, temperature, and cloud cover, which can help or hinder hiking depending on your preference.

Snow depths measured yesterday are listed at the foot of this posting. There has been little hiker traffic in the high country, so cautious navigation is recommended everywhere, although most major trails, including the entire PCT, have reliable tracks to follow through the snow.

Equipment recommendations are changing almost as quickly as the snow conditions. Microspikes remain useful in some areas (see below) for hikers who are less comfortable on snow and ice, on compacted well-traveled trails, and in particular for descending. Hikers with suitable footwear and hiking poles will often not need any additional traction, depending on temperature as discussed above. Shallow snow depths largely preclude any use for snowshoes now, except perhaps in some areas off-trail above about 9500′ elevation, and on the western side in and above Little Round Valley.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and potentially well below freezing when considering windchill effects.

Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed indefinitely since 12th March (currently until at least 30th April).

The USFS gate at Humber Park has been closed since 18th March. There are nine legal parking spaces (available for all uses) just below the gate and near the upper Ernie Maxwell trailhead. The next closest legal parking is 0.1 mile downhill on Forest Drive.

Tahquitz Ridge as seen from about PCT Mile 180 at sunrise, 28th March 2020.

WEATHER Warmer – but still below average – temperatures are forecast for the first few days of April, followed by a return to cold weather with a moderate storm system around Monday 6th April, potentially lasting several days. Melting will continue to be rapid this week, especially on sun-exposed slopes and below 9000′ elevation.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) yesterday, Monday 30th March 2020, at 0950 the air temperature was 31.2°F (-0.5°C), with a windchill of 21.0°F (-6°C), 39% relative humidity, and a light NNW wind sustained at 4 mph gusting to 9.7 mph.

At the Peak on Saturday 28th March 2020, at 0910 the air temperature was 21.4°F (-6°C), with a windchill of 8.2°F (-13°C), 41% relative humidity, and a fresh due W wind sustained at 8 mph gusting to 11.4 mph.

Pacific Crest Trail at Mile 169.5 this morning, 31st March 2020.

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

The short icy snow slope on the NE side of Apache Peak (PCT Mile 169.5) that had multiple incidents a few days ago has greatly improved. This morning snow was relatively soft, and steps were large, flat, and well-formed. Most hikers passing through were using spikes, but it was possible to traverse without them securely. Every individual should make their own assessment of whether to cross based on their comfort level on angled snow, their experience, available equipment, time of day, and current snow conditions. If in any doubt, turn around and take the Spitler Peak Trail alternate option at Mile 168.5.

The Pacific Crest Trail remains open at the rockslide just north of Antsell Rock (Mile 172.5). USFS has told the Trail Report that there are currently no plans to close this section of the PCT during spring 2020. The video report (available here) can be useful for deciding whether to try to hike around the rockslide or take an alternate route. All hikers this spring are reporting having no significant difficulty here.

Microspikes may be useful on some of the PCT for patchy snow travel between approximately Miles 160 and 192, depending upon your comfort level in variable snow/ice conditions. Many thru-hikers using poles will probably find spikes unnecessary in most areas however. See below for conditions on some specific sections of the PCT and the many side trails.

Current snow cover on the PCT is patchy and thin between Miles 160 and about 175 (Red Tahquitz), mainly confined to certain north-facing slopes e.g., Spitler Peak (Mile 168) and Apache Peak (Mile 169.5). Snow is then continuous between Miles 175-179 (to near Saddle Junction). The Trail is then clear in large patches to about Mile 184, except for a stubborn section of 0.5 mile approaching Annie’s Junction (Mile 180.8) which is always among the last areas to clear every spring. Most of Miles 184-191 is snow-covered, although some exposed sections of Fuller Ridge (e.g., Miles 186.5-188.5) are starting to clear rapidly. North from about Mile 191 to Snow Creek is clear.

PCT hikers are reminded that overnight stays are not permitted at or near San Jacinto Peak, including in the historic shelter. Mt. San Jacinto State Park regulations normally permit overnight stays only in established campgrounds, although due to the Covid-19 crisis, no camping is currently allowed anywhere in the State Park.

Peak Trail (9800′) just above Wellman Divide on 30th March 2020.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 8000′ remain largely snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation (see below) but exposed slopes much higher are clearing rapidly (e.g., around Wellman’s Cienega). Some sections of trails above about 7000′ have patchy icy snow cover, depending on exposure.

