Trail update 16th January 2020

[UPDATE 21st January: another minor storm last night produced 0.19″ of rain in Idyllwild (at 5550′) but a barely measurable fraction of an inch of snow in the high country, which was above the cloud for much of the night. Trail and snow conditions are unchanged.]

[UPDATE 17th January: all three of us hiked to San Jacinto Peak today to assess last night’s “storm”. Drizzle fell in Idyllwild (0.05 inch at 5550′) up to about 6000′. It fell as freezing rain to 9000′. Also between about 7500′-9000′ there was barely a dusting of fresh snow (<0.25″) under the verglas. The high country had some rime on the trees, but no fresh snowfall.]

Very early this morning I hiked briskly to San Jacinto Peak, ascending the east side and descending via the west side. Today I did not put on microspikes until Wellman’s Cienega, but frankly could have summited without them. They were useful for descending however. Although I carried snowshoes for uppermost Deer Springs Trail, that early in the morning I postholed very little down to 9000′, and not at all thereafter, so only used microspikes.

With persistent spring-like conditions in the high country (>8500′), the snow softens rapidly during the day but postholing doesn’t get too bad until after noon. Snowshoes remain helpful for any off-trail travel. Conditions underfoot will broadly remain similar for the foreseeable future, but will be more challenging on warmer days (such as this weekend, 18th-19th January). Despite cool overnight temperatures, melting has been steady at all elevations, and at an alarming rate for early January.

Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting. Strong winds this week in the high country may cause drifting snow to obscure parts of even the heavily traveled trails. Cautious navigation is recommended everywhere. For most of my nine ascents so far this month, the quarter-mile of trail either side of Annie’s Junction, and some short sections of the Peak Trail above 9800′, were partly obscured by overnight spindrift.

Microspikes are recommended on-trail for compacted, well-traveled trails. They are especially useful for descending. Crampons are an option, but less convenient than spikes, for firm trails above about 9000′. Snowshoes are currently recommended off-trail almost everywhere above about 8500′ elevation.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing when considering windchill effects (see below for temperatures I have recorded recently at San Jacinto Peak).

Note that the USFS gate at Humber Park remains closed. 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.

WEATHER Temperatures at mid-elevations are forecast to be near or above seasonal for the remainder of January (above seasonal in the high country). Light precipitation is possible for the evening of Thursday 16th (rain at Idyllwild elevation, little or no snow in the high country). Regrettably, long term forecasts for a very dry January seem to be increasingly accurate, a scary prospect for what is historically one of the wettest months of the year.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Thursday 16th January 2020, at 0825 the air temperature was 26.3°F (-3°C), with a windchill of 7.7°F (-14°C), 27% relative humidity, and a stiff SW wind sustained at 17 mph gusting to 27.0 mph.

At the Peak on Tuesday 14th January 2020, at 0940 the air temperature was 32.1°F (0°C), with a windchill of 15.6°F (-9°C), 23% relative humidity, and a gusty due West wind sustained at 11 mph gusting to 29.2 mph.

At the Peak on Sunday 12th January 2020 at 0815 the air temperature was 29.2°F (-2°C), with a windchill of 11.1°F (-12°C), 42% relative humidity, and a frigid WNW wind sustained at 21 mph gusting to 31.2 mph.

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL NOTES

The Pacific Crest Trail remains open at the rockslide just north of Antsell Rock (Mile 172.5). USFS informed me last week that there are currently no plans to close this section of the PCT during spring 2020. My updated video report from 7th October (available here) can be useful for deciding whether to try to hike around the rockslide or take an alternate route.

Microspikes are useful on most of the PCT for snow travel between approximately Miles 165 and 192. Depending upon your comfort level on icy snow, they may not currently be essential however. See below for conditions on specifc sections of the PCT and the many side trails.

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 8500′ are completely snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation (see below).

