Temperatures in the first week of October, while cooler, have remained above average for the month. They are forecast to drop somewhat next week, following what may be the last storms of this year’s extended monsoon season on 8th-10th. Some forecasts hint at a (very low) possibility of a dusting snow around 14th-15th October above 10,000 feet elevation. Fingers crossed for an early start to the winter.
Our best monsoon season in at least five years is the gift that keeps on giving. An isolated thunderstorm on Sunday 2nd didn’t produce any rain in Idyllwild or at Saddle Junction but the entire high country had a moderate wetting, with 0.30 inch at Wellman’s Cienega and 0.23 inch at San Jacinto Peak. Most impressive was evidence of accumulated hail in Little Round Valley (photo below) that I found on a Sunday evening circuit of the mountain.
The Forest Service has issued a revised closure order for areas impacted by the Fairview Fire valid until 24th January 2023. Details and a map are available here. The closed area is substantially reduced from the original September 2022 order, and is now largely confined to the actual burn scar in northern Bautista Canyon, plus the Red Mountain area. Consequently the Cahuilla Mountain Wilderness, the Thomas Mountain area including the Ramona Trail, and the South Fork Wilderness Trail, have all now reopened.
Hikers should continue to be prepared for unpredictable, rapidly changing weather conditions in the high country into the autumn. Monsoon thunderstorms, usually in the afternoon, remain forecast as a possibility for the next week but on 9th-11th October in particular. Thunderstorms with lightning, brief but intense precipitation (including hail), and rapid temperature drops, can occur in the high country even when such storms are not forecast for lower elevations.
Tropical Storm Kay on 9th September brought down many trees and branches, and hikers should anticipate finding new and additional treefall hazards and branches on trails. I am steadily hiking the trail system surveying for new treefall hazards and reporting them to the agencies. Details are given under Trail Conditions below.
Flow rates on springs and creeks which improved briefly following Tropical Storm Kay have now largely returned to pre-storm conditions, with brief, highly localized improvements following thunderstorms. Water conditions where known are detailed at the foot of this Report. Thorough surveys of water resources on the major trail systems on both the western and eastern slopes of the San Jacinto high country have been undertaken 2-3 times per week, including Round Valley and Willow Creek weekly. Current conditions for individual trails are discussed in detail below where known.
All hikers, but especially those planning to hike Skyline Trail (either on its own or as part of the “Cactus-to-Clouds” route), should note that the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is closed for annual maintenance until Sunday 9th October 2022, with a tentative reopening date of 10th October. Check their website for reopening confirmation and details.
Full fire restrictions introduced on Thursday 26th May remain in place on Forest Service lands, as described in detail here. Campfires on all USFS lands in the San Jacinto mountains (including in fire rings at campgrounds and yellow post sites), and smoking, are prohibited for the remainder of the year. Fires are never permitted in the State Park wilderness.
Dark Canyon Campground will not reopen this year due to staffing/maintenance issues.
The closure order for May Valley Road (5S21) expired on 5th September. The work on hazardous tree removal appears to have been completed in late September, but the gate near Cowbell Alley remains closed.
Temperatures in the first week of October have generally remained above average for the month, especially the overnight lows which have been 5-15°F above seasonal. They are forecast to finally drop closer to seasonal next week, following the possibility of what may be the last storms of this extended monsoon season on 9th-12th. There is the very slim possibility of the first snow of the winter on 14th-15th October around the highest peaks above 10,000 feet elevation.
The five month period April to August 2022 was the second warmest ever recorded in Southern California by overall mean temperature for those months combined (NWS data). This will come as no great surprise to those living in the San Jacinto mountains, where we experienced one of the longest, hottest summers ever.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Thursday 6th October 2022 at 0955 the air temperature was 43.4°F (6°C), with a windchill temperature of 36.3°F (2°C), 56% relative humidity, and a fresh NE breeze sustained at 6 mph gusting to 9.9 mph.
At the Peak on Tuesday 4th October 2022 at 1015 the air temperature was 45.6°F (8°C), with a windchill temperature of 38.1°F (3°C), 58% relative humidity, and a pleasantly cool NNE breeze sustained at 6 mph gusting to 11.3 mph.
