Snow and trail update 1st March 2019

[UPDATE Saturday 2nd March: it started raining at 0400 in Idyllwild, with 1.56″ recorded by late evening. As has often been the case this winter, it has rained to a higher elevation on the mountain than forecast, with more than an inch of rain so far at Long Valley (8600′). For much of the storm the highest elevations have been above the cloud.]

For a change of scenery today we hiked from home in Idyllwild to Tahquitz Peak via South Ridge Road and South Ridge Trail. This also allowed assessment of the snow situation on one of the most sun-exposed (and therefore rapidly melting) trails in the entire region. There was no evidence of any ascent of Tahquitz Peak since the 14th February flooding/rain event. The previous two days we had hiked/run trails in the Desert Divide area, including the Pacific Crest Trail just north of Highway 74, to assess the snow situation on the lower elevations of the PCT.

Mild weather has led to significant melting this week, but mainly below 7000′, and extensive snow still covers almost all elevations above about 6000′. Snow is largely rotten and was terrible underfoot today below about 7500′, making snowshoes essential (and postholing a nightmare). Even at higher elevations, a thin refrozen crust masked softer snow beneath, making for challenging snowshoeing. Only above 8500′, at which point spikes or crampons were better anyway (at least in the early morning), was the going somewhat easier. Carrying snowshoes, crampons (with ice axe), and microspikes, is the unfortunate but ideal combination at present, such is the variability of snow conditions due to altitude, aspect, and time of day.

Snow depths measured today and earlier this week are as follows. Measurements from prior days will have dropped slightly due to melting, but likely only by a few inches, and mainly at the lower elevations. Only average depth is given, due to the complexity of past storms. Strong winds have led to major drifting; drifts can be much greater than the average depth, especially at the exposed peaks. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10,810′): 60″ [measured on 25th February]

Wellman Divide (9700′): 45″ [measured on 25th February]

Annie’s Junction (State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 40″ [measured on 25th February]

Tahquitz Peak (8836′): 36″, but with massive drifting ranging from 0″ to seven feet.

Saddle Junction (8100′): 35″ [measured on 25th February]

Old Lookout Flat on South Ridge Trail (7800′): 14″, very heavily drifted

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6500′): 18″ [measured on 25th February]

South Ridge Road junction with South Ridge Trail (6500′): 4″

PCT at crossing of Highway 74 (4700′): 2″ [measured on 27th February]

Access closures The Valentine’s Day floods continue to make access to the San Jacinto mountains challenging. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed until approximately 1st April. Highway 243 between Banning and Idyllwild is closed from north of Bay Tree Spring to just north of Alandale until at least April. Highway 74 between Mountain Center and Valle Vista (Hemet) is closed until sometime in March. The status of some of the trailhead access roads was updated in an earlier posting linked here. Many minor roads around Idyllwild-Pine Cove remain partly closed or damaged.

Looking SSE from Tahquitz Peak across the Desert Divide (PCT route) to Toro Peak and the Santa Rosa range, 1st March 2019.

WEATHER Temperatures will remain at or above average for the next week, with continued melting of snow at all elevations, especially on sun-exposed slopes. Significant rainfall is forecast for tomorrow, Saturday 2nd March, with about one inch possible at the elevation of Idyllwild, which will accelerate snow melt below c.7000′. A light dusting of snow (just a couple of inches) is likely in the high country. Further rain is forecast on/off for Tuesday to Friday next week, 5th-7th March, perhaps totaling another half-inch at mid elevations, but with more snow (2-5″ depending on altitude) above about 7000′.

At Tahquitz Peak today, Friday 1st March 2019, at 0950 the air temperature was 37°F (3°C), with a windchill temperature of 24.8°F (-4°C), 51% relative humidity, and a bitter 11 mph NW wind gusting to 17 mph.

At San Jacinto Peak on Monday 12th February 2019, at 1145 the air temperature was 27°F (-3°C), with a windchill temperature of 12.5°F (-11°C), 57% relative humidity, and a fresh 7 mph NW wind gusting to 15 mph.

The high country of the San Jacinto mountains as seen from Tahquitz Peak, 1st March 2019.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 6000′ remain snow-covered at this time, despite rapid melting in the past few days. The Pacific Crest Trail north of Highway 74 is largely free of snow (up to 5000′ elevation) on exposed sections, but thereafter has continuous snow cover (for an idea of depths depending on elevation, see measurements above).

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures near freezing in the high country and at or below freezing above 10,000′, especially when considering windchill effects.

Snowshoes are currently very strongly recommended on all trails and off-trail areas above about 7000′, especially after mid-morning, and at lower elevations in some areas and on warm afternoons in soft snow. Microspikes are currently useful only in the colder early mornings on well consolidated trails (e.g. Devil’s Slide, lower Deer Springs). Crampons (with an ice axe) are becoming increasingly useful at higher elevations as the snow consolidates with freeze-thaw cycles, at least in the morning prior to about 0930.

Waterproof footwear is strongly recommended on the approach trails (e.g., Devil’s Slide, lower Deer Springs) due to multiple stream crossings and considerable water flowing in the trails. It is also advisable everywhere else due to the soft and slushy quality of the snow, especially after mid-morning.

Routefinding remains very challenging for those not familiar with the area. Almost all signage above about 8500′ is snow-covered. Many PCT marker posts at lower elevations are also completely obscured. Very few trails have been broken whatsoever, and even my snowshoe tracks from early this morning were becoming indistinct within an hour due to melting of surface snow. Much of the PCT through the San Jacinto mountains has not been traversed for weeks (or in the case of Fuller Ridge, for months).

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat is extremely treacherous. There is no evidence of it having been traversed since early February, so there is not even a hint of “trail” to follow whatsoever. Crampons in conjunction with an ice axe, and excellent knowledge of how to use both, are critical.

South Ridge Road continues to be largely snow-covered (c.70%) at 1-4″ deep. South Ridge Trail is essentially continuously snow-covered (a few bare patches below 7000′), ranging from a few inches deep below Old Lookout Flat, to 1-3 feet deep above it. Crampons were very useful on the final approach to Tahquitz Peak (above about 8500′) this morning, where there is no trail as such and the entire peak is a largely featureless, consolidated snow dome.

The trail junction sign just below Tahquitz Peak, today 1st March 2019. The only evidence that a trail system exists near Tahquitz right now.

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