Weather and water update 5th August 2021

Just last week I wrote how encouraging the summer monsoonal rains appeared to be for the first time in about five years, then last Friday 30th July we were treated to a much heavier rainfall (plus hail) associated with an intense thunderstorm right over town. In Idyllwild at 5550ft we recorded 1.89 inches (48mm) of rain, almost all of which fell within about an hour in mid-afternoon. This was the most rain we had recorded in a day in almost two-and-a-half years, since the unprecedented storm of 14th February 2019 when 7.77 inches (197mm) fell in fewer than twenty hours.

Idyllwild was evidently right underneath a major thunderstorm cell on the south-west side of the mountain, as there was erosion and flooding damage littering many of the town streets, and also on lower Deer Springs Trail and lower Marion Mountain Trail. While all of the San Jacinto mountains thankfully received some rain, there was generally less than an inch across the high country judging by minimal erosion on most trails and the continuing low flow of the springs.

Hikers should be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions in the high country in summer. Thunderstorms with lightning, precipitation, and rapid temperature drops can occur in the high country even when such storms are not forecast for lower elevations, usually most likely in the afternoons.

Full fire restrictions are in place on Forest Service lands, as described here. All campfires anywhere in the San Jacinto mountains, including at all USFS campgrounds and yellow post sites, are now prohibited.

Water conditions in the high country remain very poor, despite recent showers. The current status of many key springs and creeks is described below. While flow can improve briefly immediately after rain storms, the effects of monsoonal events typically only last a few days at most.

Be bear aware. Observations have been infrequent in the past two years, but 1-3 individuals remain active in the San Jacinto mountains. One was seen just east of Saddle Junction in early July, fresh tracks were on lower Seven Pines Trail on 22nd May and dumpsters in nearby Dark Canyon were visited by a bear in July.

The U.S. Forest Service ranger station in Idyllwild remains closed due to USFS coronavirus protocols. Apparently it may not reopen before October. Hiking and camping permits are nevertheless required for USFS lands, and should be available at the kiosk outside the ranger station. The State Park ranger station reopened many months ago.

After an absence of about six months, a new summit sign was placed on 1st August. I was happy to see that for the first time in at least a decade the correct name for the Peak was used. Photo 3rd August 2021.

WEATHER A brief heatwave in the first week of the month with temperatures well above average (even for August) is forecast to give way to daytime high temperatures closer to seasonal in the second week of August. Nevertheless overnight low temperatures will continue to be about ten degrees above historical norms every day. There is no significant precipitation in the forecast, although monsoonal rains are possible on 10th-14th August. Fire risk remains severe.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Tuesday 3rd August 2021 at 0830 the air temperature was 58.2°F (15°C), with a windchill temperature of 52.0°F (11°C), 51% relative humidity, and a gusty ESE wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 16.7 mph.

At the Peak on Sunday 1st August 2021 at 0755 the air temperature was 50.9°F (11°C), with a windchill temperature of 44.0°F (7°C), 75% relative humidity, and a steady due East wind sustained at 9 mph gusting to 13.8 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 12th July 2021 at 0810 the air temperature was 67.6°F (19.8°C), with a “windchill” temperature of 67.2°F (19.6°C), 38% relative humidity, and a very light NNE breeze sustained at 2 mph gusting to 7.2 mph. This the highest air temperature ever reliably recorded at San Jacinto Peak, shattering the previous record temperature of 62.3°F (16.8°C) observed at 0745 on 19th August 2020.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Trails throughout the San Jacinto high country cleared of snow by early May. Water conditions are a major concern, with many springs and creeks already having dried up or having very low flows for the time of year, as discussed in detail below.

The rockslide at PCT Mile 172.5, just north of Antsell Rock, was removed on Monday 14th June. My “before, during, and after” video is available here. This section of the PCT is now safer and is readily passable with care by hikers (but still not by stock).

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 the PCT between Strawberry Cienega and Deer Springs camp (PCT Miles 182-185, about 12 trees down), and Fuller Ridge Trail near its northern end (PCT Miles 189.1-190.2, three trees). Spitler Peak Trail was cleared of multiple tree hazards by the Trail Report in early July. Many treefall hazards from Red Tahquitz to Antsell Rock (PCT Miles 172.5-175) were cleared in June. Nevertheless about 20 remain, including at least six major obstructions for hikers. Tahquitz Creek to Red Tahquitz (PCT Miles 175-177) is now clear.

Willow Creek Trail has 33 downed trees between Skunk Cabbage Junction and Hidden Divide. Of these 22 are on the Forest Service section (16 between Willow Creek and the Park boundary), with 11 in the State Park. Most are readily passable by hikers with care. Despite so much work last year, the whitethorn has grown back rapidly, especially on the State Park section, but remains less challenging than in 2019.

