Snow and trail update 5th April 2022

Snowfall from the minor storm last week (described here) melted within days, as illustrated in the photos at the foot of this posting. Melting of older snow largely from earlier this “winter” – I use that word in the broadest possible sense – has also accelerated dramatically. Very warm, dry conditions are forecast for the first ten days of April.

In addition to multiple ascents of San Jacinto Peak by different routes in recent days we have surveyed many segments of PCT Miles 168-191 and its side trails.

On none of my recent ascents of San Jacinto Peak have spikes been needed, although many hikers will find them useful in places depending on their comfort level on icy snow. Spikes are useful for descending, at least for the first few hundred feet of elevation below San Jacinto Peak.

On 31st March we reviewed conditions again at Apache Peak (PCT Mile 169.5) as discussed in this short video. Very little snow remains, and the video discussing conditions for Miles 168.5-179.5 (Spitler Peak to Saddle Junction) on 19th March (available here) remains relevant, although now hikers will encounter even less snow than in the video. Similarly 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 also remains broadly applicable. Again, conditions will only continue to get easier over the next week. See below for a detailed description of snow cover on the PCT from Miles 151-205.

Snow depths measured on 1st and 4th April are detailed near the foot of this post, but note that snow depth is rarely indicative of the difficulty (or otherwise) of conditions underfoot.

Current conditions for individual trails are discussed in detail below where known. These will continue to change and simplify with rapid and widespread melting over the next ten days. Although useful tracks are now in place for most major trails (discussed below), cautious navigation is recommended everywhere.

Spikes remain useful (but no longer essential, especially on well-traveled trails) in some areas above about 8000 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. Snow conditions are extremely poor for snowshoeing with limited thin snow cover, and continued rapid melting expected.

Despite unseasonably warm weather, hikers should continue to be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and potentially well below freezing when considering wind chill effects, especially next week (see below for my recent weather observations from San Jacinto Peak).

The USFS gates at Humber Park and South Ridge Road are open. Humber Park was clear of snow by the afternoon of 29th March, and South Ridge Road is 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).

The Forest Service ranger station in Idyllwild, closed for more than two years (originally due to the coronavirus pandemic) is tentatively scheduled to reopen on 23rd April 2022.

Dawn on Spitler Peak Trail, 31st March 2022, just after we emerged from the marine cloud layer at 5700 ft elevation. Thomas Mountain is to the right, and Cone Peak is barely visible poking through the cloud left of centre.

WEATHER

Temperatures forecast for 5th-9th April will be at or near record highs and more closely resemble early June rather than early April. They will be accompanied by Santa Ana winds and very low humidity. A significant cooling is expected for a few days starting 11th April. Forecasts remain uncertain, but there is the possibility of a very minor storm system around 12th April.

This latest video from National Weather Service San Diego makes includes some grim statistics. The first three months of the year combined to be the second driest ever here in Riverside County, and the driest on record for the entire northern half of California. The Sierra snowpack, at an impressive 160% of average on 1st January, is now only 38% of average.

In the San Jacinto mountains for the tenth consecutive winter precipitation has been below average in the high country (and eight of those ten winters, including this season, have been well below average).

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Monday 4th April 2022 at 0835 the air temperature was 34.0°F (1°C), with a windchill temperature of 26.6°F (-3°C), 61% relative humidity, and a light NE wind sustained at 4 mph gusting to 8.4 mph.

At the Peak on Friday 1st April 2022 at 0825 the air temperature was 32.2°F (0°C), with a windchill temperature of 18.3°F (-8°C), 55% relative humidity, and a fresh ESE wind sustained at 11 mph gusting to 18.4 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Many trails below about 8700ft are now largely or completely clear of snow, and thin snow cover is increasingly patchy everywhere above that elevation, especially on sun-exposed slopes. Melting has been steady in the past two weeks, and will accelerate dramatically in the second week of April.

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).

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. Many hikers have commented to me that the tree hazards are more problematic than the remaining snow.

