Water and weather 21st September 2018

Last Friday I apparently set an arcane record, having hiked up San Jacinto Peak on 12 consecutive days. This week I have spent the past three days in the high country, with several opportunities to check water sources around the entire mountain.

Trail overview The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains shut for annual maintenance until 1st October. See the tram website for more details. Please do not even consider attempting the Skyline Trail at this time unless you fully understand that your only option is to hike off the mountain.

The water situation in the San Jacinto mountains is at its worst in known history. 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.

Details of the condition of high country trails following the 25th-30th July 2018 Cranston Fire are described at an earlier posting linked here.

Weather Lovely autumnal weather continues in the high country. Nevertheless, temperatures (especially overnight lows) remain well above average for September, with low humidity.

At San Jacinto Peak at 0630 this morning, Friday 21st September, the air temperature was 45°F (7°C), with a chilly windchill temperature of 33.9°F (1°C), 38% relative humidity, and a stiff 16 mph SSW wind gusting to 19 mph.

In stark contrast, yesterday morning Thursday 20th September, at 0630 the air temperature was 51°F (10.5°C), with a windchill temperature of 47°F (8°C), 6% relative humidity (yes, only six!), and a barely discernable NE wind at 4 mph.

Parish’s Catchfly (Silene parishii) flowering at 10,800′ on San Jacinto Peak, 13th September 2018. This flower is endemic to the mountains of Southern California.

Be Bear aware Our two resident Black Bears have had a low profile for the last couple of months. Apparently they have been largely in Hall’s Canyon, above Lake Fulmor. Unfortunately they have been making a nuisance of themselves, getting into trash and bird seed at the James Reserve. Hikers and campers everywhere, but especially those on the western side of the mountain (e.g. in the Black Mountain area), should have bear safety awareness, and practice bear-safe food storage. The tips at this CDFW website are useful.

Always be Lion aware I always like to be reminded that Mountain Lions are common everywhere on the mountain. And I mean everywhere. Early this morning I found this very fresh lion scat at 10,400′ elevation near Miller Peak. Descending the Peak Trail, I found a fresh print in soft sand at 10,200′. In the area of Wellman’s Cienega at 9,200′, I found more fresh scat in the trail. None of these signs had been there 48 hours earlier. There are lots of Mule Deer in the high country this autumn, and where there are deer, there are lions.

Mountain Lion scat and associated scratch marks at 10,400′, 21st September 2018. The notebook measures 4.5 x 3 inches.
Mountain Lion print at 10,200′, 21st September 2018. The lip balm for size reference is placed at the heel of the print and is nearly 3 inches long.

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. It will dry up in October without new precipitation.

Wellman’s Cienega North spring, 21st September 2018.

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.

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 to about 1.5 gallons per minute. The water levels for this river are apparently the lowest in living memory.

North Fork of the San Jacinto River on Deer Springs Trail, 20th September 2018.

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. In my off-trail wanderings this week, I confirmed that the Deer Springs themselves continue to flow gently, about 0.15 miles upslope from the trail. Unfortunately, most of the flow is diverted into a pipe for the Deer Springs camp. The Deer Springs camp just downslope from the trail has been occupied by a crew from the California Conservation Corps off-and-on since late May.

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.

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