Deer Springs Trail is largely clear of snow to Strawberry Junction with just a few patches close to the junction (microspikes not required). The PCT section from here to Fuller Ridge is partly clear of snow to about 8500′ elevation (south of the Marion Mountain Trail junction), then there is extensive snow cover thereafter, currently with an adequate track to follow. From Little Round Valley to San Jacinto Peak there may be drifting in places after strong winds. Snowshoes may be useful above about 9500′ and microspikes can be useful for descending.

South Ridge Trail [updated 4th April] is completely clear to Old Lookout Flat at 7600′. Snow cover is patchy (<20%) higher up, and the small patches are easily hiked. Microspikes may be useful but are not required. South Ridge Road is clear of ice.

Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Miles 185.5-190.5) has been clearing, especially on sun-exposed slopes, mainly Miles 186.5-188.5. There are tracks to follow through the snow, although these do match the route of the regular trail in places.

Round Valley Trail through to Wellman Divide has not been visibly traveled since the Tram closure in mid March.

Devil’s Slide Trail is largely clear of snow below 7700′. Icy snow cover is about 50% from there to Saddle Junction. Microspikes can be useful mainly above 7600′, especially for descending, but are not essential.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is virtually clear of snow, with just a few tiny patches, mainly near Humber Park.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.3 miles. These ice slopes are notoriously treacherous. Crampons are strongly recommended, in conjunction with an ice axe (if you know how to use both). Snowshoes are not advised due to the angle of the underlying ice.

Seven Pines Trail has had no hiker traffic so far this winter, with no tracks or trail to follow. Indeed this trail has only been hiked a handful of times since November 2018. Extremely cautious navigation is recommended for those who are not very familiar with hiking this trail. The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road continues, and there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

SNOW DEPTHS measured on 3rd April 2020 (with depth on 31st March 2020 in parentheses). Note that average depth is given, drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 22″ (27″)

Wellman Divide (9700′): 8″ (12″)

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 16″ (18″)

Long Valley (8600′): 3″ (6″)

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 0″ (1″)

Saddle Junction (8070′): 4″ (7″)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6550′): 0″ (0″)

This appeared near the lower trailhead of the Ernie Maxwell Trail over the weekend. The Trail Report does not condone either this form of communication, or with placing graffiti in a natural area. This is an indication however that our small community is getting increasingly frustrated at the number of day hikers visiting from elsewhere especially at weekends.

Snow and trail update 27th March 2020

Three very minor snow storms in five days this week, including one last night, have left the trail system snow-covered in the San Jacinto mountains almost everywhere above 5000′ elevation. I have been to many different areas to observe the effects: San Jacinto Peak twice, South Ridge, Apache and Spitler peaks, plus elsewhere on the PCT. Special thanks to Kyle Eubanks who accompanied me at and descending San Jacinto Peak yesterday.

The storm last night produced 0.75″ snow at Idyllwild (5550′) and about 1.0″ in Long Valley (8600′). The most productive of the three storms was on 23rd, a warmer storm which initially included freezing to at least about 8500′, making a hard ice layer (e.g., at Saddle Junction, 8100′). This was followed by a dusting of snow, only 0.5″ at Saddle Junction, but about 3″ at Long Valley and on the high peaks.

Although there has been some fresh snowfall in the high country, it has often been no more than at mid elevations because the cloud level has largely held around 8700-9300′, with the high country often above some of the precipitation.

Currently most major trails have not been traveled and are obscured by light to moderate snowfall. Cautious navigation is strongly recommended everywhere. Snow depths measured yesterday are listed at the foot of this posting.

At present postholing through shallow to moderate snow is possible at all elevations. Microspikes will become increasingly useful over the next few days as established trails undergo freeze-thaw cycles. They are especially useful for descending trails when they become icy and compacted (e.g. Devil’s Slide and lower South Ridge trails). Snow depths are currently good for snowshoeing in the high country above about 9000′. Snowshoeing conditions will deteriorate rapidly with considerable snowmelt next week.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing when considering windchill effects.

Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed indefinitely since 12th March (currently until at least 30th April).

The USFS gate at Humber Park has been closed since 18th March. There are nine legal parking spaces (available for all uses) just below the gate and near the upper Ernie Maxwell trailhead. The next closest legal parking is 0.1 mile downhill on Forest Drive.

