We had a pleasantly fast ascent of San Jacinto Peak yesterday morning on firm ice and snow up the east side trails via Devil’s Slide (with no spikes required), then descended the west side via Deer Springs Trail (using spikes down to Strawberry Junction). Melting of the snow that fell on Monday 28th December has been relatively slow to this point. This may change dramatically over the next week or so, when temperatures are forecast to be far above seasonal. Between 13th-17th January temperatures will be more reminiscent of April in Idyllwild, but more like May (or even June) in the high country. Obviously snowmelt will be rapid at all elevations, and where snow remains it will be soft and wet regardless of elevation or time of day.
Many major trails have now been traveled, and conditions are discussed below for specific trails where known. In addition to those, there are posthole tracks around the Tahquitz area meadows on Willow Creek and Caramba trails, to Chinquapin Flat and to Tahquitz Peak. There are no tracks emerging at Wellman Divide on the Round Valley Trail. Cautious navigation is strongly recommended everywhere. Snow depths measured today are listed at the foot of this posting.
Spikes remain strongly recommended everywhere above about 7500‘ (see trail-specific details below), especially in the morning and for descending, as established trails are now well consolidated by hiker traffic and freeze-thaw cycles. Spikes may be useful locally at lower elevations also. Snowshoes are now useful only for extended off-trail travel above about 9000′, and even then snow depths will likely only be adequate for the next week at most.
Despite temperatures above seasonal averages, hikers should nevertheless be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and potentially below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for temperatures recorded today at San Jacinto Peak).
All developed and yellow post camping is closed in both the Mount San Jacinto State Park and the San Jacinto Ranger District of the San Bernardino National Forest. This was initially due to exceptional fire risk, but more recently due to the coronavirus crisis. The four wilderness camping areas in the State Park remain closed (camping is not permitted elsewhere in the State Park). Wilderness camping appears to now be permitted in the National Forest. See the State Park or Forest Service websites for further information.
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 2020). Day use permits are nevertheless required for the San Jacinto wilderness, and should be available at the self-serve kiosks outside either ranger station.
The USFS gate at Humber Park is closed. There is legal parking for nine vehicles just below the gate. On weekends, the uppermost 0.1 mile of Fern Valley Road may also be closed at its junction with Forest Drive. Park along Forest Drive to access the Devil’s Slide and Ernie Maxwell trailheads. The gate on South Ridge Road is also closed.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway closed again starting 12th December 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis, with no tentative reopening date at this time.
WEATHER Temperatures are forecast to be well above seasonal for at least the first half of January, with daytime highs at least 10-15°F above average at the elevation of Idyllwild. The impacts will be especially pronounced at higher elevation, with the peaks above 10,000ft forecast to have air temperatures at or above freezing into mid month, far above normal for January. Snow melt will accelerate in the next few days, especially on sun-exposed slopes. Temperatures will return to seasonal abruptly on Monday 18th, and there is the possibility of unsettled weather for the remainder of January.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Monday 11th January 2021 at 0855 the air temperature was 24.6°F (-4°C), with a windchill temperature of 4.4°F (-16°C), 46% relative humidity, and a bitter NNE wind sustained at 25 mph gusting to 30.1 mph.
At the Peak on Monday 4th January 2021 at 0945 the air temperature was 34.3°F (1°C), with a windchill temperature of 20.4°F (-6°C), 46% relative humidity, and a moderate due West wind sustained at 13 mph gusting to 21.7 mph.
All trails above about 8500′ remain completely snow-covered. Most areas below 7500′ are patchy or rapidly clearing of snow. Areas between those elevations are largely snow-covered, but with clearing on sun-exposed slopes. Reliable tracks are now in place for most major trails including: Devil’s Slide, Deer Springs, Marion Mountain, Peak, Wellman, South Ridge, Tahquitz Peak, and the Tahquitz area meadows. Warm temperatures this week will result in ugly snow conditions at all elevations, with soft, slippery, and unpredictable icy snow increasingly prevalent.
Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has steps to follow through the angled icy snow. These icy slopes are treacherous. Currently spikes are strongly recommended. Snowshoes are not advised due to the angle of the icy snow.
Devil’s Slide Trail is largely clearing of snow to 7600′ with a few extended icy snow patches. Snow is patchy but more continuous above that elevation, becoming continuous near Saddle Junction. The trail is hard and icy and spikes are very useful for descending. The major new treefall hazard just past the seventh and eighth switchbacks has been reported to USFS.
Deer Springs Trail is largely clear of snow up to Strawberry Junction at 8100′, with some icy snow patches remaining mainly close to the junction (spikes not required to this point). From Strawberry Junction to about 8600′, 0.2 mile before the Marion Mountain Trail junction, snow cover is increasingly patchy, but spikes are very useful for descending the well-defined icy track. Snow is continuous from there to San Jacinto Peak. The track(s) above the Marion Mountain Trail junction are easy to follow, but are posthole tracks, and in several places do not accurately follow the true trail route. Above Little Round Valley the posthole track through the snow does not remotely follow the trail route to San Jacinto Peak, and is steep and direct, but is adequate. Spikes are very useful, especially for descending, as snow is icy and compacted.
Marion Mountain Trail has patchy snow to 7500′ (no spikes required for ascending). There is largely continuous icy snow from there to the PCT/Deer Springs Trail junction. Spikes are useful, especially for descending.
Fuller Ridge Trail has not be traveled since the last snow (late December) and there are no tracks to follow.
Seven Pines Trail has had no hiker traffic since the most recent snowfall, with no tracks or trail to follow. Indeed this trail has been hiked very little since November 2018. 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.
The Wellman and Peak trails have a well-defined and (largely) accurate track to follow through the icy snow.
The Ernie Maxwell Trail is now largely clear in its lower 1.8 miles. Icy snow patches cover about 20% of the upper part closest to Humber Park. Spikes remain helpful especially for descending in the morning.
South Ridge Trail is rapidly clearing to Old Lookout Flat at 7600′. Snow cover is extensive from there to the Peak, other than on sun-exposed sections of trail which are now clear. Remaining snow will melt dramatically over the next few days. Spikes are useful, especially early in the morning. South Ridge Road (closed) is largely clear of ice, with a few lengthy patches remaining.
SNOW DEPTHS measured on 11th January 2021 as follows (with comparison to 13 days earlier on 29th December 2020 where known). Note that average depth is given; due to strong winds there can be extensive drifting, especially in the trails. Altitudes are approximate.
San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 11 inches (17 inches on 29th December 2020)
Little Round Valley (9800′): 11 inches
Wellman Divide (9700′): 4 inches (15 inches on 29th December 2020)
Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 181.8 (9070′): 10 inches (15 inches on 29th December 2020)
Strawberry Junction (8100′): 1-2 inches
Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179.9 (8070′): 5 inches (16 inches on 29th December 2020)
Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6550′): 1-2 inches (14 inches on 29th December 2020)
Idyllwild (at 5550′): 0 inches (15.5 inches on 29th December 2020)
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