Snow and trail update 9th February 2021

We have continued to hike every day on the mountain this year, with many recent hikes focused on subsections of the PCT. We had a pleasantly brisk ascent of San Jacinto Peak this morning under spectacular cloudy skies, on firm icy snow up the east side trails via Devil’s Slide (using spikes all the way from Humber Park), then descended the west side via Deer Springs Trail (finally removing spikes just below Strawberry Junction).

In three storms in six days ending Friday 29th January, Idyllwild received more than an entire winter’s worth of snow, 33.5 inches, in just one week (the long-term average being 32 inches per winter). In contrast, snow accumulations in the high country remain far below seasonal average. Melting has been rapid at lower and mid elevations, but slower in the high country. With cooler weather coming melting will slow to a crawl, especially above 7000ft and on slopes with limited sun exposure.

Garner Valley and areas below 5000ft are basically clear, with sun-exposed slopes below 6000ft clearing fast. Idyllwild has lost almost all of its nearly three feet of snow. At San Jacinto Peak this morning, I measured about 29 inches, a loss of 25% in ten days. Spikes are strongly recommended on all well-traveled trails above 7000ft (lower in places), especially in the morning and for descending, as established trails are now well consolidated by hiker traffic and freeze-thaw cycles. Snowshoes are recommended for off-trail travel anywhere above about 8000ft, and for trails that have yet to be traveled since the most recent storms.

Many major trails have now been traveled, and conditions are discussed below for specific trails where known. In addition to those, there are tracks around the Tahquitz area meadows on Willow Creek and Caramba trails, and to Chinquapin Flat. There are no tracks emerging at Wellman Divide on the Round Valley Trail. Cautious navigation continues to be recommended everywhere. Snow depths measured today, and compared with ten days ago, are listed at the foot of this posting.

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

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, currently closed due to the coronavirus crisis, is scheduled to reopen on 18th February, with reduced days, hours, and capacity. See their website for details.

The USFS gate at Humber Park is closed. There is legal parking for nine vehicles just below the gate (assuming the road below that point is open). Vehicles parked there on recent weekends have been issued with warning notices by California Highway Patrol, and those parked illegally towed. Otherwise on weekends this year (and some weekdays) the uppermost 0.1 mile of Fern Valley Road has been closed by CHP at its junction with Forest Drive. Although parking is normally legal along Forest Drive, CHP has towed vehicles parked along that street on some recent weekends. Exercise considerable caution when parking anywhere in this area. The gate on South Ridge Road is also closed.

The Idyllwild ranger station of Mount San Jacinto State Park reopened on 6th February, and the adjacent campground is expected to reopen on 12th February. Wilderness camping in the State Park has also reopened, see the State Park website for further information.

Looking south-east from near Wellman’s Cienega, early morning 9th February 2021. Note the smoky haze in the Coachella Valley.

WEATHER Temperatures well above seasonal this past weekend lead to substantial widespread snowmelt in the first week of February. For the foreseeable future, temperatures will be roughly around seasonal averages at mid elevations, but varying much more widely at higher elevations. There is a possibility of light precipitation in the morning of Friday 12th, and again on Saturday night, 13th February. These two minor storm systems may produce a dusting of fresh snow in the high country, and a little rain at 5000-6000ft. From Thursday 18th, temperatures again swing to well above seasonal.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Tuesday 9th February 2021 at 0900 the air temperature was 29.2°F (-2°C), with a windchill temperature of 11.6°F (-11°C), 34% relative humidity, and a sharp SW wind sustained at 17 mph gusting to 28.5 mph.

At the Peak on Thursday 4th February 2021 at 0930 the air temperature was 35.6°F (2°C), with a windchill temperature of 20.0°F (-7°C), 23% relative humidity, and a bitter WNW wind sustained at 16 mph gusting to 30.6 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 8300′ 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, and around the Tahquitz area meadows.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has challenging and indistinct steps to follow through the angled icy snow. These icy slopes are notoriously treacherous. Currently spikes at least are strongly recommended, crampons with an ice axe (and knowledge of how to use both) are preferable. Snowshoes must be avoided due to the angle of the icy snow.

Devil’s Slide Trail is slowly clearing of snow to 7500′ with about 50% cover of icy snow. Snow is almost continuous above that elevation. The trail is hard and icy and spikes are useful.

Deer Springs Trail is largely clear of snow up to the Suicide Rock trail junction (7000ft), with about 40% cover to 7800ft (about 0.5 mile below Strawberry Junction) where snow cover abruptly increases to 90%. Some snow free patches continue to 8300ft, but then snow is continuous from there to San Jacinto Peak. The track(s) above the Marion Mountain Trail junction are easy to follow, but are largely 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 (my fault I’m afraid). Spikes are very useful, and invaluable for descending, as snow is icy and compacted.

Marion Mountain Trail has patchy snow to 7500ft. There is continuous icy snow from there to the PCT/Deer Springs Trail junction. Spikes are recommended.

Fuller Ridge Trail has not be traveled since the last snow (late January) and there are no tracks to follow.

Seven Pines Trail has had no visible hiker traffic this winter, nor 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 east side trails from Humber Park to San Jacinto Peak – Devil’s Slide, Saddle Junction to Annie’s Junction, Wellman, and Peak trails – all have a very well-defined snowshoe track to follow, although the route does not exactly follow the established trail routes in the high country in places.

The Ernie Maxwell Trail is now largely clear in its lower 1.8 miles. Icy snow covers about 30% of the upper part closest to Humber Park. Spikes remain helpful especially for descending in the morning.

South Ridge Trail is largely clear to Old Lookout Flat at 7600′. Snow cover is patchy from there to the Peak, becoming more continuous on the upper switchbacks close to the Peak. Spikes are recommended, especially for descending. South Ridge Road (currently closed) is largely clear of ice, with a few lengthy patches remaining.

There is well-defined track on the Suicide Rock Trail through the patchy snow from Deer Springs Trail to the top of Suicide Rock.

A low 12,000ft ceiling of cloud as seen from San Jacinto Peak, 9th February 2021. The distant Santa Rosa range is just left of centre, with a snowy Jean Peak front right.

SNOW DEPTHS measured on 9th February 2021, are as follows. Note that average depth is given first, followed (in parentheses) by the greatest depth of this winter recorded ten days earlier on 31st January. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810ft): 29 inches (40 inches on 31st January)

Little Round Valley (9800ft): 23 inches (32 inches on 31st January)

Wellman Divide (9700ft): 8 inches (31 inches on 31st January)

Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 181.8 (9070ft): 18 inches (29 inches on 31st January)

Deer Springs Trail at Seven Pines Trail junction (8700ft): 17 inches (26 inches on 31st January)

Strawberry Junction (8100ft): 3-4 inches (24 inches on 31st January)

Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179.9 (8070′): 10 inches (29 inches on 31st January)

Deer Springs Trail at Suicide Rock Trail junction (6950ft): 0-2 inches (16 inches on 31st January)

Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6550′): 1-3 inches (22 inches on 31st January)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): <2 inches (18 inches on 31st January)

Little Round Valley on 9th February 2021 (above) and the same view ten days earlier on 31st January (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. With a busy winter overlapping with an unusually complex PCT season, every contribution is invaluable and deeply appreciated. If you have found this Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you.

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