PCT hikers are reminded that overnight stays are not permitted at or near San Jacinto Peak, including in the historic shelter. Mt. San Jacinto State Park regulations permit overnight stays only in established campgrounds (although these are currently closed due to the Covid-19 crisis).

Little Round Valley (9800′), 22nd March 2020.

WEATHER After a cool and cloudy weekend, rapid warming to above-average temperatures starts on Monday 30th March. Extensive snowmelt is expected at all elevations next week, but especially below 9000′ and on sun-exposed slopes.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Thursday 26th March 2020 at 1115 the air temperature was 9.1°F (-13°C), with a windchill temperature of -10.6°F (-24°C), 61% relative humidity, and a bitter WSW wind sustained at 9 mph gusting to 14.8 mph.

At the Peak on Sunday 22nd March 2020 at 1055 the air temperature was 27.7°F (-2°C), with a windchill temperature of 18.3°F (-8°C), 45% relative humidity, and a light WSW wind sustained at 4 mph gusting to 7.7 mph.

Apache Peak (7600′) on the left, with San Jacinto Peak just visible in the far distance to it’s right, 25th March 2020.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Almost all trails above about 5500′ are snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation. Reliable tracks are currently in place only for Devil’s Slide Trail, and from Saddle Junction to San Jacinto Peak. Strong winds in the high country and rapid melting on exposed slopes may have obscured tracks within hours however. The closure of the Tram will result in very light hiker traffic to the highest peaks via the Peak Trail, and little or no traffic on the Long and Round Valley trails.

Devil’s Slide Trail has a well-traveled track to follow. Microspikes may become useful, especially in early morning. Snow cover is still >90% even with some melting yesterday.

Ernie Maxwell Trail has very thin snow which will largely clear today, a few stubborn small icy snow patches persisting mainly near Humber Park. No microspikes required.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.3 miles. These ice slopes are notoriously treacherous. Crampons are strongly recommended, in conjunction with an ice axe (if you know how to use both). Snowshoes are not advised due to the angle of the underlying ice.

Seven Pines Trail has had no visible signs of hiker traffic so far this winter, with no tracks or trail to follow. Indeed it has only been hiked a handful of times since November 2018. Extremely cautious navigation is recommended for those who are not very familiar with hiking this trail in snow. The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road will remain in place until summer 2020, hence there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

SNOW DEPTHS measured on 26th March are as follows. Note that average depth is given, drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 29″

Little Round Valley (9800′): 23″

Wellman Divide (9700′): 14″

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 20″

Long Valley (8600′): 8″

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 3″ (extensive melting in recent days)

Saddle Junction (8070′): 9″

Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6550′): 1″ (considerable melting yesterday)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 0.5″ (from overnight snow, will rapidly melt today)

Wellman Divide (9700′) yesterday morning, 26th March 2020

San Jacinto Trail Report: available for everyone, funded by readers. While all labor and time is volunteered, this Report completely depends on small private donations to cover its direct costs. With a busy winter overlapping with an unusual PCT season, every contribution is invaluable. If you have found this Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you.

Snow storms update 19th March 2020

[UPDATE 26th March: another short video recorded today discusses latest conditions based on a superb hike today to San Jacinto Peak with Kyle Eubanks, and in recent days to the Desert Divide. I anticipate a full text update to the Trail Report tomorrow.]

[UPDATE 22nd March: a video recorded today discusses latest conditions based on hikes today on the east and west sides of San Jacinto Peak, and yesterday to Tahquitz Peak.]

COVID-19 UPDATE: The Pacific Crest Trail Association has asked all PCT hikers on the Trail – as well as those waiting to start – to cancel or postpone their journeys. Read their statement here. Additionally, the State Park system has closed all camping facilities, including the Idyllwild campground. Camping is not permitted anywhere in Mount San Jacinto State Park until further notice. The Riverside County Park campground in Idyllwild is closed. Nomad Ventures in Idyllwild is closed indefinitely.

Three minor snow storms on consecutive days 17th-19th March have left the trail system snow-covered in the San Jacinto mountains almost everywhere above 4500′ elevation. I have been to many different areas to observe the effects, San Jacinto Peak on 17th, the PCT at Highway 74 and South Ridge yesterday, and Deer Springs Trail to the PCT today. Special thanks to Kyle Eubanks who ascended San Jacinto Peak today via Deer Springs Trail. A video discussion from Strawberry Junction of current conditions was posted this afternoon.