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 has patchy snow to about 8500′ elevation, then continuous snow cover thereafter, with a reasonable consolidated track to follow. The track above 9000′ to Little Round Valley is easy to follow and reasonably consolidated (in the early morning at least), but be advised that it does not follow the established trail in many places. Above Little Round Valley there is a very direct (i.e. steep) single set of snowshoe and posthole tracks to follow to San Jacinto Peak. Microspikes are useful for descending. Snowshoes will be useful after late morning and on warm days.

Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Miles 185.5-190.5) has one set of posthole tracks through the snow. I have not yet assessed how accurately these conform to the PCT route.

Marion Mountain Trail has been heavily traveled and has a good consolidated track to follow. Microspikes are useful, especially for descending.

Round Valley Trail from the Tram through to Wellman Divide has been well-traveled and a good track through the snow is easy to follow, on to San Jacinto Peak.

Skyline Trail has been traveled since the last snowfall, and tracks exist through the increasingly patchy snow above about 7000′.

Devil’s Slide Trail has a very well-worn track to follow. Icy snow cover is increasingly patchy and only about 50% below 7700′, but higher up snow cover remains 90%. Microspikes are useful later in the day and for descending, but are not essential.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is largely clear, with about 30% cover of thin icy snow at the upper end near Humber Park. Microspikes are not required.

The parts of Willow Creek Trail and Caramba Trail nearest to Saddle Junction have well-defined snowshoe tracks, likely heading around Skunk Cabbage Meadow.

The PCT southbound from Saddle Junction has been lightly traveled to Chinquapin Flat.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has not been reliably traversed through to the fire lookout in 2020. There limited or no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.25 miles, depending on recent drifting. These ice slopes are notoriously treacherous. Crampons are 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.

South Ridge Road is mostly clear but with a few icy snow patches in its upper half (passable with 4WD/AWD).

South Ridge Trail [updated 18th January] is almost clear to Old Lookout Flat at 7600′, but with some stubborn icy snow patches in its first 0.5 mile. Higher up there is about 50% snow cover to Tahquitz Peak. Microspikes are useful above about 8000′, mainly for descending.

The Peak Trail above 10,300′ has not been traversed since before the late November storms. The only defined trail to San Jacinto Peak from the east is the steep option up the East Ridge.

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 in snow.

The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road remains in place, hence there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

SNOW DEPTHS measured on 16th January 2020 are as follows. Please note that average depth is given; drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 29″ (47″ on 27th December)

Little Round Valley (9800′): 22″

Wellman Divide (9700′): 8″ (27″ on 27th December)

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 19″ (25″ on 27th December, heavy drifting here)

Fuller Ridge Trail southern end at junction with Deer Springs Trail (8950′): 14″

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 1″

Saddle Junction (8070′): 7″ (19″ on 27th December)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6520′): <1″ (11″ on 27th December)

Peak Trail at 9800′ elevation just above Wellman Divide on 14th January 2020 (above), and two weeks earlier on 1st January 2020 (below) for comparison.

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Snow and trail update 8th January 2020

[UPDATE 10th January: I hiked to San Jacinto Peak this morning, and conditions were not significantly different from the Report from 8th below. However I did record a rambling video from the Peak discussing yesterday’s minor storm and current snow situation.]

[UPDATE 9th January: light snow today produced 1.2″ depth in Idyllwild (at 5550′). The high country was above the cloud almost all day, with Long Valley (8600′) receiving only 0.25″ fresh snow. This storm is unlikely to have significantly altered the conditions described below. ]

A brief update on snow and trail conditions based on hikes on three of the past four days to San Jacinto Peak. Leaving well before dawn on each day in order to make the most of colder, firmer snow, I was able to use microspikes without significant postholing all the way from Humber Park to San Jacinto Peak. Today was the first day in many weeks that I did not carry snowshoes on my pack. Although snow conditions on descent a couple of hours later were softer, it was early enough to minimise postholing. Nevertheless as usual the ascents were more fun than the descents. Snow conditions will continue to firm up with much colder weather from today into next week.

Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting. Some major trails have not been traveled this year, and remain obscured by heavy snowfall. Cautious navigation is recommended everywhere. Melting has been rapid in recent days, mainly below 9000′, with the first week of January among the warmest in recorded Idyllwild history.

Microspikes are strongly recommended on-trail for compacted, well-traveled trails (see below). They are especially useful for descending. Crampons are an option, but less convenient than spikes, for firm trails above about 9000′. Snowshoes are currently strongly recommended off-trail almost everywhere above about 8000′ elevation.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country, and potentially far below freezing when considering windchill effects (see below for the temperatures I recorded at San Jacinto Peak this morning).

Note that the USFS gate at Humber Park remains closed. 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. Mt. San Jacinto State Park regulations permit overnight stays only in established campgrounds. Options for thru-hikers are Strawberry Junction and Little Round Valley.

WEATHER Temperatures are forecast to be at or below seasonal for the remainder of January. There is a possibility of very light precipitation on the afternoon of Thursday 9th (<1″ snow at Idyllwild, 1-2″ in the high country).

According to the latest NWS San Diego video, there are chances for precipitation in the second half of January, but it is unclear whether storms may largely pass to the north. Otherwise a relatively dry month is a possibility (a scary prospect for what is historically the wettest month of the year).

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Wednesday 8th January 2020, at 0925 the air temperature was 23.8°F (-5°C), with a windchill of 0.3°F (-18°C), 19% relative humidity, and a wild WNW wind sustained at 21 mph gusting to 46.7 mph.

At the Peak on Tuesday 7th January 2020 at 0845 the air temperature was 38.7°F (3°C), with a windchill of 27.7°F (-3°C), 22% relative humidity, and a pleasant SSW breeze sustained at 8 mph gusting to 11.0 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 6500′ are largely or completely snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation (see below).

Reliable tracks are currently in place for Devil’s Slide Trail, from Saddle Junction to San Jacinto Peak, from the Tram through to Wellman Divide, and on South Ridge Trail.

Round Valley Trail from the Tram through to Wellman Divide has been well-traveled and a good track through the snow is easy to follow, on to San Jacinto Peak.

Skyline Trail has been traveled since the last snow, and tracks exist through the continuous snow above about 7000′. However not all the snow tracks are reliable, so cautious navigation is recommended.

Devil’s Slide Trail has a well-worn track to follow, and microspikes are very useful. Snow cover is patchy and spikes are not essential below 7000′, but higher up snow cover remains >90%.

Ernie Maxwell Trail [updated 11th January] has about 50% cover of thin icy snow.

The parts of Willow Creek Trail and Caramba Trail nearest to Saddle Junction have well-defined snowshoe tracks, likely heading around Skunk Cabbage Meadow.

The PCT southbound from Saddle Junction has been lightly traveled to Chinquapin Flat.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has not been traversed through to the fire lookout in 2020. There no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.25 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 icy snow.

South Ridge Road is mostly clear but with a few icy snow patches in its upper half (passable with 4WD/AWD).

South Ridge Trail is patchily snow-covered (<50%) to Old Lookout Flat at 7800′, with 90% snow cover from there to Tahquitz Peak. This trail has received little hiker traffic so far this year. Microspikes recommended above about 8000′.

The Peak Trail above 10,300′ has not been traversed since before the late November storms. The only defined trail to San Jacinto Peak from the east is the steep option up the East Ridge.

Deer Springs Trail The trail up to the Suicide Rock turning is excellent and well-defined. There has been very little hiker traffic further up the trail.

Seven Pines Trail and Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Miles 185.5-190.5) have had no visible signs of hiker traffic so far this winter, and no tracks or trail to follow. Indeed Seven Pines 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 these trails in snow.

