[UPDATE 30th March: we hiked South Ridge to Tahquitz Peak this morning, and Ernie Maxwell Trail yesterday, and I have amended the text below accordingly.]
This morning (28th March) I hiked with Jenn Murdock to San Jacinto Peak from Devil’s Slide Trail via Wellman Divide, descending the same way. Yesterday I hiked Deer Springs and Fuller Ridge trails for search-and-rescue reasons, on 26th I hiked Spitler Peak Trail and the PCT north around Apache Peak, and on 25th up Black Mountain Road to the north end of Fuller Ridge. Many thanks to Tim Dailey and Jenn for supplementary information on the trails around Tahquitz Peak from their hike on 26th.
Detailed trail conditions are discussed below and both measured snow depths and current access problems are described near the foot of this posting. Currently the most challenging PCT problem is around Apache Peak, which I discuss in detail in a posting from two days ago. I recorded the following vlog this morning at San Jacinto Peak.
Temperatures above seasonal norms have resulted in significant snow melt at all elevations. San Jacinto Peak has lost 12″ to 30″ of snow in the past 16 days, depending on specifc location, due to melting and consolidation. Melting has also made snow conditions more uniform (and hence easier underfoot in the mornings) by reducing the dangerous ice layer just under the surface snow. Snow conditions yesterday and today were virtually perfect on the consolidated trails for fast easy hiking. However, soft snow from late morning onwards does result in moderate postholing later in the day.
Microspikes, in combination with hiking poles or, in some situations, an ice axe (if you know how to use it) are strongly recommended throughout the high country. With prior experience on angled snow, and considerable care, microspikes are sufficient to hike all of the PCT in the San Jacinto mountains at present. Crampons (always with an ice axe) will be useful for those hikers who are less confident on angled snow and ice, especially around Apache Peak for the next few days. Snowshoes continue to be useful for off-trail travel in flatter terrain, especially in softer afternoon snow.
WEATHER Temperatures will continue to be at or above average into early April, with extensive snow melt at all elevations, especially on sunny aspects and below 9000′. Highs may reach as high as 70°F (21°C) in Idyllwild on 1st April, and 90°F (32°C) in the desert. There is no notable precipitation in the forecast.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810’/3295m) today, Thursday 28th March 2019, at 0935 the air temperature was 28°F (-2°C), with a windchill temperature of 9.9°F (-12°C), 15% relative humidity, and a sharp 15 mph West wind gusting to 27 mph.
At the Peak on Friday 22nd March 2019, at 1230 the air temperature was 29°F (-2°C), with a windchill temperature of 16.3°F (-9°C), 29% relative humidity, and a light 7 mph NW wind gusting to 11 mph.
Almost all trails above about 7700′ remain snow-covered. With rapid melting, trail conditions will continue to change rapidly. Details for specific routes are below. Despite warmer weather overall, hikers should nevertheless be prepared for temperatures around freezing around the highest peaks (>10,000’/3000m elevation), and colder when considering windchill effects.
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 due to the somewhat slushy quality of melting snow in many areas, especially after mid-morning.
Many major trails have been well traveled in the past week, so they have obvious, well consolidated tracks. Routefinding is challenging in places for those not familiar with the area due to wandering, inaccurate tracks however, so use caution. Much signage above about 8500′ remains snow-covered, including many PCT marker posts.
Pacific Crest Trail The trail is essentially clear of snow from Highway 74 to about Mile 169. Between about Mile 174 and Mile 192, the trail is largely snow-covered, depths ranging from an inch to two feet. Based on my own assessment, and in discussion with PCT hikers who have completed the San Jacinto mountain section, the icy snow at Apache Peak (Mile 169.5) is currently more treacherous than Fuller Ridge.
Fuller Ridge Trail should not be attempted without a minimum of microspikes, ideally with an ice axe (if you know how to use one), or at least hiking poles. Significant sections remain largely a featureless icy snow slope. Crampons and ice axe remain recommended for those less comfortable on snow. PCT hikers 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 four 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 extensive, from a few inches to two feet deep. At yellow post campsites 4 & 5, there is a large area clear of snow good for camping. Snow is largely soft and postholing is inevitable without snowshoes. Beyond Fuller Ridge, snow is largely 1-2′ deep, with deeper drifts, down to near Camp Lackey. [Note that vehicle access is currently 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 only patchy snow to 7900′, but some patches are icy. The trail has been heavily traveled, is obvious, and some hikers will find microspikes ideal, especially for descending in the morning.
Deer Springs Trail is clear of snow to the Suicide Rock turning, and largely clear of snow from there to about 7800′. From there to Strawberry Junction (8100′) there is extensive soft snow cover, with a few hazardous sections of water flowing under snow bridges or on the trail route.
There are confusing multiple tracks through the snow from near Marion Mountain Trail junction through to Fuller Ridge (roughly PCT Miles 184-186). Careful navigation is required. The track above the Fuller Ridge junction up to San Jacinto Peak does not closely approximate to the true trail, so again navigation is tricky.
Marion Mountain Trail has been hiked and has a reasonable track to follow. Snow is patchy above about 7000′ and is nearly continuous above about 7600′.
Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat remains very treacherous even as the snow softens. There are no tracks to follow and no sign of any attempt to traverse this trail in the past couple of weeks. Crampons in conjunction with an ice axe are strongly recommended for this section. It is possible to pass from Tahquitz Peak to the PCT along the top of Tahquitz Ridge with extreme caution.
Ernie Maxwell Trail is clear of snow. [UPDATED 29th March]
[UPDATED 30th March] South Ridge Road is clear of snow, but is impassable near the top due to severe storm damage. South Ridge Trail is largely clear of snow below Old Lookout Flat (7800′), but is about 50% snow-covered above it. Microspikes are valuable for descending, and can be useful for ascending, the switchbacks above 8500′, especially when icy in the early morning.
SNOW DEPTHS measured yesterday and today are as follows. Current total depth is given. Drifts can be much greater than the average depth. Altitudes are approximate.
San Jacinto Peak (10,810′): 55″ (75″ on 22nd March)
Wellman Divide (9700′): 35″ (43″ on 22nd March)
Annie’s Junction (PCT at State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 27″ (34″ on 22nd March)
Fuller Ridge Trail south end (8950′): 35″
Strawberry Junction (8100′): 7″ (but ranging from 0-15″)
Saddle Junction (8070′): 11″ (20″ on 22nd March)
Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6500′): 0″ (5″ on 22nd March)
ACCESS CLOSURES The parking area at Humber Park has 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 1st April (according to their website). Highway 243 between Banning and Idyllwild is closed from north of Bay Tree Spring to just north of Alandale. The section from near Alandale to Lake Fulmor may reopen in April – allowing access to Black Mountain Road – but the remainder may not reopen until July or even later. Highway 74 between Mountain Center and Hemet will partially reopen – with a pilot car and restricted hours – by May. Several minor roads around Idyllwild-Pine Cove remain partly closed or damaged. Apple Canyon Road (access for the Spitler Peak trailhead) is still flooded at Hurkey Creek and is recommended only for 4WD/high clearance vehicles. Whitewater Preserve (PCT Mile 218.5) recently announced that they will not be able to accommodate day use or overnight PCT hikers this year, due to severe damage to Whitewater Canyons roads and trails. Currently the trail from the PCT to Whitewater is non-existent and requires a wide water crossing with quickly flowing water.