Trail and water update 8th October 2019

[Update 12th October: the final (very large) tree down across Willow Creek Trail on State Park land was cut today by our hard-working PCTA Section B Trail crew.]

[Update 11th October: the newly constructed section of the Round Valley Trail, between the High Trail junction and the Round Valley spigot, opened to hikers on 9th We were among the first hikers to use it as we passed through on a C2C speed hike.]

Near-perfect hiking weather has seen us on a wide diversity of trails in the past five days, including a loop out to Caramba, the PCT south to Spitler Peak, the Apache Spring and Spitler Peak trails, and the Peak and Deer Springs trails to San Jacinto Peak.

I took the opportunity as I passed by the rockslide just north of Antsell Rock (PCT Mile 172.5) yesterday, to record an updated video (available on YouTube here). This may be useful for deciding whether to try to hike around the rockslide or take an alternate route.

The status of water sources, some of which having experienced significant declines in flow rates recently, is updated below. The status of highway closures is also described at the foot of this posting.

Hikers should be prepared for autumnal temperatures at or near freezing above about 10,000′ elevation, and potentially cooler when considering windchill effects.

WEATHER As noted last week, temperatures continue on an unpredictable rollercoaster. Above-average temperatures in recent days will give way to cold Santa Ana (NE) winds accompanied by extremely low humidity on 10th-11th October. This will be followed by rapid warming back to seasonal temperatures and a swing to SW airflow starting on Sunday 13th. Despite this variability, windchill values at or even below freezing overnight, generally above 10,000′ elevation, are now typical. There is no precipitation forecast for the foreseeable future.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810’/3295m) today, Tuesday 8th October 2019 at 0855 the air temperature was 43.5°F (6°C), with a windchill temperature of 38.2°F (4°C), 27% relative humidity, and a gentle NE breeze sustained at 5 mph gusting to 6.8 mph.

In contrast, at the Peak on Tuesday 1st October 2019 at 0915 the air temperature was 35.5°F (2°C), with a windchill temperature of 22.5°F (-5°C), 19% relative humidity, and a brisk W wind sustained at 9 mph gusting to 17.8 mph.

Fresh Mountain Lion print, Caramba Trail, 4th October 2019. The lip balm stick for size reference is about 2.7″ long.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails, including the entire Pacific Crest Trail throughout the San Jacinto mountains, have been free of snow since the end of June.

The Pacific Crest Trail remains open at the rockslide just north of Antsell Rock (Mile 172.5). An updated video report from 7th October (available here) can be useful for deciding whether to try to hike around the rockslide or take an alternate route.

The section of the PCT north of the rockslide (Miles 172.5 to 176.5) is badly impacted by 20 downed trees. Although all of these are passable by hikers, some caution is required. The trail is impassable to pack animals. It is anticipated that these trees may be cleared in late October.

One newly fallen tree, along the trail and at a challenging height, one mile from the top of the Spitler Peak Trail is passable with care by hikers. The trail is currently impassable to pack animals however.

Forest Service closures to the Boulder Basin and Black Mountain Group campgrounds (both accessed from Black Mountain Road), and Dark Canyon Road, will remain in place all year. Consequently, Dark Canyon campground is also closed, and there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

Seven Pines Trail has at least 35 trees down, almost all above 7500′ elevation. This trail has been very lightly traveled since 2018, and is indistinct in places. Hikers without considerable prior experience of this trail should take great care with routefinding.

The Caramba Trail from near Reeds Meadow through Laws Camp to Caramba, and the Cedar Trail from Willow Creek Trail to Laws, are not maintained. Temporary signage to this effect has been in place since the end of June. Both trails are very indistinct and heavily overgrown with impenetrable whitethorn in places, and hikers without considerable prior experience of this area should exercise extremely cautious navigation. From Laws to Caramba the route of the original trail is relatively easy to follow (for those who were very familiar with this trail prior to the 2013 Mountain Fire). An informal use trail to Laws is under development (details to follow).

The Cranston Fire closure order expired at the beginning of August. Although this does not impact the wilderness trail situation, it does mean that the popular dirt roads and mountain bike trails of the May Valley and Bonita Vista roads area are now open.

