Trail update 15th April 2021

[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.]

A busy past week or so of daily hikes has included a loop from home of Tahquitz Peak on 15th, San Jacinto Peak on 13th April ascending via east side trails (Devil’s Slide, Wellman, and Peak) then descending Deer Springs Trail, South Ridge Trail on 10th and 11th, a thorough survey of the PCT section from Spitler Peak Trail to Saddle Junction (Miles 168.5-179.5) on 9th April, as described in this video, and Marion Mountain Trail plus Fuller Ridge (Miles 185.5-191) of the PCT on 6th April, the latter discussed in detail in the video available here.

Pending final data, the first half of April may have been the warmest in recorded history in Idyllwild and the San Jacinto high country. Melting has of course been very rapid with conditions now more reminiscent of May or even June. Further warm temperatures forecast for next week will simply accelerate the process. Carrying spikes remains useful on traveled trails above about 8700ft but is no longer required depending on individual comfort level on compacted or soft snow (with some important caveats discussed below). Off trail travel currently involves post-holing in areas that retain extensive snow cover.

Despite temperatures above seasonal averages 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).

Southern Pacific Rattlesnake at 5100ft near Idyllwild on 10th April 2021. Just a baby at ten inches long, this was our first of the season. Unsurprising to see one given recent temperatures but depressingly early at this elevation nonetheless.

WEATHER Following an unusually warm first couple of weeks of April, we are being treated to a very pleasant (if all too brief) cooling for a few days until about Friday 16th, when temperatures are forecast to warm once again to above seasonal. There is no precipitation in the forecast.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Tuesday 13th April 2021 at 0850 the air temperature was 33.8°F (1°C), with a windchill temperature of 18.7°F (-7°C), 28% relative humidity, and a chilly due West wind sustained at 15 mph gusting to 26.0 mph.

At the Peak 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.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Trails on the east and south flanks of the high country are completely or largely clear of snow to San Jacinto Peak. Trails on the west side are clear to near 8700ft, with snow cover increasingly patchy from there to San Jacinto Peak. There are some important exceptions discussed below. See “Pacific Crest Trail” below for details of that trail.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has very challenging steps to follow through the angled icy snow, the route in places not following the trail. These slopes are notoriously treacherous. Spikes are very strongly recommended, preferably used in conjunction with an ice axe.

Devil’s Slide Trail is clear of snow to Saddle Junction.

Deer Springs Trail is clear of snow past Strawberry Junction to about 8650ft, shortly before the junction with Marion Mountain Trail. Snow is increasingly patchy from there to Little Round Valley, averaging only about 30% cover, but with several extended icy snow sections. Snow cover is 90% through Little Round Valley. Above Little Round Valley to San Jacinto Peak the trail has cleared very rapidly and is easy to follow, averaging only 40% snow cover. Some hikers will find spikes useful, especially for descending.

South Ridge Trail is essentially clear to Tahquitz Peak, with just a few tiny snow patches on the half-a-dozen switchbacks closest to the Peak. Spikes are no longer required. South Ridge Road is open.

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

The Peak Trail (Wellman Divide to San Jacinto Peak) is clear of snow except for a nearly continuous 0.2 mile patch between 9900-10,100ft, where some will find spikes useful.

The East Ridge Trail on the east flank of San Jacinto Peak remains about 60% snow-covered but there is a reasonable track to follow.

Marion Mountain Trail is clear below 7500ft and again above 8500ft, with about 20% patchy snow cover between those elevations. Spikes are not required for ascending, but can be useful in places for descending.

Fuller Ridge Trail has snow along about 35% 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 detailed video survey conducted on 6th April for more information.

Seven Pines Trail has had no visible hiker traffic this winter, with no tracks to follow where snow remains. Indeed this trail has been hiked very little since November 2018. Very cautious navigation is recommended for those who are not completely familiar with hiking this trail. The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road continues, and there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

Where the trail is not readily visible, there is a clear track through the snow up from Round Valley to Wellman Divide. In addition Long Valley is largely clear of snow.

Skyline Trail is clear of snow to about 7200ft, thereafter there are small, shallow snow patches to Grubb’s Notch (8600ft). Spikes are no longer required.

The PCT is clear of snow from Miles 151 (Highway 74) to about 175 (Red Tahquitz). Snow is then more-or-less continuous between Miles 175-177 (see this video review of that section from 9th April). Snow cover is very patchy between Miles 177 to 185, 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 hikers less comfortable on extended angled snow. Miles 191-207 are 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 average only 5% snow cover, with a few short soft snow sections increasing in frequency closer to Fuller Ridge.

Trails completely clear of snow include: all Garner Valley trails, Ernie Maxwell Trail, Spitler Peak Trail, Cedar Spring Trail, and May Valley Road.

SNOW DEPTHS measured on 13th 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 even in small areas. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810ft): 5 inches (38 inches on 16th March)

Little Round Valley (9800ft): 8 inches (29 inches on 16th March)

Wellman Divide (9700ft): 0 inches (19 inches on 16th March)

Annie’s Junction (9070ft): 4 inches (24 inches on 16th March)

Deer Springs Trail at Seven Pines Trail junction/approx. PCT Mile 184.9 (8700ft): 3 inches (14 inches on 16th March)

Strawberry Junction/approx. PCT Mile 183.1 (8100ft): 0 inch (8 inches on 16th March)

Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179.9 (8070ft): 0 inch (17 inches on 16th March)

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

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

All Mile numbers are approximate. The main Report (above) is updated at least weekly or during/after any storm and contains much additional information relevant to PCT hikers.

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 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 useful for those hikers less comfortable hiking on snow for parts of the Trail between about Miles 165 and 191, although at this time most hikers will find spikes unnecessary. 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.

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.

This has been a far below average snow year for the San Jacinto high country. 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.

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 good 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.

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 (see this video review of that section from 9th April). Snow cover is very patchy between Miles 177 to 185, 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 hikers less comfortable on extended angled snow. Miles 191-207 are clear of snow.

Little Round Valley (9800ft) on 13th April 2021 (above) and the same view less than a month earlier on 16th March (below).
Cardamine californica on Spitler Peak Trail, 9th April 2021. Typically the flower is white or whitish, this deep pink form is known only from Spitler Peak.

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