Snow and trail update 8th January 2020

[UPDATE 10th January: I hiked to San Jacinto Peak this morning, and conditions were not significantly different from the Report from 8th below. However I did record a rambling video from the Peak discussing yesterday’s minor storm and current snow situation.]

[UPDATE 9th January: light snow today produced 1.2″ depth in Idyllwild (at 5550′). The high country was above the cloud almost all day, with Long Valley (8600′) receiving only 0.25″ fresh snow. This storm is unlikely to have significantly altered the conditions described below. ]

A brief update on snow and trail conditions based on hikes on three of the past four days to San Jacinto Peak. Leaving well before dawn on each day in order to make the most of colder, firmer snow, I was able to use microspikes without significant postholing all the way from Humber Park to San Jacinto Peak. Today was the first day in many weeks that I did not carry snowshoes on my pack. Although snow conditions on descent a couple of hours later were softer, it was early enough to minimise postholing. Nevertheless as usual the ascents were more fun than the descents. Snow conditions will continue to firm up with much colder weather from today into next week.

Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting. Some major trails have not been traveled this year, and remain obscured by heavy snowfall. Cautious navigation is recommended everywhere. Melting has been rapid in recent days, mainly below 9000′, with the first week of January among the warmest in recorded Idyllwild history.

Microspikes are strongly recommended on-trail for compacted, well-traveled trails (see below). They are especially useful for descending. Crampons are an option, but less convenient than spikes, for firm trails above about 9000′. Snowshoes are currently strongly recommended off-trail almost everywhere above about 8000′ elevation.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country, and potentially far below freezing when considering windchill effects (see below for the temperatures I recorded at San Jacinto Peak this morning).

Note that the USFS gate at Humber Park remains 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.

PCT hikers are reminded that overnight stays are not permitted at or near San Jacinto Peak. Mt. San Jacinto State Park regulations permit overnight stays only in established campgrounds. Options for thru-hikers are Strawberry Junction and Little Round Valley.

WEATHER Temperatures are forecast to be at or below seasonal for the remainder of January. There is a possibility of very light precipitation on the afternoon of Thursday 9th (<1″ snow at Idyllwild, 1-2″ in the high country).

According to the latest NWS San Diego video, there are chances for precipitation in the second half of January, but it is unclear whether storms may largely pass to the north. Otherwise a relatively dry month is a possibility (a scary prospect for what is historically the wettest month of the year).

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Wednesday 8th January 2020, at 0925 the air temperature was 23.8°F (-5°C), with a windchill of 0.3°F (-18°C), 19% relative humidity, and a wild WNW wind sustained at 21 mph gusting to 46.7 mph.

At the Peak on Tuesday 7th January 2020 at 0845 the air temperature was 38.7°F (3°C), with a windchill of 27.7°F (-3°C), 22% relative humidity, and a pleasant SSW breeze sustained at 8 mph gusting to 11.0 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 6500′ are largely or completely 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, from the Tram through to Wellman Divide, and on South Ridge Trail.

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, on to San Jacinto Peak.

Skyline Trail has been traveled since the last snow, and tracks exist through the continuous snow above about 7000′. However not all the snow tracks are reliable, so cautious navigation is recommended.

Devil’s Slide Trail has a well-worn track to follow, and microspikes are very useful. Snow cover is patchy and spikes are not essential below 7000′, but higher up snow cover remains >90%.

Ernie Maxwell Trail [updated 11th January] has about 50% cover of thin icy snow.

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 been lightly traveled to Chinquapin Flat.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has not been traversed through to the fire lookout in 2020. There no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.25 miles. These ice slopes are notoriously treacherous. Crampons are strongly recommended, in conjunction with an ice axe (if you know how to use both). Snowshoes are not advised due to the angle of the underlying icy snow.

South Ridge Road is mostly clear but with a few icy snow patches in its upper half (passable with 4WD/AWD).

South Ridge Trail is patchily snow-covered (<50%) to Old Lookout Flat at 7800′, with 90% snow cover from there to Tahquitz Peak. This trail has received little hiker traffic so far this year. Microspikes recommended above about 8000′.

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 The trail up to the Suicide Rock turning is excellent and well-defined. There has been very little hiker traffic further up the trail.

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 remains in place, hence there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

SNOW DEPTHS measured on 8th January are as follows. Please note that average depth is given; drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 31″ (47″ on 27th December)

Wellman Divide (9700′): 11″ (27″ on 27th December)

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 22″ (25″ on 27th December, heavy drifting here)

Saddle Junction (8070′): 8″ (19″ on 27th December)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6520′): 1″ (11″ on 27th December)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 0″ (6.75″ on 27th December)

North spring at Wellman’s Cienega on 8th January 2020 (above), and for comparison on 1st January (below).