The steady melt of the winter snowpack continues, and the high country trails are increasingly a mix of cleared patches and large icy drifts to go up-and-over. Most notable is the recent clearing of one of the most popular hiking trails, the short spur of South Ridge Trail up to Tahquitz Peak from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 177.7. Other than a seasonably warm weekend on 3rd-4th, temperatures so far in June have been below seasonal, and are forecast to remain pleasantly cool until mid month.
Recently I have had several inquiries regarding water availability for campers in the high country. Given the typically dry conditions of the past decade, such questions are understandable. Currently there is water everywhere, and all possible seasonal and perennial waters, pipes, springs, etc. are flowing well. Personally I have not seen so much water on the mountain since 1998, following the great El Niño winter of 1997/98.
Our daily survey hikes include different routes to San Jacinto Peak multiple times per week, South Ridge and Spitler Peak trails weekly, and other trails on intervening days. With the snow rapidly disappearing, increasingly I am spending time on trail clearance and maintenance work.
On multiple hikes in recent days I have not required spikes for ascending San Jacinto Peak via the main east and west side routes, especially on firmer snow given the cooler weather. On Monday 5th June for example, barebooting was relatively straightforward to the Peak on Deer Springs Trail, but spikes were useful descending back down to Little Round Valley to about 9800 ft. Broadly speaking spikes continue to be useful in the high country, and some hikers may even prefer trail crampons.
Trails above about 9700 ft remain largely obscured by heavily drifted snow (lower in places). Trails as low as about 8700 ft elevation have increasingly patchy snow cover, especially on north-facing slopes. The reliable boot tracks of April and early May have become very scrappy with the widespread but patchy melting of recent weeks. Cautious navigation remains important everywhere.
Details of snow depths measured at various locations on the trail system are given at the foot of this posting, alongside the greatest snow depth recorded this past winter for comparison.
Spikes remain useful for the foreseeable future above about 9000 ft (potentially lower in places) but they are no longer be required on most routes, and depending on your comfort level hiking on icy or softening snow, and the quality of footwear being used. This elevation will continue to move slowly upwards with melting of snow, but spikes will remain useful for many hikers throughout June at least in parts of the high country. Spikes tend to be helpful for descending even when they are not required for ascending.
Crampons – with hiking poles and/or an ice axe, depending on terrain – are becoming less valuable, but remain potentially useful above about 9000 ft. They can be most useful off-trail in the high country on colder mornings. They are no longer required on the short section of South Ridge Trail across the north face of Tahquitz Peak.
With so much snowmelt, there is a great deal of water in (and under) the trails, and this has also created some tricky stream and river crossings. Lengthy sections of Deer Springs Trail in particular will basically remain ephemeral streams for the next month or two. Appropriate footwear that is at least highly water resistant is strongly recommended. Be especially cautious of the many fragile and potentially dangerous snow bridges across water.
Hikers should anticipate encountering many new treefall hazards on trails, along with considerable amounts of debris, branches, cones, etc. While this is partly a consequence of the recent intense winter, most trails in the San Jacinto mountains have been inadequately maintained for years largely due to agency dysfunction, plus effects of wildfires, the coronavirus pandemic, and climate change.
Trails are steadily being cleared of treefall hazards by volunteers. The Trail Report has cleared South Ridge Trail, and largely cleared Spitler Peak and Seven Pines trails, in the past three weeks. Forest Service volunteers have recently cut trees from the Ernie Maxwell and Devil’s Slide trails. Kevin Cadieux led a PCTA crew that cleared 24 trees south from Fobes Saddle along the PCT last week.
Hikers should be prepared for temperatures near freezing in the high country, and below freezing when considering wind chill effects, at least on some days (see below for my most recent weather observations from San Jacinto Peak).
Be rattlesnake aware. Despite comments in this Report regarding snow and cool temperatures, Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus helleri) have been seen on the trail system up to at least 7500 ft elevation since late May. The lower two-thirds of Devil’s Slide Trail, near Strawberry Cienega, and around Tahquitz Peak are typically locations with many sightings, but rattlesnakes are possible anywhere up to at least 9300 ft once temperatures ameliorate. Anyone interested in learning more about the unique rattlesnakes of the San Jacinto mountains, and the relationship that my dog and I have with them, may want to read an article I wrote in July 2020 (link here).