The storm on 17th produced 1-2 inches of snow at all elevations above about 5000′. The snow level fell lower on 18th, with a dusting of an inch down to 4600′ (Mile 151 on the PCT), 3″ in Idyllwild, and 5″ at the top of South Ridge Road (6500′). Snowfall today has ranged from 2″ in Idyllwild and Long Valley, to 3-4″ at Strawberry and Saddle junctions. It continues to snow lightly and intermittently in Idyllwild as I write this mid-afternoon on 19th.

Although there has been some fresh snowfall in the high country, it has often been much less than at mid elevations because the cloud level has largely held around 8700-9300′, with the high country above it. Conversely, on each of the three afternoons, short bursts of rapid snowmelt have occurred below 7000′ during brief appearances of the sun and temperatures barely above freezing. For these reasons elevations in the 7000-9000′ range have a disproportionate depth of snow at this time.

Currently almost all major trails, including almost the entire PCT through the high country of the San Jacinto mountains, have not been traveled and are obscured by moderate snowfall. Very cautious navigation is strongly recommended everywhere. Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting.

At present postholing through shallow to moderate snow is not too challenging in most areas below 8000′ (including most of the PCT). Microspikes may become increasingly useful over the next few days as established trails become consolidated by hiker traffic and undergo freeze-thaw cycles. They are especially useful for descending trails when they become icy and compacted (e.g. Devil’s Slide and lower Deer Springs trails). Snow depths are currently ideal for snowshoeing in the high country and snowshoes are recommended above about 8000′ for day hikers. Snowshoeing conditions will deteriorate rapidly below 9000′ with considerable snowmelt expected over this weekend.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country, with potentially dangerous cold when considering windchill effects.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed indefinitely since 12th March (until at least 30th April).

The USFS gate at Humber Park has been closed since 18th March. There are only nine legal parking spaces (available for all uses) just below the gate and near the upper Ernie Maxwell trailhead. The next closest legal parking is 0.1 mile downhill on Forest Drive.

WEATHER Warmer, brighter weather on 20th-22nd will result in rapid melting below 8000′, and locally higher on sun-exposed slopes. More unsettled and unpredictable conditions are possible next week, with light rain (or very light snow above 6000′) currently forecast on 23rd and 26th.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Tuesday 17th March 2020 at 0950 the air temperature was 10.6°F (-12°C), with a windchill temperature of -11.7°F (-24°C), 57% relative humidity, and a bitter SW wind sustained at 11 mph gusting to 22.8 mph.

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

Microspikes may be useful on some of the PCT only after sufficient hiker traffic to compact the snow, and/or freeze-thaw cycles. Depending upon your comfort level in variable snow/ice conditions, most thru-hikers using footwear with good tread in combination with poles will find spikes unnecessary however. For the last three days I have found hiking in a few of inches of fresh powder to be relatively easy-going.

The Pacific Crest Trail remains open at the rockslide just north of Antsell Rock (Mile 172.5). USFS has told the Trail Report that there are currently no plans to close this section of the PCT during spring 2020. The video report (available here) can be useful for deciding whether to try to hike around the rockslide or take an alternate route. There is no current information on how snow/ice conditions may have impacted the route around this rockslide.

PCT hikers are reminded that overnight stays are not permitted at or near San Jacinto Peak, including in the historic shelter. Mt. San Jacinto State Park regulations permit overnight stays only in established campgrounds. Options for thru-hikers are Strawberry Junction and Little Round Valley.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 6000′ are snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation. Reliable tracks are currently in place only for Devil’s Slide Trail, and from Deer Springs Trail to San Jacinto Peak. Strong winds in the high country on 17th, and continuing patchy snowfall on 19th, may have obscured tracks within hours however. The closure of the Tram will result in very light hiker traffic to the highest peaks via the Peak Trail, and little or no traffic on the Long and Round Valley trails.

Devil’s Slide Trail has a well-traveled track to follow. Microspikes may become useful, especially in early morning. Snow cover is still >90% even with some melting this afternoon.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is largely under a continuous 2-4″ of snow cover.

