I spent yesterday and today in the high country. My descent from San Jacinto Peak today was via Saddle Junction, Tahquitz Peak, and South Ridge Trail. I had anticipated exceptional cold overnight and was not disappointed, as I mention in the video below.
All high elevation trails (>8500′) remain snow-covered, with thin patchy snow in places down to about 6000′ on many trails (discussed in detail below). For details of the snow that fell on Christmas Day, see the previous posting linked here.
Despite the cold conditions, a remarkable amount of melting has occurred in the past few days. The 2-4″ of snow that fell on Christmas Day has largely melted in many of the areas that had previously cleared in December, with the fresh snow mainly remaining only on top of pre-existing snow cover.
Yesterday afternoon as I hiked to San Jacinto Peak, there was a little light snowfall above 9000′. No more than about 0.25″ accumulated, but it was a good example of how unpredictable mountain weather can be, as no precipitation had been forecast whatsoever.
Microspikes are useful, but are not essential, on most trails above about 7800′ at this time (see details below). They are most valuable in the early morning when snow is icier, and for descending. Snowshoes are useful for travel off-trail and in some areas of the high country above about 9800′. The traverse on the north side of Tahquitz Peak is especially challenging, as discussed below.
For the foreseeable future hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or near freezing in the high country (>8000′ elevation), and well below freezing at the highest peaks (with potential for severe cold when considering windchill effects).
Note that during the federal government shutdown, the U.S. Forest Service Idyllwild Ranger Station is closed. Adventure passes and wilderness permits are not required (or at least unenforceable) until the shutdown ends.
Weather Temperatures will remain cold until at least late next week, and there also appears to be a reasonable possibility of precipitation over the first weekend of 2019.
At San Jacinto Peak today, Friday 28th December, at 0640 the air temperature was -0.5°F (-18°C), with a windchill temperature of -30.1°F (-34.5°C), 78% relative humidity, and a blustery 11 mph due North wind gusting to 30 mph.
At the Peak on Tuesday 25th December, at 0810 the air temperature was 16.5°F (-9°C), with a windchill temperature of -1.8°F (-19°C), 100% relative humidity, and a chilly 10 mph WSW wind gusting to 16 mph.
Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat had been very lightly traveled by midday today. Strong winds overnight had left heavy spindrift across the slope, overlaying more solid (and treacherous) icy snow. The spindrift had a very polystyrene quality, and was carving off in small slabs which were collapsing like mini wind slab avalanches downslope. The average snow depth was about 10-12″, however some drifted sections were 20-24″ deep. Until there has been more foot traffic here, crampons (or microspikes if you are very comfortable with their use), in conjunction with hiking poles or preferably an ice axe, are strongly recommended. [I would discourage carrying an ice axe if you aren’t familiar with how to use it.]
South Ridge Trail is largely clear of snow from the top of South Ridge Road to Old Lookout Flat (the plateau at 7800′), although there some extended sections of very shallow (<1″) snow. From 7800′ to Tahquitz Peak the trail is partly snow-covered with 2-4″ near Tahquitz Peak. There are some deeper drifts on the uppermost switchbacks. Due to the nature of the snow, microspikes are not necessary, but some hikers will find them useful especially for descending the uppermost switchbacks. [Note that the upper section of South Ridge Road is very icy, and dangerous for 2WD vehicles and hikers.]
Eastern slope trails All the major trails have been well traveled and are fairly well consolidated. This includes the main Long Valley and Round Valley trails. However the East Ridge Trail on San Jacinto Peak, the Sid Davis Trail, and the Old Tamarack Trail, have received no significant traffic, and require caution and/or snowshoes.
Deer Springs Trail has been very lightly traveled since the snow on Christmas Day. Snow depth is at about 12″ in Little Round Valley, with deeper drifts nearer San Jacinto Peak. There is no consolidated trail between Little Round Valley and San Jacinto Peak, with tracks of just 2-3 people, and these do not approximate to the trail. Snowshoes or mountaineering boots are recommended from Little Round Valley up.
Deer Springs Trail has patchy snow in exposed areas below 8000′, and microspikes are not essential in this section..
Marion Mountain Trail has only been lightly traveled. Thin snow starts at the trailhead, increasing to about 6-8″ at the junction with the PCT/Deer Springs Trail. Areas that had cleared following the earlier December snow, below about 7800′, are already starting to clear in patches.
Fuller Ridge Trail and Seven Pines Trail show no signs of recent use, so route finding will be very challenging for those not completely familiar with these trails.
Devil’s Slide Trail is largely clear of snow below 7600′. However the snow patches below this elevation are heavily compacted and icy. Most hikers will find microspikes are useful for at least the upper elevations of this trail.
Skyline Trail has light patchy snow above about 6500′, which is then more continuous from the Traverse upwards (>7200′) at about 2-4″ deep. The trail is consolidated and obvious. Some hikers are carrying microspikes and poles or ice axes, but report not needing to use them. [Many thanks to various correspondents for this information.]
Pacific Crest Trail north from Saddle Junction has only patchy snow to about 8700′, and then again from near Annie’s Junction to Strawberry Junction.
Pacific Crest Trail south from Saddle Junction has more-or-less continuous snow cover (at only 1-2″ deep) to 8300′, and then about 2-6″ deep, but with a clear consolidated track, to 8400′ at Chinquapin Flat. There has been no recent foot traffic on the PCT south from Chinquapin Flat.