Trail and water update 20th May 2021

Daily hikes have allowed for continued assessment of water and trail conditions, including San Jacinto Peak most recently on 18th May ascending via Devil’s Slide, Wellman, and Peak trails, and descending via Deer Springs Trail. On Sunday 16th May we enjoyed an early morning hike out to Caramba, returning off-trail directly up the Tahquitz Creek drainage. For the second time in just five days we found fresh Mountain Lion tracks on the way down to Laws.

Trails throughout the San Jacinto high country are now clear of snow. 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.

The live fuel moisture content of our forest is reportedly already – in May – some 10% below the level required for ignition. A long and challenging fire season appears to be inevitable.

Be rattlesnake aware. Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus helleri) have already been seen on multiple trails at higher elevations than is typical for this early in the summer, despite cooler weather in recent days. For example one was sunning itself in the PCT close to Strawberry Cienega near 8400ft as early as 0915 on Sunday 16th May before cooling cloud cover rolled in (thanks to Robert Schy for that observation).

Despite generally warm weather hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country on 21st-23rd May (well below freezing when considering wind chill effects).

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 will reopen on 22nd May, along with other USFS seasonal campgrounds.

WEATHER Although temperatures are forecast to largely remain at or above seasonal averages (especially the overnight lows), another brief but significant cooling is expected for Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd. Windchill temperatures in the high country will be far below freezing on 21st and 22nd. There is no precipitation in the forecast. Fire risk is high.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Tuesday 18th May 2021 at 0800 the air temperature was 43.8°F (7°C), with a windchill temperature of 36.9°F (3°C), 53% relative humidity, and a steady NW breeze sustained at 6 mph gusting to 9.7 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Trails throughout the San Jacinto high country are 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), upper Spitler Peak Trail (five trees), and Skunk Cabbage Meadow trail (one large tree down).

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat (PCT Mile 178) is clear of snow and no longer requires spikes between the PCT and Tahquitz Peak.

The East Ridge Trail on the east flank of San Jacinto Peak is essentially clear, with just a few tiny snow patches remaining.

Willow Creek Trail has 12 downed trees on its Forest Service section, including a couple of large, heavily-branched trees that are somewhat challenging to pass. 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 nominally reopened in late 2018) are optimistically described by the Forest Service as “not maintained”. In reality parts of these trails no longer exist with significant sections of both 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 1.2 miles 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 roughly 17 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 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.

Beautiful falls on a remote section of Tahquitz Creek below its confluence with Willow Creek, 16th May 2021.

WATER STATUS: Eastern slope

The Round Valley pipe is flowing. Creeks in Round Valley and Tamarack Valley are already dry (last year neither dried until August).

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 where it crosses the trail, four months earlier than in 2020. However about 100 yards upstream there is some flow, with pools suitable for filtering.

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

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 weakly 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 weakly.

The Deer Springs stream crossing at the PCT (approx. PCT mile 185.6) is flowing gently.

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) Barely trickling.

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.

Thank you hikers for taking the time to read this. While labor and time is volunteered, the San Jacinto Trail Report completely depends on small private donations to cover costs. Every year seems to be challenging and 2021 has been no exception, so every contribution, no matter how small, is truly valuable. If you have found this Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you.

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