Storm summary 25th December 2021

[UPDATED 29th December @ 1440: light snow yesterday added another 1.5 inches at 5550ft, with 5-6 inches on the ground now in Idyllwild (variable due to some patchy melting). The high country has been largely above the cloud the past two days, with just a dusting of an inch at most in Long Valley (8600ft) yesterday, for a total of about 13 inches there. The high peaks have added equally little in the past 48 hours, with a little above two feet estimated around San Jacinto Peak. Snow levels dropped yesterday to near 4000ft, with a dusting in Garner Valley. About 1-2 inches of snow are expected above 5000ft in the next 24 hours in the fourth (and final) storm of the seven day period. Snowshoes are currently useful everywhere above 5500ft, and spikes are recommended everywhere above 5000ft especially as conditions become increasingly icy. The next comprehensive update of the high country snow situation will likely be in the evening of Friday 31st.]

[UPDATED 28th December @ 0720: our third snow storm in five days passed through yesterday afternoon with snow in Idyllwild starting at 1415, accumulating to 3.25 inches. It only snowed very lightly in Long Valley (8600ft) with a scant one inch accumulation, and similarly light dusting on top of the two feet already around the highest peaks. With four snow storms in seven days, I do not expect a comprehensive update of the high country snow situation before Friday 31st.]

[UPDATED 26th December: very light snow overnight produced one inch in Idyllwild at 5550ft, and about two inches in Long Valley (8600ft). Snow level was near 5000ft.]

This is a summary of conditions following the fourth – and most substantial – snow (and rain!) storm of winter 2021/22 to date, with the precipitation starting early morning on Thursday 23rd and continuing well into Friday 24th December.

The storm system involved an atmospheric river drawing in moisture from tropical latitudes. Consequently the system was warm, with prodigious rain falling at high and mid elevations, often removing some of the existing snow first, before replacing it with some fresh powder later. My ascent to San Jacinto Peak on 23rd was a soggy, postholing one, with drizzle alternating with light rain, remarkably all the way to the Peak. There was a little snow mixed in by 10,200ft, but it was not until early afternoon that it finally turned completely to snow in the high country.

By the afternoon of 24th about 14 inches had fallen at San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft), and as I descended that day it was finally dusting down to about 6600ft on Devil’s Slide Trail. Detailed snow depths recorded on my hike on Friday 24th are given at the foot of this posting.

Much more significant than the snow falls were the excellent rainfall totals, with a whopping 4.35 inches measured in Idyllwild at 5550ft. It was such a pleasure to see all the minor creeks and springs flowing in full force along Devil’s Slide Trail this afternoon, in most cases for the first time in at least two-and-a-half years.

Both this storm and the previous one nine days ago left branches were heavily laden with ice, and as a result I have found many broken tree limbs in the trails. Hikers should expect to find many new treefall hazards, especially in vulnerable burn areas.

Currently very few major trails have been traveled and all are heavily obscured by snowfall. Beyond Saddle Junction, at the time of writing my snowshoe tracks to San Jacinto Peak are the only traveled high country trail. However, spindrift will have obscured much of these tracks within hours. Very cautious navigation is recommended everywhere.

Snow depths are currently ideal for snowshoeing everywhere above about 8500ft. Below that elevation snow coverage is generally too shallow for snowshoes. Spikes are recommended everywhere above about 7000ft for the foreseeable future as trails become compacted by hiker traffic and undergo freeze-thaw cycles. They will be especially valuable on trails with heavy water flow in the trails that will partially freeze over the next few days (e.g., Devil’s Slide and Deer Springs trails), and on colder mornings when conditions are icy, and for descending.

Note that significant additional snow is expected in the next week, which may change the trail conditions, and potentially the preferred equipment. However, some combination of snowshoes and spikes will likely be needed for the San Jacinto high country for the foreseeable future.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country, and generally well below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for some of my recent weather observations from San Jacinto Peak).

For details regarding pre-existing (non snow/ice) hazards on the trails, coronavirus issues and ranger station access, please see this recent Report or contact the State Park or Forest Service as indicated on their websites.

The USFS gate at Humber Park closed on 13th December. Even when closed there are nine legal parking spaces this side of the gate (near the upper Ernie Maxwell trailhead). Any vehicles not parked in these spaces may be ticketed and/or towed. If there are signs further down indicating that the road is closed then the nine spaces are also unavailable for legal parking.

It was so encouraging to see seasonal creeks, such as this one across Devil’s Slide Trail, flowing at their best in nearly three years. Photo 24th December 2021.

WEATHER Temperatures will remain well below seasonal averages into the first week of January 2022. Further snow is expected by the morning of 26th December. This fifth storm of the winter will be weaker than the fourth, but colder, with snowfall expected as low as 5000ft.

Conditions remain very unsettled into the first few days of January 2022, with further minor storm systems expected to bring snow down to mid elevations on 27th December, and again on 29th-30th. There is uncertainty in the forecast models how much snow will fall in the high country.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Thursday 23rd December 2021 at 1615 the air temperature was 27.7°F (-3°C), with a windchill temperature of 9.5°F (-13°C), 94% relative humidity, and a gusty due West wind sustained at 17 mph gusting to 27.8 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 20th December 2021 at 0940 the air temperature was 33.8°F (1°C), with a windchill temperature of 23.4°F (-5°C), 17% relative humidity, and a gentle WSW wind sustained at 6 mph gusting to 10.8 mph.

At the Peak on Tuesday 14th December 2021 at 1630 the air temperature was 10.4°F (-12°C), with a windchill temperature of -17.5°F (-27.5°C), 93% relative humidity, and a wild WNW wind sustained at 21 mph gusting to 32.5 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

The Ernie Maxwell Trail is currently clear of snow. This is expected to change by Sunday 26th.

Devil’s Slide Trail has a well-traveled track to follow through the very shallow snow, although some short sections have considerable flowing water in the trail.

Dark Canyon Road, the access for Seven Pines Trail, is closed due to winter conditions, likely into next month.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has no steps to follow through the angled icy snow. These icy slopes are treacherous. Currently crampons, with an ice axe (and knowledge of how to use both) are recommended. Snowshoes are not advised due to the angle of the icy snow.

SNOW DEPTHS measured on 24th December 2021 are as follows. The first number is the current average total depth, with the snow depth recorded earlier in the week prior to the storm following in parentheses. Note that average depth is given; due to strong winds accompanying the storms, there is extensive drifting, especially in the trails. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810ft): 22 inches (was 8 inches on morning of 23rd December)

Wellman Divide (9700ft): 20 inches, likely heavily drifted (was 3 inches on morning of 23rd)

Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 181.8 (9070ft): 14 inches (was 4 inches on morning of 23rd)

Long Valley (8600ft): 12 inches (was about 4-5 inches on 23rd) [many thanks to Kyle Eubanks for these measurements]

Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179.9 (8070ft): 3 inches (was 2 inches on morning of 23rd, much of which was washed away by rain, before two inches of fresh snow fell on top of ice)

Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6520ft): <1 inch (was less than one inch on 20th, which all melted prior to a fresh dusting on afternoon of 24th)

Idyllwild (at 5550ft): 0 inches (was 0 inches on 20th)

Wellman Divide (9700ft) with well over one foot of heavily drifted fresh snow on 24th December 2021 (above), and the same view on the morning on 23rd December (below).

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 have its challenges 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.

The Peak Trail at 9800ft just above Wellman Divide on the late morning of 24th December 2021 (above), and the same view on 20th December 2021 (below).

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