Snow and trail update 22nd January 2019

[UPDATE Saturday 26th: Forest Service Ranger Station in Idyllwild remains closed today. Likely reopening is Monday. Comments on access and passes below still apply.]

[UPDATE Friday 25th January: we hiked Deer Springs Trail to Strawberry Junction yesterday and from Humber Park to San Jacinto Peak this morning. Snow conditions are largely unchanged from the report below. However on the descent today the snow was softening rapidly, and this weekend the snow will be ugly underfoot due to unusually warm weather. Snowshoes will likely be useful in many areas above 8000′, especially after late morning.]

This is a fairly brief update of snow/trail conditions following last week’s major four-day storm. Details of that storm and subsequent snow depths are at the previous posting linked here. Today we hiked briskly to San Jacinto Peak from Humber Park via Wellman Divide and back. Conditions underfoot were perfect for a rapid ascent (an hour faster than on Friday 18th), with very cold weather yesterday and today leading to solid icy snow all the way up, perfect for microspikes only, with no postholing. Some revised snow depths are at the foot of this posting. Special thanks to Brian Clayton for an update on Marion Mountain and upper Deer Springs trails from yesterday, Monday 21st January.

Almost all trails above about 7000′ are largely or completely snow-covered at this time (individual trail conditions are discussed below). Microspikes are very useful on almost all trails above about 7000′, in the morning when snow is firm, and especially for descending. Snowshoes can be useful above 8000′, but currently mainly off-trail and in warmer afternoons when snow softens. They will be more useful this weekend as the snow softens in the unseasonably warm weather. Crampons are a useful alternative to microspikes in the mornings above 10,000′ (and on the north side of Tahquitz Peak).

Despite mild 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, especially at the high peaks).

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 spaces, being patrolled by the Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer during the shutdown. Adventure Passes are currently required to park at Humber Park. Although Idyllwild ran out of passes for sale last weekend (and new ones cannot be issued during the shutdown), Nomad Ventures has located a small supply that will likely last only through next weekend. I have been liaising with the USFS LEO regarding this situation. Those unable to display an alternative pass (e.g., interagency, golden age, veteran, volunteer) could be cited, and are requested to park elsewhere for recreation e.g., Deer Springs Trail, South Ridge, lower end of Ernie Maxwell Trail on Tahquitz View Drive.

Weather After a couple of frigid days yesterday and today, mild weather is forecast for most days until at least 1st February. On some days this will include temperatures above freezing at San Jacinto Peak, and reaching 60°F in Idyllwild. Needless to say, this will result in steady melting at all elevations.

At San Jacinto Peak today, Tuesday 22nd January 2019, at 0940 the air temperature was 13.5°F (-10°C), with a windchill temperature of -13.1°F (-25°C), 28% relative humidity, and a brutal 22 mph due North wind gusting to 32.9 mph.

At the Peak on 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.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

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 them), an ice axe, and knowledge of how to use both, are strongly recommended.

The “trail” between Tahquitz Peak and Chinquapin Flat, early morning Sunday 20th January 2019. The consequences for making a mistake here will be extremely severe.

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.

Marion Mountain Trail is obvious and well-compacted through to the PCT/Deer Springs Trail junction. Microspikes are sufficient. The trailhead is completely clear of snow.

Deer Springs Trail below Strawberry Junction is largely clear of snow below 8000′ (no microspikes required). The trail is obvious and compacted above 8800′ (junction with Marion Mountain Trail) and microspikes (or crampons) are fine through Little Round Valley. The “trail” from Little Round Valley through to San Jacinto Peak is indistinct, does not actually follow the trail route, and may require snowshoes, at least in the afternoon.

Devil’s Slide Trail is clear to about 6800′, then with patches of icy compacted snow to 7700′, then continuous snow cover to Saddle Junction. Ascending is possible without microspikes, but they are very useful for descending.

The Ernie Maxwell Trail is clear of snow.

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.

Measured snow depths are as follows. Only the average depth is given, due to the complexity of past storms, recent melting, and windblown drifts. Altitudes are approximate.

Wellman Divide (9700′): 24″ (was 30″ on 18th January)

Annie’s Junction (State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 12″ (had been 17″ on 18th January)

Tahquitz Peak (8836′): 6″, with drifts to 24″ [observations from 20th January]

Saddle Junction (8100′): 8″ (had been 20″ on 15th January and 13″ on 18th) [now at 6-7″ on 25th January]

Humber Park (6500′): 0″ (was 4″ on 16th January, and 1″ on 18th)

The Peak Trail just above Wellman Divide early on morning of Friday 25th January (above) and on Friday 18th January (below)

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