At the Peak on Sunday 2nd October 2022 at 1715 the air temperature was 46.4°F (8°C), with a windchill temperature of 45.1°F (7°C), 84% relative humidity, and a very light WSW breeze sustained at 1.0 mph gusting to 4.7 mph.
Many trails have accumulated treefall hazards since late 2019 (partly due to reduced agency work during the coronavirus pandemic) passable with care by hikers but not for stock. This situation was exacerbated by the impacts of Tropical Storm Kay in early September 2022.
Willow Creek Trail remains a relatively slow, messy hike for a couple of miles. Some 37 trees are down on the Forest Service section of this trail between Skunk Cabbage Junction and the State Park boundary (23rd September 2022 survey). Of those, 27 are in the 0.6 mile section between Willow Creek crossing and the State Park boundary. A few trees were cut by chainsaw at the far (Hidden Divide) end of the Forest Service section recently, presumably by a CCC or State Park crew. The State Park cut about a dozen trees on the section of trail under their jurisdiction in late July. Another tree came down near the start of this trail close to Saddle Junction in Tropical Storm Kay.
Nine of the ten new treefall hazards on Deer Springs Trail following Tropical Storm Kay were cut by a State Park crew on 30th September, just ten days after I reported them (must be some sort of record!).
Although some treefall hazards from Red Tahquitz to Antsell Rock (PCT Miles 172.5-175) were cleared in June 2021 prior to the rockslide removal work, the situation has badly deteriorated since. In my most recent survey there were 80 treefall hazards between PCT Miles 170-175, plus about six more on PCT Miles 175-177. At least a third of the former are major hazards that require some degree of scrambling over or around.
The middle section of South Ridge Trail (between May Valley Road and the top of South Ridge Road) has several trees down which are significant obstructions (resurveyed 29th September). Those are expected to be cut this month.
Spitler Peak Trail (surveyed 16th September) remains in its most hiker-friendly condition since the July 2013 Mountain Fire. Forty downed trees, most from an ice storm in late December 2021, plus dozens of additional trunks and branches in the trail, were removed by the Trail Report from this trail in early 2022. Several small trees, including three actually across the trail, came down during Tropical Storm Kay, but all are in the lower half of the trail and are easily negotiated.
On Fuller Ridge Trail there are five major treefall hazards obstructing the trail in the 1.5 mile section nearest to the campground (PCT Miles 189-190.5). Although most of the downed trees reported this summer were apparently cleared in July, at least four more major trees came down in Tropical Storm Kay.
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 described by the Forest Service as “not maintained”. This is frankly grossly misleading and in reality both trails no longer exist and are so completely 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 former trails (local hikers Charles Phelan and Mark Gumprecht kindly nicknamed 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 very careful route-finding. My 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.
Seven Pines Trail has had limited hiker traffic since November 2018, largely because Dark Canyon Road was closed almost continuously from February 2019 to July 2022. Dark Canyon Road finally reopened in mid July 2022. The Trail Report has “adopted” Seven Pines Trail as a priority for maintenance work as the trail has had a disproportionate number of lost hiker rescues in the past decade. Between November 2021 and May 2022, 61 downed trees were removed and almost the entire trail thoroughly trimmed and cleared. Remarkably Tropical Storm Kay did not add any new treefall hazards to this trail. Nevertheless Seven Pines remains a genuine wilderness trail unlike the relatively wide, bare, and obvious routes of, for example, Devil’s Slide or Marion Mountain trails. Cautious navigation remains required for those who do not have significant experience of hiking this trail.
WATER CONDITIONS: Eastern slope
The Round Valley pipe is flowing at about 0.75 L/min (photo in previous Report). The nearby Round Valley creek and the small creek in Tamarack Valley both dried up in May.
Springs at Wellman’s Cienega are trickling. The flow rate was near 0.9 L/min on 4th October, roughly one quarter of the rate on 10th September.
