Daily hikes, including San Jacinto Peak most recently on 6th and 10th May by different routes, have allowed for thorough surveys of water sources and trail conditions. Other hikes in the past few days have included much of the PCT locally plus Willow Creek Trail, the Laws and Caramba areas (twice), and Tahquitz Peak.
Trails throughout the San Jacinto high country are now functionally clear of snow and spikes are no longer required (a handful of very minor snow patches remain on trails above 9000ft). Off-trail travel in some areas (e.g. northerly slopes of Jean Peak and Marion Mountain) will still encounter more extensive shallow snow cover.
Drying of ephemeral creeks and springs has been early and rapid, and water conditions in the high country are already worryingly reminiscent of the extremely dry years of 2015 and 2016. The status of many key springs and creeks is described below.
I found collections of firewood near San Jacinto Peak and in Little Round Valley on 6th May, and fire rings in the Laws area on 9th and at Tahquitz Peak on 12th. With so many human-caused fires in southern California in recent years, it is beyond discouraging that some hikers evidently need to be reminded that campfires are completely prohibited in wilderness at all times.
Be rattlesnake aware. Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus helleri) have already been seen on multiple trails up to about 7000ft this summer, several weeks earlier than they usually emerge at these elevations.
The U.S. Forest Service ranger station in Idyllwild remains closed due to the coronavirus crisis. It is not expected to reopen before late June. Hiking and camping permits are required for USFS lands, and are available at the kiosk outside the ranger station.
Black Mountain Road reopened on 23rd April. With virtually no rainfall this winter, the grading undertaken last year through to the Fuller Ridge campground has held up well. It is anticipated that Boulder Basin campground (currently closed) will reopen on 22nd May, along with other USFS campgrounds.
WEATHER Temperatures will be above average until Saturday 15th May, when a pleasantly cool weekend is predicted (notably on Sunday 16th). Temperatures then return to above seasonal (especially the overnight lows) from Monday 17th. There is no precipitation in the forecast. Fire risk is high.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Monday 10th May 2021 at 0850 the air temperature was 41.4°F (5°C), with a windchill temperature of 35.1°F (2°C), 35% relative humidity, and a very light SW breeze sustained at 2 mph gusting to 6.9 mph.
At the Peak on Thursday 6th May 2021 at 0805 the air temperature was 41.4°F (5°C), with a windchill temperature of 28.2°F (-2°C), 39% relative humidity, and a stiff SSE wind sustained at 16 mph gusting to 29.6 mph.
Trails throughout the San Jacinto high country are essentially clear of snow and spikes are no longer required. Regrettably water conditions are already becoming a concern, with most springs and creeks already having flows more typical of late summer at best.
Many trails have accumulated treefall hazards from the past two winters, passable with care by hikers but not for stock. Some are described below, others include: PCT from Tahquitz Creek to the rockslide (PCT Miles 172.5-177, about 60 trees down), PCT between Strawberry Cienega and Deer Springs camp (PCT Miles 182-185, about 12 trees down), Fuller Ridge Trail near its northern end (PCT Miles 189.1-190.2, three trees), and upper Spitler Peak Trail (five trees).
Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat (PCT Mile 178) is clear of snow and no longer requires spikes between the PCT and Tahquitz Peak.
Deer Springs Trail is essentially completely clear of snow to San Jacinto Peak. Snow cover is 20% in Little Round Valley but the trail route itself is virtually clear.
The East Ridge Trail on the east flank of San Jacinto Peak remains about 30% snow-covered. There are sufficient cleared areas between snow patches that it is almost possible to ascend from near Miller Peak without having to cross any snow.
Willow Creek Trail has 12 downed trees on its Forest Service section, including a couple of large, heavily-branched challenges. USFS has been notified.
The Caramba Trail from near Reeds Meadow through Laws Camp and on to Caramba, and the Cedar Trail from Willow Creek Trail to Laws (which both reopened in late 2018) are optimistically described by the Forest Service as “not maintained”. In reality significant parts of these trails no longer exist; sections of both are so heavily overgrown that I strongly advise hikers do not attempt to follow them. Experienced hikers have reported getting lost in this area since summer 2019. An informal use trail to the Laws area is much more direct and completely avoids all of the challenging bush-whacking of the unmaintained trails (local hikers have kindly dubbed it the “King Trail“). It leaves Willow Creek Trail exactly 1.0 mile from Saddle Junction, 0.45 mile from the Skunk Cabbage turning (trailhead at N33°46’46”, W116°39’32”, WGS84). The cairned trail descends largely on established deer tracks for 0.9 mile. Be advised that it is a use trail, becoming somewhat less obvious as it nears Willow Creek. From Laws east to Caramba the route of the old Caramba Trail has become increasingly tricky to follow, especially for the first mile east of Laws. Closer to Caramba the trail is relatively obvious (for those familiar with the route prior to the 2013 Mountain Fire). Cautious navigation is required throughout this area.
