[UPDATE 22nd October: an energetic early season storm is expected for the afternoon of Monday 25th. Forecast models vary regarding precipitation amounts, but several inches of snow are likely in the high country, accompanied by near-record wind speeds, with widespread light rainfall (0.5in) below 8000ft.]
Following three minor storm systems in the San Jacinto mountains between 5th and 11th October, we had further stormy weather on Monday 18th. An elevated marine layer on the western side of the mountain range was driven upslope by a very strong West wind, which I measured gusting to 40mph at San Jacinto Peak. There was occasional very light drizzle in Idyllwild, and as we descended the PCT in late morning, at about 8900ft just north of Saddle Junction a few snowflakes were falling (but not settling). The top of the cloud cover was at about 9000ft elevation, and the high country was clear and sunny all day, although cool in the stiff wind. Altogether a perfect morning for a brisk hike.
The minor storm on 11th October was, by just one day, the earliest I have recorded measurable snowfall in the San Jacinto high country in autumn, following an even lighter dusting overnight on 12th October 2018. Within a day, rapid melting meant that there was no snow remaining on the trail system, although today (a week later) a few tiny patches of snow remain in very sheltered locations. Spikes are not currently required anywhere in the high country. This advice may change after a storm expected next Monday 25th.
Hikers should be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and potentially well below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for recent weather observations from San Jacinto Peak).
Full fire restrictions remain (for now) in place on Forest Service lands, as described here. All campfires anywhere in the San Jacinto mountains, including at all USFS campgrounds and yellow post sites, are prohibited. All forms of campfire are always prohibited in the State Park wilderness. Despite the rainfall and cooler temperatures, fire risk remains very high.
Be bear aware. Although rarely reported, several Black Bears remain active in the San Jacinto mountains. I was fortunate to see a very large (>300lb), uniformly dark brown individual at dawn on 7th September near Humber Park. I was able to get a couple of short, poor quality videos, of which one is available here.
Water conditions in the high country remain poor, although there have been brief improvements in flow immediately after storms. The current status of many key springs and creeks is unchanged from the earlier Report available here.
The U.S. Forest Service ranger station in Idyllwild has been closed due to USFS coronavirus protocols since March 2020. Apparently it is unlikely to reopen until 2022. Hiking and camping permits are nevertheless required for USFS lands, and should be available at the kiosk outside the ranger station.
The State Park ranger station has been open almost all year, and is the best source in Idyllwild for permits and additional trail information.
WEATHER Temperatures have been, and will continue, on something of a rollercoaster ride in October. After frigid conditions on 18th-19th, rapidly rising temperatures to another brief period of warmth above seasonal norms on 20th-22nd will then give way to cooler-than-average conditions starting on 23rd. The last few days of October will again be warmer than average for the month. There is moderate precipitation forecast for Monday 25th October, with light snowfall expected above about 8000ft.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Monday 18th October 2021 at 0845 the air temperature was 25.3°F (-4°C), with a windchill temperature of 0.8°F (-17°C), 55% relative humidity, and a bitter due West wind sustained at 21 mph gusting to 39.7 mph.
At the Peak on Friday 15th October 2021 at 0915 the air temperature was 39.4°F (4°C), with a windchill temperature of 26.7°F (-3°C), 13% relative humidity, and a steady NE wind sustained at 15 mph gusting to 19.9 mph.
At the Peak on Tuesday 12th October 2021 at 0855 the air temperature was 16.8°F (-8°C), with a windchill temperature of -3.3°F (-20°C), 45% relative humidity, and a gusty NNE wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 19.3 mph.
Water conditions remain challenging despite recent autumnal weather, with many springs and creeks already having dried up or having very low flows, as discussed in an earlier Report. To date, temperatures have not been low enough to freeze springs in the high country.
The rockslide at PCT Mile 172.5, just north of Antsell Rock, was removed on Monday 14th June 2021. My “before, during, and after” video is available here. This section of the PCT is now safer and is narrow but readily passable with care by hikers (but remains impassable by stock).
Due to greatly reduced maintenance work during the coronavirus pandemic, many trails have accumulated treefall hazards since late 2019, passable with care by hikers but not for stock. Although reported promptly, regrettably neither Forest Service nor State Park have moved quickly to remove most hazards in 2021. With recent storms being accompanied by strong winds, hikers may encounter new and additional hazards. Some are described below, others include the PCT between Strawberry Cienega and Strawberry Junction (PCT Miles 182-183, at least 7 trees down), and Fuller Ridge Trail near its northern end (PCT Miles 189.1-190.2, three trees).
Spitler Peak Trail was cleared of multiple tree hazards by the Trail Report in early July. Marion Mountain Trail was cleared of multiple tree hazards by a CCC crew in late August, along with the adjacent PCT/Deer Springs Trail for 0.6 mile north to the south end of Fuller Ridge Trail.
Many treefall hazards from Red Tahquitz to Antsell Rock (PCT Miles 172.5-175) were cleared in June prior to the rockslide removal work. Nevertheless about 20 remain, including at least six major obstructions for hikers. Tahquitz Creek to Red Tahquitz (PCT Miles 175-177) was cleared in early June.
Willow Creek Trail has at least 33 downed trees between Skunk Cabbage Junction and Hidden Divide. Of these 22 are on the Forest Service section (16 between Willow Creek and the Park boundary), with 11 in the State Park. Most are readily passable by hikers with care. Despite so much work last year by myself and others, the whitethorn has grown back rapidly, but still remains less challenging than in 2019.
The Caramba Trail from near Reeds Meadow through Laws Camp and on to Caramba, and the Cedar Trail from Willow Creek Trail to Laws (which both nominally reopened in late 2018) are optimistically described by the Forest Service as “not maintained”. In reality parts of these trails no longer exist with significant sections of both so heavily overgrown that I strongly advise hikers do not attempt to follow them. Multiple experienced hikers have reported getting lost in this area since summer 2019. An informal use trail to the Laws Camp area is much more direct and completely avoids all of the challenging bush-whacking of the unmaintained trails (other hikers kindly nicknamed it the “King Trail”). It leaves Willow Creek Trail exactly 1.0 mile from Saddle Junction, 0.45 mile from the Skunk Cabbage turning (trailhead at N33°46’46”, W116°39’32”, WGS84). The cairned use trail descends largely on established deer tracks for 0.9 mile, reaching Willow Creek just upstream of the former site of Laws Camp. From Laws east to Caramba the route of the old Caramba Trail has become increasingly tricky to follow, especially for the first 1.2 miles east of Laws where there are dozens of trees down. Closer to Caramba the trail is relatively obvious (for those familiar with the route prior to the 2013 Mountain Fire). Very cautious navigation is recommended throughout this area.
Seven Pines Trail has had very limited hiker traffic since November 2018, largely because Dark Canyon Road was closed between February 2019 and early October 2021. There are 35 treefall hazards on the trail, four large ones on the short Forest Service section, and the remainder in the State Park, based on my most recent 2021 survey. Cautious navigation is recommended for those who are not familiar with hiking this trail. Dark Canyon campground remains closed.
Thank you fellow hikers for taking the time to read this. While all labor and time is volunteered, the San Jacinto Trail Report completely depends on small private donations to cover operating costs. Every year seems to be challenging and 2021 has been no exception, so every contribution, no matter how small, is truly valuable. If you have found this Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you for your support.