Snow storm summary 12th March 2021

[UPDATE 15th March 2021 @ 0950: A minor snow storm is forecast for this afternoon and evening. We have just returned from Saddle Junction (8100ft, PCT Mile 179) where it was briefly snowing lightly, with occasional drizzle below 6500ft. About 2-5 inches are expected at all elevations above 4500ft. A comprehensive report of high country conditions is planned for tomorrow evening.]

[For additional information specific to the PCT, please see the Pacific Crest Trail report, best used in conjunction with this latest general update.]

Our tenth snow storm of winter 2020/21 fell largely on Wednesday 10th March, with some on/off light snow continuing through much of yesterday,Thursday 11th. In Idyllwild at 5550ft, 12 inches fell in total, ranging through to 17 inches measured today at San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft). Measurements for other locations, with cumulative depths, are given at the foot of this post.

I had a very enjoyable, if occasionally challenging, hike to San Jacinto Peak today, breaking trail the entire way with snowshoes on the east side trails (Devil’s Slide, PCT, Wellman, and Peak trails). Snow conditions were excellent for snowshoeing, especially below 9000ft, with snowshoes only sinking in a few inches rather than feet, but conditions became more spongy higher up. I recorded a YouTube video in late morning at the Peak under spectacular, partly cloudy, skies.

Yet again, there was little difference in snowfall between the mid and upper elevations, probably because the high country was above the clouds for some of the storm system. Although excellent tracks are in place on a few major trails (discussed below), very cautious navigation is strongly recommended everywhere.

I had a few small snowflakes falling on me most of the late morning and early afternoon from moody cumulus clouds around the mountains. As I descended Devil’s Slide Trail into Strawberry Valley in mid afternoon, this turned into a more persistent light snow for an hour or so, accumulating to just over an inch in Idyllwild. This was probably insufficient snowfall to significantly alter trail conditions on the handful of broken tracks in the high country.

Snow depths are currently ideal for snowshoeing everywhere above about 5000ft, potentially lower on less exposed trails for the next day or two. With rapid melting expected after Tuesday 16th March, and compaction caused by freeze-thaw cycles and hiker traffic, conditions will deteriorate for snowshoeing over the next few days, especially on more heavily traveled trails below 8000ft. Nevertheless, snowshoes will be invaluable anywhere off trail above about 8000ft for the foreseeable future. In addition to snowshoes, and as conditions change, spikes are strongly recommended for the foreseeable future everywhere above about 4500ft. They will be especially valuable on well-consolidated tracks (e.g., Devil’s Slide and Deer Springs trails) on colder mornings when conditions are icy, and for descending.

Snow depths are currently insufficient for significant avalanche risk in the high country, with the exception of the traditionally vulnerable locations on the north faces of San Jacinto and Tahquitz peaks.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing when considering wind chill effects, at least until Wednesday 17th, when temperatures at mid and upper elevations will warm to well above seasonal norms.

The USFS gate at Humber Park was closed early on the morning of 10th March. There is legal parking for nine vehicles only just below the gate. USFS has ticketed illegally parked vehicles.. On some snowy weekends this year 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 periodically towed vehicles parked along that street. Exercise considerable caution when parking anywhere in this area.

Looking north-east from San Jacinto Peak shortly before noon, 12th March 2021. Thunder was audible from intense storm cells over Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree.

WEATHER Temperatures will remain at or below average for the next four days, and melting of snow will be minimal above about 6000ft. A light dusting of snow is possible on Monday 15th above about 5000ft, with rain possible around and below that elevation. Very strong winds the same day will cause heavy drifting, potentially obscuring broken trails and complicating navigation. A dramatic warming trend starts on Wednesday 17th, with very rapid snowmelt expected at all elevations for at least a week.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) today, Friday 12th March 2021 at 1120 the air temperature was 10.2°F (-12°C), with a windchill temperature of 3.4°F (-16°C), 100% relative humidity, and a light SW wind sustained at 2 mph gusting to 10.8 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 8th March 2021 at 0840 the air temperature was 27.0°F (-3°C), with a windchill temperature of 9.9°F (-12°C), 29% relative humidity, and a bitter due West wind sustained at 12 mph gusting to 22.8 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 4000′ are heavily or moderately snow-covered. Snow melt is expected to be minimal for the next few days, so this situation will be largely unchanged, especially above 6000ft. Currently very few major trails have been traveled.

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 well-defined snowshoe track to follow.

There were no visible hiker tracks on Willow Creek Trail, or the PCT south from Saddle Junction (i.e., toward Tahquitz Peak), as of this afternoon, with a partial snowshoe track at the start of the Caramba Trail.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 currently has no steps to follow through the steeply angled icy snow.. These icy slopes are notoriously treacherous. Currently crampons with an ice axe (and knowledge of how to use this equipment) are required. Snowshoes are not advised due to the angle of the icy snow.

The Ernie Maxwell Trail has a well-defined track to follow through the snow.

SNOW DEPTHS measured on 12th March 2021 are as follows. Note that current average total depth is given first, followed by added snow from the latest storm in parentheses. Due to strong winds accompanying the storm there is extensive drifting, especially in the trails. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810ft): 35 inches (17 inches new snow in latest storm)

Wellman Divide (9700ft): 18 inches (15 inches new)

Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 181.8 (9070ft): 24 inches (18 inches new)

Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179.9 (8070′): 17 inches (15 inches new)

Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6550′): 14 inches (14 inches new, but snowing again this afternoon)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 12 inches (all new; another inch added so far this afternoon)

The Peak Trail at about 9800ft just above Wellman Divide, 12th March 2021 with my snowshoe tracks (above), and the same view four days earlier on 8th March (below).

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 costs. As a busy winter transitions into a complex northbound PCT season, every contribution is invaluable. If you have found this Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you.

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