The San Jacinto Ranger District of the San Bernardino National Forest partially reopened today. Forest Service has indicated this is primarily a day use reopening. All trails are open, except for the Pacific Crest Trail between Black Mountain Road and Snow Creek (closed due to the Snow Fire). Dispersed camping remains prohibited forestwide, meaning wilderness camping (including along the PCT) or camping at yellow post sites (such as those along Black Mountain Road and South Ridge Road) is not permitted. Only those developed campgrounds that were previously open – Pinyon, Marion Mountain, Fern Basin – have reopened (the latter two are scheduled to close for the season on 10th November anyway). Details of the Forest Service reopening are available here.
The wilderness of Mount San Jacinto State Park has also reopened. Hiking permits are available at the Idyllwild and Long Valley ranger stations. All camping in the State Park wilderness remains prohibited. Please see the State Park website for details.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which has been closed since 13th March due to the coronavirus crisis, reopened today. Trams are operating at less than 25% capacity and reservations are required. Tram riders should be aware that all camping in the State Park wilderness remains prohibited. Full details of the Tram reopening are available at the Tramway website.
The unprecedented Forest and Park closures, in place for 31 days, were indicative of the exceptional fire risk and the associated resource challenges. Although conditions have ameliorated somewhat, please note that fire risk remains extreme. The wisdom of the closure decision was demonstrated by the outbreak of the Snow Fire in mid September, which burned 6200 acres, largely in the Snow Creek and Falls Creek drainages.
The U.S. Forest Service ranger station in Idyllwild remains closed due to the coronavirus crisis. USFS day use permits are required for the San Jacinto wilderness, and should be available at the kiosk outside the ranger station.
Black Mountain Road was graded in June through to the Fuller Ridge campground. Boulder Basin campground (and the Black Mountain Group campground) will remain closed into 2021.
South Ridge Road was partially graded in the first week of September, and is now readily passable.
WEATHER After temperatures well above seasonal for the first week of October, cooler autumnal weather finally arrived on 7th October. Regrettably it will last less than a week, with temperatures rising again to well above average from 12th October onwards. With a shift from easterly to westerly winds, air quality today was the best in and around the San Jacinto mountains since mid August. There is no significant precipitation in the forecast. Fire risk remains extreme.
The past month was the hottest September in recorded Idyllwild history. Remarkably, 27 of the 30 days recorded average temperatures above the historic average for the month. This followed an exceptionally hot and dry August, the hottest ever recorded for California. Overall the summer period (July-early September) was the sixth hottest in Idyllwild history, with the top ten hottest summers all occurring since 2002.
At San Jacinto Peak (3295m/10,810ft) on Thursday 8th October 2020, at 0900 the air temperature was 48.3°F (9°C), with a windchill of 40.6°F (5°C), 32% relative humidity, and a cool WSW wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 15.9 mph.
At the Peak on Tuesday 6th October 2020, at 0840 the air temperature was 48.4°F (9°C), with a windchill of 41.5°F (5°C), 29% relative humidity, and a light SE wind sustained at 5 mph gusting to 13.6 mph.
The warmest temperature I have ever recorded at San Jacinto Peak was on Wednesday 19th August 2020, when at 0745 the air temperature was 62.3°F (17°C), with no measurable windchill, 42% relative humidity, and calm, extremely hazy conditions.
The Pacific Crest Trail above Snow Creek (approx. PCT Miles 198-206) was extensively burned on both sides of the Trail by the Snow Fire (September 17th-19th). A closure order expected for the burn scar means that the Trail will remain closed between Snow Creek and Black Mountain Road (approx. Mile 191).
Many trails have treefall hazards remaining from last winter, passable for hikers but not for stock. Some are described in detail below, others include: PCT south of Red Tahquitz (approx. PCT Miles 173-175), PCT between Strawberry Cienega and Deer Springs camp (Miles 182-185), Fuller Ridge Trail near its northern end (PCT Miles 189.1-190.2), Spitler Peak, Cedar Spring, and Apache Spring trails. All significant tree hazards on Willow Creek Trail have now been removed.
Seven Pines Trail has been very lightly traveled since November 2018. There are 25 treefall hazards on the trail, almost all in the upper State Park section of trail, based on multiple June 2020 surveys. Very cautious navigation is recommended for those unfamiliar with this trail. The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road will continue into 2021, so there is currently no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.
The Pacific Crest Trail remains open at the rockslide just north of Antsell Rock (Mile 172.5). USFS plans for removal of the rockslide have been delayed due to the coronavirus crisis. The video report (available here) can be useful for deciding whether to hike around the rockslide or take an alternate route.
