Trail update 16th January 2020

[UPDATE 21st January: another minor storm last night produced 0.19″ of rain in Idyllwild (at 5550′) but a barely measurable fraction of an inch of snow in the high country, which was above the cloud for much of the night. Trail and snow conditions are unchanged.]

[UPDATE 17th January: all three of us hiked to San Jacinto Peak today to assess last night’s “storm”. Drizzle fell in Idyllwild (0.05 inch at 5550′) up to about 6000′. It fell as freezing rain to 9000′. Also between about 7500′-9000′ there was barely a dusting of fresh snow (<0.25″) under the verglas. The high country had some rime on the trees, but no fresh snowfall.]

Very early this morning I hiked briskly to San Jacinto Peak, ascending the east side and descending via the west side. Today I did not put on microspikes until Wellman’s Cienega, but frankly could have summited without them. They were useful for descending however. Although I carried snowshoes for uppermost Deer Springs Trail, that early in the morning I postholed very little down to 9000′, and not at all thereafter, so only used microspikes.

With persistent spring-like conditions in the high country (>8500′), the snow softens rapidly during the day but postholing doesn’t get too bad until after noon. Snowshoes remain helpful for any off-trail travel. Conditions underfoot will broadly remain similar for the foreseeable future, but will be more challenging on warmer days (such as this weekend, 18th-19th January). Despite cool overnight temperatures, melting has been steady at all elevations, and at an alarming rate for early January.

Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting. Strong winds this week in the high country may cause drifting snow to obscure parts of even the heavily traveled trails. Cautious navigation is recommended everywhere. For most of my nine ascents so far this month, the quarter-mile of trail either side of Annie’s Junction, and some short sections of the Peak Trail above 9800′, were partly obscured by overnight spindrift.

Microspikes are recommended on-trail for compacted, well-traveled trails. They are especially useful for descending. Crampons are an option, but less convenient than spikes, for firm trails above about 9000′. Snowshoes are currently recommended off-trail almost everywhere above about 8500′ elevation.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing when considering windchill effects (see below for temperatures I have recorded recently at San Jacinto Peak).

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.

WEATHER Temperatures at mid-elevations are forecast to be near or above seasonal for the remainder of January (above seasonal in the high country). Light precipitation is possible for the evening of Thursday 16th (rain at Idyllwild elevation, little or no snow in the high country). Regrettably, long term forecasts for a very dry January seem to be increasingly accurate, a scary prospect for what is historically one of the wettest months of the year.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Thursday 16th January 2020, at 0825 the air temperature was 26.3°F (-3°C), with a windchill of 7.7°F (-14°C), 27% relative humidity, and a stiff SW wind sustained at 17 mph gusting to 27.0 mph.

At the Peak on Tuesday 14th January 2020, at 0940 the air temperature was 32.1°F (0°C), with a windchill of 15.6°F (-9°C), 23% relative humidity, and a gusty due West wind sustained at 11 mph gusting to 29.2 mph.

At the Peak on Sunday 12th January 2020 at 0815 the air temperature was 29.2°F (-2°C), with a windchill of 11.1°F (-12°C), 42% relative humidity, and a frigid WNW wind sustained at 21 mph gusting to 31.2 mph.

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL NOTES

The Pacific Crest Trail remains open at the rockslide just north of Antsell Rock (Mile 172.5). USFS informed me last week that there are currently no plans to close this section of the PCT during spring 2020. My 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.

Microspikes are useful on most of the PCT for snow travel between approximately Miles 165 and 192. Depending upon your comfort level on icy snow, they may not currently be essential however. See below for conditions on specifc sections of the PCT and the many side trails.

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

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 8500′ are completely snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation (see below).

Deer Springs Trail is largely clear of snow to Strawberry Junction with just a few patches close to the junction (microspikes not required). The PCT section from here to Fuller Ridge has patchy snow to about 8500′ elevation, then continuous snow cover thereafter, with a reasonable consolidated track to follow. The track above 9000′ to Little Round Valley is easy to follow and reasonably consolidated (in the early morning at least), but be advised that it does not follow the established trail in many places. Above Little Round Valley there is a very direct (i.e. steep) single set of snowshoe and posthole tracks to follow to San Jacinto Peak. Microspikes are useful for descending. Snowshoes will be useful after late morning and on warm days.

Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Miles 185.5-190.5) has one set of posthole tracks through the snow. I have not yet assessed how accurately these conform to the PCT route.

Marion Mountain Trail has been heavily traveled and has a good consolidated track to follow. Microspikes are useful, especially for descending.

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 snowfall, and tracks exist through the increasingly patchy snow above about 7000′.

Devil’s Slide Trail has a very well-worn track to follow. Icy snow cover is increasingly patchy and only about 50% below 7700′, but higher up snow cover remains 90%. Microspikes are useful later in the day and for descending, but are not essential.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is largely clear, with about 30% cover of thin icy snow at the upper end near Humber Park. Microspikes are not required.

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 reliably traversed through to the fire lookout in 2020. There limited or no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.25 miles, depending on recent drifting. These ice slopes are notoriously treacherous. Crampons are 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 ice.

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

South Ridge Trail [updated 18th January] is almost clear to Old Lookout Flat at 7600′, but with some stubborn icy snow patches in its first 0.5 mile. Higher up there is about 50% snow cover to Tahquitz Peak. Microspikes are useful above about 8000′, mainly for descending.

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.

Seven Pines Trail has had no hiker traffic so far this winter, with no tracks or trail to follow. Indeed this 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 this trail 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 16th January 2020 are as follows. Please note that average depth is given; drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 29″ (47″ on 27th December)

Little Round Valley (9800′): 22″

Wellman Divide (9700′): 8″ (27″ on 27th December)

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 19″ (25″ on 27th December, heavy drifting here)

Fuller Ridge Trail southern end at junction with Deer Springs Trail (8950′): 14″

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 1″

Saddle Junction (8070′): 7″ (19″ on 27th December)

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

Peak Trail at 9800′ elevation just above Wellman Divide on 14th January 2020 (above), and two weeks earlier on 1st January 2020 (below) for comparison.

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