Trail update 23 March 2018

Yesterday I surveyed South Ridge Trail via Tahquitz Peak to the PCT at Chinquapin Flat, then this morning I went from Humber Park to San Jacinto Peak via Wellman Divide, returning down the Deer Springs Trail, with a partial check of Fuller Ridge.

Overview Three storm systems affected the mountain since the last survey. Two systems between 14-18 March deposited modest snowfalls of a few inches across the mountain, but mild temperatures have since melted most snow below 8000′ elevation. Then yesterday a very warm system (a “pineapple express”) produced good rainfall at all elevations, even at San Jacinto Peak. Above about 9000′ this fell as frozen rain and rime, covering everything with a thick coating of ice, then early this morning it turned to snow, giving a very thin dusting of powder above 8300′ on top of the ice. Rainfall was 1.12″ at 5550′ in Idyllwild, and 1.76″ at 8600′ in Long Valley.

Forecast cold temperatures will probably mean little change to conditions over the next 3-4 days, then early summer weather arrives for the last few days of March (and into April), so very rapid melting will start. Microspikes remain useful in places for descending, and in the early morning, especially for trails on both sides of San Jacinto Peak above 9500′ elevation, but are not essential anywhere on the PCT.

The following trails are clear (or virtually clear) of snow/ice: Ernie Maxwell Trail, Devils Slide Trail, and Deer Springs Trail (below Strawberry Junction).

South Ridge Trail (to Tahquitz Peak) is largely clear from the top of South Ridge Road to Old Lookout Flat (7800′) although there are a few small patches of soft snow in places. From Old Lookout Flat to Tahquitz Peak, the trail is largely snow-covered, with 1-3″ of soft snow, and some deeper drifts in places. This area received only about 0.25″ of fresh snow last night, but may be icy in places over the next few mornings.

South Ridge Trail (from Tahquitz Peak to Chinquapin Flat/PCT) is completely covered with 4-8″ of (largely soft) snow, but with major drifts up to 2-3′ in places. There is not currently a very good set of tracks across this notoriously treacherous section due to continued drifting, melting, and ice fall. Microspikes are useful, especially when descending (i.e. going northbound).

Pacific Crest Trail The PCT is largely covered in 1-4″ of snow from Chinquapin Flat (mile 178) through Fuller Ridge, but with some clear areas mainly below 8300′ (higher on south-facing slopes). Saddle Junction (PCT mile 179.9) north to 9000′ elevation (about mile 181) is largely clear, but then there is continuous deeper snow cover for the next mile, 4-10″ in places, that makes for slow hiking. Either side of Strawberry Junction is largely clear until just south of the Marion Mountain Trail, after which snow cover is continuous at 2-4″ deep, with some deeper drifts. There was no significant fresh snow last night below 9000′ elevation.

Fuller Ridge Trail averages about 90% snow cover at the southern end, generally 1-4″ of soft snow, with occasional deeper drifts. On sunny sections of the trail, snow cover is no more than 40%, and there is rapid melting. The northern end of Fuller Ridge has more continuous snow (where the trail is on the shaded north-east side of the ridge) with some deeper drifts. There are now many clear tracks along Fuller Ridge Trail, making routefinding relatively easy.

San Jacinto Peak trails On both sides of the mountain, there is continuous snow cover on all trails above 9000′. Almost all this snow is from prior storms, not yesterday. Snow depths are very variable depending on drifting, but range from 2-10″. Depths are at the lower end of this range at lower elevations (e.g., Wellman’s Cienega and below Little Round Valley), and at the higher end of this range above Wellman Divide and above Little Round Valley.

The freezing rain yesterday, followed by a little drifting powder, has removed all signs of tracks above about 9700′. My footprints from today have probably largely disappeared already due to melting and drifting of powder, so some caution is required in routefinding. There are reasonable tracks to follow up from the Fuller Ridge Trail turning to Little Round Valley, but then nothing from there to San Jacinto Peak (I descended off-trail this morning, so please do not attempt to follow those!). There were no tracks whatsoever from Wellman Divide to the Peak early this morning on the east side.

Fresh snowfall last night was only 0.25″ from 9000′-9300′, 0.5″ to 9700′, and 1.0″ above 9700′, but bear in mind most precipitation yesterday fell as rain, which is currently sitting under this snow as a sheet of ice. At San Jacinto Peak, total snow cover now averages about 6-8″, but with heavy drifting throughout, from 1-3′ in places. The temperature at San Jacinto Peak at 0900 this morning was 25° F (-4° C), but with windchill was only 7° F (-14° C). The NW wind was gusting to at least 22 mph.

The sign at Wellman Divide (9700′) this morning, plastered with frozen rain.
San Gorgonio from San Jacinto Peak this morning, 23 March 2018. Note the rime on the trees.

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