[UPDATE 1st May 2020: hikes today and on 29th April to San Jacinto Peak have confirmed very rapid snowmelt at all elevations, especially below 10,000′. Snow conditions were dreadful on 29th, with deep postholing in places above 9000′, but were much better this morning despite similar temperatures both days. Microspikes remain useful in places, but not essential, above 9000′.]
This morning we hiked to San Jacinto Peak via Devil’s Slide Trail and the Peak Trail route, having been up Deer Springs Trail the previous day. On 25th I checked the Tahquitz Peak area trails, and Apache Peak and the Desert Divide on 23rd.
Current conditions underfoot were discussed in a short video recorded this morning at San Jacinto Peak. Summer-like temperatures in recent days have radically changed hiking conditions. Snow melt has been considerable below 9000′, with trails clearing rapidly, but somewhat less so in the high country. Useable tracks through the snow are now in place for most major routes on the mountain. Cautious navigation is still recommended as many tracks do not accurately follow the trail routes.
Snow conditions will continue to change rapidly over the next week or so, depending on a complex combination of elevation, time of day, slope exposure, temperature, and cloud cover. In summary, little or no snow will be left below 9000′ soon, and most snow will be gone even from the high country by early May. Measured snow depths, with comparison to the recent maximum depth, are listed at the foot of this posting.
Inevitably, gear recommendations change almost as quickly as the snow conditions. Microspikes can be useful in some areas (see below) for hikers who are less comfortable on snow and ice, and in particular for descending compacted trails. Hikers with suitable footwear and hiking poles may not need additional traction, depending on your willingness to posthole in soft snow, and on temperature/time of day as mentioned above. Snowshoes remain marginally useful for another few days in areas off-trail above about 10,000′ elevation.
Due to some apparent contradictions among, and inconsistent enforcement of, the various county, state, and federal rules and regulations during the coronavirus crisis, I recommend contacting relevant agencies directly for their latest information. According to their website, Mount San Jacinto State Park remains open only for local residents able to walk or cycle to trailheads. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed indefinitely (since 12th March).
WEATHER The last few days of April will continue to be more reminiscent of late June. Temperatures moderate slightly in early May, but overall remain unseasonably warm. Rapid snowmelt will continue at all elevations.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Monday 27th April 2020, at 0850 the air temperature was 46.0°F (8°C), with a windchill of 37.5°F (3°C), 21% relative humidity, and a steady WNW wind sustained at 12 mph gusting to 17.5 mph.
At the Peak on Tuesday 21st April 2020, at 0755 the air temperature was 21.8°F (-6°C), with a windchill of 4.4°F (-15°C), 68% relative humidity, and a bitter NNE wind sustained at 12 mph gusting to 17.8 mph.
PACIFIC CREST TRAIL
The icy slope on the NE side of Apache Peak (PCT Mile 169.5) that had multiple incidents in late March is now clear of snow.
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. All hikers this spring are reporting having no significant difficulty here.
Microspikes may still be useful on some of the PCT for increasingly patchy snow travel between approximately Miles 174 and 190, depending upon your comfort level in variable snow/ice conditions. Hikers willing to posthole and using poles may find spikes unnecessary in most areas however. See below for conditions on some specific sections of the PCT and the many side trails.
Current snow cover on the PCT is extensive but increasingly patchy between Miles 175-179 (to near Saddle Junction). The Trail is very rapidly clearing to about Mile 184 (one mile north of Strawberry Junction) except for a stubborn section of 0.5 mile approaching Annie’s Junction (Mile 180.8) which is always among the last areas to clear every spring. Most of Miles 184-190 is snow-covered, although exposed sections of Fuller Ridge (e.g., Miles 186.5-188.5) are clearing rapidly.
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 (additionally, due to the Covid-19 crisis, no camping is currently allowed anywhere in the State Park).
All trails above about 9000′ remain largely snow-covered, with depth depending on elevation (see below) but exposed slopes much higher (e.g. Wellman’s Cienega to Wellman Divide) are clearing rapidly. Some short sections of trails above about 7900′ may have remnant icy snow patches, depending on exposure.
The Desert Divide south of Red Tahquitz, including side trails such as Spitler Peak, Cedar Spring, Apache Spring, Zen Centre, and Live Oak Spring trails, are all clear of snow. All have new treefall hazards from this winter, passable for hikers but not stock.
Deer Springs Trail is clear of snow to Strawberry Junction, and north on the PCT to about 8600′. Snow is largely continuous from about Mile 184 (just south of Marion Mountain Trail junction). Tracks through the snow do not accurately follow the trail route to San Jacinto Peak, but are adequate. Microspikes are useful for descending.
South Ridge Trail is clear to Tahquitz Peak, other than a few tiny snow patches above 8600′. Microspikes are no longer required.
Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Miles 185.5-190.5). There are tracks to follow through the snow, although these do not currently match the route of the trail in some places.
Round Valley Trail through to Wellman Divide has not been visibly traveled since the Tram closure in mid March.
Devil’s Slide Trail is virtually clear of snow to Saddle Junction, with just a few minor icy patches above 8000′. Microspikes are no longer required. In four locations there are new significant treefall hazards. Several more minor obstructions have been removed.
Ernie Maxwell Trail is clear of snow.
Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has no steps to follow through the angled icy snow. These ice slopes are notoriously treacherous. Currently crampons are strongly recommended, in conjunction with an ice axe (if you know how to use both).
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. The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road continues, and there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.
SNOW DEPTHS measured 26-27th April 2020 (with depth on 10th-12th April 2020 in parentheses for comparison where known). Note that average depth is given, drifts can be much deeper in places. Altitudes are approximate.
San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 21″ (was 40″ on 12th April)
Wellman Divide (9700′): 7″ (was 32″ on 12th April)
Annie’s Junction (9070′): 11″ (was 35″ on 12th April)
Seven Pines Trail junction with Deer Springs Trail (8700′): 9″ (was 31″ on 11th April)
Long Valley (8600′): <1″ (was 16″ on 11th April)
Strawberry Junction (8100′): <1″ (was 25″ on 11th April)
Saddle Junction (8070′): <2″ (was 26″ on 11th April)
Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6550′): 0″ (was 14″ on 11th April)