The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road remains in place, hence there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

SNOW DEPTHS measured on 8th January are as follows. Please note that average depth is given; drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 31″ (47″ on 27th December)

Wellman Divide (9700′): 11″ (27″ on 27th December)

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 22″ (25″ on 27th December, heavy drifting here)

Saddle Junction (8070′): 8″ (19″ on 27th December)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6520′): 1″ (11″ on 27th December)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 0″ (6.75″ on 27th December)

North spring at Wellman’s Cienega on 8th January 2020 (above), and for comparison on 1st January (below).

Snow and trail update 3rd January 2020

[UPDATE 5th January: Anne and Anabel hiked up South Ridge and have revised information for trails either side of Tahquitz Peak. I had the easy assignment, hiking in the pre-dawn hours to San Jacinto Peak via Devil’s Slide. That early the trails were icy enough to summit and descend using only microspikes, but trails were softening by noon.]

A brief update on snow and trail conditions based on my hike to San Jacinto Peak via Devil’s Slide Trail and Wellman Divide today (and the same route hiked on 1st January).

Leaving well before dawn today, I was able to use microspikes without postholing to 9000′ (top of “Angel’s Glide”), where I switched to snowshoes. On that same section on my descent a few hours later I was postholing in snowshoes in soft, treacle-like snow, which made for ugly snowshoeing. I used microspikes for descending Devil’s Slide Trail this afternoon, but was still slipping and sliding in the soft, melting snow. Suffice to say that the ascent was much more fun than the descent.

Unfortunately these poor snow conditions are unlikely to improve over the next few days, with warm weather into early next week.

Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting. With the exception of specific trails mentioned below, currently some major trails have not been traveled and are obscured by heavy snowfall. Cautious navigation is strongly recommended everywhere.

Snow depths are currently ideal for snowshoeing almost everywhere above about 7500′ elevation off-trail, and are recommended on-trail above 8500′ (except early mornings). Microspikes are recommended on several well-traveled trails (see below). They are especially useful for descending trails when they become icy and compacted.

Notwithstanding the next few warm days, hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country, and potentially below freezing when considering windchill effects.

Note that the USFS gate at Humber Park is closed. 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.

WEATHER Temperatures will remain well above seasonal in the high country for the next few days, leading to rapid snowmelt at all elevations. Strong winds forecast for Monday 6th may eliminate the existing well-defined snow tracks in the high country. Temperatures drop to more typical for January on about Wednesday 8th, then there is a slim possibility of precipitation by the following weekend (Sunday 12th).

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Friday 3rd January 2020, at 1025 the air temperature was 36.3°F (2°C), with a windchill of 27.6°F (-3°C), 44% relative humidity, and a light due North wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 9.4 mph.

At the Peak on Wednesday 1st January 2020 at 1155 the air temperature was 37.1°F (3°C), with a windchill of 26.2°F (-4°C), 51% relative humidity, and a fresh due North wind sustained at 15 mph gusting to 19.7 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 6500′ are snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation (see below).

Reliable tracks are currently in place for Devil’s Slide Trail, from Saddle Junction to San Jacinto Peak, and from the Tram through to Wellman Divide.

Round Valley Trail from the Tram through to Wellman Divide has been well-traveled and a good track through the snow is easy to follow. Note however that Tram hikers on New Year’s Day put through various confusing and steep trails directly from Round/Tamarack valleys toward San Jacinto Peak.

Skyline Trail has been traveled since the last snow, and tracks exist through the continuous snow above 6500′. However not all the snow tracks are reliable, so cautious navigation is recommended.

There is still no sign that anyone has ascended San Jacinto Peak from the west side, and my track to Little Round Valley and on to upper Deer Springs Trail from Monday no longer exists (due to high winds on Tuesday).

Devil’s Slide Trail has a well-worn track to follow, and microspikes are very useful. Snow cover is still >95%.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is now largely clear of snow. Microspikes are useful at least for descending, but not required. Snow cover is 50% near Humber Park, decreasing to 10% near Tahquitz View Drive.

