[UPDATED 22nd April 2022: a minor snow storm overnight produced five inches of snow at San Jacinto Peak, and 0.5in rain and a trace of snow in Idyllwild. Snowmelt will be rapid over the weekend,, but some hikers will find spikes useful for at least the next couple of days. More details (and a feel for conditions in the high country) in this short video recorded late this morning.]
Recent warm days have led to further widespread snowmelt. Although a very minor storm system is forecast for the early morning of Friday 22nd April, only 1-2 inches of snow are expected above about 8000 ft elevation, which is unlikely to significantly impact trail conditions or increase navigation challenges. A return to warm weather immediately after the storm will result in fresh snow melting very quickly.
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. Trails surveyed in recent days have included South Ridge, Marion Mountain, Seven Pines, Willow Creek, Laws and Caramba, Deer Springs, and Spitler Peak.
Early on Monday 18th April we ascended via Devil’s Slide, Wellman, Peak, and East Ridge trails to San Jacinto Peak, descending via Deer Springs Trail. This loop also facilitated survey of the highest parts of the PCT in the San Jacinto mountains (roughly Miles 179-181 and 185.5-183) plus several of its side trails. This was my first Peak ascent this calendar year in which my spikes went unused all morning, even for descending. Of the 24 PCT hikers I saw and chatted with on my loop hike, only a handful were using spikes, even those leaving the Trail to summit the Peak.
Hikers may find spikes remain useful in a few areas above about 8000 ft (generally discussed below), depending on individual comfort level and experience on patches of icy snow, where snow on trails is compacted by hiker traffic and following freeze-thaw cycles. In general spikes are no longer required, especially on extensively melted and well-traveled trails with defined snow steps. Spikes remain most useful for descending, especially for the first few hundred feet of elevation down from the highest peaks. Spikes remain valuable – if no longer strictly essential – in certain locations, such as the north side of Tahquitz Peak.
As snow is now so patchy and limited, I am no longer reporting snow depths. However significant snow remains in patches, largely in sheltered forested areas, and on north-facing slopes. Current conditions for individual trails are discussed in detail below where known.
Despite unseasonal warm temperatures at times, hikers should nevertheless 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, and these areas cleared of icy snow weeks ago. Santa Rosa Road (7S02) reopened on 7th April. Black Mountain (4S01) and Dark Canyon (5S02) roads remain in winter closure (for vehicle traffic only).
The Forest Service ranger station in Idyllwild, closed for more than two years (originally due to the coronavirus pandemic) is now tentatively scheduled to reopen in May 2022.
After a few recent days of above seasonal temperatures, a cooler spell is forecast between 20th-23rd April, with temperatures at or even slightly below average for April. A minor storm system is forecast for the early morning of Friday 22nd April, with <0.3in rain forecast for Idyllwild and a dusting of snow above about 7000 ft elevation, with two inches of snow possible around the highest peaks. Starting Sunday 24th temperatures yet again rise to well above seasonal, and will be very warm for April on 25th-29th.
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 (NWS data). The Sierra snowpack, at an impressive 160% of average on 1st January, was only 38% of average by 1st April. In the San Jacinto mountains precipitation has been below average in the high country for the tenth consecutive winter (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 20th April 2022 at 0750 the air temperature was 30.5°F (-1°C), with a windchill temperature of 12.1°F (-11°C), 61% relative humidity, and a strong due West wind sustained at 22 mph gusting to 32.1 mph.
At the Peak on Monday 18th April 2022 at 0820 the air temperature was 40.5°F (5°C), with a windchill temperature of 29.3°F (-1°C), 28% relative humidity, and a steady WNW wind sustained at 17 mph gusting to 27.6 mph.
At the Peak 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.
Trails below about 8700ft are generally clear of snow, and thin patchy snow cover is increasingly limited above that elevation.
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, most hazards were not removed in 2021. With storms this season 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.
The 0.4 mile section of South Ridge Trail to Tahquitz Peak from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 is now clearing rapidly. A few extended patches of angled icy snow remain but have steps to follow. Most hikers will find spikes are still useful, especially for descending, but they are no longer essential.
Effective 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 trail remained closed as of 19th April.
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), all Garner Valley trails.
The PCT is clear of snow from Mile 151 to 175 (Red Tahquitz). Snow cover remains about 40% between Miles 175-178, and some hikers are finding that spikes remain useful for those few miles. Snow cover is now 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. Some lengthy snow patches remain on the sheltered sections of Fuller Ridge (notably Miles 188-189.5)
Snow cover now only averages 10% on the Peak Trail, persisting in the handful of traditional areas that are less sun-exposed (e.g., around 9000-10,100 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 still has 95% snow cover but is becoming increasingly uneven due to melting.
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. There is one huge new treefall hazard across the trail exactly at the State Park/Forest Service boundary.
Deer Springs Trail is completely clear of snow to about 8700ft (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 only 30%. Snow is most extensive (60%) in Little Round Valley. Above Little Round Valley snow cover averages only 40%, with the first switchbacks above LRV, and those closest to Summit Junction, now functionally clear of snow. Some hikers will find spikes 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. 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.
Willow Creek Trail has less than 10% snow cover overall, with a 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 very careful route-finding. My February 2022 survey counted 97 trees down on this 2.1 miles of 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 clear of snow to 8200 ft. Above that elevation snow cover is a patchy 30%. There is at least 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.
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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.
3 thoughts on “Trail update 20th April 2022”
Thanks for the latest update, Jon. Water flow photo at Willow Creek above Laws looks good enough for pumping going into next month. Wellman Cienega looked descent enough to fill a Be Free or Life Straw bottle.Last year, on May 9/11, we had good water sources at Little Round Valley, and even from that little stream up the trail from Strawberry Junction What are you thoughts on water at Strawberry Cienega next month?
Willow Creek and Wellman’s Cienega will be fine for filtering for another few months. Little Round Valley creek was dry this morning. Strawberry Cienega will likely be fine in May, but it has a tendency to stop fairly abruptly, and that will happen early this year. Safe hiking, Jon.