Anabel and I hiked South Ridge Trail to Tahquitz Peak this morning, returning via the PCT from Chinquapin Flat to Saddle Junction, then down Devils Slide and Ernie Maxwell trails.
Overview Snow on trails has largely turned to ice, due to a combination of several days of freeze-thaw cycles, compacting by hiker traffic, and the precipitation a couple of days ago that was largely freezing rain to at least 9000′ elevation. This has made microspikes increasingly useful, best used in combination with hiking poles (or ice axe if you prefer). A significant additional problem is what my wife Anne has perfectly dubbed “ice cube” patches, where the recent freezing rain clumps are falling from the trees and accumulating in large piles in the trail. These patches can make progress slower, especially in trail running shoes. Although there is significant melting underway below about 7800′, at higher elevations all these ice problems will remain for the foreseeable future.
South Ridge Trail (to Tahquitz Peak) is largely clear below about 7700′, although with frequent ice patches. The trail has much more extensive icy sections and ice cube patches from Old Lookout Flat (7800′) to Tahquitz Peak. Spikes are not essential, but are very helpful, especially for descending.
South Ridge Trail (from Tahquitz Peak to Chinquapin Flat/PCT) True to its reputation, this section of trail is now very treacherous. Freezing rain of recent days has coated everything, including the snow drifts, with a thick layer of ice. Clumps of ice falling from trees above were bombarding us as we traversed, while the ice we dislodged from the trail was falling hundreds of feet below the trail. Extensive ice cube patches were complicating the trail in many areas. While the ice chunks are mostly smaller than baseballs, some pieces are softball or nearly soccer ball size. The deepest snowdrift I crunched into was about 27″ (70cm) deep. Microspikes are strongly recommended (crampons are not yet necessary), best used in combination with hiking poles or an ice axe. The potential consequences of a mistake on this section of trail are now very severe. (See photo below.)
PCT from Chinquapin Flat to Saddle Junction Largely covered in about 1″ of ice and/or compacted snow, with some short clear sections.
Devils Slide Trail [UPDATE 8 March: clear below 7700′, easily traversed small ice patches to Saddle Junction above] Completely clear below 6800′, then largely clear but with some small icy sections below 7700′. Almost completely ice-covered from 7700′ to Saddle Junction. Can be ascended without spikes, but they are very useful for descending the upper sections.
Ernie Maxwell Trail is essentially clear, with just a few tiny icy areas mainly at the northern (Humber Park) end. These are melting rapidly. No traction aids required.