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. Multiple experienced hikers have reported getting lost in this area since summer 2019. An informal use trail to the Laws Camp area is much more direct and completely avoids all of the challenging bush-whacking of the unmaintained trails (other hikers kindly nicknamed 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 (but subtle) trail descends largely on established deer tracks for 0.9 mile, reaching Willow Creek just upstream of the former site of Laws Camp. 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 where there are dozens of trees down. Closer to Caramba the trail is relatively obvious (for those familiar with the route prior to the 2013 Mountain Fire). Very cautious navigation is recommended throughout this area.

Seven Pines Trail has had limited hiker traffic since November 2018. There are 35 treefall hazards on the trail, four large ones on the short Forest Service section, and the remainder in the State Park, based on my most recent 2021 survey. Cautious navigation is recommended for those who are not familiar with hiking this trail. Dark Canyon Road has been closed since early 2019, and there is currently no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead. USFS apparently does not expect Dark Canyon Road to reopen this year.

WATER STATUS: Eastern slope

The Round Valley pipe is flowing weakly (at about 0.5L/min). This source may not be reliable throughout the summer. Creeks in Round Valley and Tamarack Valley were dry in May (in 2020 neither dried until August).

Hidden Lake dried up completely in June.

Both the northern and southern springs at Wellman’s Cienega are flowing very gently (but adequately to filter). These are the sources for Willow Creek, which is flowing where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail (on 12th July the flow was good for filtering, but was the lowest I have ever seen this creek).

The well-known northernmost spring at Wellman’s Cienega, still flowing gently, 1st August 2021.

Tahquitz Creek is flowing gently at the northern end of Little Tahquitz Meadow. It is also flowing, but very gently, further upstream at its source (known locally as Grethe Spring) where it crosses the PCT at approx. Mile 177.

The small creek in Tahquitz Valley dried in May, some 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 – dried up in early July.

WATER STATUS: Western slope

The North Fork of the San Jacinto River continues to flow steadily where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail and also downstream – but much more weakly – where it crosses the Fuller Ridge Trail on the PCT (approx. PCT Mile 186.2).

The creek in Little Round Valley completely dried up in early July, reminiscent of the extremely dry years of 2014-16. The same creek dried up where it crosses Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Mile 186.4) in April.

Shooting Star Spring (not far below Little Round Valley but above the North Fork of the San Jacinto River crossing) is flowing weakly and is a very poor option for filtering.

The Deer Springs stream crossing is dry at the PCT/Deer Springs Trail (approx. PCT mile 185.6). (Despite some online mapping to the contrary, this is NOT the source for the North Fork of the San Jacinto River.)

The tiny but perennial spring about 0.4 miles north of Strawberry Junction (known colloquially as Switchback Spring) continues to flow well. I rework the tiny pool once or twice every week when I pass by and there is just adequate depth from which to filter water.

The little creek at Strawberry Cienega (PCT mile 183.0) is functionally dry. The tiny pool, just a few inches in diameter, is not adequate for filtering (I nearly drained it dry trying to filter 0.25L in late June).

On Devil’s Slide Trail, Middle Spring is now functionally dry. All other springs on this trail have been dry for months.

On the Ernie Maxwell Trail, the crossing of Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park is currently flowing where it crosses the trail. Even when dry however there are small but invaluable fresh pools just upslope from the trail (this creek is an especially useful source of water for the many dogs walked on this trail).

The faucet at Cinco Poses Spring about 4.5 miles up Black Mountain Road continues to flow.

WATER STATUS: Desert Divide

Live Oak Spring (N 33 37 21, W 116 33 24) Flowing. The most reliable water source on the Desert Divide.

Cedar Spring (N 33 40 36, W 116 34 35) Flowing. Easiest access is the trough about 60 yards upstream from the trail to the campsite.

Apache Spring (N 33 43 11, W 116 37 13) Barely trickling, not now reliable.

Spitler Peak Trail Descending the trail from the PCT 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 very gently, but can be filtered). The next two crossings are the same creek, also flowing adequately for filtering.

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 now dry. Even in the very dry years of 2015 and 2016, this source did not dry until the autumn.

On 29th July 2021 I was again fortunate to assist San Diego Zoo with another reintroduction of the endangered Southern Mountain Yellow-legged Frog (Rana muscosa) in the San Jacinto mountains. Above and below, two of the more than one hundred captive-bred individuals released that day.

Thank you hikers for taking the time to read this. While all labor and time is volunteered, the San Jacinto Trail Report completely depends on small private donations to cover operating 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 for your support.

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