The parts of Willow Creek Trail and Caramba Trail nearest to Saddle Junction have well-defined snowshoe tracks, likely heading around Skunk Cabbage Meadow.

The PCT southbound from Saddle Junction has been lightly traveled to Chinquapin Flat.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has not been traversed through to the fire lookout in 2020 [updated Sunday 5th January]. There no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.25 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 icy snow.

South Ridge Road is mostly clear but with icy snow patches in its upper half (passable with 4WD/AWD).

South Ridge Trail is patchily snow-covered (c.50%) to Old Lookout Flat at 7800′. Virtually 100% snow cover from there to Tahquitz Peak. Until Sunday 5th January this upper section had only been hiked by one snowshoer. Microspikes recommended above about 8000′ [many thanks to Anne and Anabel King for this update from 5th].

The Peak Trail above 10,300′ has not been traversed since before the late November storms. The only defined trail to San Jacinto Peak from the east is the steep option up the East Ridge.

Deer Springs Trail See my comments above regarding the route toward San Jacinto Peak. The trail up to the Suicide Rock turning is excellent and well-defined.

Seven Pines Trail and Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Miles 185.5-190.5) have had no visible signs of hiker traffic so far this winter, and no tracks or trail to follow. Indeed Seven Pines 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 these trails in snow.

The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road will remain in place into 2020, hence there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

SNOW DEPTHS measured today are as follows. Please note that average depth is given; drifts are much deeper than the average in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 40″ (heavily drifted)(47″ on 27th December)

Wellman Divide (9700′): 22″ (27″ on 27th December)

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 26″ (25″ on 27th December, increase is due to heavy drifting here)

Saddle Junction (8070′): 12″ (19″ on 27th December)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6520′): 2″ (11″ on 27th December)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 0″ (6.75″ on 27th December)

Wellman Divide today 3rd January 2020 (above), and the same view on 27th December 2019 (below).

Fresh Mountain Lion track near lower Deer Springs Trail, 30th December 2019. The knife is 3.75 inches long for scale.

Snow conditions update 1st January 2020

A very brief update on snow and trail conditions based on my hike to San Jacinto Peak from home in Idyllwild today. Information in the Report from 30th December 2019 is largely still applicable, except as described below. Snow depths measured today were not significantly changed from the previous Report, although drifting has been dramatic in places.

Strong NE winds yesterday resulted in heavy drifting above 8000′ elevation. I was dismayed to find that my tracks from Monday above Saddle Junction had been largely obliterated, so I had to break trail between Saddle Junction and San Jacinto Peak for the third time in six days.

Snow conditions above 8000′ were very poor, with relatively warm temperatures resulting in moist, heavy, clumping snow which made for grim snowshoeing. Unfortunately this is unlikely to improve over the next few days, with a marked warming trend into early next week.

There is now also good trail between the Tram and Wellman Divide. Note however that Tram hikers have put through various confusing and steep trails directly from Round/Tamarack valleys toward San Jacinto Peak.

No one ascended San Jacinto Peak from the west side today, and my track to Little Round Valley and on to upper Deer Springs Trail no longer exists.

Devil’s Slide Trail remains in excellent condition, with icy snow that is ideal for microspikes.

Ernie Maxwell Trail was also firm and largely snow-covered before dawn today. I did not use microspikes ascending, but they are useful at least for descending. Snow cover is 90% near Humber Park, decreasing to 60% near Tahquitz View Drive.

Weather At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Wednesday 1st January 2020 at 1155 the air temperature was 37.1°F (3°C), with a windchill of 26.2°F (-4°C), 51% relative humidity, and a fresh due North wind sustained at 15 mph gusting to 19.7 mph.

For those readers interested in my brief end-of-2019 summary and thank you to donors message posted yesterday, it is available here.

