Snow storm update 13th October 2021

The San Jacinto mountains were treated to a brief but energetic storm system on Monday 11th October that produced a very light dusting of graupel snow in the high country, plus large hail in Idyllwild. My video discussion of the storm from San Jacinto Peak on the morning of the 12th is available here. There was 0.25in depth of snow everywhere above about 8500ft, with drifting (mainly in the trails) to 0.5in above 9700ft. Melting was rapid and widespread during my descent on the Peak Trail and PCT late morning on 12th.

This is – by just one day – the earliest I have recorded measurable snowfall in the San Jacinto high country in autumn, following an even lighter dusting overnight on 12th October 2018.

Unusually for October, this was actually our third storm in a week. Minor storm systems produced rainfall across the San Jacinto mountains on Tuesday 5th and on Friday 8th, with 0.38in and 0.49in of rain recorded at 5500ft elevation in Idyllwild, respectively. Hoping for the first snow of the season I overnighted in the high country on 7th-8th, but only recorded rain with a little brief sleet, totaling an estimated 0.5in at San Jacinto Peak.

Full fire restrictions remain (for now) 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 prohibited. All forms of campfire are always prohibited in the State Park wilderness. Despite the rainfall and cooler temperatures, fire risk remains very high.

Be bear aware. Although rarely reported, several Black Bears remain in the San Jacinto mountains. Earlier reports this summer were from Seven Pines Trail and near Saddle Junction on Willow Creek Trail. I was fortunate to see a very large (>300lb), uniformly dark brown individual at dawn on 7th September near Humber Park. I was able to get a couple of short, poor quality videos, of which one is available here. This was a different individual, based on colour pattern and size, than one I saw on Devil’s Slide Trail in August 2020.

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 most recent weather observations from San Jacinto Peak below).

Water conditions in the high country remain poor, although there have been brief improvements in flow immediately after storms. The current status of many key springs and creeks is described in the previous Report available here.

The U.S. Forest Service ranger station in Idyllwild has been closed due to USFS coronavirus protocols since March 2020. Apparently it is unlikely to reopen until 2022. 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 has been open almost all year.

WEATHER Temperatures well below seasonal at the beginning of this week are forecast to rise to around, or even slightly above, seasonal for October from 16th onwards. There is currently no additional precipitation in the forecasts.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Tuesday 12th October 2021 at 0855 the air temperature was 16.8°F (-8°C), with a windchill temperature of -3.3°F (-20°C), 45% relative humidity, and a gusty NNE wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 19.3 mph.

At the Peak on Sunday 10th October 2021 at 0810 the air temperature was 39.4°F (4°C), with a windchill temperature of 31.2°F (0°C), 33% relative humidity, and a light due N wind sustained at 5 mph gusting to 9.9 mph.

Deer Springs Trail at its junction with the southern end of Fuller Ridge Trail (8970ft elevation), early morning 12th October 2021. About 0.25in of graupel fell overnight.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Water conditions remain a concern despite recent autumnal weather, with many springs and creeks already having dried up or having very low flows, as discussed in last week’s Report. To date, temperatures have not been low enough to freeze springs in the high country.

The rockslide at PCT Mile 172.5, just north of Antsell Rock, was removed on Monday 14th June 2021. My “before, during, and after” video is available here. This section of the PCT is now safer and is narrow but readily passable with care by hikers (but remains impassable by stock).

Many trails have accumulated treefall hazards since late 2019, passable with care by hikers but not for stock. Although reported promptly, regrettably neither Forest Service nor State Park have moved quickly to remove these hazards. With recent storms being accompanied by strong winds, it is likely that hikers may encounter new and additional hazards. Some are described below, others include the PCT between Strawberry Cienega and Strawberry Junction (PCT Miles 182-183, about 7 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. Marion Mountain Trail was cleared of multiple tree hazards by a CCC crew in late August, along with the adjacent PCT/Deer Springs Trail for 0.6 mile north to the south end of Fuller Ridge Trail.

Many treefall hazards from Red Tahquitz to Antsell Rock (PCT Miles 172.5-175) were cleared in June prior to the rockslide removal work. Nevertheless about 20 remain, including at least six major obstructions for hikers. Tahquitz Creek to Red Tahquitz (PCT Miles 175-177) was cleared in early June.

Willow Creek Trail has at least 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 by myself and others, the whitethorn has grown back rapidly, but still 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 use 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 very 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.

Sunset as seen from San Jacinto Peak, 7th October 2021, immediately prior to a minor overnight rain storm. Black Mountain and Fuller Ridge are in the foreground.

Thank you 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.

Wellman’s Cienega north spring, with extensive but melting icicles, late morning 12th October 2021.

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