Snow and trail update 23rd March 2022

[I have uploaded a detailed video report (linked here) for Fuller Ridge Trail/PCT Miles 185.5-190.5 based on a full survey on the morning of Wednesday 23rd March. Also note that four days earlier I did a similar survey and video report for PCT Miles 168.5-179.5.]

Other than brief cooler weather on Sunday 20th, warm and sunny conditions have led to rapid snowmelt at all elevations. This will accelerate further this week, with forecast temperatures far above average for March. Overall snow conditions already more closely resemble mid April (or, in a “normal” year, early May) than mid March.

Very minor precipitation on 20th included 0.11 in of rain in Idyllwild (at 5550 ft) and 0.25 in snow above 8700ft with a dusting down to 7500 ft. There was a narrow band between 8700-9800 ft on the western slope with 0.5 in snow, dropping back to just 0.25 in at the highest peaks.

Snow depths measured (largely) on 21st March are detailed near the foot of this post but note that snow depth is rarely indicative of the difficulty or otherwise of conditions for hiking.

In addition to multiple ascents of San Jacinto Peak by different routes in recent days we have surveyed several segments of PCT Miles 151-186 and its side trails, plus multiple Forest roads. On Saturday 19th March we hiked PCT Miles 168.5-179.5 (Spitler Peak to Saddle Junction) plus Spitler Peak and Devil’s Slide trails, and reported on conditions in this detailed video report.

Current conditions for individual trails are discussed in detail below where known. These will continue to change with rapid and widespread melting over the next week, followed by the possibility of a light to moderate snowstorm on 28th-29th March.

Early on Monday 21st March we ascended San Jacinto Peak via Marion Mountain and Deer Springs trails. Boots with excellent traction were sufficient all the way to the Peak. Spikes were useful for descending continuously to about 8600 ft and then on some patches down to 7500 ft. Hikers with a lower comfort level on snow and icy snow will find spikes useful more widely. Although useful tracks are now in place for most major trails (discussed below), cautious navigation is recommended everywhere.

Although snow conditions are rapidly becoming benign in the San Jacinto mountains, I continue to emphasize 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.

Spikes are recommended (but not essential on well-traveled trails) almost everywhere above about 7400 ft, as snow on trails can be icy where compacted by hiker traffic and following freeze-thaw cycles. Spikes are generally most valuable for traversing and for descending. PCT hikers that leave the trail by Mile 165, and then regain the trail at Mile 191 using the Black Mountain Road alternate, no longer require spikes (currently spikes remain recommended for some parts of Miles 166-191).

With the main trails now largely having compacted tracks snowshoes are no longer required but they remain very useful in off-trail areas only above about 7900ft. With continued snowmelt conditions will further deteriorate for snowshoeing over the next week.

Despite generally warmer than seasonal weather, hikers should nevertheless be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and potentially well below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for my recent weather observations from San Jacinto Peak).

The USFS gate at Humber Park reopened on 11th March.

South Ridge Road is open and is largely clear of icy snow.

The following USFS roads are in winter closure (for vehicle traffic only): Black Mountain (4S01), Dark Canyon (5S02), and Santa Rosa (7S02).

Junction of Fuller Ridge Trail and Deer Springs Trail (PCT Mile 185.6) on 21st March 2022. There is now a lightly traveled posthole track on Fuller Ridge (to the left).

WEATHER

Temperatures will yet again climb to well above seasonal, with very warm conditions forecast for 24th-26th March. There is the likelihood of a warm storm around Monday 28th, with moderate rainfall at mid elevations, and snowfall up to 10-12 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. Snowfall in both December 2021 and February 2022 was below seasonal for the high country. Consequently, for the tenth consecutive winter, precipitation will be below average in the San Jacinto high country (and eight of those ten winters have been well below average).

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Monday 21st March 2022 at 0830 the air temperature was 35.4°F (2°C), with a windchill temperature of 16.5°F (-9°C), 47% relative humidity, and a gusty NNW wind sustained at 5 mph gusting to 16.7 mph.

At the Peak on Thursday 17th March 2022 at 0830 the air temperature was 29.1°F (-2°C), with a windchill temperature of 14.5°F (-10°C), 19% relative humidity, and a bitter due North wind sustained at 14 mph gusting to 16.5 mph.

Little Round Valley (9800ft) on 21st March 2022, averaging about 12-18 inches of snow cover but with some bare patches appearing.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Trails below about 7500ft are now generally clear of snow, light snow cover is increasingly patchy below 9000ft, and light to moderate cover remains largely continuous everywhere above 9000ft. Icy snow from prior storms persists on shaded north and north-east slopes (e.g., Red Tahquitz, Tahquitz, Apache, and Spitler peaks, and Antsell Rock). Melting has been rapid in the past week and will accelerate over the next week.

