Trail update 1st December 2021

With the end of the month passing (and with no clouds on the horizon, literally) November 2021 is confirmed as the driest in recorded history in both the San Jacinto high country and in Idyllwild. There was no recorded precipitation at mid or upper elevations in the entire month. In Idyllwild it was also likely the warmest November on record, pending final data.

Thursday 25th November we were battered by a strong Santa Ana wind event with gusts above 30mph in Idyllwild, so hikers should not be surprised to find new treefall hazards in places on the trail system. Although my route on 29th from Devil’s Slide Trail to San Jacinto Peak had no new trees down, we did find two fresh large treefall hazards on Seven Pines Trail on 28th.

Full fire restrictions remain 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 designated wilderness (both State Park and USFS). With unseasonably warm, dry conditions, and periodic Santa Ana wind events, fire risk remains very high.

Unsurprisingly, water conditions in the high country continue to deteriorate further. Many springs and creeks dried months ago. The current status of most key water sources is discussed below.

Forest Service campgrounds largely closed for the season earlier in November, along with the State Park Stone Creek campground (Marion Mountain campground will close 1st December). The State Park campground at the Idyllwild Ranger Station normally remains open all year.

Despite recent relatively warm days, hikers should nevertheless be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing around the highest peaks (>10,000ft), and potentially well below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for my most recent weather observations from San Jacinto Peak).

The U.S. Forest Service ranger station in Idyllwild has been closed due to USFS coronavirus protocols since March 2020. Apparently it will not reopen before February 2022. Hiking and camping permits are nevertheless required for USFS lands, and should be self-issued at the kiosk outside the ranger station.

The State Park ranger station has been open almost all year, and is the best source in Idyllwild for permits and additional trail information.

WEATHER Temperatures will remain far above seasonal for at least the next week – in Idyllwild more typical of October than December – before cooling closer to average from about 8th December. About two weeks of dry, predominantly north-east winds are forecast to finally give way to a prevailing westerly air flow from 9th December. There is the possibility of a minor storm system around 10th December and again on 13th-14th.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Wednesday 1st December 2021 at 0835 the air temperature was 33.4°F (1°C), with a windchill temperature of 18.1°F (-8°C), 31% relative humidity, and a stiff NE wind sustained at 17 mph gusting to 27.2 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 29th November 2021 at 0825 the air temperature was 38.9°F (3°C), with a windchill temperature of 30.7°F (-1°C), 43% relative humidity, and a brisk NE wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 9.5 mph.

At the Peak on Wednesday 24th November 2021 at 0830 the air temperature was 30.7°F (-1°C), with a windchill temperature of 20.1°F (-7°C), 31% relative humidity, and a cool NNE wind sustained at 5 mph gusting to 9.1 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

For the first time since systematic records began, there is no settled snow anywhere in the San Jacinto mountains at the beginning of December. Obviously no snow equipment (e.g., spikes) is required at this time.

Water conditions remain challenging despite five minor storms in October, with many springs and creeks already having dried up or having very low flows, as discussed in detail below. To date, temperatures have not been low enough to freeze springs in the high country, although that is possible by mid December.

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).

Due to greatly reduced maintenance work by the agencies and PCTA during the coronavirus pandemic, 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 most hazards in 2021. With Santa Ana events and recent storms being accompanied by strong winds, hikers may encounter some new and additional hazards. Some are described below, others include the PCT between Strawberry Cienega and Strawberry Junction (PCT Miles 182-183, at least 7 trees down), and Fuller Ridge Trail near its northern end (PCT Miles 189.1-190.2, three trees).

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 USFS volunteer Bill Rhoads and myself, the whitethorn has grown back rapidly, but still remains much less challenging than in 2019.

Spitler Peak Trail was cleared of multiple tree hazards by the Trail Report in early July, and has been trimmed periodically throughout 2021.

Marion Mountain Trail was cleared of multiple tree hazards by a California Conservation Corps team in late August, along with the adjacent PCT/Deer Springs Trail for 0.6 mile north to the south end of Fuller Ridge Trail. One new tree came down in early November 2021 on the PCT just yards south of its junction with Marion Mountain Trail, but it is easily passable for hikers.

Many treefall hazards from Red Tahquitz to Antsell Rock (PCT Miles 172.5-175) were cleared in June prior to the rockslide removal work mentioned above. 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.

Seven Pines Trail has had very limited hiker traffic since November 2018, largely because Dark Canyon Road was closed between February 2019 and early October 2021. The Trail Report has recently “adopted” Seven Pines Trail as a priority for maintenance work as the trail has had a disproportionate number of lost hiker rescues in recent years. In November 2021, 36 treefall hazards on the lower 3.0 miles of trail have been removed (although two new trees fell on this section in severe Santa Ana winds on 25th November). The lower 2.0 miles have also been trimmed and cleared, with (so far) less systematic trail rehabilitation for another mile further up. The trail is now obvious and easy to follow in this lower section. However at least 20 treefall hazards remain on the upper 0.7 mile of trail, the route is very obscure in places, and cautious navigation is required for those who are not very familiar with hiking this trail. Dark Canyon campground remains closed.

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.

WATER STATUS: Eastern slope

The Round Valley pipe is now trickling only very erratically and is no longer reliable. 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 gently (but adequately to filter). These are the sources for Willow Creek, which is flowing where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail (the flow remains good for filtering, but is by far the lowest I have ever seen this creek). Sections of the creek are dry near Laws Camp (the creek presumably sustained by subsurface flow).

Tahquitz Creek is flowing at the northern end of Little Tahquitz Meadow. It is also flowing gently further upstream at its source (known colloquially 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 gently where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail, and also very weakly where it crosses the Fuller Ridge Trail on the PCT (approx. PCT Mile 186.2). Less than two miles further downstream this river is, remarkably, completely dry (see photos in an earlier report here).

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 remarkably well. I rework the tiny pool every week when I pass by and there is sufficient depth from which to filter water.

The little creek at Strawberry Cienega (PCT mile 183.0) is dry.

On Devil’s Slide Trail all springs have been dry for many months.

On the Ernie Maxwell Trail, the crossing of Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park is currently flowing well where it crosses the trail. Even when the creek is dry across the trail, small but invaluable fresh pools remain 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 weakly. 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 dried up in July. Even in the very dry years of 2015 and 2016, this source did not dry until the autumn.

Mountain Lions are very common and widespread in the San Jacinto mountains, albeit rarely seen. I typically find tracks or scat somewhere several times every month. This relatively fresh scat, composed entirely of deer hair, was in the middle of the Wellman Trail at 9450ft elevation on 24th November 2021. The knife is 3.6 inches long for scale. Tracks nearby on the same trail suggested a relatively small lion (likely <100 pounds weight).

Thank you fellow 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.

3 thoughts on “Trail update 1st December 2021

  1. Hi Jon Could you send me your bear and Mtn Lion video from your critter cam? My brother just sent me a video of a Mtn Lion in Agoura Hills I’m his backyard right by the paramount ranch and wanted to share critter pics Thanks Buzz

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