PCT and snow update 9th April 2021

[Please note that information specific to the Pacific Crest Trail is included at the foot of this Report. However much of the main Report is also applicable to PCT hikers.]

We undertook a thorough survey of the PCT section from Spitler Peak Trail to Saddle Junction (approx. Miles 168.5-179.5) on 9th April, as described in this video. Spikes are no longer required around Apache Peak, or elsewhere on this section, although some hikers may find spikes useful for snow travel on Miles 175-178.

We also surveyed the Fuller Ridge section (Miles 185.5-191) of the PCT on Tuesday 6th April, discussed in detail in the video available here.

The PCT through the Snow Fire closure area (approx. Miles 191-207) reopened on Saturday 3rd April. Only the tread of the Trail has reopened, and USFS is not permitting camping along the 16+ mile section.

Our hikes every day this year have focused on parts of the PCT and/or its side trails for the past two months or so. We had a swift ascent of San Jacinto Peak on 7th April via the east side (Devil’s Slide, PCT, Wellman, Peak, and East Ridge trails).

We have had a major warm spell in the first week of April. Temperatures are forecast to remain at or above seasonal averages at all elevations for at least the next week. Snowmelt has been rapid at all elevations, with sun-exposed slopes in particular clearing rapidly. Conditions have already become more reminiscent of a “normal” May or even early June. Carrying spikes remains recommended on well-traveled trails above about 8500ft (lower in places discussed below). They can be useful in the morning and for descending, as established trails are icy and compacted by hiker traffic and freeze-thaw cycles.

Despite temperatures well above seasonal norms at upper elevations, hikers should nevertheless be prepared for temperatures near freezing in the high country, and potentially below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for weather data recorded recently at San Jacinto Peak).

The USFS gate at Humber Park reopened on 19th March when the area was also plowed.

WEATHER Temperatures are forecast to remain above seasonal until about Tuesday 13th, when they drop slightly to average for April (but remaining relatively warm and dry). There is no significant precipitation in the forecast.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Wednesday 7th April 2021 at 0825 the air temperature was 38.8°F (4°C), with a windchill temperature of 24.9°F (-4°C), 58% relative humidity, and a strong WNW wind sustained at 22 mph gusting to 31.2 mph.

At the Peak on Thursday 1st April 2021 at 0850 the air temperature was 41.9°F (5°C), with a windchill temperature of 34.3°F (1°C), 16% relative humidity, and a steady (and rare) due South wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 11.9 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Trails below about 8600ft are completely or largely clear of snow (with some important exceptions discussed below). On sun-exposed slopes, substantial sections of trail at higher elevations are also partly or largely clearing of snow.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has limited steps to follow through the angled icy snow. These slopes are notoriously treacherous. Spikes (or even crampons) used in conjunction with an ice axe remain strongly recommended. Do not attempt to use snowshoes due to the angle of the icy snow.

Devil’s Slide Trail is essentially clear of snow to Saddle Junction, with just a few dirty snow patches remaining. Some hikers may continue to find spikes useful.

Deer Springs Trail is clear of snow to Strawberry Junction and essentially clear to about 8600ft. Snow is largely continuous from there to San Jacinto Peak, with an excellent track to follow. Above Little Round Valley the track through the snow does not follow the trail route to San Jacinto Peak, and is steep and direct. Spikes are recommended, especially for descending.

South Ridge Trail is clear to Old Lookout Flat at 7600′, with just a couple of tiny icy patches low down. Snow cover is a patchy 20% on the traverse at 7600-7800ft. The 18 switchbacks up to Tahquitz Peak are largely clear, but snow cover is about 60% on the half-a-dozen switchbacks closest to the Peak. Spikes can be useful close to Tahquitz Peak especially for descending. South Ridge Road is open.

Wellman Trail (from Annie’s Junction to Wellman Divide) is largely clear of snow, except for continuous snow for about 0.3 mile immediately north of Annie’s Junction.

The Peak Trail (Wellman Divide to San Jacinto Peak) is largely clear of snow, except for extended sections between 9900-10,100ft, and again above 10,500ft. Many hikers may find spikes useful in these areas.