The Wellman’s Cienega springs are the sources for Willow Creek, which is currently flowing weakly but reliably where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail (photo in previous Report).
Tahquitz Creek is flowing gently at the northern (lower) end of Little Tahquitz Valley at a flow rate of about 2.0 L/min. It is flowing very weakly further upstream at its source, known colloquially as Grethe Spring, where it crosses the PCT at approx. PCT Mile 177. Between these locations Tahquitz Creek is largely dry (but presumably flowing subsurface). The small creek in Tahquitz Valley dried up in May.
Skunk Cabbage (“Candy’s”) Creek dried up in late June where it crosses under the trail through Skunk Cabbage Meadow.
WATER CONDITIONS: Western slope
Ephemeral creeks, such as those along Marion Mountain Trail and on Deer Springs Trail, dried up in May. Although they flowed for a few days after Tropical Storm Kay, they are now dry again.
The North Fork of the San Jacinto River is flowing gently, but reliably, at at least 8.0 L/min where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail (also 8.0 L/min immediately after Kay, but up from 3.0 L/min last week). It is also flowing gently downstream where it crosses the Fuller Ridge Trail on the PCT (approx. PCT Mile 186.2). However further downstream the river is completely dry where it crosses Seven Pines Trail and Dark Canyon Road.
The creek in Little Round Valley dried in both mid June and again in late August, but flowed between those times and subsequently thanks to periodic storm rainfall every few weeks. It is now flowing very weakly for about 250 feet in the middle of the valley (behind the Owl’s Hootch campsite sign for example) having dried rapidly in the past week.
Shooting Star Spring (below Little Round Valley but above the North Fork of the San Jacinto River crossing) is flowing weakly and is inadequate for filtering.
The Deer Springs stream crossing at the PCT/Deer Springs Trail (approx. PCT mile 185.6) dried up in late May. [I was surprised to find a little trickle on 2nd October immediately following a thunderstorm earlier that day, but this will not last.]
The tiny Switchback Spring at PCT Mile 183.5 (about 0.4 miles on the PCT northbound from Strawberry Junction) is flowing gently, and there is usually just adequate depth from which to filter water in the tiny pool on the upslope side of the trail (photo in previous Report). What this springs lacks in volume it makes up for with remarkable reliability.
The little creek at Strawberry Cienega (PCT mile 183.0) has been dry since June (although it flowed for a couple of days immediately after Tropical Storm Kay).
On Devil’s Slide Trail, Middle Spring is almost dry again. A tiny pool remains as a useful emergency water source for dogs. Other springs on this trail had been dry for months before the passage of Tropical Storm Kay, and five days later were already functionally dry again.
On the Ernie Maxwell Trail, the crossing of Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park is dry where it crosses the trail. However, even when Fern Valley Water District is diverting flow into the pipe system small fresh pools remain among the rocks just upslope from the trail (these are an invaluable source of water for the many dogs walked on the Ernie Maxwell).
WATER CONDITIONS: Desert Divide
Live Oak Spring (N 33 37 21, W 116 33 24) Flowing. The most reliable water source on the Desert Divide.
Cedar Spring (N 33 40 36, W 116 34 35) Flowing (upslope from the trail that leads to the campsite). Sadly the inflow pipe to the trough – formerly the most accessible water source – was vandalized in May 2022 and consequently the trough is dry. This damage has been reported to the Forest Service, but no repair is expected until later in the year.
Apache Spring (N 33 43 11, W 116 37 13) Flowing weakly, but the spring box remains full.
Spitler Peak Trail Descending the trail there are five water crossings. The first two, at 0.90 and 0.95 miles down, cross a tiny side creek which is largely dry and should be ignored. The next three crossings, at 1.1-1.5 miles down, are Spitler Creek and is the best source of water (currently flowing gently at both the uppermost and lowest crossings; photo of the latter in previous Report).
Antsell Rock Creek (N 33 41 52, W 116 39 08) Right by the Spitler Peak Trail trailhead on Apple Canyon Road, Antsell Rock Creek is dry. This large creek dried up in late spring, nearly two months earlier than last year, and remains dry now despite recent rains.
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