Trail and water update 23rd October 2019

[Update 29th October: Caltrans has just announced that Highway 243 between Idyllwild and Banning will reopen no later than 6pm on Friday 1st November. There may be some limited flagman operations for the foreseeable future.]

Three ascents of San Jacinto Peak last week followed by two so far this week, by a wide variety of routes, have allowed thorough assessment of many water sources. Today’s loop hike up the Peak Trail and down Deer Springs Trail included a check of Strawberry Cienega.

Our hard-working PCTA Section B trail crew has scheduled tree removal work on the PCT in the Red Tahquitz area for 25th-27th October. There are some 20 trees down on the PCT between Miles 172.5 (the rockslide) and 176.5 (just north-west of Red Tahquitz). Anyone interested in helping is encouraged to check the project announcement on the PCTA website, and contact crew leader Don Line at the email address given therein.

The status of water sources, some of which having experienced significant declines in flow rates recently, is updated below.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or near freezing, potentially colder when considering windchill effects, especially above about 10,000′ elevation but possible at all montane elevations starting next week.

WEATHER Temperatures have been well above seasonal average for most of October. However starting early next week wintry temperatures, with lows near freezing in Idyllwild, are expected. There continues to be no significant precipitation forecast for the foreseeable future.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810’/3295m) today, Wednesday 23rd October 2019 at 0920 the air temperature was 48.3°F (9°C), with a windchill temperature of 46.9°F (8°C), 25% relative humidity, and a very light NW breeze sustained at 1.5 mph gusting to 3.1 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 21st October 2019 at 0915 the air temperature was 41.9°F (6°C), with a windchill temperature of 36.3°F (2°C), 37% relative humidity, and a gentle NW breeze sustained at 5 mph gusting to 7.5 mph.

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). The 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. As reported above, many of these will hopefully be cleared this weekend.

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 access to Seven Pines trailhead.

We resurveyed Seven Pines Trail last week. There are three trees down on Forest Service land, and about 30 on State Park land, the latter almost all above 7500′ elevation. The anticipated tree removal work by State Park in September did not happen. This trail has been very lightly traveled since late 2018, and is indistinct in places, especially in its uppermost mile. Hikers without prior experience of this trail should take 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 challenging whitethorn in places, and hikers without considerable prior experience of this area should exercise extremely cautious navigation. From Laws east 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 has been developed which is much more direct and avoids all of the challenging bush-whacking of the unmaintained trails (some local hikers have kindly dubbed it the “King Trail”). It leaves the Willow Creek Trail exactly 1.0 mile from Saddle Junction (0.46 mile from the Skunk Cabbage turning), descending largely on deer trails for 1.2 miles, basically paralleling Willow Creek just to its south. Currently it is quite obvious for about a mile, becoming more indistinct as it nears Laws (by which time Willow Creek is close by on your left hand side, so navigation is not a challenge).

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. May Valley Road remains closed to vehicular traffic (there is a new USFS gate just up from the Cowbell Alley access).

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.

Wellman’s Cienega north spring, 21st October 2019.

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).

Candy’s Creek – that flows through Skunk Cabbage Meadow and then crosses the Caramba Trail near Reeds Meadow – is almost dry in the former. It is much more accessible where it is flowing gently 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).

North Fork of the San Jacinto River at its crossing of the Deer Springs Trail, 23rd October 2019.

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

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

Little Round Valley creek, 23rd October 2019.

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

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 has functionally dried up. The tiny pool between the rocks, formerly good for filtering, filled with sediment last winter and no longer accumulates water.

On Devil’s Slide Trail, Middle Spring is barely a trickle now.

On the Ernie Maxwell Trail, the crossing of Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park continues to flow 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 17 switchbacks!).

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.

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. Potentially useful if hikers are descending the Spitler Peak Trail.