End of 2019 Thank You

Yesterday I posted the final trail update (available here) for 2019, which has been a truly unique year for weather, for the San Jacinto mountains, and for Idyllwild. The Trail Report has certainly been kept busy. In December the website passed 100,000 views for the year, literally ten times more views than I would have ever expected.

Never have the effects of long-term changes to the climate been so clear in the San Jacinto mountains. The winters at both the beginning and end of 2019 have been marked by wild fluctuations from unusually warm temperatures to frigid storm and back again, often all in the same week, an effect especially noticeable at the highest elevations.

The weather year was bookended by two dramatic events. Valentine’s Day brought a once-in-a-lifetime rainfall and flood event that left it’s mark on mountain life for the entire year (and likely beyond) with closed roads, closed campgrounds, and quiet trails. It then ended with the heaviest November snowstorm in recorded local history right over Thanksgiving. In between, we had the largest ever northbound Pacific Crest Trail season, which combined with the aftermath of our strongest winter in years, brought considerable challenges.

At a personal level, new all-time records were established for the number of ascents of San Jacinto Peak in a calendar year (147) and consecutive days with an ascent (33). While all these ascents were great fun (and pretty good exercise!), they were also done while patrolling as a State Park wilderness ranger, and gathering information for both the Trail Report and the local PCTA trail crew. I have a feeling both records may get broken again in 2020.

Now to the real purpose of this note. Reporting on the trail conditions during the remarkable year of 2019 was made possible with the help of the donors listed on the Supporters page. Also listed there are many other folk who have assisted the Report in various ways. A huge THANK YOU to all.

Particular mention must be made of the invaluable recurring donors without whom the Trail Report could not continue in its current format: Chris Singer (Silver Pines Lodge & Village), Marc Oberlin, Christine Vanek, Constance Brunig, Charles Phelan and Marcia Harlan, Florian Boyd, Christine Rheaume and Mark Gumprecht, Steven Morris and Martha Ludlum, Brian Green, Brad Marston, Ron Brown, Don Line, Natalie Mikecz/Nat Nak Eng, LLC, Pamela VanZandt, Cris Hazzard, Andrea Lankford, Cathy Tarr (on behalf of the David O’Sullivan search team), Ross Craft, and Sean Reed.

Thank you all again, and let’s see what 2020 brings to the San Jacinto mountains!

Trail and snow update 30th December 2019

The seventh storm of this winter passed through today. It was forecast to be quite significant a few days ago, then in recent days it seemed like little or no snow was expected. I was unconvinced either way, so I ascended San Jacinto Peak via the east side (Devil’s Slide to East Ridge Trail) and descended the west side (Deer Springs Trail), affording a reasonable survey of the snow and trail conditions around the mountain.

It started snowing steadily while I was at San Jacinto Peak late morning, and continued gently as I descended Deer Springs Trail. The hiking was delightful, but there was minimal new accumulation, with <0.5″ below 8000′, only an inch above 9000′, and perhaps two inches at the highest peaks. Much of the afternoon as I descended through snow clouds, I could see the high peaks above me in blue sky, and the cloud band was at 6000-10,000′ for much of the afternoon.

Hiking conditions were perfect early this morning, with a firm icy snow track up Devil’s Slide Trail, ideal for microspikes. I switched to snowshoes at 9000′ elevation on the ascent, and kept them on down to about 6500′ on the descent. Unfortunately these conditions will likely change this week with rapid warming expected at all elevations.

I was surprised to find no evidence of any tracks on Deer Springs Trail from San Jacinto Peak down through Little Round Valley to the PCT. I would not recommend following my track from today as I took a very direct largely off-trail route. I also broke trail from the top of Marion Mountain Trail through to Strawberry Junction, but that track accurately follows the trail.

Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting. With the exception of trails mentioned below, currently some major trails have not been traveled and are obscured by heavy snowfall. A wild SE gale on the night of 25th resulted in very extensive drifting of snow, and it was windy again today, especially above 9000′ elevation. Cautious navigation is strongly recommended everywhere.

