Minor snow storm update 4th March 2021

[UPDATE 11th March @ 0950: It has snowed lightly from pre-dawn yesterday into this morning, with 11.5 inches accumulating in Idyllwild (at 5550ft). The high country was periodically on the fringe of the cloud, and consequently Long Valley (8600ft) has about 12 inches. The system was a cold one, with snow down to 4000ft, i.e. covering the entire PCT in the San Jacinto mountains from between Mile 151 to about Mile 200. The snow level was at 4500ft on Skyline Trail early this morning (thanks to Florian Boyd). The gate at Humber Park was closed at 0750 yesterday morning, but nine legal parking spaces remain in the area just below the gate. The next detailed Report is expected tomorrow evening, Friday 12th.]

[For information specific to the Pacific Crest Trail, please see the dedicated PCT report, best used in conjunction with the most recent detailed update, available here.]

This morning we broke trail to San Jacinto Peak via Devil’s Slide, Wellman, and Peak trails, descending the same way, to check on the effects of the minor snow storm that passed through yesterday afternoon. I recorded a video report at the Peak that covers most of the same information.

Yesterday, 3rd March 2021, it started snowing in Idyllwild at 1120 and continued until about 1830, accumulating two inches in that time (at 5550ft), although it was often barely cold enough to settle consistently. Judging by snow depths measured on our hike (detailed below) the higher peaks were above the cloud for some of the storm, with the greatest depth recorded around 9000ft. A dusting of snow down to about 4500ft in Garner Valley was visible from the high country, but that is likely largely gone by this evening.

By our descent early this afternoon, snowmelt was astoundingly rapid even by the recent standards of the San Jacinto mountains. Below about 9000ft, we spent half the descent in slush, with much of the remainder on already clearing trail. This was in stark contrast to pleasant continuous 2-4 inch snow cover early this morning. I suspect that by tomorrow afternoon, Friday 5th, which is forecast to be an unseasonably warm day, trail conditions will largely resemble the previous report from a few days ago (available here). Consequently I will not discuss specific trail conditions from this morning in any great detail here. Furthermore, conditions will again change significantly next week, with one or more moderate storm systems forecast (see Weather below), although the relatively light snows predicted may again have a limited effect on long-term conditions.

The detailed video report for PCT Miles 168-179 from 1st March will still be largely valid, as so much melting will take place by 6th March that conditions will soon be back to resembling what I found on Monday 1st. If anything, the challenging Apache Peak area is currently more tricky, with a thin, unstable layer of fresh snow sitting over, and obscuring, the pre-existing icy snow.

Currently spikes are recommended on all trails above about 6500ft. However as discussed above this situation could change significantly with substantial melting in sun-exposed slopes in the next day or so. Snowshoes are recommended only for some off-trail travel above about 9000ft. These recommendations may well change again next week.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country, and potentially far below freezing when considering wind chill effects, especially after this weekend.

Our pre-dawn start this morning was rewarded with immaculate tracks of not one but two Mountain Lions descending for long sections of Devil’s Slide Trail, both of which started on the PCT just north of Saddle Junction (photos below). The shallow powder was perfect for preserving the tracks so well. I am fortunate to see lions on average a couple of times each year, and have found tracks and scat many dozens of times, but these were some of the cleanest and longest sets of lion prints I have seen in the San Jacinto mountains. It did not appear that the two lions traveled together, although their tracks did overlap for a couple of short segments.

Spectacular clouds portend the arrival of a storm system, as seen from May Valley Road, 3rd March 2021. South Peak is to the right, and Tahquitz Peak to the left.

WEATHER The next three days are forecast to be warmer than average for early March, especially at elevations above 7000ft, resulting in extensive melting of the fresh snow. Starting Tuesday 9th, temperatures at all elevations drop to below seasonal, accompanied by unstable weather for up to a week. Currently the greatest likelihood for snow – roughly three inches in Idyllwild, six inches at the high peaks – is on Wednesday 10th March, but with possibilities for light precipitation for several days thereafter also.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Thursday 4th March 2021 at 1010 the air temperature was 28.2°F (-2°C), with a windchill temperature of 13.3°F (-11°C), 41% relative humidity, and a fresh NNW wind sustained at 6 mph gusting to 13.3 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 22nd February 2021 at 0910 the air temperature was 39.3°F (4°C), with a windchill temperature of 32.2°F (0°C), 33% relative humidity, and a light SSE breeze sustained at 4 mph gusting to 6.2 mph.

This massive boulder slid into the Peak Trail at about 10,200ft elevation in the past few days.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Trails above about 8600ft largely remain snow-covered. Areas below 7500ft are generally patchy or clearing of snow, with the exception of north-facing slopes (down to about 5500ft).

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 had challenging steps to follow through the angled icy snow, but these are now likely obscured by the fresh, drifted snowfall. These icy slopes are notoriously treacherous. Currently spikes (used in conjunction with at least hiking poles, or preferably an ice axe) are essential. Do not attempt to use snowshoes due to the angle of the icy snow.

Devil’s Slide Trail is largely clear of snow to 7500′. Snow is more extensive above that elevation to Saddle Junction, but clearing rapidly. Spikes can be useful.

SNOW DEPTHS measured at east side locations on 4th March 2021 are as follows. Three numbers are given: the new snow measured from the storm on 3rd March, followed by the current average depth, then finally followed (in parentheses) by the greatest depth of this winter recorded on 31st January. Due to heavy drifting, and variable melting due to differential sun exposure, depths now vary greatly in trails especially. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810ft): 3.5 inches, total 18 inches (40 inches on 31st January)

Wellman Divide (9700ft): 2 inches, total 5 inches (31 inches on 31st January)

Annie’s Junction (9070ft): 4 inches, total 11 inches (29 inches on 31st January)

Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179.9 (8070′): 3 inches, total 5 inches (29 inches on 31st January)

Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6550′): 2 inches, total 2 inches (22 inches on 31st January)

Above, fresh Mountain Lion prints at Devil’s Slide trailhead (6500ft) before dawn, 4th March 2021.
Tracks of one of two Mountain Lions that descended parts of Devil’s Slide Trail, 4th March 2021. Above at about 7800ft, below at 7500ft. The knife in the lower image is 3.6 inches long, for scale, suggesting this lion was likely an adult male (width of the print clearly >4 inches)

San Jacinto Trail Report: available for everyone, funded by readers. While 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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