[UPDATE 18th March: Started snowing again this morning at about 0800. Currently settling down to 4600′ on Highway 74 at Pinyon (near PCT Mile 151). By 1430, two inches of fresh powder accumulated in Idyllwild (at 5550′), with the same depth at Humber Park (6400′) and Long Valley (8600′). The USFS gate at Humber Park is now closed.]
This is a very brief update on conditions following another minor snow storm early this morning. With another 3-4 similar storms forecast for the next 10-14 days, trail and snow conditions will be changing almost daily, so updates will be shorter than typical for efficiency.
The storm today produced 1-2 inches of snow at all elevations above about 5000′. As the snow depth data at the foot of this posting show, snowfall was not clearly correlated to elevation. The storm was not as cold as anticipated (although see the temperatures I recorded at San Jacinto Peak this morning!) and the snow level did not fall as low as forecast. Nevertheless, the PCT is largely snow-covered between about Mile 151 to Mile 195, albeit with only a couple of inches of easily hiked powder, especially in areas below about 7000′.
Currently most major trails, including most of the PCT through the high country of the San Jacinto mountains, have not been traveled and are at least partly obscured by snowfall. Cautious navigation is strongly recommended everywhere. Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting.
At present postholing through shallow snow is relatively easy in most areas below 9000′ (including all of the PCT). Today I carried microspikes and snowshoes; I did not use the former at all, and the latter only above 9300′ (Wellman’s Cienega). Microspikes may become increasingly useful 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 (e.g. Devil’s Slide and lower Deer Springs trails). Snow depths are currently ideal for snowshoeing in the high country and snowshoes are recommended above 9000′.
Hikers should be prepared for temperatures well below freezing in the high country, with potentially dangerous cold when considering windchill effects.
Due to the coronavirus crisis, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed indefinitely since 12th March (tentatively until at least 1st April).
Currently the USFS gate at Humber Park remains open. The parking area was plowed this morning, so presumably no closure is imminent.
WEATHER Another storm system over the next two days may produce another light snowfall at mid and upper elevations. Milder, brighter weather on 20th-22nd will be followed by more unsettled days on 23rd-25th with a possibility for slightly heavier snowfall above 6000′ and moderate rain at mid-elevations.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Tuesday 17th March 2020 at 0950 the air temperature was 10.6°F (-12°C), with a windchill temperature of -11.7°F (-24°C), 57% relative humidity, and a bitter SW wind sustained at 11 mph gusting to 22.8 mph.
At the Peak on Saturday 14th March 2020 at 1010 the air temperature was 20.5°F (-6°C), with a windchill temperature of -2.9°F (-20°C), 79% relative humidity, and a wild SW wind sustained at 31 mph gusting to 41.5 mph.
PACIFIC CREST TRAIL
Microspikes may be useful on some of the PCT only if there is sufficient hiker traffic to compact the snow, and/or there are freeze-thaw cycles. Depending upon your comfort level in variable snow/ice conditions, most thru-hikers using footwear with good tread in combination with poles will find spikes unnecessary however. This morning I found the hiking in a couple of inches of fresh powder to be easy-going.
The Pacific Crest Trail remains open at the rockslide just north of Antsell Rock (Mile 172.5). USFS has told the Trail Report that there are currently no plans to close this section of the PCT during spring 2020. The video report (available here) can be useful for deciding whether to try to hike around the rockslide or take an alternate route. There is no current information on how snow/ice conditions may have impacted the route around this rockslide.
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.
All trails above about 6000′ are snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation. Reliable tracks are currently in place only for Devil’s Slide Trail, and from Saddle Junction to San Jacinto Peak via Wellman Divide. Strong winds today in the high country were obscuring tracks within hours. The closure of the Tram will result in very light hiker traffic to the highest peaks via the Peak Trail, and little or no traffic on the Long and Round Valley trails.
Devil’s Slide Trail has a well-traveled track to follow. Microspikes may become useful, especially in early morning. Snow cover is still >90% even with some melting this afternoon.
Ernie Maxwell Trail is largely under a continuous 1-2″ of snow cover [thanks to Anne and Anabel for this update from today].
Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 [updated 16th March] has no steps to follow through the angled icy snow for at least 0.3 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 ice.
Seven Pines Trail has had no visible signs of hiker traffic so far this winter, with no tracks or trail to follow. Indeed it 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 will remain in place until summer 2020, hence there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.
SNOW DEPTHS measured today are as follows. Total for today’s storm is first, followed by current total depth in brackets, then comments in parentheses. Note that average depth is given, drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.
San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 1.5″ [24″]
Wellman Divide (9700′): 2″ [10″]
Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 181.8 (9070′): 2″ [18″]
Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179.9 (8070′): 1.0″ [4″]
Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6550′): 1.5″ [2″] (melted to 1″ by this afternoon)
Idyllwild (at 5550′): 0.75″ (largely all melted by this afternoon)
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