WATER STATUS: Eastern slope

The Round Valley spigot continues to flow well at about 2.0 gpm.

Both the northern and southern springs at Wellman’s Cienega are flowing steadily. These springs are the sources for Willow Creek, which is flowing well where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail.

Tahquitz Valley creek, where it crosses the meadow trail, dried up in late September.

Tahquitz Creek is flowing well at the northern end of Little Tahquitz Meadow. It is also flowing gently further upstream at its source (known locally as Grethe Spring) where it crosses the PCT (approx. PCT Mile 177).

Tahquitz Creek at its crossing of the PCT near Mile 177, 7th October 2019.

Candy’s Creek – that flows through Skunk Cabbage Meadow and then crosses the Caramba Trail near Reeds Meadow – is flowing gently, but is very overgrown with thick vegetation, and is too shallow for easy filtering. It is much more accessible where it is flowing steadily across the Caramba Trail.

WATER STATUS: Western slope

The North Fork of the San Jacinto River is flowing well both where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail and the Fuller Ridge Trail on the PCT (approx. PCT Mile 186.0).

O’Sullivan Creek (PCT Mile 186.4) on Fuller Ridge Trail is also flowing.

The creek in Little Round Valley is flowing. This is the first time in seven or more years that this has flowed into the autumn.

Little Round Valley creek, 8th October 2019.

Shooting Star Spring (below Little Round Valley but above the North Fork of the San Jacinto River crossing) is flowing well.

The Deer Springs stream crossing at the PCT (approx. PCT mile 185) is flowing well.

Switchback Spring (about 0.4 miles north of Strawberry Junction) is now flowing only gently, there is very little depth in which to filter water, and it is heavily overgrown.

Strawberry Cienega spring is flowing very gently. The tiny pool between the rocks, formerly good for filtering, filled with sediment last winter.

On Devil’s Slide Trail, Middle Spring is barely a trickle now (although there is just sufficient water for dogs to drink).

On the Ernie Maxwell Trail, the crossing of Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park continues to flow well just upstream of the trail. Intermittent diversion by Fern Valley Water District (who unhelpfully refer to it as Tahquitz Creek!) results in the flow across the actual trail being unreliable at present. This creek is an important source of water for the many dogs walked on this trail.

WATER STATUS: Desert Divide

Live Oak Spring (N 33 37 21, W 116 33 24) Flowing well. The most reliable water source on the Desert Divide.

Cedar Spring (N 33 40 36, W 116 34 35) Flowing well. Easiest access is the trough just upstream from the trail to the campsite.

Apache Spring (N 33 43 11, W 116 37 13) Flowing gently. The trail off the PCT to this spring was greatly upgraded earlier this year, and is now a joy to use (despite the 17 switchbacks!).

Apache Spring, 7th October 2019.

Spitler Peak Trail Descending this trail from the PCT there are five water crossings. The first two, at 0.9 and 0.95 miles down, cross a tiny side creek which should be ignored. The next three crossings, at 1.1 to 1.3 miles down, are Spitler Creek, which continues to flow well.

Spitler Creek at its lowest crossing of the Spitler Peak Trail, 7th October 2019.

Antsell Rock Creek (N 33 41 52, W 116 39 08) Right by the Spitler Peak Trail trailhead on Apple Canyon Road, Antsell Rock Creek is flowing well. Just on the upstream side of the road there is excellent access to the creek. Useful if hikers are descending the Spitler Peak Trail.

ACCESS CLOSURES The Valentine’s Day 2019 flood events continue to make access to the San Jacinto mountains challenging. However progress is being made. Highway 243 between Banning and Idyllwild is closed from Skyland Ranch (north of Bay Tree Spring) to just north of Lake Fulmor. This highway has been estimated by Caltrans to reopen on 1st November 2019, with some form of traffic control (to be determined) into 2020. However, informed local opinion suggests that this is unlikely to happen, and that the original Caltrans estimate of sometime in 2020 for controlled reopening seems to be more realistic. Highway 74 between Mountain Center and Valle Vista (Hemet) reopened full time on 3rd October, but with some localized flagging operations for the foreseeable future.

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