Yesterday evening I surveyed South Ridge Trail past Tahquitz Peak to the PCT at Chinquapin Flat, and today hiked from Humber Park to San Jacinto Peak then back via Little Round Valley, the south end of Fuller Ridge Trail, and Deer Springs Trail.
Overview We have had three light dustings of snow this week, on Monday (discussed in previous post), yesterday, and briefly this morning. Combined these have produced a fairly consistent maximum of 2″ (5cm) of snow across the mountain above about 8000′, and above 6500′ about 1″ or even less. However very strong winds have resulted in extensive drifting, especially accumulating in trails. The uppermost parts of the mountain were above most of the cloud, and have also only received about 2″ of fresh snow, although here drifting has been extreme, especially on the east side of San Jacinto Peak. Although traction aids (e.g., microspikes) are not currently essential, I would now recommend them in a couple of specific areas (discussed below), and as always, hikers unfamiliar with snow/ice travel may find microspikes useful in many areas. Three notable hazards at present are discussed first.
Severe cold Last night at Tahquitz Peak, the windchill temperature was -1° F. At San Jacinto Peak today the air temperature (in the sun!) was only 4° F (-15.5° C) and I recorded a windchill temperature of -25.1° F (-32° C)! Everywhere above 9000′ (2700m) today was below 0° F (-18° C) when including windchill. Temperatures will warm very slightly this weekend, but at higher elevations (>8000′) they will remain below freezing day and night for the foreseeable future. These forecast temperatures do not include additional treacherous windchill effects. I advise against venturing into the highest elevations without the very best equipment suitable for such conditions.
Water This is only really an issue for thru hikers. Most sources above 8000′ are frozen solid and covered with inches of ice (that is a challenge to remove even with an ice axe!). This may remain a problem for at least the next couple of weeks. Of course there is plenty of snow to melt, but that is not very efficient with stove fuel.
Routefinding Many trails have received very little traffic this week, so there are few tracks to follow. On the less traveled trails on the western side of the mountain, in many cases there are one or two sets of tracks at most, but with strong winds and light powdery snow, tracks are disappearing within hours (or even minutes). The East Ridge Trail that was obvious on Monday had completely disappeared by Friday morning under drifts up to 12″ (30cm) deep.
Pacific Crest Trail Basically the entire PCT above 7500′ through the San Jacinto Mountains, including Fuller Ridge, is currently covered with at least 1-2″ of snow. However the route has tracks and is relatively easy to follow. The section north from Saddle Junction to Annie’s Junction (PCT miles 180-182) has some of the worst drifting, up to 4-6″ in places, and is consequently slow going.
Tahquitz Peak to Chinquapin Flat/PCT This is the most hazardous section of trail at present. Last night I waded through powder drifts at least 12″ deep, especially near the Tahquitz Peak end (at Chinquapin Flat there is less than 2″ of snow). By the time I headed back, just 10 minutes later, my tracks were already disappearing. I would recommend hiking poles and microspikes for most hikers on this section. If you do not know the route and there are no good tracks to follow, I do not recommend attempting this trail. Once these drifts become icy (perhaps as early as this weekend), this is an intimidating crossing.
San Jacinto Peak trails On the west side, the Upper Deer Springs Trail (from Fuller Ridge Junction to San Jacinto Peak) is lightly snow-covered (generally 2″ but significantly deeper in areas of drifting). However the drifted snow masks ice from previous storms, and microspikes are very useful here, especially when descending. The crossings of the various springs below Little Round Valley are frozen solid and form treacherous ice sheets. From Little Round Valley to the Peak the trail appears to have had only one set of tracks (which have probably now disappeared) in recent days.
On the east side, the trail from Wellman Divide to the Peak is clear for long stretches (<0.25″ snow depth), except from about 9900-10,100′, where drifted powder is overlaying icy snow from January, and varies from 2-8″ deep.
From Annie’s Junction (where the PCT turns sharply west at the State Park boundary) to Wellman Divide, the trail is initially under several inches of drifted snow, but then relatively clear (<1″ snow depth) to Wellman Divide.
Deer Springs Trail up to Strawberry Junction (see above for sections beyond Strawberry Junction) A patchwork of clear sections and areas of drifted powder to 2″ deep. Below the Suicide Rock turning, largely clear and small snow patches melting quickly.
Devils Slide Trail Below 7500′, a very light covering of snow (about 1″), increasing to 2″ by Saddle Junction (8100′). Currently, none of this is icy requiring microspikes, however this may change after weekend hiker traffic compacts the snow.
South Ridge Trail A light covering of snow (about 1″) as far as Old Lookout Flat (7800′) then at least 2″ deep to Tahquitz Peak, but with deeper drifts in places. Again, none of this is icy requiring microspikes yet, but this will change if weekend hiker traffic compacts the snow.