Tahquitz Peak fire lookout reopened for the season on Sunday 4th June. Safe access is now possible via South Ridge Trail from both directions, the PCT/Chinquapin Flat to the north, or South Ridge Road (5S11) to the south, but note the latter remains closed to vehicle traffic. Black Mountain fire lookout will not reopen until Black Mountain Road (4S01) is graded, expected to be later in June.
Forest Service roads currently closed to vehicular traffic include Dark Canyon Road (4S02) and South Ridge Road (5S11). Santa Rosa Road (7S02) reopened in early June. The State Park Stone Creek campground reopened in early May. Forest Service campgrounds at Fern Basin and Marion Mountain reopened at the beginning of June, but Boulder Basin and Dark Canyon campgrounds remain closed at this time. Black Mountain Road (4S01) is nominally closed but has effectively reopened. The gate 1.7 miles from the highway was vandalized repeatedly in mid May and the Forest Service decided not to attempt to lock it again. The road is in its poorest condition for at least a decade and until the road is graded – expected later in June – 4WD and/or high clearance are recommended. The USFS gate at Humber Park reopened on Wednesday 19th April.
Temperatures generally below seasonal averages have been a consistent theme for most of 2023 so far, and this is forecast to continue in the first half of June. Daytime high temperatures will be around 10-15°F below average, but even cooler on 6th-7th and 10th-12th, while overnight lows will be nearer, but still slightly below, seasonal, into the middle of the month.
There is no significant new precipitation in the forecasts, but as we experienced in the last week of May, some days over the next two weeks may be partly cloudy at mid elevations on the western side of the mountain range as the lifted marine layer hugs the hillsides at around 5000 ft elevation, occasionally moving higher, and always bringing the possibility of misty drizzle.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Monday 5th June 2023 at 0745 the air temperature was 41.1°F (5°C), with a windchill temperature of 27.5°F (-2°C), 32% relative humidity, and a sharp SE wind sustained at 17 mph gusting to 27.4 mph.
At the Peak on Thursday 1st June 2023 at 0750 the air temperature was 41.6°F (5°C), with a windchill temperature of 33.3°F (1°C), 38% relative humidity, and a light ESE wind sustained at 4 mph gusting to 8.8 mph.
At the Peak on Tuesday 30th May 2023 at 0840 the air temperature was 38.5°F (4°C), with a windchill temperature of 28.0°F (-2°C), 18% relative humidity, and a fresh due South wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 13.4 mph.
Trails remain largely or completely snow-covered above about 9700 ft. Trails below about 8700 ft are now generally clear of snow. Elevations between 8700-9700 ft vary considerably in snow cover depending on aspect, drifting, and tree cover, but typically average about 10-50% snow cover.
The PCT is now largely clear of snow through the San Jacinto mountains. Spikes remain useful for three relatively short sections. The trail is clear of snow from Miles 151 (Highway 74) to about Mile 175. Treefall hazards are a problem on this section, I counted at least 94 between Miles 169-175 in May. Snow cover is about 30% from Miles 175 (Red Tahquitz) to 177.7 (Chinquapin Flat). Some hikers may find spikes useful on this section although the boot track is well-defined and relatively flat. Snow cover is increasingly patchy and averages only about 10% between Miles 177.7 to Saddle Junction (about Mile 179). The south-facing slope of Miles 179-180 is clear of snow, but from Mile 180 (elevation 8900 ft) to about Mile 181 just past Annie’s Junction snow cover is 80% and the track can be hard to follow in places. Miles 181-184 are clear, then snow cover increases (>50%) from Mile 184.5. Spikes can be useful on the snowy parts of this section, but are not required at this time for hikers experienced with snow travel. Snow cover averages 30% along Fuller Ridge (Miles 185.5-191). The track does now largely follow the PCT route. Miles 185.5-187.5 average about 40% snow cover, Miles 187.6-188.5 (a south-facing slope) are clear, Miles 188.5-190 have 70% snow cover, and finally Miles 190-191 are now largely clear. Spikes are useful for Fuller Ridge but they are no longer required, depending on personal comfort level hiking on patchy icy snow.
