Trail update 29th January 2020

[UPDATE Monday 3rd February: in the early hours of this morning we had 0.04″ rain in Idyllwild. On my morning hike to San Jacinto Peak there was <0.25″ snow between 6400-9100′ elevation. No fresh snowfall in the high country, which was above the cloud. By the time I descended late morning, the fresh snow had already disappeared below 7600′. Trail conditions are unchanged from the report below. Note that the windchill at the Peak this morning was -3°F (-19°C).]

[UPDATE Saturday 1st February: based on hikes to San Jacinto Peak today and yesterday, recent strong winds – it was gusting up to 43 mph this morning – have not generated sufficient spindrift to obscure any established trails.]

We have hiked to San Jacinto Peak three of the past four mornings, affording a check of most major routes, including a full east-west circuit today. South Ridge and the Tahquitz Peak area has also been hiked three times in the past week.

Relatively mild weather for late January is forecast to get even warmer briefly this weekend. Steady melting will continue unabated. Current trail conditions are more reminiscent of April than late January. In general the snow softens rapidly during the day but postholing doesn’t get too bad until after noon.

Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting. On days with strong winds in the high country drifting snow may obscure parts of even the heavily traveled trails. Cautious navigation is recommended everywhere.

Microspikes can be useful on-trail for compacted, well-traveled trails, in particular for descending. Crampons are an option above about 9000′ both on- and off-trail, but generally less practical than spikes. Snowshoes remain useful off-trail above about 9000′ elevation.

Despite warmer conditions on some days, hikers should prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing when considering windchill (see below for temperatures recorded recently at San Jacinto Peak).

Note that the USFS gate at Humber Park remains (inexplicably) 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 are forecast to be on a rollercoaster into early February. After a couple of colder and windy days today and tomorrow, this weekend (1st-2nd Feb) will be unseasonably warm. A short but very severe cold spell early next week (3rd-5th Feb) will be immediately followed by another rapid swing to well-above average temperatures.

There is a possibility of very light precipitation at mid-elevations on Sunday night. The latest video summary from NWS San Diego indicates a chance of precipitation in the second week (8th-14th) of February, before a return to warm, dry conditions in the second half of the month.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Wednesday 29th January 2020, at 0820 the air temperature was 21.1°F (-6°C), with a windchill of 5.5°F (-15°C), 46% relative humidity, and a gusty NNW wind sustained at 4 mph gusting to 16.3 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 27th January 2020, at 0940 the air temperature was 32.1°F (0°C), with a windchill of 22.3°F (-5°C), 39% relative humidity, and a steady North wind sustained at 5 mph gusting to 11.6 mph.

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL NOTES

The Pacific Crest Trail remains open at the rockslide just north of Antsell Rock (Mile 172.5). USFS has stated there are currently no plans to close this section of the PCT during spring 2020. My 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, but not essential, on most of the PCT for patchy snow travel between approximately Miles 165 and 191, depending upon your comfort level on icy snow. They are most useful if you plan to leave the PCT to summit San Jacinto Peak. See below for conditions on some 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 9000′ remain largely snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation (see below). Some sections of trails above about 7800′ may be snow-covered. Limited icy snow patches remain in places above 6600′.

Deer Springs Trail is clear of snow to Strawberry Junction with just a few tiny patches close to the junction (microspikes not required). The PCT section from here to Fuller Ridge is almost clear of snow to about 8700′ elevation (just south of the Marion Mountain Trail junction), then there is  continuous snow cover thereafter, with a well-traveled, consolidated track to follow. A track above 9000′ to Little Round Valley is consolidated, but be advised that it does not follow the established trail in places. Above Little Round Valley there is a direct (i.e. steep) track to follow to San Jacinto Peak. Microspikes are useful for descending.

Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Miles 185.5-190.5) is clearing quickly, especially on sun-exposed slopes, mainly Miles 186.5-188.5. There are tracks to follow through the snow.

Marion Mountain Trail has been heavily traveled and has a good consolidated track to follow. Microspikes are useful, but not required, for descending the uppermost 0.5 mile. Note the road to Marion Mountain trailhead has been open all winter and is clear of snow.

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 well-traveled tracks through the rapidly melting patchy icy snow above about 7300′.

Devil’s Slide Trail has very limited icy snow cover in patches, mainly in the 0.1 mile nearest to Saddle Junction. Microspikes may be helpful for some hikers but are not required.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is clear of snow.

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

The PCT southbound from Saddle Junction has been traveled to Chinquapin Flat.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has not been visibly traversed through to the fire lookout in 2020. There are no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.25 miles. However the trail is clearing surprisingly quickly, the snow drifts are softening rapidly, and crampons are no longer required. Microspikes are recommended, in conjunction with an ice axe (if you know how to use it). Snowshoes are not advised.

South Ridge Road is clear of ice.

South Ridge Trail is virtually clear to Old Lookout Flat at 7600′, but with small remnant icy snow patches in its first 0.5 mile. Snow cover is very limited (<10%) higher up, but is almost continuous on the final six switchbacks close to Tahquitz Peak. Microspikes are useful, but not required, above about 8500′.

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 today, 29th January 2020. Note that average depth is given, drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 22″ (was 47″ on 27th December)

Little Round Valley (9800′): 19″

Wellman Divide (9700′): 4″ (was 27″ on 27th December)

Annie’s Junction (9070′): 13″ (was 25″ on 27th December)

Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Mile 185.5) at junction with Deer Springs Trail (8950′): 12″

Long Valley (8600′): 1″

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 0″

Saddle Junction (8070′): 2″ (was 19″ on 27th December)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6520′): 0″ (was 11″ on 27th December)

Strawberry Junction (PCT Mile 183.1) at 8100′ elevation on 28th January 2020 (above) and about a month earlier on 30th December 2019 for comparison (below).

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