Deer Springs Trail A reliable track was put in today from the trailhead to San Jacinto Peak by a combination of Kyle Eubanks and myself. See comments above however regarding effects of wind and continuing light snowfall.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 [updated 16th March] has no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.3 miles. These ice slopes are notoriously treacherous. Crampons are strongly recommended, in conjunction with an ice axe (if you know how to use both). Snowshoes are not advised due to the angle of the underlying ice.

Seven Pines Trail has had no visible signs of hiker traffic so far this winter, with no tracks or trail to follow. Indeed it has only been hiked a handful of times since November 2018. Extremely cautious navigation is recommended for those who are not very familiar with hiking this trail in snow. The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road will remain in place until summer 2020, hence there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

SNOW DEPTHS measured today are as follows. Total for storms on 18th-19th is first, followed by current total depth in brackets, then comments in parentheses. Note that average depth is given, drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate. Many thanks to Pete Kirkham for data for Saddle Saddle and Annie’s junctions.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 2″ [27″]

Little Round Valley (9800′): 2″ [20″]

Wellman Divide (9700′): 2″ [12″]

Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 181 (9070′): 3″ [19″]

Fuller Ridge south end/PCT Mile 185.5 (8950′): 4″ [12″]

Long Valley (8600′): 3″ [8″]

Strawberry Junction/approx. PCT Mile 183 (8100′): 4″ [6″]

Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179 (8070′): 4″ [8″]

Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6550′): 4″ [7″]

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 2″ [3″] (periodic melting every afternoon)

Strawberry Junction (8100′) late this morning 19th March 2020.

San Jacinto Trail Report: available for everyone, funded by readers. While all labor and time is volunteered, this Report completely depends on small private donations to cover its direct costs. With a busy winter overlapping with PCT season, every contribution is invaluable. If you have found this Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you.

Wellman’s Cienega north spring on 17th March 2020, (above), and eight days earlier on 9th March for comparison (below).

Minor snow storm 17th March 2020

[UPDATE 18th March: Started snowing again this morning at about 0800. Currently settling down to 4600′ on Highway 74 at Pinyon (near PCT Mile 151). By 1430, two inches of fresh powder accumulated in Idyllwild (at 5550′), with the same depth at Humber Park (6400′) and Long Valley (8600′). The USFS gate at Humber Park is now closed.]

This is a very brief update on conditions following another minor snow storm early this morning. With another 3-4 similar storms forecast for the next 10-14 days, trail and snow conditions will be changing almost daily, so updates will be shorter than typical for efficiency.

The storm today produced 1-2 inches of snow at all elevations above about 5000′. As the snow depth data at the foot of this posting show, snowfall was not clearly correlated to elevation. The storm was not as cold as anticipated (although see the temperatures I recorded at San Jacinto Peak this morning!) and the snow level did not fall as low as forecast. Nevertheless, the PCT is largely snow-covered between about Mile 151 to Mile 195, albeit with only a couple of inches of easily hiked powder, especially in areas below about 7000′.

Currently most major trails, including most of the PCT through the high country of the San Jacinto mountains, have not been traveled and are at least partly obscured by snowfall. Cautious navigation is strongly recommended everywhere. Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting.

At present postholing through shallow snow is relatively easy in most areas below 9000′ (including all of the PCT). Today I carried microspikes and snowshoes; I did not use the former at all, and the latter only above 9300′ (Wellman’s Cienega). Microspikes may become increasingly useful over the next few days as established trails become consolidated by hiker traffic and undergo freeze-thaw cycles. They are especially useful for descending trails when they become icy and compacted (e.g. Devil’s Slide and lower Deer Springs trails). Snow depths are currently ideal for snowshoeing in the high country and snowshoes are recommended above 9000′.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures well below freezing in the high country, with potentially dangerous cold when considering windchill effects.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed indefinitely since 12th March (tentatively until at least 1st April).

Currently the USFS gate at Humber Park remains open. The parking area was plowed this morning, so presumably no closure is imminent.

WEATHER Another storm system over the next two days may produce another light snowfall at mid and upper elevations. Milder, brighter weather on 20th-22nd will be followed by more unsettled days on 23rd-25th with a possibility for slightly heavier snowfall above 6000′ and moderate rain at mid-elevations.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Tuesday 17th March 2020 at 0950 the air temperature was 10.6°F (-12°C), with a windchill temperature of -11.7°F (-24°C), 57% relative humidity, and a bitter SW wind sustained at 11 mph gusting to 22.8 mph.

