Snow and trail update 18th March 2019

[UPDATE 20th March 2019: multiple hikers (wearing microspikes) turned back at PCT Mile 169.5 today due to steep ice on the NE flank of Apache Peak. This slope had probably been easier on recent warmer days when the snow was softer. Also tonight it is currently snowing in Idyllwild (about one inch so far).]

[UPDATE 20th March 2019: Snow conditions are basically unchanged from the report below, microspikes are ideal on traveled consolidated trails. At Tahquitz Peak (8836′) this morning it briefly snowed on us, but with no accumulation. It felt very cold, with high humidity and a windchill temperature of 19°F (-7°C) despite only a fairly light 11mph wind. I have updated the Tahquitz area trails in the text below.]

Today (18th March) I hiked to San Jacinto Peak from Devil’s Slide Trail via Wellman Divide on the eastern side, descending the western side via Deer Springs Trail, including some of Fuller Ridge, a route which incorporated a few miles of the PCT. On Saturday we hiked part of the PCT north of Highway 74 to assess conditions at lower elevation, and on Friday I hiked Black Mountain Road at the north end of Fuller Ridge. I recorded the following vlog from San Jacinto Peak at about 0935 this morning.

Detailed trail conditions are below and measured snow depths from my circuit today are at the foot of this posting. At elevations below 8000′ there is little sign of the fresh snow that fell on 11th/12th March (described in the previous report). There has been considerable melting at lower elevations, but proportionately less high up. Increased trail traffic and consolidation of the main trails makes hiking much easier than just a few days ago. However many slopes and traverses are still challenging. Of the two PCT hikers I passed today (neither wearing even microspikes) one had just fallen about ten yards below the trail in one of the low angle sections near Deer Spring.

Current road and trailhead access issues are discussed at the bottom of this post.

WEATHER A strong warming trend has been in evidence in recent days, accompanied by extensive snow melt at lower elevations (<8000′). After another spring-like day tomorrow, it will cool considerably on 20th and 21st, with windchill temperatures at the highest elevations close to 0°F (-18°C). On those days, light rain or snow is possible depending on elevation. From the 22nd, mild, cloudy, and somewhat unsettled weather is forecast and continued melting will resume at all elevations.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810’/3295m) today, Monday 18th March 2019, at 0935 the air temperature was 30°F (-1°C), with a windchill temperature of 17.1°F (-8°C), 44% relative humidity, and a light 9 mph SSE wind gusting to 12.2 mph.

In contrast, at the Peak on 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 bitter 15 mph due North wind gusting to 22.4 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 7500′ remain completely snow-covered, despite rapid melting in the past few days. Details for specific routes are below.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or near freezing in the high country, below freezing above 10,000′, and well below freezing on 20th and 21st March (especially when considering windchill effects).

Microspikes are recommended everywhere on well consolidated trails, in particular for descending. Crampons with an ice axe (and knowledge of how to use both) are strongly recommended for moderate angle slopes (at least Fuller Ridge and Tahquitz Peak) as the snow continues to consolidate with freeze-thaw cycles, at least in the morning, or all day in colder temperatures. Snowshoes are recommended off-trail above about 7800′, and may be useful even on- trail in the afternoon on warmer days.

Waterproof footwear is useful on 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 currently due to the slushy quality of the snow in many areas, especially after mid-morning.

With increased foot traffic on the trails, navigation is not as tricky as it has been for the previous month, however routefinding through snow remains challenging for those not familiar with the area. Do not assume that the hikers who put down tracks ahead of you knew where they were going (based on what I saw today, they often didn’t)! Most signage above about 8500′ continues to be snow-covered. Many PCT marker posts are obscured.

Pacific Crest Trail Clear of snow from Highway 74 to about Palm View Peak. Patchy snow starts at about Mile 165. Between Mile 175 and Mile 195, snow depths are 1-3 feet. Fuller Ridge Trail has been traversed by a few hikers carrying crampons/ice axe, however it remains a largely a featureless ice slope along almost all its five mile length. Crampons and ice axe remain very strongly recommended. The majority of PCT hikers (those who are not familiar with angled snow/ice travel) should consider the Black Mountain Road alternative to Fuller Ridge.

Black Mountain Road is largely clear of snow for its lower 2.5 miles. Up to 7000′ (5 miles up) there is shallow patchy snow. From the Boulder Basin junction to the PCT/Fuller Ridge campground (miles 5 to 8) snow cover is continuous at 1-2′ deep. Snow is largely soft and extensive postholing is inevitable without snowshoes. Beyond Fuller Ridge, snow is largely 1-2′ deep, with deeper drifts, almost to Camp Lackey. [Note that vehicle access is not possible beyond 2.5 miles due to downed trees and snow. Black Mountain Road is not currently accessible to private vehicles due to the closures on Highway 243.]

Devil’s Slide Trail has patchy snow to 7500′, but is completely under snow thereafter. The trail has been heavily traveled, is obvious, and microspikes are ideal especially for descending.

Deer Springs Trail is largely clear to about 7500′. From there to Strawberry Junction (8100′) there is about 80% soft snow cover, with some hazardous sections of water flowing under or on the trail route.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat [updated 20th March] remains very treacherous even as the snow softens. There are no tracks to follow and no sign of any attempt to traverse this trail since the fresh snow last week. Crampons in conjunction with an ice axe are strongly recommended for this section, but it may be passable for those very confident with the use of microspikes.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is largely clear of snow for most of its length, with shallow snow patches more frequent near Humber Park.

South Ridge Road is clear of snow, but is impassable near the top due to severe road damage. South Ridge Trail [updated 20th March] is largely clear of snow below Old Lookout Flat (7800′), but almost completely snow-covered above it. Microspikes are very valuable for descending, and can be useful for ascending the final switchbacks close to Tahquitz Peak. An ice axe would be a good idea on the uppermost switchbacks.

SNOW DEPTHS measured today are as follows. Strong winds have led to major drifting and drifts can be much greater than the average depth. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10,810′): 69″ (75″ on 12th March)

Little Round Valley (9800′): 40″

Wellman Divide (9700′): 41″ (47″ on 12th March)

Annie’s Junction (PCT at State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 29″ (33″ on 12th March)

Pacific Crest Trail at south end of Fuller Ridge Trail (8950′): 35″

Pacific Crest Trail at top of Marion Mountain Trail (8700′): 30″

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 11″

Saddle Junction (8100′): 17″ (26″ on 12th March)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6500′): 1″ (6″ on 12th March)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 0″ (2.5″ on 12th March)

ACCESS CLOSURES The parking area at Humber Park has now reopened, as has the trailhead access for Marion Mountain Trail. The Valentine’s Day flood events continue to make access to the San Jacinto mountains challenging. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed until approximately 15th April (according to local media). Highway 243 between Banning and Idyllwild is closed from north of Bay Tree Spring to just north of Alandale until at least June. Highway 74 between Mountain Center and Valle Vista (Hemet) is closed until June. Several minor roads around Idyllwild-Pine Cove remain partly closed or damaged. Apple Canyon Road (access for the Spitler Peak trailhead) is still flooded by Hurkey Creek and was closed to non-residents.

The Peak Trail at 9800′ above Wellman Divide (above) today 18th March 2019, (below) six days earlier on 12th March.

The sign at Annie’s Junction, the high point of the PCT in the San Jacinto mountains at 9070′ (above) today 18th March 2019, (below) on 12th March 2019.

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