The East Ridge Trail on the east flank of San Jacinto Peak remains completely snow-covered at 1-2 feet deep, but there is a reasonable track to follow through the snow.

Marion Mountain Trail is largely clear below 7500ft and again above 8500ft, with about 30% icy snow cover between those elevations. Spikes are not required for ascending, but are useful in places for descending.

Fuller Ridge Trail has snow along about 40% of its 5.0 miles length. Stubborn sections in particular remain around the crossing of the North Fork of the San Jacinto River (Mile 186), and on the northerly slopes of Fuller Ridge (approx. Miles 187.5-187.8 and 188.6-190.4). See the video survey conducted on 6th April for details.

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 Ernie Maxwell Trail is clear of ice and snow.

There is a clear track up from Round Valley to Wellman Divide, which does not always follow the established trail route for some of its length. Long Valley is largely clear of snow.

Skyline Trail is clear of snow to about 7200ft, thereafter snow is shallow and increasingly patchy to Grubb’s Notch (8600ft). There is a well-worn but icy track to follow. Some hikers will find spikes useful.

Current snow cover on the PCT is minimal from Miles 151 (Highway 74) to about 175 (Red Tahquitz). Snow is then more-or-less continuous between Miles 175-177. Snow cover is steadily becoming increasingly patchy between Miles 177 to 184, with the exception of the notoriously stubborn 0.5 mile just south of Annie’s Junction at about Mile 180.8. Snow cover is almost continuous from Mile 184 to 185.5, although spikes are not essential. From Mile 185.5 to 191, snow is increasingly patchy. Stubborn sections remain around the crossing of the North Fork of the San Jacinto River (Mile 186), and on the northerly slopes of Fuller Ridge Trail (approx. Miles 187.5-187.8 and 188.6-190.4). See the video review of this section for details, and to decide whether the Black Mountain Road alternate is a better option for you. Miles 191-207 are almost completely clear of snow.

Black Mountain Road (closed to vehicles 1.7 miles from Hwy 243) is clear of snow for 5.0 miles to the Boulder Basin turning. The 3.0 miles to Fuller Ridge campground averages about 5% snow cover, with a few lengthy soft snow sections increasing in frequency closer to Fuller Ridge [surveyed 2nd and 6th April 2021].

Spitler Peak Trail and Cedar Spring Trail are both clear of snow.

May Valley Road, a major component of the PCT Mile 168.5 alternate route, is clear of snow.

SNOW DEPTHS measured on 7th April 2021. Note that average depth is given first, followed in parentheses by the depth recorded on 16th March after the last significant storms on 10th-15th March. Due to past drifting, and variable melting due to differential sun exposure, depths now vary greatly, especially in trails. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810ft): 12 inches (38 inches on 16th March)

Wellman Divide (9700ft): <2 inches (19 inches on 16th March)

Annie’s Junction (9070ft): 6 inches (24 inches on 16th March)

Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179.9 (8070ft): 1 inch (17 inches on 16th March)

Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6550ft): 0 inch (12 inches on 16th March)

Idyllwild (at 5550ft): 0 inch (6 inches on 16th March)

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

Following a general discussion, this information is organized roughly south to north (all Mile numbers are approximate). The main Report (above) is updated at least weekly or during/after any storm.

The PCT through the Snow Fire closure area (approx. Miles 191-207) reopened on Saturday 3rd April. Only the tread of the Trail has reopened, USFS is not permitting camping along the 16+ mile section.

We undertook a thorough survey of the Fuller Ridge section (Miles 185.5-191) of the PCT on 6th April 2021, discussed in detail in this video.

We surveyed the PCT section from Spitler Peak Trail to Saddle Junction (approx. Miles 168.5-179.5) on 9th April, as described in this video. Spikes are no longer required around Apache Peak, or elsewhere on this section, although some hikers may find spikes useful for snow travel on Miles 175-178.

Spikes remain recommended, but are no longer required for those comfortable hiking on snow, for parts of the Trail between about Miles 165 and 191. Please always practice safe decision-making based on your own comfort level (not that of your hiking partners), experience, ability, available equipment, time of day (which can greatly affect traction on snow and ice), and current snow and weather conditions.

