Trail update 21st April 2021

UPDATED Monday 26th April: A very minor storm is passing over the San Jacinto mountains today. Snowfall has been minimal (<0.5 inch), as I report from San Jacinto Peak in this short video. By the time we descended late morning, most of what had settled below 10,000ft had already melted. The next full update to the Report is expected tomorrow or on Wednesday.

[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 full schedule of daily hikes has included most of the major trails in the high country, including San Jacinto Peak on 20th April ascending via east side trails (Devil’s Slide, Wellman, and Peak) then descending Deer Springs Trail, plus the PCT throughout the San Jacinto mountains and several of its side trails. Snow conditions have not changed substantially (and certainly not for the worse) since the 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, nor on Fuller Ridge (Miles 185.5-191) as discussed in the video available here from 6th April.

April 2021 is on track to be the warmest and driest for that month in recorded history in Idyllwild and the San Jacinto high country. Snow melt, and the drying of ephemeral creeks and springs, has continued steadily with conditions now more reminiscent of late May or June. Carrying spikes remains useful for some hikers on traveled trails above about 8700ft but is no longer required depending on individual comfort level on patchy 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 periodically above seasonal, hikers should be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and potentially well below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for weather data recorded recently at San Jacinto Peak).

WEATHER The remainder of April will be something of a rollercoaster ride for temperatures. The 21st and 22nd will be somewhat cloudy with temperatures below seasonal, followed by a quick return to typical April warmth on 23rd-25th. A cold day on Monday 26th April might be accompanied by very light precipitation. Any moisture will have no significant impact however as temperatures immediately rise to well above seasonal, with the last few days of April forecast to be more reminiscent of midsummer.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Sunday 18th April 2021 at 0755 the air temperature was 22.7°F (-5°C), with a windchill temperature of -0.2°F (-18°C), 58% relative humidity, and a sharp NNE wind sustained at 20 mph gusting to 31.0 mph.

At the Peak 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.

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 challenging steps to follow through the angled icy snow, the route in places not following the trail. These slopes are notoriously treacherous. Spikes remain strongly recommended.

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

Deer Springs Trail is clear of snow past Strawberry Junction to about 8650ft, near its junction with Marion Mountain Trail. Snow is increasingly patchy from there to Little Round Valley, averaging only about 20% cover, but with several extended icy snow sections. Snow cover is 80% 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 30% snow cover. Some hikers will find spikes useful, especially for descending.

South Ridge Trail is clear to Tahquitz Peak. 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 80% snow-covered. There is an ugly posthole track to follow, but it is easier to hike across the top of the compacted icy snow (at least in the early morning).

Marion Mountain Trail is almost completely clear of snow to the PCT, with a few small icy patches between 7500-8500ft. Spikes are not required for ascending, some hikers may find them useful in places for descending.

Fuller Ridge Trail has snow along about 30% 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 small snow patches remain. 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.

The Round Valley Trail to Wellman Divide has about 50% patchy snow cover. Long Valley is essentially clear of snow.

Skyline Trail is virtually clear of snow. Spikes are no longer required.

Snow cover on the PCT: The PCT is clear of snow from Miles 151 (Highway 74) to about 175 (Red Tahquitz). Snow is patchy but extensive between Miles 175-177. Miles 177 to 185 are almost clear of snow with the exception of the notoriously stubborn 0.5 mile just south of Annie’s Junction at about Mile 180.8. Snow cover is about 80% from Mile 184 to 185.5, although spikes are not required. 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 from 6th April 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 reopened on 23rd April. There is snow challenging for vehicles beyond Farview Point.

Additional 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 18th 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): 4 inches (38 inches on 16th March)

Little Round Valley (9800ft): 6 inches (29 inches on 16th March)

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

Annie’s Junction (9070ft): 3 inches (24 inches on 16th March)

Deer Springs Trail at Seven Pines Trail junction/approx. PCT Mile 184.9 (8700ft): 2 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 significant 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.

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 individuals hiking with poles 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.

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. Spikes are not required for hikers comfortable with travel across moderate patches of snow.

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.

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 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 any possible 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 now clear of snow, with good steps to follow. Spikes are no longer required, although hiking poles and caution are always useful.

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.

Snow cover on the PCT: The PCT is clear of snow from Miles 151 (Highway 74) to about 175 (Red Tahquitz). Snow is patchy but extensive between Miles 175-177. Miles 177 to 185 are almost clear of snow with the exception of the notoriously stubborn 0.5 mile just south of Annie’s Junction at about Mile 180.8. Snow cover is about 80% from Mile 184 to 185.5, although spikes are not required. 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 from 6th April 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.

Last winter was dry, but this winter has been far worse. The Peak Trail at about 9800ft just above Wellman Divide on 18th April 2021 (above), and the same view exactly one year earlier, 18th April 2020 (below).

One thought on “Trail update 21st April 2021

  1. Thank you as always for your support for the Trail Report. There is plenty of water (at present) on the Deer Springs Trail route to San Jacinto Peak. The creek is flowing (weakly) in Little Round Valley. The usual sources like the North Fork and Deer Springs crossings are flowing. Stone Creek about a mile north of Strawberry Junction is trickling (the way it should in July).

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