I have hiked to San Jacinto Peak three of the past six mornings, including today, affording a check of snow and trail conditions on most major routes. South Ridge and the Tahquitz Peak area have also been hiked twice in the same period. I hope to fully survey the PCT again this week.
Cool early mornings like Saturday make for pleasant hiking on firm snow, and I ascended San Jacinto Peak without microspikes. In contrast this morning very mild temperatures – 40°F in Idyllwild – meant that icy snow below 8000′ (e.g., Devil’s Slide Trail) was very slick in places. Unseasonably warm temperatures make the snow soft by late morning at all elevations, the only positive being that postholing renders microspikes of limited use.
The light snow that fell a week ago in the early hours of the morning of Monday 10th was almost completely gone within days. Rapid melting this weekend has already reduced snow depths to the levels seen in early February at all elevations.
Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting. Strong winds in the high country may cause spindrift to obscure parts of even heavily traveled trails. Cautious navigation is recommended everywhere.
Microspikes remain useful in some areas (see below) for hikers inexperienced on snow and ice, on compacted, well-traveled trails, in particular for descending. Hikers with suitable footwear (plus hiking poles as preferred) will largely not need any additional traction, depending on temperature as discussed above. Snowshoes may be useful in some areas off-trail above about 9500′ elevation.
Hikers should be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and potentially well below freezing when considering windchill effects (see below for weather recorded recently at San Jacinto Peak).
Note that the USFS gate at Humber Park reopened on 5th February.
WEATHER Temperatures will remain above average this week, cooling to below seasonal next week (after 24th February). There is a possibility of light precipitation overnight on Friday 21st into early Saturday 22nd, including perhaps a couple of inches of snow in the high country. Otherwise there is little sign of precipitation into March.
The latest video report from NWS San Diego (issued on 14th February) describes the dire moisture situation we are now experiencing. Having been at c.200% of average at the end of 2019, the two wettest months of the water year (January and February) have been so poor in 2020, at <10% of average, that overall the San Jacinto mountains have dropped far below average precpitation already. The Sierra Nevada is faring no better, with snowpack at only 50-60% of average.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Monday 17th February 2020, at 0750 the air temperature was 33.8°F (1°C), with a windchill of 18°F (-8°C), 42% relative humidity, and a very gusty NW wind sustained at 9 mph gusting to 28.7 mph.
At the Peak on Saturday 15th February 2020, at 0800 the air temperature was 32.4°F (0°C), with a windchill of 17.7°F (-8°C), 23% relative humidity, and a chilly WNW wind sustained at 18 mph gusting to 23.3 mph.
PACIFIC CREST TRAIL
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.
Microspikes may be useful on some of the PCT for patchy snow travel between approximately Miles 168 and 191, depending upon your comfort level on icy snow. Most thru hikers using poles will probably find spikes unnecessary however. See below for conditions on some specifc sections of the PCT and the many side trails.
Current snow cover on the PCT is very limited between Miles 151 (Highway 74) 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 largely continuous between Miles 175-179 (to near Saddle Junction). The Trail is then largely clear 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 exposed sections of Fuller Ridge (e.g., Miles 186.5-188.5) are clearing 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 permit overnight stays only in established campgrounds. Options for thru-hikers are Strawberry Junction and Little Round Valley.
Currently I am not updating the water situation in the San Jacinto mountains as the main springs and creeks are all flowing adequately. This may change soon as extremely low precipitation so far in 2020 is already causing flow rates far below average.
All trails above about 9000′ remain largely snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation (see below). Some sections of trails above about 7700′ have limited snow cover.
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 quickly clearing of snow to about 8700′ elevation (just south of the Marion Mountain Trail junction), then there is continuous snow cover thereafter, with a well-traveled, consolidated track to follow. A track above 9000′ to Little Round Valley is consolidated, but be advised that it does not follow the established trail in places. Above Little Round Valley there is a direct (i.e. steep) track to follow to San Jacinto Peak. Microspikes can be useful for descending.
Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Miles 185.5-190.5) has been clearing quickly, especially on sun-exposed slopes, mainly Miles 186.5-188.5. There are tracks to follow through the snow.
Marion Mountain Trail has been traveled and has a consolidated track to follow. Microspikes are useful, but not required, for descending the uppermost 0.5 mile. Note the road to Marion Mountain trailhead has been open all winter and is clear of snow.
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, onward to San Jacinto Peak.
Devil’s Slide Trail has limited icy snow cover in patches, mainly in the 0.5 mile nearest to Saddle Junction. Microspikes may be helpful in some areas above 7700′, especially for descending, but are not required.
Ernie Maxwell Trail is virtually clear of snow, with just a few tiny patches, mainly near Humber Park.
The parts of Willow Creek Trail and Caramba Trail nearest to Saddle Junction have well-defined tracks, likely heading around Skunk Cabbage Meadow.
The notoriously treacherous Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 is clearing surprisingly quickly, the snow drifts are softening (on warm days), and crampons are no longer required. Microspikes are strongly recommended, in conjunction with an ice axe (if you know how to use it). In the morning, overnight wind conditions and the freeze-thaw cycle often cover the existing steps through the angled icy snow for 0.1-0.2 mile. Please do not attempt to cross this section without adequate equipment and knowledge. The consequences of a fall here can be very severe.
South Ridge Trail is clear to Old Lookout Flat at 7600′, but with some remnant very thin snow patches. Snow cover is fairly patchy (<50%) higher up, and the soft thin snow is easily hiked. Microspikes are not required. South Ridge Road is clear of 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 17th February 2020. Note that average depth is given, drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.
San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 16″ (was 47″ on 27th December)
Little Round Valley (9800′): 16″
Wellman Divide (9700′): 2″ (was 27″ on 27th December)
Annie’s Junction (9070′): 11″ (was 25″ on 27th December)
Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Mile 185.5) at junction with Deer Springs Trail (8950′): 12″
Long Valley (8600′): 1″
Strawberry Junction (8100′): <1″
Saddle Junction (8070′): 1″ (was 19″ on 27th December)
Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6550′): 0″ (was 11″ on 27th December)
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