At the Peak on Saturday 14th March 2020 at 1010 the air temperature was 20.5°F (-6°C), with a windchill temperature of -2.9°F (-20°C), 79% relative humidity, and a wild SW wind sustained at 31 mph gusting to 41.5 mph.

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

Microspikes may be useful on some of the PCT only if there is sufficient hiker traffic to compact the snow, and/or there are freeze-thaw cycles. Depending upon your comfort level in variable snow/ice conditions, most thru-hikers using footwear with good tread in combination with poles will find spikes unnecessary however. This morning I found the hiking in a couple of inches of fresh powder to be easy-going.

The Pacific Crest Trail remains open at the rockslide just north of Antsell Rock (Mile 172.5). USFS has told the Trail Report that there are currently no plans to close this section of the PCT during spring 2020. The video report (available here) can be useful for deciding whether to try to hike around the rockslide or take an alternate route. There is no current information on how snow/ice conditions may have impacted the route around this rockslide.

PCT hikers are reminded that overnight stays are not permitted at or near San Jacinto Peak, including in the historic shelter. Mt. San Jacinto State Park regulations permit overnight stays only in established campgrounds. Options for thru-hikers are Strawberry Junction and Little Round Valley.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 6000′ are snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation. Reliable tracks are currently in place only for Devil’s Slide Trail, and from Saddle Junction to San Jacinto Peak via Wellman Divide. Strong winds today in the high country were obscuring tracks within hours. The closure of the Tram will result in very light hiker traffic to the highest peaks via the Peak Trail, and little or no traffic on the Long and Round Valley trails.

Devil’s Slide Trail has a well-traveled track to follow. Microspikes may become useful, especially in early morning. Snow cover is still >90% even with some melting this afternoon.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is largely under a continuous 1-2″ of snow cover [thanks to Anne and Anabel for this update from today].

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 [updated 16th March] has no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.3 miles. These ice slopes are notoriously treacherous. Crampons are strongly recommended, in conjunction with an ice axe (if you know how to use both). Snowshoes are not advised due to the angle of the underlying ice.

Seven Pines Trail has had no visible signs of hiker traffic so far this winter, with no tracks or trail to follow. Indeed it has only been hiked a handful of times since November 2018. Extremely cautious navigation is recommended for those who are not very familiar with hiking this trail in snow. The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road will remain in place until summer 2020, hence there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

SNOW DEPTHS measured today are as follows. Total for today’s storm is first, followed by current total depth in brackets, then comments in parentheses. Note that average depth is given, drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 1.5″ [24″]

Wellman Divide (9700′): 2″ [10″]

Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 181.8 (9070′): 2″ [18″]

Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179.9 (8070′): 1.0″ [4″]

Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6550′): 1.5″ [2″] (melted to 1″ by this afternoon)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 0.75″ (largely all melted by this afternoon)

Peak Trail at 9800′ elevation just above Wellman Divide today, 17th March 2020, (above), and eight days earlier on 9th March for comparison (below).

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Wellman’s Cienega north spring today, 17th March 2020, (above), and eight days earlier on 9th March for comparison (below).

Snow and trail update 14th March 2020

[UPDATED 16th March: with trail and conditions changing almost daily, this morning I recorded this video discussion from Tahquitz Peak. In addition the specific conditions for the Tahquitz Peak area trails are updated in the text below.]

Back-to-back minor storms on 10th and 12th-13th March have combined to substantially change the complexion of the trails in the San Jacinto mountains for the foreseeable future. Both storms were warm systems, with both rain and snow levels fluctuating significantly. Rain fell to at least 10,000′ elevation on 10th March, while snow settled as low as 5500′ on 12th. Between about 6500′-9200′ snow and rain fell on top of the other multiple times during the course of the storms, which made it difficult to determine exact snowfall totals in these middle elevations as snow was washed away by later rainfall.

In Idyllwild (at 5550′), 1.31″ rain fell on 9th-10th March, followed by 2.49″ on 12th-13th, some very welcome numbers following an exceptionally dry January and February.

I broke trail to San Jacinto Peak this morning, using snowshoes above 8000′ (Saddle Junction). Snow conditions were very poor up to 9200′, as rain had fallen yesterday on top of snow, leaving a thick ice layer over the snow. Higher up it had not rained, and the going was easier on pure powder.

