Dramatic fluctuations in temperatures forecast over the next two weeks will result in many freeze-thaw cycles and further hazardous hardening of already icy snow. Light snowfall is likely on 15th and 21st February and could make conditions more complex as underlying icy areas are obscured, and as hiking traction devices struggle to grip through the surface powder into the harder icy snow below.
Multiple hiker falls already this year in the San Jacinto mountains, including one fatality, demonstrate the critical importance of having both appropriate equipment and the right skill set for the terrain. The latter includes interpreting the snow/ice conditions, understanding your physical and mental abilities, and conservative decision making.
Early on Monday 14th February I hiked Marion Mountain and Deer Springs trails to and from San Jacinto Peak. Spikes were not required for ascending (in boots with excellent traction on crisp, cold icy snow) but were invaluable descending down Deer Springs Trail to the top of Marion Mountain Trail, and then for one short section part way down the latter. Similarly on 10th I ascended via Devil’s Slide, Wellman, and Peak trails, needing spikes for the last few hundred feet of ascent as icy snow was becoming wet on the surface due to the warm temperature and direct sun. Spikes were useful for descending down to about 9000ft for the same reasons. Hikers with a lower comfort level on snow and ice will find spikes useful more widely.
In addition to multiple ascents of San Jacinto Peak by different routes in recent days we have also surveyed several segments of the PCT, Willow Creek, Caramba, South Ridge and Spitler Peak trails, plus multiple Forest roads. Current conditions for individual trails are discussed in detail below where known.
Trails remain at least 95% snow-covered above 9000ft, with thinning and increasingly patchy snow down to about 7700ft, and generally clear below that elevation (with some notable exceptions at lower elevations on the PCT). Overall snow conditions on the trails are already more typical of April or May than early February. These conditions will likely change over the next ten days with two minor waves of snowfall currently expected in the high country.
Snow remaining from December 2021 has continued to melt slowly but steadily. Snow depths measured in recent days are detailed at the foot of this post.
Spikes are recommended everywhere above at least 7700ft as snow on trails is very icy following weeks of freeze-thaw cycles (and where compacted by hiker traffic). Spikes are especially valuable for traversing and for descending. Based on tracks I am seeing in the high country some hikers are preferring to use crampons, and those are an option in areas of continuous icy snow above about 9000ft (potentially lower in steeper terrain). Traction devices will become increasingly important over the next week or two at least, starting on 15th.
Hikers should generally be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for my recent weather observations from San Jacinto Peak).
May Valley Road was closed by Forest Service to all traffic, including foot traffic, on Friday 28th January due to hazardous trees. USFS social media states “there currently is no timeline for the road’s reopening”. There was little evidence of significant work in progress by 13th February.
The USFS gate at Humber Park reopened on 21st January having been closed since 13th December 2021. South Ridge Road (5S11) reopened in the second week of February.
According to the Forest Service website the following USFS roads are in winter closure (for vehicle traffic only): Black Mountain (4S01), San Jacinto Truck Trail (5S09), Dark Canyon (5S02), and Santa Rosa (7S02). All are currently free of snow and ice.
Temperatures are forecast to fluctuate dramatically over the next two weeks associated with the passage of energetic (but relatively dry) storm systems. Record warm temperatures this past week have resembled April or even May rather than the first half of February (as discussed here for example). The jet stream plunges southward on Monday 14th, with much colder air arriving on Tuesday 15th. However the air flow will track far enough west then south of us that oceanic moisture will be largely cut off from the system, and a cold, windy storm is expected, rather than a wet one. Only a few inches of snow are forecast for the high country.
Temperatures then rapidly rise again to above seasonal (although not as unusually warm as recent days) for 18th-19th February, before another storm system passes through on 21st-23rd February. The latter is forecast to be cold and windy as on 15th, with at least as much precipitation (perhaps 3-6 inches of snow in Idyllwild, 4-7 inches in the high country).
January 2022 was the driest January in recorded history in the San Jacinto high country, with only 0.75in of fresh snow falling at San Jacinto Peak (at least 2-3 feet of snow would be normal). No snow and only 0.32in rain fell in Idyllwild (at 5550ft) last month, making it about the sixth driest January for combined precipitation in Idyllwild since systematic records began in the 1940s. There has also been no measurable precipitation in the first half of February 2022.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Monday 14th February 2022 at 0845 the air temperature was 38.3°F (4°C), with a windchill temperature of 28.9°F (-2°C), 14% relative humidity, and a light WSW wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 10.9 mph.
