Trail and snow update 30th December 2019

The seventh storm of this winter passed through today. It was forecast to be quite significant a few days ago, then in recent days it seemed like little or no snow was expected. I was unconvinced either way, so I ascended San Jacinto Peak via the east side (Devil’s Slide to East Ridge Trail) and descended the west side (Deer Springs Trail), affording a reasonable survey of the snow and trail conditions around the mountain.

It started snowing steadily while I was at San Jacinto Peak late morning, and continued gently as I descended Deer Springs Trail. The hiking was delightful, but there was minimal new accumulation, with <0.5″ below 8000′, only an inch above 9000′, and perhaps two inches at the highest peaks. Much of the afternoon as I descended through snow clouds, I could see the high peaks above me in blue sky, and the cloud band was at 6000-10,000′ for much of the afternoon.

Hiking conditions were perfect early this morning, with a firm icy snow track up Devil’s Slide Trail, ideal for microspikes. I switched to snowshoes at 9000′ elevation on the ascent, and kept them on down to about 6500′ on the descent. Unfortunately these conditions will likely change this week with rapid warming expected at all elevations.

I was surprised to find no evidence of any tracks on Deer Springs Trail from San Jacinto Peak down through Little Round Valley to the PCT. I would not recommend following my track from today as I took a very direct largely off-trail route. I also broke trail from the top of Marion Mountain Trail through to Strawberry Junction, but that track accurately follows the trail.

Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting. With the exception of trails mentioned below, currently some major trails have not been traveled and are obscured by heavy snowfall. A wild SE gale on the night of 25th resulted in very extensive drifting of snow, and it was windy again today, especially above 9000′ elevation. Cautious navigation is strongly recommended everywhere.

Snow depths are currently ideal for snowshoeing almost everywhere above about 7500′ elevation off-trail, and strongly recommended on-trail above 8500′. Microspikes are recommended on several well-traveled trails (see below) and will become increasingly useful at all elevations over the next few days as established trails become consolidated by hiker traffic and undergo freeze-thaw cycles. They are especially useful for descending trails when they become icy and compacted.

Notwithstanding the warming forecast for the first week of January, hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing when considering windchill effects (see my weather data from the Peak below).

Note that the USFS gate at Humber Park is closed. There are nine legal parking spaces (available for all uses) just below the gate and near the upper Ernie Maxwell trailhead. The next closest legal parking is 0.1 mile downhill on Forest Drive.

WEATHER Rapid warming is forecast for the first week of 2020, with temperatures above seasonal likely for Idyllwild and the high country especially by next weekend (3rd-5th January 2020), leading to snowmelt at all elevations. Medium term forecasts show no storm activity for the first half of January.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Monday 30th December 2019 at 1110 the air temperature was 17.6°F (-8°C), with a windchill temperature of -4.1°F (-20°C), 94% relative humidity, and a dangerously bitter NE wind sustained at 17 mph gusting to 25.8 mph.

At the Peak on Friday 27th December 2019 at 0655 the air temperature was 12.3°F (-12°C), with a windchill temperature of -4.9°F (-21°C), 74% relative humidity, and a brisk due North wind sustained at 9 mph gusting to 16.7 mph.


All trails above about 6000′ are snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation (see below).

Reliable tracks are currently in place for Devil’s Slide Trail, from Saddle Junction to San Jacinto Peak, and from the Tram through to Wellman Divide.

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.

Skyline Trail has been traveled since the last snow, and tracks exist through the continuous snow above 6500′. However not all the snow tracks are reliable, so cautious navigation is recommended.

Devil’s Slide Trail has a well-worn (but increasingly icy) track to follow, and microspikes are especially useful for descending. Trees down on the trail about 1.7 miles up (just below Powderbox Spring) are easily passable. At Saddle Junction, trees are also down across the starts of the Caramba Trail and the PCT southbound.

The parts of Willow Creek Trail and Caramba Trail nearest to Saddle Junction have well-defined snowshoe tracks, likely heading around Skunk Cabbage Meadow.

The PCT southbound from Saddle Junction has hardly been traveled, with only a couple of snowshoe tracks to follow.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 There are no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.25 miles. Do not attempt to cross these ice slopes without additional traction. Crampons are currently recommended, ideally in conjunction with an ice axe (if you know how to use it). Snowshoes are not advised as the fresh snow is 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.

Deer Springs Trail See my comments above regarding the route above the PCT. The trail up to the Suicide Rock turning is excellent and well-defined. From there to Strawberry Junction there is a reasonable snowshoe track to follow. Beyond that the track is less well-traveled and more likely to be obscured by drifting snow.

Marion Mountain Trail has been traveled by one person and has a reasonable snowshoe track to follow.

Seven Pines Trail and Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Miles 185.5-190.5) have had no visible signs of hiker traffic so far this winter, 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.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is completely snow-covered but has an excellent, defined track. Microspikes are recommended but are not essential (many thanks to Anne King and Anabel for this update from today).

SNOW DEPTHS measured today are as follows. Please note that average depth is given; drifts are much deeper than the average in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 47″ (very heavily drifted)

Little Round Valley (9800′): 26″

Wellman Divide (9700′): 25″ (27″ on 27th December)

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 23″ (25″ on 27th December)

Fuller Ridge Trail south end (8980′): 24″

Marion Mountain Trail junction with PCT (8800′): 22″

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 11″

Saddle Junction (8070′): 17″ (19″ on 27th December)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6520′): 7″ (11″ on 27th December)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 2″ (6.75″ on 27th December)

The upper end of Little Round Valley (9850′) this afternoon, 30th December 2019, under just over two feet of snow.
Strawberry Junction (8100′) this afternoon, 30th December 2019, with an average of just under one foot of snow.