By my descent this afternoon rapid melting and softening meant the conditions were almost unrecognizable compared to the early morning. Devil’s Slide Trail was a mix of soft snow patches and slush, and was clearing rapidly below 7000′. My morning snowshoe tracks up to 8900′ were disappearing rapidly due to melting and snow pouring off the trees onto the trail.

Currently most major trails, including most of the PCT through the San Jacinto mountains, have not been traveled and are obscured by snowfall. Cautious navigation is strongly recommended everywhere. Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting. The current snow situation on the PCT in the San Jacinto mountains is outlined below, and is also discussed in a video posted yesterday.

Note that conditions will change starting 17th March when several days of further snowfall are possible, dropping snow to lower elevations than at present.

At present postholing through snow a few inches deep is relatively easy in most areas below 9000′ (including all of the PCT). Thru-hikers using good footwear and hiking poles will probably not need additional traction.

Microspikes may become increasingly useful over the next couple of days as established trails become consolidated by hiker traffic and undergo freeze-thaw cycles. They are especially useful for descending trails when they become icy and compacted (e.g. Devil’s Slide and lower Deer Springs trails). Snow depths are currently ideal for snowshoeing almost everywhere above about 8000′ elevation, and snowshoes are strongly recommended above 9000′.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country, and far below freezing when considering windchill effects. The temperatures forecast for 17th-19th March will be among the lowest of this winter, and could be life-threatening.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed indefinitely since 12th March (tentatively until at least 1st April).

Currently the USFS gate at Humber Park remains open.

WEATHER Milder, brighter weather until Monday 16th will be followed by cold and very unsettled weather for at least 17th-25th March. A cold system on 17th-19th March may drop snow levels below 4000′ elevation. Initially forecast to produce major snowfall, recent forecasts suggest this storm may drop just a few inches of snow at Idyllwild elevations (5000-6000′), and a similar amount in the high country.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Saturday 14th March 2020 at 1010 the air temperature was 20.5°F (-6°C), with a windchill temperature of -2.9°F (-20°C), 79% relative humidity, and a wild SW wind sustained at 31 mph gusting to 41.5 mph.

At the Peak on Tuesday 10th March 2020 at 1130 the air temperature was 25°F (-4°C), with a windchill temperature of 9°F (-13°C), 100% relative humidity, and a brisk due South wind sustained at 10 mph gusting to 25.0 mph.

The San Bernardino mountains as seen from San Jacinto Peak this morning, 14th March 2020, with cloud pouring east through the San Gorgonio Pass.

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

Microspikes may be useful on some of the PCT for continuous snow travel between approximately Miles 158 and 193, depending upon your comfort level in variable snow/ice conditions. Many thru hikers using good footwear with poles may find spikes unnecessary however.

The Pacific Crest Trail remains open at the rockslide just north of Antsell Rock (Mile 172.5). USFS has told the Trail Report that there are currently no plans to close this section of the PCT during spring 2020. The video report (available here) can be useful for deciding whether to try to hike around the rockslide or take an alternate route. There is no current information on how snow/ice conditions may have impacted the route around this rockslide.

PCT hikers are reminded that overnight stays are not permitted at or near San Jacinto Peak, including in the historic shelter. Mt. San Jacinto State Park regulations permit overnight stays only in established campgrounds. Options for thru-hikers are Strawberry Junction and Little Round Valley.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 6800′ are continuously snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation. Reliable tracks are currently in place only for Devil’s Slide Trail, and from Saddle Junction to San Jacinto Peak via Wellman Divide. Strong winds and rapid melting in the high country may obscure tracks within hours. The closure of the Tram will result in very light hiker traffic to the highest peaks via the Peak Trail, and little or no traffic on the Long and Round Valley trails.

Devil’s Slide Trail has a well-worn track to follow. Microspikes may become useful, especially in early morning. Snow cover is still >80%.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is virtually clear of snow, with a few small soft patches remaining mainly near Humber Park.

South Ridge Trail [updated 16th March] is largely clear to Old Lookout Flat (7600′), but with some icy snow patches above 7000′. Snow cover is continuous and icy above 7600′, but there are good tracks to follow and it is easily hiked. Microspikes are not required but are useful. South Ridge Road is clear of ice.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 [updated 16th March] has no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.3 miles. These ice slopes are notoriously treacherous. Crampons are strongly recommended, in conjunction with an ice axe (if you know how to use both). Snowshoes are not advised due to the angle of the underlying ice.