Seven Pines Trail has had minimal hiker traffic since November 2018. There are over 25 treefall hazards on the trail, almost all in the upper State Park section of trail, based on multiple recent surveys. Very cautious navigation is recommended for those who are not completely familiar with hiking this trail. Dark Canyon Road has been closed since early 2019, and there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.
The PCT through the Snow Fire closure area (approx. PCT Miles 191-207) reopened on 3rd April 2021. Only the tread of the Trail has reopened, USFS is not permitting camping along the 16+ mile section.
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 misleading. However the rope is ageing 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 imminent plans to close this section of the PCT for rock removal work. This video report (recorded on 1st March 2021, starts at minute 9.05) may be useful for deciding whether to hike around the rockslide.
The State Park reminds PCT hikers 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.
WATER STATUS: Eastern slope
The Round Valley pipe is flowing. Flow has periodically been redirected to the work camp in Long Valley and water pressure can be insufficient to also flow at the pipe. The nearby Round Valley creek is already dry (it didn’t dry until August last year). The small creek in Tamarack Valley is also dry already.
Both the northern and southern springs at Wellman’s Cienega are flowing gently. These are the sources for Willow Creek, which is flowing fairly well where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail.
Tahquitz Creek is flowing steadily at the northern end of Little Tahquitz Meadow. It is also flowing further upstream at its source (known locally as Grethe Spring) where it crosses the PCT at approx. PCT Mile 177. The small creek in Tahquitz Valley is already dry, four months earlier than in 2020.
Candy’s Creek – that flows through Skunk Cabbage Meadow and then crosses the remaining visible section of Caramba Trail near Reeds Meadow – is currently flowing gently in both locations.
WATER STATUS: Western slope
Ephemeral creeks, such as those along Marion Mountain Trail and on Deer Springs Trail, are all dry.
The North Fork of the San Jacinto River is flowing well where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail and again downstream where it crosses the Fuller Ridge Trail on the PCT (approx. PCT Mile 186.2).
The creek in Little Round Valley is flowing for only a few hundred feet and dries up before leaving the Valley. The same creek dried up where it crosses Fuller Ridge Trail (at about PCT Mile 186.4) in April.
Shooting Star Spring (below Little Round Valley but above the North Fork of the San Jacinto River crossing) is flowing steadily.
The Deer Springs stream crossing at the PCT (approx. PCT mile 185.6) is flowing steadily.
Switchback Spring at PCT Mile 183.5 (about 0.4 miles on the PCT northbound from Strawberry Junction) is trickling, but there is barely adequate depth from which to filter water.
The little creek at Strawberry Cienega (PCT mile 183.0) is now dry.
On Devil’s Slide Trail, Middle Spring continues to trickle very gently. Other springs on this trail are dry.
On the Ernie Maxwell Trail, the crossing of Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park is already dry where it crosses the trail. However, there are small fresh pools just upslope from the trail (this creek is an important source of water for the many dogs walked on this trail).
WATER STATUS: Desert Divide
Live Oak Spring (N 33 37 21, W 116 33 24) Flowing well. The most reliable water source on the Desert Divide.
Cedar Spring (N 33 40 36, W 116 34 35) Flowing well. Easiest access is the trough 60 yards upstream from the trail to the campsite.
Apache Spring (N 33 43 11, W 116 37 13) Flowing very weakly.
Spitler Peak Trail Descending the trail there are five water crossings. The first two, at 0.9 and 0.95 miles down, cross a tiny side creek which is largely dry and should be ignored. The next crossing, at 1.1 miles down, is Spitler Creek and is the best source of water (currently flowing). The next two crossings are the same creek, but for obvious reasons it is best to fill up at the highest of the three crossings.
Antsell Rock Creek (N 33 41 52, W 116 39 08) Right by the Spitler Peak Trail trailhead on Apple Canyon Road, Antsell Rock Creek is flowing very well. Just on the upstream side of the road there is excellent access to the creek. Useful if hikers are descending the Spitler Peak Trail.
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