Forest Service temporary signage indicates that the Caramba Trail from near Reeds Meadow through Laws Camp and on to Caramba, and the Cedar Trail from Willow Creek Trail to Laws, are “not maintained”. In reality both trails barely exist. Both are so heavily overgrown I advise hikers do not attempt to follow them. Many experienced hikers have reported getting lost in this area since summer 2019. An informal use trail to Laws is much more direct and avoids all of the challenging bush-whacking of the unmaintained trails (some local hikers have dubbed it the “King Trail”). It leaves the Willow Creek Trail exactly 1.0 mile from Saddle Junction (0.46 mile from the Skunk Cabbage turning), descending largely on established deer trails for 1.2 miles, roughly paralleling Willow Creek just to its south. Be advised that it is an indistinct use trail, becoming less obvious as it nears Laws (by which time Willow Creek is close by on your left hand side, so navigation is not a challenge). From Laws east to Caramba the route of the original Caramba Trail is relatively easy to follow (for those who were familiar with this trail prior to the 2013 Mountain Fire) despite USFS information to the contrary. Nevertheless, cautious navigation is still advised.
WATER STATUS: Eastern slope
The Round Valley pipe is flowing. Flow has periodically been redirected to the CCC/ACE camp in Long Valley and water pressure can be insufficient to also flow at the pipe (currently there is no maintenance crew camped in Long Valley). The nearby Round Valley creek dried up in early August. The small creek in Tamarack Valley also dried up in August.
Both the northern and southern springs at Wellman’s Cienega are flowing steadily. These are the sources for Willow Creek, which is flowing well where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail.
Tahquitz Creek is flowing at the northern end of Little Tahquitz Meadow. It is also flowing very gently further upstream at its source (known locally as Grethe Spring) where it crosses the PCT (approx. PCT Mile 177). The small creek in Tahquitz Valley dried up in early August.
Candy’s Creek – that flows through Skunk Cabbage Meadow and then crosses the remaining visible section of Caramba Trail near Reeds Meadow – has nearly dried up in both locations.
WATER STATUS: Western slope
Ephemeral creeks, such as those along Marion Mountain Trail, and Stone Creek and its tributaries on Deer Springs Trail, are now all dry.
The North Fork of the San Jacinto River is flowing where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail and again downstream where it crosses the Fuller Ridge Trail on the PCT (approx. PCT Mile 186.2).
The creek in Little Round Valley is flowing weakly, and it dries up just below the mouth of the valley. The flow rate has dropped substantially in recent weeks. The same creek has now dried up where it crosses Fuller Ridge Trail (at about PCT Mile 186.4).
Shooting Star Spring (below Little Round Valley but above the North Fork of the San Jacinto River crossing) is flowing gently.
The Deer Springs stream crossing at the PCT (approx. PCT mile 185.6) is flowing steadily, but flow rate dropped markedly in September.
Switchback Spring at PCT Mile 183.5 (about 0.4 miles on the PCT northbound from Strawberry Junction) is flowing gently. I have cleared out the tiny pool on the upslope side of the trail, and there is adequate depth in which to filter water.
The little creek at Strawberry Cienega (PCT mile 183.0) is dry.
On Devil’s Slide Trail, Middle Spring stopped flowing in the first week of October. Other springs on this trail are dry.
On the Ernie Maxwell Trail, the crossing of Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park is dry again where it crosses the trail. Even when Fern Valley Water District diverts flow into the pipe system, as it has since August, there are small fresh pools just upslope from the trail (this creek is an important source of water for the many dogs walked on the Ernie Maxwell).
WATER STATUS: Desert Divide
Live Oak Spring (N 33 37 21, W 116 33 24) Flowing well. The most reliable water source on the Desert Divide.
Cedar Spring (N 33 40 36, W 116 34 35) Flowing well. Easiest access is the trough 60 yards upstream from the trail to the campsite.
Apache Spring (N 33 43 11, W 116 37 13) Barely trickling.
Spitler Peak Trail Descending the trail there are five water crossings. The first two, at 0.9 and 0.95 miles down, cross a tiny side creek which is now largely dry and should be ignored. The next crossing, at 1.1 miles down, is Spitler Creek and is the best source of water (currently flowing). The next two crossings are the same creek, but for obvious reasons it is best to fill up at the highest of the three crossings.
Antsell Rock Creek (N 33 41 52, W 116 39 08) Right by the Spitler Peak Trail trailhead on Apple Canyon Road, Antsell Rock Creek is flowing well. Just on the upstream side of the road there is excellent access to the creek. Useful if hikers are descending the Spitler Peak Trail.
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