I have spent the last three days in the high country, visiting San Jacinto Peak several times, and checked water sources yesterday on a long loop hike around the entire mountain.
Trail overview A reminder that the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is shut for annual maintenance until 1st October. See the tram website for more details. Do not even consider attempting the Skyline Trail at this time unless you fully understand that you must hike off the mountain. Many thanks to Florian Boyd for placing a warning sign to this effect at the Palm Springs Art Museum trailhead. A CCC crew continues to work in Long Valley during the closure (I passed them today on Devil’s Slide Trail).
The water situation continues to deteriorate. Last week I noted that the North Fork of the San Jacinto River has dried up where it crosses the Pacific Crest Trail on Fuller Ridge. In addition, Willow Creek has stopped flowing where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail, and Strawberry Cienega has finally stopped flowing too (these are discussed in more detail below). In summary, most well-known water sources are dry or are very close to drying up and should not be relied upon by hikers at this time. There is no snow anywhere on the mountain (all trails have been completely clear since early May). Details of the condition of high country trails following the 25th-30th July 2018 Cranston Fire are described at an earlier posting linked here. Finally, a reminder that the Black Mountain Road was graded last week.
Weather Some delightful autumnal weather in the high country over the past few days. Temperatures (especially overnight lows) remain above average for September, with low humidity, and persistent strong winds at the high peaks.
At San Jacinto Peak at 1905 on Monday 10th September, the air temperature was 55°F (12.7°C), with a mild windchill temperature of 51°F (10.6°C), 14% relative humidity, and a light 4 mph W wind gusting to 7 mph. By contrast this morning Wednesday 12th September, at 0615 the air temperature was 44°F (6.7°C), with a fresh windchill temperature of 32°F (0°C), 38% relative humidity, and a stiff 21 mph W wind gusting to 27.5 mph. Winds were SW or WSW near or above 20 mph all day on 11th September.
EASTERN SLOPE WATER FEATURES
The Round Valley faucet is dry.
Both the northern and southern springs at Wellman’s Cienega continue to flow gently, but the northern spring in particular is now very weak. These springs are the sources for Willow Creek, which is no longer flowing where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail. There are some pools a few inches deep where water could be filtered near the crossing. Willow Creek has never previously been known to stop flowing at this location. [Many thanks to good friend of the Trail Report Val Rock for this Willow Creek update from today.]
Tahquitz Valley has been completely dry for at least three months.
Tahquitz Creek continues to flow gently at the northern (lower) end of Little Tahquitz Meadow. This is the last remaining “reliable” water source in the Tahquitz meadows area.
Tahquitz Creek is barely trickling further upstream at its source (known locally as Grethe Spring) where it crosses the PCT at the northern end of the fire closure (approx. PCT Mile 177). Immediately after crossing the PCT, the creek dries up and disappears subsurface.
Skunk Cabbage Creek is dry where the trail crosses Skunk Cabbage Meadow at the small wooden bridge.
WESTERN SLOPE WATER FEATURES
The North Fork of the San Jacinto River continues to flow gently where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail, but flow has dropped about another 10% for the second consecutive week, down now to about 1.6 gallons per minute. The water levels for this river are apparently the lowest in living memory.
The North Fork of the San Jacinto River has dried up where it crosses the Pacific Crest Trail on the Fuller Ridge Trail (approx. PCT Mile 186.2). This was the critical water source for PCTers and others hiking to or from Snow Creek, a 22 mile section of trail infamous for being waterless (now waterless for >25 miles). Options for southbound PCT hikers (and other hikers on this section) are all poor. Switchback Spring and Strawberry Cienega (see below) are possibilities staying on the PCT, but both are at very low flows. If heading to San Jacinto Peak, the North Fork where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail is a very good option. Alternatively, from where the PCT crosses the Black Mountain Road it is possible to descend the road 2.4 miles to the Cinco Poses Spring (a faucet by the roadside, see below). This undulating and exposed road is a descent of about 600′ and ascent of 200′, that would have to be reversed on the way back.
O’Sullivan Creek (PCT Mile 186.4) on Fuller Ridge Trail has been dry since early May.
The spring in the creek in Little Round Valley has been completely dry since early June.
Shooting Star Spring – 0.28 trail miles below Little Round Valley – continues to flow gently. For hikers it is possible to filter water from the source at the base of the obvious huge rock at the top of the wet area of trail, but a better option is to descend to the North Fork crossing mentioned above.
The Deer Springs stream crossing at the PCT (approx. PCT mile 185.6) is dry, and the pools just upstream (and downstream) of the trail are also dry. The Deer Springs camp just downslope has been occupied by a crew from the California Conservation Corps since late May (although only very briefly since the fire evacuation on 25th July).
Switchback Spring – the small spring just below the eight switchbacks on Deer Springs Trail about 0.4 miles north of Strawberry Junction – continues to trickle very gently. There is a tiny pool on the upslope side of the trail where water can be filtered if necessary.
The little spring at Strawberry Cienega (PCT mile 183) has now dried up. For emergency filtering, the tiny pool in the crack between the two large rocks remains for the time being.
Cinco Poses Spring on Black Mountain Road (4.7 miles up from Highway 243) still has plenty of running water at the faucet. This could be an important emergency water source as others dry up throughout the western side of the mountain.
On Devil’s Slide Trail, Middle Spring has been dry since 26th July.
On the Ernie Maxwell Trail, Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park has been diverted by Fern Valley Water District more-or-less continuously since 1st July, drying the creek where it crosses the trail. However good pools receive some fresh flow immediately upstream from the trail. This can be a very important water source for the many dogs walked on this trail.