Snow depths are currently ideal for snowshoeing almost everywhere above about 7500′ elevation off-trail, and strongly recommended on-trail above 8500′. Microspikes are recommended on several well-traveled trails (see below) and will become increasingly useful at all elevations 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.

Notwithstanding the warming forecast for the first week of January, hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing when considering windchill effects (see my weather data from the Peak below).

Note that the USFS gate at Humber Park is closed. 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.

WEATHER Rapid warming is forecast for the first week of 2020, with temperatures above seasonal likely for Idyllwild and the high country especially by next weekend (3rd-5th January 2020), leading to snowmelt at all elevations. Medium term forecasts show no storm activity for the first half of January.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Monday 30th December 2019 at 1110 the air temperature was 17.6°F (-8°C), with a windchill temperature of -4.1°F (-20°C), 94% relative humidity, and a dangerously bitter NE wind sustained at 17 mph gusting to 25.8 mph.

At the Peak on Friday 27th December 2019 at 0655 the air temperature was 12.3°F (-12°C), with a windchill temperature of -4.9°F (-21°C), 74% relative humidity, and a brisk due North wind sustained at 9 mph gusting to 16.7 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 6000′ are snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation (see below).

Reliable tracks are currently in place for Devil’s Slide Trail, from Saddle Junction to San Jacinto Peak, and from the Tram through to Wellman Divide.

Round Valley Trail from the Tram through to Wellman Divide has been well-traveled and a good track through the snow is easy to follow.

Skyline Trail has been traveled since the last snow, and tracks exist through the continuous snow above 6500′. However not all the snow tracks are reliable, so cautious navigation is recommended.

Devil’s Slide Trail has a well-worn (but increasingly icy) track to follow, and microspikes are especially useful for descending. Trees down on the trail about 1.7 miles up (just below Powderbox Spring) are easily passable. At Saddle Junction, trees are also down across the starts of the Caramba Trail and the PCT southbound.

The parts of Willow Creek Trail and Caramba Trail nearest to Saddle Junction have well-defined snowshoe tracks, likely heading around Skunk Cabbage Meadow.

The PCT southbound from Saddle Junction has hardly been traveled, with only a couple of snowshoe tracks to follow.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 There are no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.25 miles. Do not attempt to cross these ice slopes without additional traction. Crampons are currently recommended, ideally in conjunction with an ice axe (if you know how to use it). Snowshoes are not advised as the fresh snow is not consolidated with the earlier hard icy snow underneath, making for a very treacherous footing.

The Peak Trail above 10,300′ has not been traversed since before the late November storms. The only defined trail to San Jacinto Peak from the east is the steep option up the East Ridge.

Deer Springs Trail See my comments above regarding the route above the PCT. The trail up to the Suicide Rock turning is excellent and well-defined. From there to Strawberry Junction there is a reasonable snowshoe track to follow. Beyond that the track is less well-traveled and more likely to be obscured by drifting snow.

Marion Mountain Trail has been traveled by one person and has a reasonable snowshoe track to follow.

Seven Pines Trail and Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Miles 185.5-190.5) have had no visible signs of hiker traffic so far this winter, and no tracks or trail to follow. Indeed Seven Pines 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 these trails in snow.

The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road will remain in place into 2020, hence there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is completely snow-covered but has an excellent, defined track. Microspikes are recommended but are not essential (many thanks to Anne King and Anabel for this update from today).

