[UPDATE Saturday 2nd February: currently snowing at about 0.5″ per hour here at San Jacinto Peak (1115). About 6-7″ new accumulation since Thursday.]
[UPDATE Thursday 31st January: at 1330 it just started raining here in Idyllwild, and it is snowing lightly in Long Valley. Rainfall is expected up to about 7500′ (maybe 0.5″), with a few inches of snow in the high country. Major precipitation is expected on Saturday, with 2-3 feet of snow likely at San Jacinto Peak, and a mix of rain and light snow down to 5000′ at least. Next major update will be on Sunday 3rd February. Additional light precipitation is forecast for Monday-Tuesday.]
Today I took a long circuitous hike to San Jacinto Peak via Saddle Junction, the Pacific Crest Trail, then Deer Springs Trail through Little Round Valley, before descending via Wellman Divide and back to Humber Park. Snow conditions were pretty rotten in most areas, with changes to microspikes, then snowshoes, and back again, to minimize postholing. I descended in snowshoes all the way to 8900′ on the PCT above Saddle Junction, and there was abundant evidence of hikers having postholed horribly during the weekend.
I recorded the following vlog at San Jacinto Peak this afternoon. By dusk when I returned to Humber Park it had reopened, in contrast to what I say in the video.
Almost all trails above about 8000′ remain largely or completely snow-covered at this time (individual trail conditions are discussed below). Microspikes are useful but not essential on trails above about 8000′ in the morning when snow is firm, and for descending. Snowshoes are currently very useful above about 9000′, as the snow has softened considerably at all elevations in recent days, and they are strongly recommended for off-trail travel and in warmer afternoons when snow softens. Crampons are a useful alternative to microspikes in the mornings above about 10,000′ (and on the north side of Tahquitz Peak). . Some revised snow depths are at the foot of this posting.
Hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or below freezing in the high country (>8000′) and well below freezing when considering windchill effects (especially at the high peaks).
With the lifting of the federal government shutdown, the U.S. Forest Service Idyllwild Ranger Station and Humber Park are now open. Adventure Passes and wilderness permits are available and are required as usual.
Weather After several mild days, including today, a dramatic change is forecast starting on Thursday 31st January and lasting for the first four days of February. Precipitation is likely on several or all of those five days, with a mix of moderate rainfall and a few inches of snow at the elevation of Idyllwild (5000′-6000′), and with up to a foot of snow possible at San Jacinto Peak on Thursday, and another 2-3 feet on Friday night and Saturday.
At San Jacinto Peak today, Monday 28th January 2019, under completely cloudy skies, at 1315 the air temperature was 39.5°F (4°C), with a windchill temperature of 29.5°F (-1.4°C), 32% relative humidity, and a light 9 mph due North wind gusting to 13.7 mph.
At the Peak on Friday 25th January 2019, at 0955 the air temperature was 35°F (1.7°C), with a windchill temperature of 26.6°F (-3°C), 21% relative humidity, and a gentle 6 mph SSW wind gusting to 8.5 mph.
The Pacific Crest Trail is almost continuously snow-covered from at least Red Tahquitz (approx. PCT Mile 175) through to at least Mile 191. Immediately north of Saddle Junction, snow is patchy until about 8700′, and then again descending past Strawberry Cienega. Otherwise microspikes are useful in most areas. Fuller Ridge Trail section has not been traveled since November, there is no trail to follow, and it will be treacherous in places. After the forecast snow in the next few days, it will be impassable without ice axe, crampons, and good knowledge of how to use both.
Devil’s Slide Trail is largely clear to about 7700′, then continuous snow cover to Saddle Junction. Ascending is possible without microspikes, but they are useful for descending the uppermost section.
South Ridge Trail is largely clear to Old Lookout Flat (7800′) and no microspikes are required. There is patchy 50% shallow snow cover from there up to Tahquitz Peak. Microspikes are useful in the early morning and for descending, but are not essential.
Deer Springs Trail below Strawberry Junction is largely clear of snow below 8000′ (no microspikes required). The trail is obvious and fairly well compacted above 8800′ (junction with Marion Mountain Trail) and microspikes are fine to Little Round Valley. There is a random scattering of a few unhelpful tracks from Little Round Valley through to San Jacinto Peak, none of which follow the trail route. This section requires snowshoes, at least on warmer days and in the afternoon, and careful route-finding.
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..
Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat remains treacherous. On 20th January, I was in microspikes and had to use an ice axe to cut steps across the ice slope. There has been very limited traffic since. Crampons (or microspikes if you are very comfortable with them), an ice axe, and knowledge of how to use both, are strongly recommended.
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 tiny snow patches either side of the Marion Creek crossing (flowing strongly) and close to Suicide Rock. Microspikes are not necessary.
Suicide Rock Climbers Trail is largely clear of snow, except for patches heading around 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. Much deeper drifts and patches may be encountered. Altitudes are approximate.
San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 2-3′
Little Round Valley (9800′): 20″ (was 36″ on 18th January)
Wellman Divide (9700′): 17″ (was 30″ on 18th January)
Annie’s Junction (State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 9″ (had been 17″ on 18th January)
Long Valley (8500′): 1-4″ [as reported by State Park]
Strawberry Junction (8100′): 2″ (had been 8″ on 18th January)
Saddle Junction (8100′): 3″ (had been 20″ on 15th January and 8″ on 22nd)
Humber Park (6500′): 0″ (was 4″ on 16th January, and 1″ on 18th)