Devil’s Slide Trail is clear of snow to Saddle Junction. Spikes are not required.
Trails around the Skunk Cabbage and Tahquitz area meadows are functionally clear of snow, with just a few patches remaining in the most sheltered locations. There are seven significant treefall hazards across the trails between Little Tahquitz Meadow and Chinquapin Flat, with a few others elsewhere around the meadows.
The Wellman Trail has largely continuous snow cover on its southern 0.4 mile north from Annie’s Junction, but snow cover is a very patchy 20% thereafter. The southern portion of the track (with continuous snow cover) does not always accurately follow the trail route, but the remainder of the track is now largely true to the trail route. Note there is considerable flowing water in the trail in several places for a few tenths of a mile around Wellman’s Cienega.
The Peak Trail route remains largely snow-covered. The initial traverse north from Wellman Divide has 20% snow cover for about a mile to 9900 ft and the track largely follows the trail route, but thereafter snow cover is about 90%. Around 9900-10,100 ft the predominant boot track does not follow the trail route. Close to San Jacinto Peak the predominant boot track ascends directly up the East Ridge over continuous lumpy snow cover. There are now some lighlty-traveled tracks to follow through the snow on the uppermost switchbacks of the typical Peak Trail route.
There is a well-traveled boot track through 60% snow cover largely following the trail route up from Round Valley to Wellman Divide. Extensive clear patches are opening up in and around Round Valley, though few are actually in the designated camping areas.
Deer Springs Trail is clear of snow to near the Marion Mountain Trail junction. The 0.6 mile from there to the Fuller Ridge Trail junction averages 60% snow cover. Once the Deer Springs track leaves the PCT at the south end of Fuller Ridge, the trail is clear for the first mile (to about 9300 ft elevation). Thereafter snow cover averages about 40% up to Little Round Valley, with a mix of extensive clear patches and short sections of near-continuous snow. Snow cover remains 80% and heavily drifted through Little Round Valley, and there is no predominant boot track that follows the actual trail route. Some of the designated camping areas now have cleared areas suitable for a tent or two. Above Little Round Valley snow cover averages about 70%, with the lowest exposed section at 60%, then an extended central portion at 90% snow cover, and the uppermost exposed switchbacks now only about 40% snow covered. Following the actual trail route is not easy, and the various snow season boot tracks have now largely melted out and are of limited use. Cautious navigation is required on Deer Springs Trail, especially through and above Little Round Valley. Spikes can be useful (but are no longer essential) especially for descending.
The Ernie Maxwell Trail is clear of snow. Crossing Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park can be tricky as it is swollen with snowmelt.
South Ridge Trail is clear of snow to Tahquitz Peak on the southern approach from South Ridge Road, and functionally clear of snow on the northern approach from Chinquapin Flat/PCT. The latter 0.4 mile section has a handful of tiny snow patches remaining, but all have excellent tracks with easy steps to follow through the snow and do not require spikes (photo above). Fourteen recent treefall hazards on the trail were removed by the Trail Report in May, and trail trimming is undertaken regularly. South Ridge Road remains closed to vehicle traffic and will reopen once graded, possibly later in June.
Marion Mountain Trail is now clear of snow to the PCT, a couple of tiny patches remain at the top. There is a great deal of water flowing in the trail in its uppermost mile, along with half-a-dozen notable treefall hazards.
The Trail Report removed about 30 treefall hazards from Spitler Peak Trail on 25th May, bringing the total removed to just under 100 in the past two years. Half-a-dozen minor downed trees remain but none are significant obstructions. More worrisome are 5-6 washouts from this past winter in the upper switchbacks which have significantly impacted the tread in places, and will require significant trail recovery work (photos in prior Report).
Black Mountain Trail is functionally clear of snow. A few minor patches remain on the climber’s trail route from the top of Black Mountain Trail to near the fire lookout. Boulder Basin campground remains closed at this time.
