A lengthy hike today in moderate depth fresh snow to and from San Jacinto Peak via Devil’s Slide Trail and Wellman Divide allowed us to compare snow and trail conditions with the same trails hiked on multiple days last week.
A short video I posted on YouTube illustrates how spectacular (and chilly) it was at San Jacinto Peak at noon today.
It started snowing yesterday at 0845 (we were hiking at about 6200′ near Pine Cove). Lower down in Idyllwild, the snow quickly turned to sleet then rain which ended by 1600, and at 5550′ we ended up with 0.55″ rain for the day. Long Valley (8600′) added about 4-5″ snow on top of the roughly one inch that remained from earlier in the winter.
Hiking conditions were slow this morning, breaking trail from Humber Park to San Jacinto Peak. There was a little postholing on Devil’s Slide Trail, and then I switched to snowshoes for the remainder of the day.
As we descended Devil’s Slide Trail mid-afternoon we ran into a brief snowstorm that had dusted Idyllwild with a fraction of an inch, and about 0.5″ at Humber Park (see photo below).
Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting. In summary, areas above 7000′ added between 5-11″ fresh powder.
Snowshoes are strongly recommended everywhere above about 7500′ elevation, with microspikes advised below that elevation. This advice is only applicable for today (and perhaps tomorrow) with much more snow forecast, as discussed below.
Hikers should be prepared for temperatures well below freezing in the high country, and potentially far below freezing when considering windchill effects.
Note that the USFS gate at Humber Park is now closed. There are nine legal parking spaces – available for all uses – just below the gate (near the upper Ernie Maxwell trailhead). The next closest legal parking is 0.1 mile downhill on Forest Drive.
WEATHER A major snowstorm – the sixth storm of this winter – is forecast for 25th-26th December. Cold temperatures and substantial precipitation are forecast at all elevations, with snow level as low as 4000′ elevation, and with as much as two feet of snow in the high country and 10+” possible at mid-elevations. NWS San Diego has issued a YouTube video discussion of this next storm.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Tuesday 24th December 2019 at 1210 the air temperature was 12.3°F (-11°C), with a windchill temperature of -11.1°F (-24°C), 81% relative humidity, and a sharp WSW wind sustained at 15 mph gusting to 21.8 mph.
At the Peak on 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.
All trails above about 6000′ are 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. Do not attempt to cross these ice slopes without additional traction. Microspikes are essential, crampons are preferable, ideally in conjunction with an ice axe (if you know how to use it). Snowshoes are not advised as the fresh few inches of snow are not consolidated with the earlier hard icy snow underneath, making for a very treacherous footing.
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 traveled and an acceptable track through the snow is easy to follow.
Devil’s Slide Trail was well-traveled today and an obvious track is easy to follow (microspikes recommended).
Ernie Maxwell Trail is largely clear of snow in its lower half (below about 6000′).
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.
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 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′): 33″ (23″ on 20th December)
Wellman Divide (9700′): 13″ (5″ on 20th December)
Annie’s Junction (9070′): 16″ (9″ on 20th December)
Long Valley (8600′): 6″ (1″ on 20th December)
Saddle Junction (8070′): 8″ (2″ on 20th December)
Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6520′): 1.5″