Weather, water, and trail update 22nd October 2020

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). Due to exceptional fire risk, all dispersed camping remains prohibited forestwide, meaning wilderness camping (including along the PCT) and camping at yellow post sites (such as those along Black Mountain Road and South Ridge Road) are not permitted. All wilderness camping in the State Park is also prohibited.

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.

With a significant change in the weather imminent, hikers should be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country (potentially well below freezing when considering windchill effects), especially on 25th-28th October.

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 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.

WEATHER After a long, hot summer, including much of October, it looks like we may briefly bypass autumn and head straight into winter in the next few days. Temperatures are forecast to fall rapidly to well below seasonal average for several days. This may be accompanied by some light precipitation at mid elevations on Sunday 25th and Monday 26th October, with one or two tenths of an inch of rain possible. By the end of October, temperatures are forecast to be at or above average again, initially driven by strong Santa Ana winds.

The latest video report from NWS San Diego nicely summarizes the weather complexities of the next few days.

Air quality has not yet returned to normal, but may do so over the next few days given the forecast winds and rain. Until the high country receives significant precipitation, fire risk remains severe.

Another recent video from NWS San Diego is informative, including the latest projection for the winter overall (spoiler alert: not good 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) on Tuesday 20th October 2020, at 0830 the air temperature was 51.4°F (10°C), with a windchill of 49.7°F (10°C), 17% relative humidity, and a very light WNW breeze gusting to 3.3 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 19th October 2020, at 0825 the air temperature was 50.6°F (10°C), with a windchill of 46.8°F (8°C), 22% relative humidity, and a steady NW wind sustained at 4 mph gusting to 9.1 mph.

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).

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.

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.

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 for a short distance 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.

Tahquitz Creek at the northern end of Little Tahquitz Meadow, 20th October 2020.

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 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 gently.

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.

Sunrise from upper Angel’s Glide (8700′, roughly PCT Mile 180) on 19th 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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