Snow and trail update 1st April 2019

This morning we hiked briskly to San Jacinto Peak from Devil’s Slide Trail via Wellman Divide, descending the same way. On Saturday we hiked to Tahquitz Peak via South Ridge. 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. I talked to many thru-hikers on Sunday about their experiences in this area, and I will be checking it again tomorrow. I recorded the following vlog this morning at San Jacinto Peak.

Sadly, snow conditions are more reminiscent of 1st May than of 1st April. Temperatures above seasonal norms have resulted in significant snow melt at all elevations. San Jacinto Peak has lost 15″ to 35″ of snow in the past 20 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) and consolidated trails are currently virtually perfect for fast easy hiking. However, soft snow from late morning onwards can result in some postholing and sliding 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 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 couple of days. Snowshoes continue to have some use for off-trail travel in flatter terrain, especially in softer afternoon snow.

Be Bear Aware. One of several fairly fresh prints at Annie’s Junction (9050′) today, 1st April 2019 (the lip balm for size reference is 2.5″ long).

WEATHER Temperatures will be seasonal for the next few days, then well above average thereafter, with extensive snow melt at all elevations. Highs may reach near-summer temperatures next week. There is a possibility of light precipitation overnight on 4th-5th April, with a light dusting of snow in the high country.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810’/3295m) today 1st April 2019, at 0930 the air temperature was 49°F (9°C), with a windchill temperature of 48°F (9°C), 17% relative humidity, and largely calm conditions with an occasional West breeze gusting to 2 mph.

In contrast, at the Peak on 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.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Almost all trails above about 8000′ remain snow-covered. With melting, trail conditions will continue to change rapidly. Details for specific routes are below. Despite warmer weather overall, hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or below freezing around the highest peaks (>10,000’/3000m elevation), and even 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. Some signage above about 9000′ remains snow-covered, including many PCT marker posts.

Pacific Crest Trail The trail is basically clear of snow from Highway 74 to about Mile 173, except for the challenging section at Mile 169.5. Between about Mile 173 and Mile 192, the trail is largely snow-covered, depths in places up to two feet, but with more snow-free areas opening up every day. Based on my own assessment, and in discussion with PCT hikers who have completed both areas, 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 an icy snow slope. PCT hikers not familiar with angled snow/ice travel should consider the Black Mountain Road alternative to Fuller Ridge, at least for the next few days.

Black Mountain Road is clear of snow until about 7000′ (5 miles up). From the Boulder Basin junction to the PCT/Fuller Ridge campground (miles 5 to 8) snow cover is patchy. [Note that Black Mountain Road is not currently accessible to private vehicles due to the closures on Highway 243.]

Devil’s Slide Trail is largely clear of snow, with a few extended icy snow patches near Saddle Junction. Some hikers will find microspikes useful, especially for descending in the morning.

Deer Springs Trail is largely clear of snow to Strawberry Junction (8100′). 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 7900′.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat remains very treacherous even as the snow softens. [UPDATE 4th April] After the first 0.1 mile, there are no tracks to follow and no sign of any attempt to traverse this trail for several weeks. Crampons in conjunction with an ice axe are very strongly recommended for this section. It is possible to pass between the PCT and Tahquitz Peak along the top of Tahquitz Ridge with caution.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is clear of snow.

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 today are as follows. Current total depth is given. Drifts can be much greater than the average depth. Altitudes are approximate. For some snow depths on the western side trails last week, see the previous report linked here.

San Jacinto Peak (10,810′): 52″ (75″ on 22nd March)

Wellman Divide (9700′): 28″ (43″ on 22nd March)

Annie’s Junction (PCT at State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 22″ (34″ on 22nd March)

Saddle Junction (8070′): 9″ (20″ on 22nd March)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6500′): 0″ (5″ on 22nd March)

ACCESS CLOSURES The Valentine’s Day flood events continue to make access to the San Jacinto mountains challenging. 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 will reopen in late 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. 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.

Trail sign at Wellman Divide (9700′) today 1st April 2019 (above), and ten days earlier on 22nd March (below).

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