Trail and weather update 15th October 2020

Both Mount San Jacinto State Park and the San Jacinto Ranger District of the San Bernardino National Forest partially reopened on 9th October. All trails are open, except for the Pacific Crest Trail between Black Mountain Road and Snow Creek (Miles 191-206, closed due to the Snow Fire). All 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. All wilderness camping in the State Park is also prohibited. In the Forest, only 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.

Hiking permits are available at the Idyllwild and Long Valley ranger stations of the Mount San Jacinto State Park, which are open. Please see the State Park website for details. 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.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which closed 13th March due to the coronavirus crisis, partially reopened on 9th October. Trams are operating at greatly reduced capacity, reduced times, and limited days; see the Tramway website for full details.

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.

Water conditions – as confirmed by multiple hikes in the high country in the past few days via most major routes – are not significantly different from those described in last week’s Report (available here).

On a minor personal note, on Sunday 11th October, far off trail on the north face of San Jacinto Peak, I passed one million feet of elevation gain for 2020, achieved entirely within the San Jacinto mountains. My previous record for a calendar year was about 820,000 feet. Before anyone asks, the hard part about hiking/running over a million feet of elevation gain in a year? Descending one million feet.

WEATHER Other than a brief interlude around last weekend, temperatures have been well above seasonal for the month of October so far. Autumn finally arrives late next week, around Thursday 22nd, when temperatures are forecast to fall rapidly below seasonal average for several days. Air quality has not yet returned to normal, but in the past week has been the best in the San Jacinto mountains since mid August. There is currently no significant precipitation in the forecast. Fire risk remains extreme.

The latest video from NWS San Diego is very informative, including the latest projection for the winter (spoiler alert: bad news). Data show the three months July- September 2020 were the hottest in Idyllwild history, and that Idyllwild’s ten hottest summers have all occurred since 2002.

At San Jacinto Peak (3295m/10,810ft) today, Thursday 15th October 2020, at 0850 the air temperature was 50.3°F (10°C), with a windchill of 43.7°F (7°C), 33% relative humidity, and a fresh NNE wind sustained at 8 mph gusting to 16.5 mph.

At the Peak on Sunday 11th October 2020, at 1530 the air temperature was 44.9°F (8°C), with a windchill of 36.3°F (2°C), 47% relative humidity, and a steady NNE wind sustained at 10 mph gusting to 15.8 mph.

The warmest temperature I have ever recorded at San Jacinto Peak remains 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.

Parish’s Catchfly (Silene parishii) still just in flower, 11th October 2020, at 10,100 feet on the remote north face of San Jacinto Peak. This flower is endemic to the mountain ranges of Southern California.

TRAIL 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 (17th-19th September 2020). A closure order for the burn scar means that the Trail remains closed between Snow Creek and Black Mountain Road (approx. Miles 191-206).

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.

North spring at Wellman’s Cienega still flowing steadily, 13th October 2020.

San Jacinto Trail Report: available for everyone, funded by readers. While all labor and time is volunteered, this Report completely depends on small private donations to cover costs. With an especially challenging year in 2020, every contribution is invaluable. If you have found this Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you.

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