SNOW DEPTHS measured today are as follows. Please note that average depth is given; drifts are much deeper than the average in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 47″ (very heavily drifted)

Little Round Valley (9800′): 26″

Wellman Divide (9700′): 25″ (27″ on 27th December)

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 23″ (25″ on 27th December)

Fuller Ridge Trail south end (8980′): 24″

Marion Mountain Trail junction with PCT (8800′): 22″

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 11″

Saddle Junction (8070′): 17″ (19″ on 27th December)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6520′): 7″ (11″ on 27th December)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 2″ (6.75″ on 27th December)

The upper end of Little Round Valley (9850′) this afternoon, 30th December 2019, under just over two feet of snow.
Strawberry Junction (8100′) this afternoon, 30th December 2019, with an average of just under one foot of snow.

Snow storm update 27th December 2019

The sixth storm of this winter came rapidly after the fifth (described here), with significant snowfall more-or-less continuously from the afternoon of 25th December until early afternoon on 26th. At San Jacinto Peak, an additional inch of snow fell in the early hours of 27th.

Ultimately snow quantities were below forecasts, especially in the high country. It was a cold system, with single digit (Fahrenheit) air temperatures in the high country. Although the snow level dropped below 4000′, depths at low elevations did not rival the Thanksgiving snowstorm of last month.

A short video describing the conditions from San Jacinto Peak at sunset on 26th December is available on YouTube.

Snow depths measured on 27th are listed at the foot of this posting. With the exception of trails mentioned below, currently many major trails have not been traveled and are obscured by heavy snowfall. A wild SE gale on the night of 25th resulted in very extensive drifting of snow, especially above 9000′ elevation. Cautious navigation is strongly recommended everywhere.

Snow depths are currently ideal for snowshoeing almost everywhere above about 6000′ elevation. Microspikes will become increasingly useful at lower and mid-elevations over the next two 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.

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

Note that the USFS gate at Humber Park is closed. There are nine legal parking spaces – available for all uses – just below the gate (near the upper Ernie Maxwell trailhead). The next closest legal parking is 0.1 mile downhill on Forest Drive.

Sunrise over the Salton Sea as seen from San Jacinto Peak on 27th December 2019, with moody clouds over the Santa Rosa mountains and the eastern deserts.

WEATHER The seventh winter storm of 2019/20 is forecast for Monday 30th December. It will again be a cold system with a low (4000′) snow level, but little (or no?) snowfall in the San Jacinto mountains.

Looking into 2020 it may warm fairly rapidly in the first week of the New Year, with considerable snowmelt at all elevations. Medium term forecasts currently show no storm activity for the first half of January.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Friday 27th December 2019 at 0655 the air temperature was 12.3°F (-12°C), with a windchill temperature of -4.9°F (-21°C), 74% relative humidity, and a brisk due North wind sustained at 9 mph gusting to 16.7 mph.

At the Peak on Boxing Day, Thursday 26th December 2019, at 1640 the air temperature was 9.9°F (-13°C), with a windchill temperature of -10.6°F (-23°C), 76% relative humidity, and a chilly due West wind sustained at 9 mph gusting to 17.0 mph.

San Bernadino mountains from San Jacinto Peak at sunrise on 27th December 2019.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 4500′ are covered with between 2″ and 40+” of snow, depending on elevation. This includes the Pacific Crest Trail from south of Mile 151 (the Hwy 74 crossing) to about Mile 197.

Reliable tracks are currently in place only for Devil’s Slide Trail, from Saddle Junction to San Jacinto Peak, and from the Tram through to Wellman Divide. While this situation will likely change over the coming weekend, be advised that the storm on Monday 29th may again obliterate some tracks (at least above 8000′).

SNOW DEPTHS measured today are as follows. Average depth is given. With strong winds during this storm, drifts are significantly deeper than the average in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 49″ (but very heavily drifted)(23″ on 20th December)

Wellman Divide (9700′): 27″ (5″ on 20th December)

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 25″ (9″ on 20th December)

Saddle Junction (8070′): 19″ (2″ on 20th December)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6520′): 11″

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 6.75″ (storm total, but already melting rapidly today)

Annie’s Junction (approx. 9070 feet elevation) on 27th December 2019 (above), and for comparison on 20th December 2019 (below).