Trail update 1st December 2020

Three weeks of freeze-thaw cycles, and considerable compaction by hiker traffic, has left the limited patches of snow dangerously icy on the high country trails. Consequently spikes are recommended for all trails above about 8000′ elevation, which all have some patches of ice and compacted icy snow, as described in detail below. Even when not required for ascending, spikes are often useful for descending icy sections of trails, depending upon your comfort level on ice and icy compacted snow. No new snow depth data are given here, as almost all measurements average 1-2″ at most. I have continued to average three ascents to the highest peaks of the San Jacinto mountains every week. Recent surveys have also included the PCT from Mile 168 (Spitler Peak Trail) to 192 (Black Mountain Road) and almost all side trails to that section.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and potentially well below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for temperatures recorded at San Jacinto Peak recently).

Due to continuing severe fire risk, all wilderness and dispersed camping remains prohibited in both the Mount San Jacinto State Park and the San Jacinto Ranger District of the San Bernardino National Forest, as does all stove use. For further information contact the State Park or Forest Service as indicated on their websites.

Day hiking permits are available at the Idyllwild and Long Valley ranger stations of the Mount San Jacinto State Park, which are both open. The U.S. Forest Service ranger station in Idyllwild remains closed due to the coronavirus crisis. USFS day use permits are nevertheless required for the San Jacinto wilderness, and should be available at the self-serve kiosk outside the ranger station. Seasonal developed campgrounds – Stone Creek, Marion Mountain, and Fern Basin – closed on 10th November for the winter.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway reopened in October at reduced capacity, limited days, and shortened hours. See their website for details.

WEATHER Temperatures at all elevations are forecast to remain several degrees above seasonal for the first week of December. Temperatures in the high country especially remain well above seasonal norms. There is no significant precipitation in the forecast.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Tuesday 1st December 2020 at 0820 the air temperature was 39.2°F (4°C), with a windchill temperature of 31.0°F (-1°C), 25% relative humidity, and a gusty NNW wind sustained at 5 mph gusting to 8.1 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 30th November 2020 at 0840 the air temperature was 37.1°F (3°C), with a windchill temperature of 32.8°F (0°C), 23% relative humidity, and a light NW breeze sustained at 2 mph gusting to 4.3 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Trails below about 8000′ are snow-free, with most areas at higher elevations also clearing steadily. Snow on trails largely persists in traditional areas that are colder and/or less sun-exposed, such as the north face of Tahquitz Peak, in Little Round Valley, on Deer Springs Trail between Marion Mountain and Fuller Ridge trails, either side of Annie’s Junction, at around 10,000′ on the Peak Trail, between Round Valley and Wellman Divide, and around the summit boulders of San Jacinto Peak.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has a well-defined track to follow through the angled icy snow. These icy slopes are treacherous. Spikes remain recommended.

The trails around the Tahquitz area meadows remain surprisingly snow-covered in places, especially around Skunk Cabbage and Little Tahquitz meadows. Trails in that area also have a few new treefalls, but none that present major hazards to hikers.

Devil’s Slide Trail is basically clear of snow. Most hikers will not need spikes on the handful of tiny icy snow patches that remain near Saddle Junction. The major new treefall hazard just past the second switchback was removed on Friday 20th November.

South Ridge Trail is almost completely clear and spikes are no longer required all the way to Tahquitz Peak.

Deer Springs Trail is clear of snow past Strawberry Junction to about 8600′, shortly before the Marion Mountain Trail junction (no spikes required). Snow cover is about 60% from there to the Fuller Ridge Trail junction. Thereafter icy snow cover averages 20% depending on exposure, but it is 70% in Little Round Valley. Above Little Round Valley the icy snow cover is about 10%. Most hikers will find spikes are useful, depending upon your comfort level on ice and compacted snow, especially for descending in some sections.

Marion Mountain Trail is almost completely clear of icy snow, however a few tricky patches remain, especially near the PCT junction. Spikes could be useful for descending.

The Pacific Crest Trail at the northern end of the Desert Divide (PCT Miles 172-177) had 43 treefall hazards and three minor landslide hazards (in addition to the major rockslide at Mile 172.5) during my survey on 27th November. It goes without saying that the trail is impassable by stock, and it is relatively slow-going for hikers also. The Trail on the north side of Red Tahquitz (Miles 175-177) remains 90% snow-covered, and spikes are recommended.

Fuller Ridge Trail has cleared completely on sun-exposed slopes, but extensive sections of icy snow remain in several sections. Icy snow cover is especially extensive in the canyon of the North Fork crossing (PCT Mile 186), on heavily forested parts of the ridge crest around Mile 187, and on the north facing slope near the northern end (Miles 189.5-191). There are a couple of reasonable sets of tracks to follow through the snow patches, and spikes are recommended.

The Pacific Crest Trail above Snow Creek (approx. PCT Miles 198-206) was burned on both sides 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 (PCT Miles 191-206).

Spitler Peak Trail has two new large treefall hazards in the upper switchbacks. The previous dozen downed trees on this trail were removed in early November.

Seven Pines Trail has had no hiker traffic since the last snowfall. Indeed this trail has been hiked very little since November 2018, initially due to snowfall, then the road closure from February 2019. 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.

What a difference a year makes. The Peak Trail at 9800′ just above Wellman Divide on 30th November 2020 (above), and the same view on 30th November 2019 (below).

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 its direct costs. In an especially challenging year, and with a busy winter already underway, every contribution is invaluable. If you have found this Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you.

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