Although cooler conditions are (thankfully) forecast for the next few days, near record warm weather last week led to very rapid and widespread snowmelt. Consequently overall snowmelt conditions are nearly two months ahead of an average snow year. The minor storm overnight on Monday 11th April produced no snow, and a mere 0.02in of drizzle in Idyllwild.
In addition to multiple ascents of San Jacinto Peak by different routes in recent days we have surveyed multiple segments of the PCT, its side trails, and Forest roads.
While spikes have not been needed on my ascents of San Jacinto Peak since late March, most hikers are continuing to find them useful in parts of the high country depending on their comfort level on patchy ice and icy snow. Spikes remain most useful for descending, especially for the first few hundred feet of elevation down from the highest peaks. Current conditions for individual trails are discussed in detail below where known.
Spikes remain useful – but are no longer required, especially on heavily traveled trails with defined steps – in some areas above about 8000 ft, depending on individual comfort level on icy snow, and where snow on trails is compacted by hiker traffic and following freeze-thaw cycles. Spikes are generally most valuable for traversing and for descending.
Snow depths measured on 11th April are detailed near the foot of this post, but note that snow depth is not necessarily indicative of the difficulty (or otherwise) of conditions underfoot.
Hikers should be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for some of my most 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) and Dark Canyon (5S02).
Santa Rosa Road (7S02) reopened on 7th April.
The Forest Service ranger station in Idyllwild, closed for more than two years (originally due to the coronavirus pandemic) is reportedly scheduled to reopen on 23rd April 2022.
Following the cold but frustratingly dry storm system that passed through overnight on Monday 11th April, temperatures climb slowly back to around seasonal by Friday 15th April, and then continue to warm to above seasonal for 17th-18th April, before dropping back to seasonal. Some forecasts are suggesting the possibility of a minor storm system on 22nd-23rd April.
This recent video from National Weather Service San Diego 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, was only 38% of average on 1st April.
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 the past three seasons, have been well below average).
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Wednesday 13th April 2022 at 0830 the air temperature was 29.1°F (-2°C), with a windchill temperature of 14.6°F (-9°C), 17% relative humidity, and a sharp NW wind sustained at 9 mph gusting to 17.3 mph.
At the Peak on Monday 11th April 2022 at 0920 the air temperature was 35.6°F (2°C), with a windchill temperature of 23.5°F (-5°C), 46% relative humidity, and a bitter WNW wind sustained at 15 mph gusting to 22.7 mph.
At the Peak on Friday 8th April 2022 at 0820 the air temperature was 41.4°F (5°C), with a windchill temperature of 31.5°F (0°C), 28% relative humidity, and a stiff NE wind sustained at 16 mph gusting to 22.1 mph.
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.
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 told me recently that the tree hazards are much 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. While crampons with an ice axe (and thorough knowledge of how to use both) are preferred, 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 later 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.
The following trails below 8800 ft elevation are completely clear of snow/ice: Ernie Maxwell, Devil’s Slide, Suicide Rock, South Ridge (south from Tahquitz Peak).
The PCT is clear of snow from Mile 151 to 175 (Red Tahquitz). Snow cover remains extensive (>40%) between Miles 175-178, and many hikers are finding that spikes remain useful for those few miles. Snow cover is now 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 190 snow cover averages about 50%, with some lengthy snow patches. 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 190.
Snow cover is now only about 40% on the Peak Trail, persisting in the handful of traditional areas that are less sun-exposed, and above about 10,400 ft. Spikes are generally not required for ascending, but can be useful in places for descending. The well-compacted snow route on the East Ridge has 95% snow cover.
The Wellman Trail is almost clear of snow, other than the first 0.3 mile north of Annie’s Junction.
Marion Mountain Trail is now clear of snow, with just a tiny snow patch right below its junction with Deer Springs Trail that does not require spikes. There is one huge new treefall hazard across the trail exactly at the State Park/Forest Service boundary.
Deer Springs Trail is clear of snow to about 8600ft (just south of the Marion Mountain Trail junction). Thereafter snow cover is a very patchy 10% to about 9300 ft. Above that elevation snow cover averages about 50%. Snow cover is most extensive (80%) in Little Round Valley. Above Little Round Valley snow cover averages 60%, however the first switchbacks above LRV, and those closest to Summit Junction, are now functionally clear of snow. The trail itself is largely visible now, and is a good route for ascending. My former direct off-trail snow route is now heavily melted and not recommended. Cautious navigation is required as there are several alternative tracks meandering across the patchy snow slope. 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.]
South Ridge Trail (south of Tahquitz Peak) 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 Round Valley Trail has well-traveled tracks to follow from Long Valley to Wellman Divide, and is clearing rapidly.
Willow Creek Trail has about 10% snow cover overall, with a lightly-traveled track to Long Valley through the remaining snow patches. However there are at least 40 downed trees between Skunk Cabbage Junction and Hidden Divide, nearly 30 of these on the Forest Service section.
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 early 2022.
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 is functionally clear of snow to 8200 ft. Above that elevation snow cover is a patchy 40%. There is one set of visible hiker tracks across the remaining snow patches on Seven Pines Trail as of 11th April. This 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 (especially in snow conditions), 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 11th April 2022 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): 0-8 inches (31-35 inches on 23rd February)
Little Round Valley (9800 ft): 5 inches (30-36 inches on 23rd February, heavily drifted)
Wellman Divide (9700 ft): 0 inches (23 inches on 23rd February)
Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 180.8 (9070 ft): 0-6 inches (28 inches on 23rd February)
Seven Pines Trail junction with Deer Springs Trail/approx. PCT Mile 184.9 (8700 ft): 2-4 inches
Strawberry Junction/approx. PCT Mile 183 (8100 ft): 0 inches
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)
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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, requires spikes (at least), 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 or May (although that is weather and/or maintenance 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.