At the Peak on Thursday 10th February 2022 at 1015 the air temperature was 29.6°F (-1°C), with a windchill temperature of 10.9°F (-12°C), 42% relative humidity, and a severe NNE wind sustained at 21 mph gusting to 33.7 mph.
Trails below about 7700ft are now generally clear of snow, snow cover is increasingly patchy below 9000ft, and remains continuous (or >95% cover) everywhere above 9000ft. Snow persists at elevations below 7700ft in particular on shaded north and north-east slopes (e.g., Red Tahquitz, Tahquitz, Apache, and Spitler peaks, and Antsell Rock). Melting has been steady at all elevations recently, but will be limited over the next ten days week with generally colder temperatures.
Hikers should anticipate encountering significant new treefall hazards, especially in vulnerable burn areas (e.g., Willow Creek Trail, PCT Miles 166-177). Storms in December 2021 left trees heavily laden with ice, and I have since found many broken tree limbs and downed trees throughout the trail system. Severe Santa Ana winds in January and February have brought down further trees and branches.
Effective Tuesday 1st February 2022 the State Park closed the section of Skyline Trail that falls within its jurisdiction, above 5800 ft elevation, “due to dangerous ice accumulation”. Long Valley Ranger Station staff are speculating that the trail may not reopen before April. The State Park boundary is not marked but is near the site of the old Florian’s Cache, below Flat Rock. Signage was posted at the relevant trailheads on 3rd February. There is no snow on the open section of trail below 5800 ft.
The 0.4 mile section of South Ridge Trail to Tahquitz Peak from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has no steps to follow through the steeply angled icy snow. These icy slopes are notoriously treacherous. Crampons with an ice axe (and knowledge of how to use both) are required. There was a fatal hiker fall here on Sunday 30th January.
Current snow cover on the PCT is very patchy between Miles 168 and about 175 (Red Tahquitz), mainly confined to certain north- or east-facing slopes e.g., Spitler Peak (Mile 168), Apache Peak (Mile 169.5, see photo below), and Antsell Rock (Mile 171-172). Although limited, some of these chutes and slopes are challenging and spikes are recommended. Snow is then largely continuous between Miles 175-179 (to near Saddle Junction). Snow on the Trail is very limited to about Mile 184.5, except for a stubborn section of 0.5 mile approaching Annie’s Junction (Mile 180.8) which is always among the last areas to clear every spring. Most of Miles 184-191 is snow-covered, although some exposed sections of Fuller Ridge (e.g., Miles 186.5-188.5) are clearing rapidly. My next thorough assessment of snow conditions on the PCT will likely be in late February.
Devil’s Slide Trail is now clear of icy snow to about 7800ft, and then with about 20% cover to Saddle Junction (mainly near the latter). Some hikers will find spikes useful on the upper trail, especially for descending.
South Ridge Trail (south of Tahquitz Peak) is clear of snow up to Old Lookout Flat (7600ft). Icy snow cover is about 5% to near Tahquitz Peak, increasing to about 15% on the uppermost half-a-dozen switchbacks. Most hikers will find spikes useful, especially for descending. The middle section of South Ridge Trail (between May Valley Road and the top of South Ridge Road) has several trees down which are significant obstructions (surveyed February 2022).
The predominant compacted tracks on the Peak Trail from Wellman Divide to near Miller Peak now generally approximate to the trail route. Icy snow cover remains >90%. Above 10,400ft most tracks form a compacted posthole route up the East Ridge. However the route of the Peak Trail also has a lightly used track, which is challenging in one short section before Summit Junction (spikes recommended). The Round Valley Trail has well-traveled tracks to follow from Long Valley to Wellman Divide.
Marion Mountain Trail is functionally clear of snow to about 7700ft. Icy snow cover is 40% from 7700-8200ft. From 8200ft to Deer Springs Trail (at 8700ft) snow cover is only about 10%. Most hikers will find spikes useful for ascending parts of the upper half of the trail, and they are invaluable for descending in the same areas. There is one huge new treefall hazard across the trail exactly at the State Park/Forest Service boundary.
Unsurprisingly, there continue to be no visible hiker tracks on the upper sections of Fuller Ridge and Seven Pines trails. The latter is largely clear of snow to the State Park boundary, and then snow cover is increasingly patchy above the North Fork crossing to about 7700ft (but see below regarding tree hazards and trail maintenance).