Seven Pines Trail has had no visible signs of hiker traffic so far this winter, with no tracks or trail to follow. Indeed it has only been hiked a handful of times since November 2018. Extremely cautious navigation is recommended for those who are not very familiar with hiking this trail in snow. The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road will remain in place until summer 2020, hence there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

SNOW DEPTHS measured today are as follows. Storm total for the past week is first, followed by current total in brackets, then comments in parentheses. Note that average depth is given, drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 8″ [22″]

Wellman Divide (9700′): 8″ [8″]

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 7″ [18″]

Saddle Junction (8070′): 5.5″ [6″] (already melted to <5″ by this afternoon)

Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6550′): 2″ [2″] (melted to <1″ by this afternoon)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 0″ (minor snowfall on 12th March already melted)

Annie’s Junction – high point of the PCT at Mile 181.8, 9070′ elevation – today 14th March 2020 (above) and on 9th March 2020 for comparison (below).

San Jacinto Trail Report: available for everyone, funded by readers. While all labor and time is volunteered, the Report completely depends on small private donations to cover its direct costs. With a very busy PCT season underway, every contribution is invaluable. If you have found this Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you.

Storm updates 12th-13th March 2020

Please continue to check this page for periodic storm updates. The next full trail update will likely be in the afternoon of Saturday 14th.

UPDATED 13th March @ 1130

Current snow and PCT conditions are discussed in this video recorded earlier this morning at Saddle Junction/PCT Mile 179.8 (8100′).

Fresh snow depth at Saddle Junction is 5.5″, with 2″ at Humber Park (6500′). The gate at Humber Park remains open (for now). Settled snow level is at about 6200′.

On Devil’s Slide Trail it snowed and/or rained on us throughout the morning. It has rained in Idyllwild since 0800 today, getting heavier in the past hour. Total rainfall by 0700 in the past 24 hours was an impressive 1.69″ rain, plus 0.5″ snow.

The high country is currently above the cloud (>9000′ on the west side, >8500′ on the east side).

UPDATED 12th March @ 1815

Precipitation largely stopped at all elevations at about 1645. The 0.5″ of slush that fell in Idyllwild did not last long before it resumed raining. Long Valley (8600′) added 5-6″ of fresh snow today.

Current snow level is at about 6500′. Consequently the entire PCT from about Mile 157 to 194 is now snow-covered. Depth of fresh snow is only a couple of inches for much of that section, but may be 4-6″ in areas between Mile 172 and 191.

UPDATED 12th March @ 1610

Multiple news outlets in the Coachella Valley are reporting that the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway will be closed until at least the end of March due to the coronavirus crisis. Just in time for the biggest snow depths of the winter….

UPDATED 12th March @ 1505

Heavy rain in Idyllwild – a useful 1.2″ in eight hours – turned to sleety wet snow half-an-hour ago and has started to accumulate above 5500′.

Rainfall doubled in the past two hours in Long Valley (8600′), from under an inch to nearly two inches. It has recently also turned to snow, with about 4-5″ fresh accumulation today.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway has apparently closed for the day due to lightning.

UPDATED 12th March @ 1250

I recently returned from a hike to the PCT at Mile 181 via Devil’s Slide Trail. Snow dusted early this morning down to about 7400′, but by mid morning had turned to heavy rain.

Fresh snowfall at Saddle Junction (8100′) was nearly one inch, but had largely melted and turned to slush by the time I descended. Rainfall was heavy up to 9000′ on the west and south sides of the mountain, and it is currently raining in Long Valley (8600′) on the east side also.

Thunderstorms started in Idyllwild about an hour ago, and since 0700 this morning there has been 0.6″ of rain at 5550′ elevation.

UPDATED 12th March @ 0630

Off-and-on light rainfall started in Idyllwild at 0530, with light snowfall starting to accumulate in Long Valley (8600′) at about 1″.

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San Jacinto Trail Report: available for everyone, funded by readers. While all labor and time is volunteered, the Report depends completely on small private donations to cover its direct costs. With a busy PCT season underway, every contribution is invaluable. If you have found this Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you.