Trail and weather update 22nd December 2020

[UPDATED 25th December 2020: a delightful hike today – Skyline Trail to San Jacinto Peak then home to Idyllwild (a “C2C2I”) – was made all the more enjoyable by the light dusting of snow in the high country that fell late yesterday afternoon. Spikes are now recommended everywhere above about 8500′, especially north-facing slopes and shaded valleys, as a thin, slippery, layer of fresh powder is overlaying patchy ice left from the early November storm. I found a hint of snow down to 6100′ on Skyline, but cover was not continuous until Long Valley (0.25-0.5″). Above Wellman Divide depth was an inch, averaging 1.5″ above 10,500′. By late morning exposed slopes at all elevations were largely clear, and almost all areas below 9000′ were becoming snow-free.]

Despite temperatures in the high country near or below freezing, and the sun at its lowest potency of the year, melting of ice has continued steadily, with few significant ice patches remaining now. Weeks of freeze-thaw cycles and compaction by hiker traffic since the early November snowfall has nevertheless left the now tiny patches of snow very icy on high country trails, as described in detail below. Consequently it is still advised to carry spikes for all trails above 8500′ elevation at least. Although rarely required for ascending, spikes can be helpful for descending icy sections of trails, depending upon your comfort level on ice and icy compacted snow.

I have continued to hike every single day this year, including several ascents weekly to the highest peaks of the San Jacinto mountains by diverse routes. Other very recent hikes have included South Ridge, May Valley, Ramona Trail, Butterfly Peak, and most sections and side trails of the PCT along the Desert Divide.

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

Due to continuing elevated fire risk, all 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. See the State Park or Forest Service websites for further information. All developed campgrounds are also closed, most seasonally, but now including the Pinyon Flat campground and Ribbonwood Equestrian campground, which closed on 8th December due to the coronavirus crisis.

Due to the coronavirus crisis Mount San Jacinto State Park is encouraging visitation to be confined to local residents only. The Idyllwild ranger station of the State Park has again closed (the U.S. Forest Service ranger station in Idyllwild has not reopened since March). Day use permits are nevertheless required for the San Jacinto wilderness, and should be available at the self-serve kiosks outside either ranger station.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway closed again starting 12th December due to the coronavirus crisis, and is not expected to reopen this year.

WEATHER Yet another warm spell in recent days – both high and low temperatures have been more than ten degrees above average – gives way to near-seasonal temperatures starting on 23rd, likely for the remainder of the year. Santa Ana winds accompanied by very low relative humidities (and critical fire conditions) are expected on 23rd-24th. In contrast, a fast-moving storm system forecast for Monday 28th December is expected to have a snow level around 5500′, with potential for several inches of snow in the high country.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Monday 21st December 2020 at 0820 the air temperature was 37.7°F (3°C), with a windchill temperature of 29.5°F (-1°C), 38% relative humidity, and a light SE wind sustained at 6 mph gusting to 9.5 mph.

At the Peak on Friday 18th December 2020 at 0850 the air temperature was 17.3°F (-7°C), with a windchill temperature of -3.7°F (-20°C), 62% relative humidity, and a bitter NNE wind sustained at 15 mph gusting to 22.2 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Trails below about 8500′ are generally snow-free, with most trails at higher elevations having limited icy snow patches only. Icy snow on trails 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 around 9300′ near the North Fork River crossing, at around 10,000′ on the Peak Trail, and between Round Valley and Wellman Divide.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has a well-defined track for 0.3 mile to follow through the largely continuous icy snow. Spikes are recommended for these notoriously treacherous ice slopes.

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

Devil’s Slide Trail is functionally clear of snow.

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

Deer Springs Trail is largely clear of icy snow to San Jacinto Peak. There are many tiny patches in the trail above about 8700′ that require some caution. The only extended section is almost continuous ice cover for 0.25 mile around 9300′ elevation near the crossing of the North Fork of the San Jacinto River. Icy snow cover averages 30% in Little Round Valley. Most hikers may find spikes useful, depending upon comfort level hiking on ice and compacted icy snow, especially for descending some sections.

The East Ridge Trail between Miller and San Jacinto peaks remains 80% ice- and snow-covered, ranging from 1-6″ deep. There are reasonable tracks to follow.

Marion Mountain Trail is functionally clear of ice, however a couple of tiny patches remain.

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 (and we have had several strong wind events since). 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 50% snow-covered, and spikes can be useful. There are no treefall hazards on the PCT south from Cedar Spring Trail (Miles 151-162).

Fuller Ridge Trail has cleared completely on sun-exposed slopes, but sections of icy snow remain in places. Icy snow cover persists 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 tracks to follow through the snow patches where needed, and spikes can be helpful.

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 – dated to 8th October 2021 – 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 three new large treefall hazards (and a couple of smaller ones) in the upper switchbacks.

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.

Anabel seemingly admiring the view of the Desert Divide from Butterfly Peak, 17th December 2020 (but in reality on the lookout for any large mammals of interest).

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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