Deer Springs Trail is clear of snow to Strawberry Junction at 8100ft. From there to 8700ft (0.2 mile south of Marion Mountain Trail) snow cover is barely 10%. Thereafter snow cover is nearly continuous, with a few minor clear patches developing. Spikes are useful, especially for descending. [Three new trees came down in late 2021 on the PCT/Deer Springs Trail just south of its junction with Marion Mountain Trail, but they are readily passable for hikers.] Through Little Round Valley the track is more direct and only vaguely follows the trail route. The most heavily traveled track from LRV to near San Jacinto Peak largely follows, unfortunately for most ascending hikers, my original snowshoe route from 31st December, which is direct and steep. Cautious navigation is required as there are many alternative tracks meandering across this icy snow slope.
The Strawberry Trail between Annie’s and Strawberry junctions (roughly PCT Miles 181-183) is very sun-exposed and is 90% clear of snow.
The Caramba Trail from near Reeds Meadow through Laws Camp and on to Caramba, and the Cedar Trail from Willow Creek Trail to Laws, are optimistically described by the Forest Service as “not maintained”. In reality both trails no longer exist and are so heavily overgrown I advise hikers do not attempt to follow them. An informal use trail to Laws is much more direct and avoids all of the very challenging bush-whacking of the unmaintained trails (some local hikers dubbed it the “King Trail” when I established the route in 2019). It leaves the Willow Creek Trail exactly 1.0 mile from Saddle Junction (0.46 mile from the Skunk Cabbage turning), descending largely on established deer trails for 1.2 miles, meeting Willow Creek just upstream from the old Laws Camp. From Laws east to Caramba the route of the original Caramba Trail has been well-cairned by myself and others and can largely be followed with careful route-finding. My February 2022 survey counted 97 trees down on this 2.1 mile trail. It is especially obscure 0.1-0.3 mile east of the Willow Creek crossing, generally becoming clearer near Caramba. Cautious navigation is advised throughout the area. The King Trail still has 50% icy snow cover (spikes required), but the Caramba Trail east of Willow Creek is clear of snow (10th February survey).
Spitler Peak Trail is clear of snow. Nearly 40 downed trees from ice storms in December 2021, plus dozens of additional trunks and branches in the trail, were removed by the Trail Report in January 2022. Further trail trimming continues steadily.
The rockslide at PCT Mile 172.5, just north of Antsell Rock, was removed on 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 were quick to remove most hazards in 2021. With recent storms being accompanied by strong winds and heavy ice loads, hikers will encounter some new and additional hazards. Some are described above and 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, resurveyed on 11th February 2022, has at least 40 downed trees between Skunk Cabbage Junction and Hidden Divide. Nearly 30 of these are on the Forest Service section.
Many treefall hazards from Red Tahquitz to Antsell Rock (PCT Miles 172.5-175) were cleared in June 2021 prior to the rockslide removal work mentioned above. Nevertheless more than 20 remain, including at least six major obstructions for hikers. Tahquitz Creek to Red Tahquitz (PCT Miles 175-177) was cleared in early June 2021. All of this section has added new treefall hazards this winter.
Seven Pines Trail has had very limited hiker traffic since November 2018, largely because Dark Canyon Road was closed from February 2019 to early October 2021, and again since December 2021. The Trail Report has “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. Starting in November 2021, 42 treefall hazards on the lower 3.0 miles of trail have been removed. Almost all of this section has also been thoroughly trimmed and cleared, and the trail is now obvious and easy to follow for much of its length (when clear of snow). However at least 18 downed trees remain on the upper 0.7 mile of trail, the route is very obscure in places, and cautious navigation is required especially for those who are not very familiar with hiking this trail. Dark Canyon campground remains closed.
SNOW DEPTHS measured on 14th February (west side) and 10th February (east side) are as follows. The first number is the current average depth, with the snow depth recorded on 31st December 2021 following in parentheses. Note that average depth is given; due to strong winds accompanying some of the storms, and differential melting, there is considerable drifting and variability. Altitudes are approximate.
San Jacinto Peak (10810ft): 12 inches (was 30 inches on 31st December)
Little Round Valley (9800ft): 9 inches (was 25 inches on 31st December)
Wellman Divide (9700ft): 6 inches (was 26 inches on 31st December)
Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 181.8 (9070ft): 7 inches (was 23 inches on 31st December)
Deer Springs Trail at junction with Seven Pines Trail/PCT Mile 184.9 (8700ft): 5 inches (was 11 inches on 31st December)
Strawberry Junction/PCT Mile 183 (8100ft): 0 inches (was 8 inches on 31st December)
Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179.9 (8070ft): 0-1 inches (was 12 inches on 31st December).
Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6520ft): 0 inches (was 7 inches on 31st December)
Idyllwild (at 5550ft): 0 inches (was 6.5 inches on 31st December)
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 2022 already looks like it will be 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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