This has been a far below average snow year for the San Jacinto high country (but, oddly, above average snowfall for mid elevations, 4000-6000ft). Given accelerating climate change here, depending on your start date there may be relatively little snow and ice by the time you reach the San Jacinto mountains. Nevertheless even small, isolated sections of icy snow can be very perilous. Details of current snow/ice conditions will be clear from updates to the Trail Report over coming weeks.

We undertook a thorough survey of the PCT section from Spitler Peak Trail to Saddle Junction (approx. Miles 168.5-179.5) on 9th April. Spikes are no longer required around Apache Peak, or elsewhere on this section, although some hikers may find them useful for snow travel on Miles 175-178.

Coming off at Mile 168.5 (the well-signed Spitler Peak Trail alternate) may still be a good option for some this nobo season. In addition to snow/ice issues ahead, there are nearly 60 trees down across the Trail between Miles 169-177, plus the rock slide at Mile 172.5. Spitler Peak Trail itself clears of snow (as is now the case) long before the PCT north of that point.

The short snow slope on the NE side of Apache Peak (Mile 169.5) that has proved challenging over the years is virtually clear of snow, with reasonable steps to follow. Spikes are no longer required, although hiking poles and caution are always useful. Every individual should make their own assessment of whether to cross based on their comfort level on angled snow, their experience, available equipment, time of day, and current snow conditions. If in any doubt whatsoever, turn around and take the very well signed Spitler Peak Trail alternate option at Mile 168.5.

PCT hikers – thanks for taking the time to read this. The San Jacinto Trail Report depends entirely on small private donations to cover its direct costs. With a busy winter overlapping with a complex PCT season, every contribution, no matter how small, is truly valuable. If you have found the Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you, and safe hiking.

The Pacific Crest Trail remains open at the rockslide north of Antsell Rock (Mile 172.5). Reports that the assisting rope around the rockslide is “in tatters” are completely misleading. However the rope is not in new condition, and if you choose to use it, you do so completely at your own risk. USFS has told the Trail Report that responsibility for removing the rockslide is currently with the PCTA, and that there are currently no plans to close this section of the PCT for removal work before summer 2021 at the earliest. This video report (recorded on 1st March 2021, starts at minute 9.05) may be useful for deciding whether to hike around the rockslide.

If you take an alternate further south, it is possible to regain the PCT from Idyllwild via Devil’s Slide Trail at Saddle Junction (about Mile 179). Do not attempt to regain the PCT via South Ridge Trail as the slope on the north side of Tahquitz Peak is currently ice-covered and is notoriously treacherous.

Current snow cover on the PCT is minimal from Miles 151 (Highway 74) to about 175 (Red Tahquitz). Snow is then more-or-less continuous between Miles 175-177. Snow cover is steadily becoming increasingly patchy between Miles 177 to 184, with the exception of the notoriously stubborn 0.5 mile just south of Annie’s Junction at about Mile 180.8. Snow cover is almost continuous from Mile 184 to 185.5, although spikes are not essential. From Mile 185.5 to 191, snow is increasingly patchy. Stubborn sections remain around the crossing of the North Fork of the San Jacinto River (Mile 186), and on the northerly slopes of Fuller Ridge Trail (approx. Miles 187.5-187.8 and 188.6-190.4). See the video review of this section for details, and to decide whether the Black Mountain Road alternate is a better option for you. Miles 191-207 are almost completely clear of snow.

PCT hikers are reminded that overnight stays are not permitted at or near San Jacinto Peak, including in the historic shelter. This is especially critical during the coronavirus pandemic as it is impossible to adequately clean and sterilize the shelter. Mt. San Jacinto State Park regulations permit overnight stays only in established campgrounds. Strawberry Junction (approx. Mile 183) is a good option for thru-hikers.

The Peak Trail at 9800ft not far above Wellman Divide on 7th April 2021 (above), and the same view about three weeks earlier on 16th March 2021 (below).

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