Seven Pines Trail is clear of snow to 8200 ft elevation (about 2.5 miles up from the trailhead). The crossing of the very swollen North Fork of the San Jacinto River at 1.5 miles (just after the State Park boundary) is currently perilous and not recommended for most hikers. This will likely remain a tricky crossing into July. Patchy snow cover steadily increases between 8200 ft and the junction with Deer Springs Trail/PCT (at about 8700 ft), but overall averages about 40%. Many of the drifts obscure key sections and switchbacks on the upper trail, and navigation will be challenging for those not thoroughly familiar with this trail. There is a very lightly traveled and poorly defined boot track through the snow patches. Of seven new treefall hazards down on the clear parts of the trail, six were removed by the Trail Report in late May, and a good start was made on clearing the trail of branches and other debris. Dark Canyon Road – the access for the Seven Pines trailhead – remains closed to vehicles.
The Caramba Trail from near Reeds Meadow through Laws Camp and on to Caramba, and the Cedar Trail from Willow Creek Trail to Laws, are euphemistically described by the Forest Service as “not maintained”. In reality both trails no longer exist and are so heavily overgrown I strongly advise hikers do not attempt to follow them. An informal use trail to Laws is much more direct and avoids all of the very challenging bushwhacking of the unmaintained trails (some local hikers dubbed it the “King Trail” when I established the route in 2019). It leaves the Willow Creek Trail exactly 1.0 mile from Saddle Junction (0.46 mile from the Skunk Cabbage turning), descending largely on established deer trails for 1.2 miles, meeting Willow Creek just upstream from the old Laws Camp. From Laws east to Caramba the route of the original Caramba Trail has been well-cairned by myself and others and can largely be followed with careful route-finding. My autumn 2022 survey counted 97 trees down on this 2.1 miles of trail. It is especially obscure 0.1-0.3 mile east of the Willow Creek crossing, becoming more obvious near Caramba. Very cautious navigation is advised throughout the area.
Willow Creek Trail is a slow, messy hike for a couple of miles, and is currently only recommended for experienced hikers. Some 40+ trees are down on the Forest Service section of this trail between Skunk Cabbage Junction and the State Park boundary. The majority are in the 0.6 mile section between Willow Creek crossing and the State Park boundary. This situation has been reported to USFS many times over the past year. The State Park cut about a dozen trees on the section of trail under their jurisdiction in late July 2022. The huge amount of work that Bill Rhoads and I undertook to clear whitethorn along this trail three years ago was not completely in vain and parts of the trail would have largely disappeared otherwise, but the whitethorn does make some treefall hazards more complicated to negotiate.
The section of Skyline Trail that falls within the State Park jurisdiction above 5800 ft elevation reopened on 19th May following a closure of nearly four months due to supposedly “hazardous” snow conditions. (For readers who are unclear, Skyline Trail forms the lower two-thirds of the “Cactus-to-Clouds” [C2C] route.) Skyline Trail is now functionally clear of snow.
Measured on 1st June (east side) and 5th June (west side). The first number is the current average snow depth, followed in parentheses by the maximum depth recorded in winter 2022/23 where known. Note that broad averages are given; due to drifting in strong winds, and the differential effects of melting (and of rain on snow in some March storms), there is considerable inconsistency of depth. Altitudes and PCT Miles are approximate.
San Jacinto Peak (10810 ft): 20 inches, with many large clear patches developing, but some drifts 5-6 feet deep remain in places (105 inches on 31st March)
Little Round Valley (9800 ft): 24 inches, about 80% snow cover, drifts up to 5 feet deep in places.
Wellman Divide (9700 ft): 12 inches, ranging from 0-30 inches (70-75 inches on both 3rd and 31st March)
Annie’s Junction/PCT Mile 180.8 (9070 ft): 18 inches, very patchy and heavily drifted here (80 inches on 3rd March)
Long Valley (8600 ft): 0 inches (60 inches on 3rd March)
Strawberry Junction/PCT Mile 183.2 (8100 ft): 0 inches
Saddle Junction/PCT Mile 179 (8070 ft): 0 inches (48-50 inches on 3rd March)
Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6550 ft): 0 inches (46 inches on 3rd March)
Idyllwild (at 5550 ft): 0 inches (45 inches on 1st March)
PCT Mile 151 at crossing with Highway 74 (4800 ft): 0 inches (13 inches in first week of March)
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