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, agencies failed to remove most hazards in 2021. With recent storms being accompanied by strong winds and heavy ice loads, hikers will encounter many new and additional hazards, especially in vulnerable burn areas (e.g., Willow Creek Trail, PCT Miles 170-177).

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 thorough knowledge of how to use both) are required. Snowshoes are not advised due to the angle of the icy snow. There was a fatal hiker fall here on Sunday 30th January.

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”. (Skyline Trail forms the lower two-thirds of the “Cactus-to-Clouds” [C2C] route.) Long Valley Ranger Station staff have stated 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. The open section of trail below 5800 ft is clear of snow.

Current snow cover on the PCT is very limited from Miles 151 (Highway 74) to about 160, and then increasingly patchy between Miles 160 and 175 (Red Tahquitz). Although limited, some shaded chutes and slopes can be tricky for those without snow/ice experience, and spikes remain recommended. See my video discussing conditions for Miles 168.5-179.5 (Spitler Peak to Saddle Junction) on 19th March available here. Although snow remains largely continuous between Miles 175-179, this will change rapidly over the next week. Snow cover is becoming very patchy in sun-exposed areas between Miles 178 to 184, with the exception of the notoriously stubborn half mile just south of Annie’s Junction starting at about Mile 180.3. From Mile 184 to 191, snow cover is largely continuous, although some exposed sections of Fuller Ridge (e.g., Miles 186.6-187.5 and 187.8-188.5) are now largely clear, as are areas north of Mile 191. See the detailed video report (linked here) for Fuller Ridge Trail/PCT Miles 185.5-190.5 based on a full survey on Wednesday 23rd March.

Although some treefall hazards from Red Tahquitz to Antsell Rock (PCT Miles 172.5-175) were cleared in June 2021 prior to the rockslide removal work, the situation has badly deteriorated this winter. In a full survey on 19th March 2022, I counted at least 72 treefall hazards between PCT Miles 170-175. At least a third of these are major hazards that require scrambling over or around.

The Ernie Maxwell Trail is clear of snow.

Devil’s Slide Trail is largely clear of icy snow to about 7700 ft, and then with about 40% patchy cover to Saddle Junction. Hikers will generally find spikes useful on the upper trail, especially for descending.

The PCT for a mile north of Saddle Junction (“Angel’s Glide”) is already largely clear of snow. The Wellman Trail has a well-traveled posthole route that largely follows the trail and remains about 90% snow-covered, but sun-exposed sections are clearing rapidly.

The well-traveled compacted track on the Peak Trail from Wellman Divide to near Miller Peak follows the trail route. Icy snow cover remains >90%. Above 10,400ft tracks form a partially compacted snowshoe route up the East Ridge. The Round Valley Trail has well-traveled tracks to follow from Long Valley to Wellman Divide.

Marion Mountain Trail has about 50% snow cover overall, with a very well-traveled compacted track throughout. The trail is largely clear (10% snow cover) to about 7400 ft and then snow cover averages 70% up to the PCT/Deer Springs Trail junction, with a couple of lengthy clear sections. Spikes are very useful for descending. There is one huge new treefall hazard across the trail exactly at the State Park/Forest Service boundary.

There is now an obvious posthole track on Fuller Ridge Trail, although it does not accurately follow the PCT route in places. Spikes remain recommended for this section. I expect to fully update conditions on Fuller Ridge by 24th March.

There were no visible hiker tracks on Seven Pines Trail as of 21st March.

Deer Springs Trail is functionally clear of snow to Strawberry Junction at 8100ft, and is largely clear from there to about 8600ft (just south of the Marion Mountain Trail junction). 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 and on up to near the Peak the most heavily traveled track follows my prior snowshoe route which did not attempt to follow the trail route and is very direct and steep (and would be a challenging ascent for many). Cautious navigation is required as there are several alternative tracks meandering across this snow slope.

Willow Creek Trail has about 50% snow cover overall, with a posthole and snowshoe track to Long Valley through the remaining snow. There are at least 40 downed trees between Skunk Cabbage Junction and Hidden Divide, nearly 30 of these on the Forest Service section.

The trail from Saddle Junction to near Reeds Meadow, then past Little Tahquitz Meadow to connect to the PCT is currently an ugly posthole track through soft snow that does not remotely follow the established trail routes.

The Suicide Rock Trail is clear of snow.

Spitler Peak Trail is clear of snow. Forty downed trees, most from an ice storm in late December 2021, plus dozens of additional trunks and branches in the trail, have been removed by the Trail Report from this trail in 2022.

