Three very minor snow storms in five days this week, including one last night, have left the trail system snow-covered in the San Jacinto mountains almost everywhere above 5000′ elevation. I have been to many different areas to observe the effects: San Jacinto Peak twice, South Ridge, Apache and Spitler peaks, plus elsewhere on the PCT. Special thanks to Kyle Eubanks who accompanied me at and descending San Jacinto Peak yesterday.
The storm last night produced 0.75″ snow at Idyllwild (5550′) and about 1.0″ in Long Valley (8600′). The most productive of the three storms was on 23rd, a warmer storm which initially included freezing to at least about 8500′, making a hard ice layer (e.g., at Saddle Junction, 8100′). This was followed by a dusting of snow, only 0.5″ at Saddle Junction, but about 3″ at Long Valley and on the high peaks.
Although there has been some fresh snowfall in the high country, it has often been no more than at mid elevations because the cloud level has largely held around 8700-9300′, with the high country often above some of the precipitation.
Currently most major trails have not been traveled and are obscured by light to moderate snowfall. Cautious navigation is strongly recommended everywhere. Snow depths measured yesterday are listed at the foot of this posting.
At present postholing through shallow to moderate snow is possible at all elevations. Microspikes will become increasingly useful over the next few days as established trails undergo freeze-thaw cycles. They are especially useful for descending trails when they become icy and compacted (e.g. Devil’s Slide and lower South Ridge trails). Snow depths are currently good for snowshoeing in the high country above about 9000′. Snowshoeing conditions will deteriorate rapidly with considerable snowmelt next week.
Hikers should be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing when considering windchill effects.
Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed indefinitely since 12th March (currently until at least 30th April).
The USFS gate at Humber Park has been closed since 18th March. 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, including in the historic shelter. Mt. San Jacinto State Park regulations permit overnight stays only in established campgrounds (although these are currently closed due to the Covid-19 crisis).
WEATHER After a cool and cloudy weekend, rapid warming to above-average temperatures starts on Monday 30th March. Extensive snowmelt is expected at all elevations next week, but especially below 9000′ and on sun-exposed slopes.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Thursday 26th March 2020 at 1115 the air temperature was 9.1°F (-13°C), with a windchill temperature of -10.6°F (-24°C), 61% relative humidity, and a bitter WSW wind sustained at 9 mph gusting to 14.8 mph.
At the Peak on Sunday 22nd March 2020 at 1055 the air temperature was 27.7°F (-2°C), with a windchill temperature of 18.3°F (-8°C), 45% relative humidity, and a light WSW wind sustained at 4 mph gusting to 7.7 mph.
Almost all trails above about 5500′ 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. Strong winds in the high country and rapid melting on exposed slopes may have obscured tracks within hours however. 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 yesterday.
Ernie Maxwell Trail has very thin snow which will largely clear today, a few stubborn small icy snow patches persisting mainly near Humber Park. No microspikes required.
Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 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 on 26th March are as follows. Note that average depth is given, drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.
San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 29″
Little Round Valley (9800′): 23″
Wellman Divide (9700′): 14″
Annie’s Junction (9070′): 20″
Long Valley (8600′): 8″
Strawberry Junction (8100′): 3″ (extensive melting in recent days)
Saddle Junction (8070′): 9″
Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6550′): 1″ (considerable melting yesterday)
Idyllwild (at 5550′): 0.5″ (from overnight snow, will rapidly melt today)
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