The 0.4 mile section of South Ridge Trail to Tahquitz Peak from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 is melting rapidly and has a set of steps to follow through the steeply angled icy snow. These icy slopes are notoriously treacherous however. Currently crampons with an ice axe (and thorough knowledge of how to use both) are preferred, although experienced hikers will find spikes sufficient. There was a fatal hiker fall here on Sunday 30th January 2022.

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.) The trail is expected to reopen sometime in 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.

Devil’s Slide Trail is clear of icy snow to near Saddle Junction, with just a few tiny patches mainly near the latter.

The PCT for a mile north of Saddle Junction (“Angel’s Glide”) is essentially clear of snow.

The Wellman Trail is now only about 40% snow-covered.

The well-traveled compacted track on the Peak Trail from Wellman Divide to near Miller Peak follows the trail route. Icy snow cover remains 80% but spikes are generally not needed other than close to San Jacinto Peak. Above 10,400ft tracks most tracks form a well-compacted route up the East Ridge.

Marion Mountain Trail is now functionally clear of snow, with just a few tiny dirty snow patches that do not require spikes. There is one huge new treefall hazard across the trail exactly at the State Park/Forest Service boundary.

Snow cover on the PCT has almost completely melted from Miles 151 (Highway 74) to about 175 (Red Tahquitz). See my video discussing conditions for Miles 168.5-179.5 (Spitler Peak to Saddle Junction) on 19th March available here, with the specific area around Apache Peak surveyed again on 31st March (here). Although snow remains largely continuous between Miles 175-179, this will change rapidly over the next week. Spikes are useful for those few miles. Snow cover is becoming very limited 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 extensive, although exposed sections of Fuller Ridge (e.g., Miles 186.6-187.5 and 187.8-188.5) are now 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.

Deer Springs Trail is clear of snow to about 8600ft (just south of the Marion Mountain Trail junction). Thereafter snow cover is roughly 50% to about 9400 ft. Above that elevation snow cover is nearly continuous (>90%), with some clear patches rapidly 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.] From Little Round Valley up to near the Peak the most heavily traveled track follows my posthole track from 29th March, which itself followed my snowshoe route from late February. This track 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. Some short sections of the trail above Little Round Valley have started to clear of snow.

South Ridge Trail (south of Tahquitz Peak) [updated 7th April] is clear of snow to Tahquitz Peak, with just a couple of tiny ice patches remaining near the Peak. Spikes are not required. 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 Ernie Maxwell Trail is clear of snow.

The Round Valley Trail has well-traveled tracks to follow from Long Valley to Wellman Divide, and is clearing rapidly.

Willow Creek Trail has about 20% 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 largely an ugly posthole track through soft snow that does not remotely follow the established trail routes. Melting will be rapid in the next week or so.

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.

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

Unsurprisingly, there were no visible hiker tracks on Seven Pines Trail as of 4th April.

SNOW DEPTHS measured on 1st April 2022 (eastern side locations) and 4th April 2022 (western side) are as follows. The first number is the current average total depth, with the greatest depth of the winter following the storms of 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, especially in the trails. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810 ft): 7-8 inches (31-35 inches on 23rd February)

Little Round Valley (9800 ft): 10 inches (30-36 inches on 23rd February, heavily drifted)

Wellman Divide (9700 ft): 0-4 inches (23 inches on 23rd February)

Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 180.8 (9070 ft): 9 inches (28 inches on 23rd February)

Seven Pines Trail junction with Deer Springs Trail/approx. PCT Mile 184.9 (8700 ft): 4-6 inches

Strawberry Junction/approx. PCT Mile 183 (8100 ft): 0 inches, new snow largely melted by afternoon of 29th March

Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179 (8070 ft): 0 inches (16 inches on 23rd February)

Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6520 ft): 0 inches (15 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, Venmo, and PayPal are all available. Thank you so much for your support.

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

Detailed snow conditions on the PCT are described above under “Trail Conditions”.

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 well 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.

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 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. Little Round Valley and Strawberry Junction are good options for thru-hikers.

Approx. PCT Mile 185.6, where Fuller Ridge Trail diverges from Deer Springs Trail. Above on 4th April 2022, and below for comparison six days earlier on 29th March 2022
Above, Wellman Divide (9700 ft) on 1st April 2022, and below the same view three days earlier on 29th March 2022 for comparison.

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