South Ridge Trail (south of Tahquitz Peak) is rapidly clearing of snow up to Old Lookout Flat (7600ft). Icy snow cover is about 50% to near Tahquitz Peak, and nearly continuous on the uppermost half-a-dozen switchbacks. Spikes recommended. 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.

The Strawberry Trail between Annie’s and Strawberry junctions (roughly PCT Miles 181-183) has been well-traveled, is very sun-exposed and is clearing rapidly 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 bushwhacking 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.

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 (or around) 21st March 2022 are as follows. The first number is the current average total depth, with the greatest depth recorded after the largest storm of this calendar year (on 22nd-23rd February 2022) given in parentheses, where known. Due to strong winds accompanying storms and complex differential melting between snowfall events, note that there is considerable variability in snow depth. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810 ft): 14-15 inches (31-35 inches on 23rd February)

Little Round Valley (9800 ft): 16 inches (with heavy drifting here)

Wellman Divide (9700 ft): 4 inches (23 inches on 23rd February)

Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 180.8 (9070 ft): 14 inches (28 inches on 23rd February)

Seven Pines Trail junction with Deer Springs Trail/approx. PCT Mile 184.9 (8700 ft): 6-8 inches

Strawberry Junction/approx. PCT Mile 183 (8100 ft): 0-2 inches

Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179 (8070 ft): 2-4 inches (16 inches on 23rd February)

Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6520 ft): 0 inches (15 inches on 23rd February)

Idyllwild (at 5550 ft): 0 inches, melted by 10th March (10.5 inches on 23rd February)

It’s northbound PCT season! Please help the Trail Report at our busiest time of the year. While all labor and time is volunteered, the San Jacinto Trail Report completely depends on your small private donations to cover costs. Your contribution helps to keep the Report active, free from advertising, and independent from agencies. If you have found this Report useful, please visit the Donate page. Zelle has been added as a fee-free way to donate. Thank you for your support.

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

This has been a well-below average snow year for the San Jacinto high country (for the third season in a row, and now for eight of the past ten winters). Given rapid climate change here there could be relatively little snow and ice by the time you reach the San Jacinto mountains. Nevertheless even small, isolated sections of icy snow can be challenging, especially for those with limited experience of snow/ice hiking. Details of current snow/ice conditions will be clear from updates to the Trail Report over coming weeks.

Current snow cover on the PCT is very limited from Miles 151 (Highway 74) to about 160, and then increasingly patchy between Miles 160 and 175 (Red Tahquitz). Although limited, some shaded chutes and slopes can be tricky for those without snow/ice experience, and spikes remain recommended. See my video discussing conditions for Miles 168.5-179.5 (Spitler Peak to Saddle Junction) on 19th March available here. Although snow remains largely continuous between Miles 175-179, this will change rapidly over the next week. Snow cover is becoming very patchy in sun-exposed areas between Miles 178 to 184, with the exception of the notoriously stubborn half mile just south of Annie’s Junction starting at about Mile 180.3. From Mile 184 to 191, snow cover is largely continuous, although some exposed sections of Fuller Ridge (e.g., Miles 186.6-187.5 and 187.8-188.5) are now largely clear, as are areas north of Mile 191. See the detailed video report (linked here) for Fuller Ridge Trail/PCT Miles 185.5-190.5 based on a full survey on Wednesday 23rd March.

The short snow slope on the NE side of Apache Peak (Mile 169.5) that has proved problematic for some hikers over the years is currently largely snow-covered but is not currently challenging (see video report mentioned above). Spikes are currently recommended. Every individual should make their own assessment of whether to cross based on their comfort level on angled snow, their snow/ice experience, available equipment, time of day, and current snow conditions. If in any doubt whatsoever, turn around and take the Spitler Peak Trail alternate option at Mile 168.5.

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).

If you take an alternate further south, it is possible to regain the PCT from Idyllwild via Devil’s Slide Trail at Saddle Junction (about Mile 179.5). Do not attempt to regain the PCT via South Ridge Trail as the slope on the north side of Tahquitz Peak always remains ice-covered well into April (at least), requires crampons and ice axe, and is notoriously treacherous.

Black Mountain Road is not closed to hiker traffic, only to vehicles. This is a temporary, seasonal closure, and usually it reopens to vehicles in March or April (although that is weather dependent).

PCT hikers are reminded that overnight stays are not permitted at or near San Jacinto Peak, including in the historic shelter. Mt. San Jacinto State Park regulations permit overnight stays only in established campgrounds (when open). Little Round Valley and Strawberry Junction are good options for thru hikers.

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