[UPDATE Sunday 20th January: I have just updated the condition of the Tahquitz Peak and South Ridge trails in the text below, with photo. The north side is currently very treacherous and passable with crampons/ice axe only.
[UPDATE Saturday 19th January: Idyllwild has completely sold out of Adventure Passes. I have discussed the issue with the Forest Service law enforcement officer. Folks unable to display an alternative pass (interagency, golden age, veteran, volunteer) could still be cited at Humber Park, and are requested to park elsewhere for recreation e.g., Deer Springs Trail, South Ridge, lower end of Ernie Maxwell Trail at Tahquitz View Drive, etc.]
More-or-less exactly as forecast, an unusual sequence of three storms ran into each other over the past four days, Monday 14th – Thursday 17th. This brought almost continuous precipitation to the mid elevations, and started with heavy snowfall in the high country on Monday and Tuesday. The upper mountain was above the cloud for most of Wednesday. Unfortunately the two later storms were very mild systems which brought rain up to about 7500′ (Wednesday) and then heavy rain all the way up to 9300′ elevation (Thursday), plus freezing rain to San Jacinto Peak. This washed/melted much of the snow off trees and turned powder to atrocious slush in many areas below 8000′, and melted and compacted the snow even at the highest peaks. Some pre- and post-storm photos are at the foot of this posting.
Today we hiked to San Jacinto Peak from Humber Park via Wellman Divide, descending Deer Springs Trail to the Suicide Rock Trail, then back to Humber via the Climbers Trail. Specific information for some trails is discussed at the end of this posting. I recorded this vlog in spectacular rime conditions at San Jacinto Peak late this morning.
At 5550′ elevation in Idyllwild, we ended up with an impressive 4.31″ of rain plus about one inch of snow (which never had the chance to settle) over the four days.
Despite above-average temperatures forecast for much of the remainder of January, hikers should nevertheless be prepared for temperatures near freezing in the high country (and below freezing when considering windchill effects).
Note that during the federal government shutdown, the U.S. Forest Service Idyllwild Ranger Station is closed. The gate to Humber Park is also closed, limiting legal parking to just ten vehicles, and is being patrolled by the Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer during the shutdown. Adventure Passes are currently required to park at Humber Park, although town has largely run out of passes for sale (and new ones cannot be issued during the shutdown!). Currently Nomad Ventures apparently has the only remaining supply of passes in Idyllwild. Once the supply of passes has been exhausted, I will notify the USFS LEO, and presumably they will no longer be enforced.
Measured snow depths are as follows. Only the average depth is given, due to the complexity of past storms and recent melting. Strong winds have led to considerable drifting, mainly above 10,000′, sometimes double the reported depth in places. Altitudes are approximate.
San Jacinto Peak (10,810′): 3-4 feet (with drifts to 5 feet)
Little Round Valley (9800′): 3 feet
Wellman Divide (9700′): 30″
Wellman’s North Cienega (9300′): 18″
Fuller Ridge Trail at junction with Deer Springs Trail (8950′): 24″
Annie’s Junction (State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 17″
Marion Mountain Trail at junction with Deer Springs Trail (8800′): 21″
Tahquitz Peak (8836′): 6″, with drifts to 24″ [updated 20th January]
Saddle Junction (8100′): 13″ (had been 20″ on 15th)
Strawberry Junction (8100′): 8″
Humber Park (6500′): 1″ (was 4″ on 16th)
Weather As has been the pattern this winter (in a world of changing climate), a notable warming trend is forecast to follow this week’s storm event. This trend may last into early February, and on some days may include temps above freezing at San Jacinto Peak, and reaching 60°F in Idyllwild. Needless to say, this will result in extensive and rapid melting at all elevations, especially <9000′.
At San Jacinto Peak today, Friday 18th January 2019, at 1045 the air temperature was 32°F (0°C), with a windchill temperature of 18.7°F (-7°C), 72% relative humidity, and a brisk 11 mph due North wind gusting to 17.8 mph.
Almost all trails above about 7000′ are largely or completely snow-covered at this time. Measured average snow depths are listed above.
Snowshoes are currently essential everywhere above 8000′. Microspikes are useful on almost all trails above about 7000′.
Waterproof footwear is recommended on the approach trails (below 8000′) due to multiple stream crossings and water flowing in the trails.
Routefinding will be challenging for those not very familiar with the area. No trails had been broken whatsoever on my circuit of the mountain today. My snowshoe tracks on the east side ascent will be quickly invisible due to melting and ice fall. My tracks on the Deer Springs Trail will be more obvious as I postholed in the soft afternoon snow.
Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat is treacherous (see photo below). On 20th January, I was in microspikes and had to use an ice axe to cut steps across the ice slope. There was no sign of any use since last weeks storms, and there is no trail as such. Crampons (or microspikes if you are very comfortable with their use), in conjunction with an ice axe, and knowledge of how to use them are strongly recommended.
South Ridge Trail is largely clear to Old Lookout Flat (7800′) and no microspikes are required. More-or-less continuously snow-covered from there up to Tahquitz Peak. Microspikes are useful in the early morning and for descending this section.
Deer Springs Trail below Strawberry Junction was largely clear of snow below 7700′ this afternoon (no microspikes required).
Devil’s Slide Trail was largely clear to about 6800′ early this morning.
Yesterday we hiked the Ernie Maxwell Trail in the pouring rain. It was largely clear of snow, but some of the few areas of compacted icy snow/slush were very slippery.
South Ridge Road is passable with 4WD/AWD but some patches are slippery for hikers.
Suicide Rock Trail has only a few short snow patches either side of the Marion Creek crossing (flowing strongly) and near to Suicide Rock. Microspikes are not necessary.
Suicide Rock Climbers Trail is largely clear of snow, except on the branch that leads to the North Face.
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