Trail update 20th December 2019

We spent this morning hiking to and from San Jacinto Peak via Devil’s Slide Trail and Wellman Divide. This allowed for a comparison of snow and trail conditions with the same trails hiked four days ago, and with our hike from home of the Tahquitz Peak area trails on Wednesday 18th.

Hiking conditions continued to be near-perfect early this morning (as they have been all week) on firm snow, and the three of us ascended to San Jacinto Peak with no postholing and with minimal need for microspikes. The latter were useful for the descent down to about 7800′ on Devil’s Slide Trail however, and by about midday the softening snow made for less enjoyable hiking than a few hours earlier.

It was remarkably warm today – for late December – in the high country, with the windchill temperature at San Jacinto Peak almost exactly 40°F warmer than on Monday 16th!

Snow depths measured today and earlier this week are listed at the foot of this posting. In summary, all of the high country has continued to lose a few inches of snow depth since Monday despite much colder temperatures than recent weeks.

Microspikes are recommended for all trails above about 8500′. Snow depth is marginal for snowshoeing only off-trail above about 8800′ elevation. Established tracks are too compacted for comfortable snowshoeing.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing when considering windchill effects (notably in the last ten days of 2019).

WEATHER Temperatures will be well above seasonal this weekend (21st-22nd), before the fifth storm system of this winter is forecast to arrive on Monday 23rd. Cold temperatures and moderate precipitation are forecast daily for 23rd to 26th December at all elevations, with as much as 12-15″ snow possible in the high country across the week. The latest video from NWS San Diego discusses this multiple storm pattern in detail.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Friday 20th December 2019 at 0940 the air temperature was 38.3°F (4°C), with a windchill temperature of 34.3°F (1°C), 27% relative humidity, and a very light ENE wind sustained at 3.5 mph gusting to 5.8 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 16th December 2019 at 0940 the air temperature was 14.7°F (-10°C), with a windchill temperature of -5.1°F (-21°C), 18% relative humidity, and a cool due North wind sustained at 12 mph gusting to 18.2 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 7800′ are at least partly snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation (see below).

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 There are no steps to follow through the moderately angled icy snow for about 0.25 miles of this trail. We crossed early morning on 18th and found it somewhat challenging. Please do not attempt to cross these ice slopes without additional traction. Microspikes are essential, ideally in conjunction with an ice axe (if you know how to use it) for this often treacherous trail.

The Peak Trail above 10,300′ has not been traversed since before the late November storms. The only defined trail to San Jacinto Peak from the east is the steep option up the East Ridge.

Round Valley Trail from the Tram through to Wellman Divide has been well-traveled and a good track through the snow is easy to follow.

Devil’s Slide Trail is free of snow to 7800′, with limited patchy compacted snow thereafter to Saddle Junction.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is completely clear of snow.

South Ridge Trail is completely clear of snow to Old Lookout Flat (7800′), with limited icy snow patches from there to Tahquitz Peak, mainly above about 8400′. Microspikes are useful (but not essential), especially for descending when the snow is firm i.e. on cold mornings.

Deer Springs Trail is basically clear of snow below 8100′, with just a few patches near Strawberry Junction. Snow cover is patchy from there to about 8500′ (no traction required), and thereafter is continuous. An excellent track is now in place through to Little Round Valley. From there to San Jacinto Peak, the visible consolidated route does not follow the usual trail and is steep.

Marion Mountain Trail has been well traveled and has a good track to follow. It is largely clear below 8000′.

Seven Pines Trail and Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Miles 185.5-190.5) have no visible signs of hiker traffic since the recent storms, and no tracks or trail to follow. Indeed Seven Pines Trail has only been hiked a handful of times since November 2018. Extremely cautious navigation is recommended for those who are not very familiar with hiking these trails in snow.

The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road will remain in place into 2020, hence there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

SNOW DEPTHS measured today – or earlier this week as indicated – are as follows. Please note that average depth is given; drifts may be much deeper than the average in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 23″ (36″ on 4th December)

Little Round Valley (9800′): 20″ on 16th December (25″ on 9th December)

Wellman Divide (9700′): 5″ (16″ on 4th December)

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 9″ (18″ on 4th December)

Fuller Ridge Trail south end (8980′): 12″ on 16th December

Marion Mountain Trail junction with PCT (8800′): 10″ on 16th December

Tahquitz Peak (8836′): 8′ on 18th December

Long Valley (8600′): 1″

Chinquapin Flat (8500′): 6″ on 18th December

Strawberry Junction (8100′): <1″ on 16th December (5-6″ on 9th December)

Saddle Junction (8070′): 2″ (13″ on 4th December)

Wellman Divide today 20th December 2019 (above) and eleven days earlier (below) on 9th December 2019.