Great news for local hiking! With effect tomorrow, Saturday 15th December, the U.S. Forest Service has reopened the Pacific Crest Trail (from Spitler Peak to Tahquitz Valley) and South Ridge Trail, that had been closed due to the Cranston Fire (the section of the PCT was also previously closed since the July 2013 Mountain Fire). The snow status of the South Ridge Trail is updated below. South Ridge Road is also reopening.
Also reopening are the Caramba and Cedar trails that were closed by the 2013 Mountain Fire. However those will remain unmaintained. They are somewhat overgrown, and navigation will be difficult for those who were not familiar with those trails prior to their closure.
The trail and road system around May Valley remains closed.
Today we took a circuitous hike to Tahquitz Peak (in order to check the trail on it’s north side). On both Wednesday and Monday we hiked to San Jacinto Peak, with diversions to assess side trails. An overview of last week’s storm and initial snow depths is at the 7th December report linked here.
All high elevation trails (>8000′) remain largely or completely snow-covered. With unusually mild weather, melting continues to be extensive, with many inches of snow depth lost at all elevations in the past week. A few challenging sections of trail remain however. Strong winds in the high country in the last few days have caused substantial drifting which has partly obscured some trails that were easily followed just 2-4 days ago. These include all the trails around San Jacinto peak above 10,300′, and the trail to Tahquitz Peak from Chinquapin Flat.
Microspikes are recommended on most trails above about 7500′ at this time (see details below). They are usually most valuable in the early morning when conditions may be most icy, and for descending.
Snowshoes are currently useful only for (I) travel off-trail, (ii) Deer Springs Trail between Little Round Valley and San Jacinto Peak, (iii) and on those trails that have not been traveled since last week (listed below).
Despite relatively mild conditions at present, hikers should nevertheless be prepared for temperatures near freezing at the highest elevations (well below freezing when considering windchill effects). (See weather data below.)
Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat has an average depth of about 11″ of snow. However there has been heavy drifting in the past couple of days, and some sections are about 20-24″ deep, completely obscuring the consolidated trail from last weekend. Fortunately (or unfortunately, for those of us who want the snow to stick around), conditions are currently so mild overnight that the snow is not icy. This morning, the consolidated soft snow conditions were perfect for traversing this trail in microspikes with an ice axe. By the end of this weekend, another clearer trail may be in place. Microspikes (with poles or preferably an ice axe) are recommended. I would discourage the use of snowshoes on this section (the 35 degree slope makes it very challenging), and do not carry an ice axe if you aren’t familiar with how to use it.
South Ridge Trail is almost entirely clear of snow from the top of South Ridge Road to Old Lookout Flat (the plateau at 7800′), and microspikes are not required. From 7800′ to Tahquitz Peak the trail is almost continuously snow-covered, with about 2″ depth lower down, rising to 4-6″ nearer Tahquitz Peak. There are some deeper drifts on the uppermost switchbacks. Depending on the firmness of the snow, microspikes are not necessary for ascending, but they are useful for descending to about 8000′.
Eastern slope trails All the main trails have been well traveled and are well consolidated. Consequently snowshoes are not required (except for the situations described above), and microspikes are adequate.
This includes all the Long Valley and Round Valley trails, and the East Ridge Trail on San Jacinto Peak (in fact the latter has been much more heavily traveled and is more consolidated than the Peak Trail).
Western slope trails These have been much less traveled than the east side, and as such require much more care and are slower going.
Based on visible tracks, only a handful of hikers have traversed between Little Round Valley and San Jacinto Peak since last week’s storm, and as such there is no clear, consolidated trail. Snowshoes are advisable.
Fuller Ridge Trail and Seven Pines Trail show no signs of use since last week’s storm, so route finding will be very challenging for those not fully familiar with these trails.
Deer Springs Trail is largely clear of snow below Strawberry Junction (8100′), and microspikes are not essential.
Devil’s Slide Trail is largely clear of snow below 7700′, and some hikers will find microspikes are not required below that elevation. Saddle Junction (now about 5-6″) has lost about half of its snow depth since the storm one week ago.
Weather Regrettably, above-average temperatures will continue for the foreseeable future (they’re even forecast to get a bit warmer next week). The air temperature at San Jacinto Peak on both Monday and Wednesday mornings was slightly warmer than in Idyllwild at dawn! Steady melting will continue, especially on slopes exposed to direct sun.
At San Jacinto Peak on Wednesday 12th December, at 0930 the air temperature was 34.6°F (1.5°C), with a windchill temperature of 20.3°F (-6°C), 24% relative humidity, and a moderate 8 mph NW wind gusting to 20 mph.
At the Peak on Monday 10th December, at 0920 the air temperature was 37.5°F (3°C), with a windchill temperature of 25°F (-4°C), only 9% relative humidity, and a steady 15 mph SW wind gusting to 20 mph.