[UPDATE 16th March 2019: I was in the Black Mountain/Fuller Ridge area yesterday. Melting has continued steadily mainly below 7000′. General snow conditions are little changed from the report below, although snow is soft on warm afternoons. There are now tracks on the PCT through Fuller Ridge but crampons/ice axe are required. Two sets of prints far off-trail showed that PCTers were having great trouble navigating safely in the Fuller Ridge area.]
In anticipation of the forecast storm, yesterday I ascended San Jacinto Peak up Devil’s Slide Trail, a short section of the PCT, then via Wellman Divide. From the latter I took the “scenic route” via Jean Peak (I guess I needed a little more exercise). This morning I descended roughly following the trail system to Humber Park, but with plenty of off-trail travel through thick snow. As forecast the storm produced about a foot of fresh powder throughout the high country (measured snow depths detailed below) on top of the existing few feet. I recorded the following vlog at San Jacinto Peak at about 0800 this morning.
Conditions were considerably more wild at San Jacinto Peak yesterday evening, as shown in this short video clip.
As described in the posting from last week (available here), the basal conditions are very firm and icy. This meant that the ascent yesterday in microspikes (to 9000′) and then crampons was solid, but technical at higher elevation. This morning I descended in snowshoes in the glorious fluffy powder, but where I postholed through to the ice beneath (especially as the new snow grew shallower) it became very treacherous. I kept sliding downslope and had to switch to crampons for one traverse, and then descended the lower elevations in microspikes.
Carrying snowshoes (with poles), 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.
WEATHER A strong warming trend was already in evidence this afternoon, with most snow in Idyllwild already rapidly melting. Since I recorded the vlog above, forecasts have somewhat moderated the high temperatures expected, but they will nevertheless be at or above average for the next week or so.
At San Jacinto Peak today, Tuesday 12th March 2019, at 0755 the air temperature was 16°F (-9°C), with a windchill temperature of -4.7°F (-20°C), 100% relative humidity, and a sharp 15 mph due North wind gusting to 22.4 mph.
At the Peak on Monday 11th March 2019, at 1805 the air temperature was 17.5°F (-8°C) with a windchill temperature of -7.1°F (-22°C), 100% relative humidity, and a brutal 32 mph NE wind gusting to 40.1 mph.
All trails above about 6000′ are again completely snow-covered, although rapid melting is anticipated in the coming days, at least below about 9000′. The very limited number of tracks that were present on some parts of the PCT in the San Jacinto mountains have now been completely covered by fresh snow. Please see this posting about the specific challenges of Fuller Ridge just two days ago.
Hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or below freezing in the high country, and below freezing above 10,000′ (considerably colder when considering windchill effects).
Snowshoes are currently recommended everywhere above about 7500′. Microspikes may become useful mainly in the colder early mornings as the most popular trails become consolidated (e.g. Devil’s Slide, lower Deer Springs). Crampons with an ice axe (and knowledge of how to use both) are useful at higher elevations, as the icy snow underlying the fresh snowfall is treacherous. Their usefulness will increase with the strong freeze-thaw cycle expected in the next week. Crampons and ice axe are currently essential on Fuller Ridge, as discussed here.
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 due to the slushy quality of the snow due to thawing.
Routefinding remains very challenging for those not familiar with the area. Almost all signage above about 8500′ is snow-covered. Most PCT marker posts are also completely obscured. Currently no trails have been broken whatsoever, other than my descent route today, and those tracks may be obscured quickly due to melting of surface snow and spindrift.
Please note that Tahquitz Peak trail from the PCT at Chinquapin Flat is extremely treacherous. With the fresh snowfall there will not even be a hint of “trail” to follow whatsoever. Crampons in conjunction with an ice axe, and excellent knowledge of how to use both, are critical.
Snow depths measured today are as follows. The first number is fresh snowfall overnight, followed by the total depth in parentheses (based on pre-storm measurements as I ascended yesterday). Very strong overnight 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′): 13″ (75″)
Wellman Divide (9700′): 11″ (47″)
Annie’s Junction (PCT at State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 7″ (33″)
Saddle Junction (8100′): 6.5″ (26″)
Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6500′): 5″ (6″)
Idyllwild (at 5550′): 2.5″ (2.5″, but largely melted already)