Trail update 3rd May 2022

Melting of remaining snow has continued steadily and most major trails are now largely or completely clear of snow. Many hikers have found spikes unnecessary for the past couple of weeks, and hardly any of the 130 PCT hikers I have seen and talked with in the past ten days were using (or even carrying) spikes. Current conditions for individual trails are discussed in detail below where known.

Early on Monday 2nd May we ascended San Jacinto Peak via Devil’s Slide, PCT, Wellman’s, and Peak trails, descending the same way. 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 a few Forest roads. Trails surveyed in recent days have included South Ridge (twice), Marion Mountain, Seven Pines, Willow Creek, Laws and Caramba, and Deer Springs.

In general spikes are no longer required, especially on extensively melted and/or well-traveled trails with defined snow steps. Hikers may find spikes remain useful in a handful of small areas above about 8500 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. Spikes are generally most useful for descending.

As snow is now so patchy and limited, I am no longer reporting snow depths. This does not mean there is no snow in the high country, only that in the locations for which I typically report depths, averages are zero or functionally zero. Significant snow remains in areas above 9000 ft, largely off established trails, in sheltered forested areas, and on north-facing slopes.

Despite mostly warmer days, hikers should continue to be prepared for temperatures near freezing in the high country, and below freezing when considering wind chill effects, especially on 10th-12th May. 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. South Ridge Road was partially graded in mid April, smoothing the worst sections. 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 later in May 2022.

The drainage in Little Round Valley, 29th April 2022. Although this formerly perennial creek has dried up with increasing frequency in summer or autumn of some recent years, in 2022 it was already completely dry in April.

WEATHER

Temperatures are forecast to be at or above seasonal (in particular overnight lows) for the first week of May. It will be especially warm on 4th-7th May. Temperatures then drop below seasonal for most of the second week of the month, including temperatures below freezing in the high country on 10th-12th May. Temperatures rise to (or above) seasonal again starting 13th May. There is no significant precipitation in the forecasts.

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 Monday 2nd May 2022 at 0815 the air temperature was 44.4°F (7°C), with a windchill temperature of 36.9°F (3°C), 10% relative humidity, and a brisk WNW wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 12.3 mph.

At the Peak on Friday 29th April 2022 at 0815 the air temperature was 43.5°F (6°C), with a windchill temperature of 36.1°F (2°C), 8% relative humidity, and a light NNW wind sustained at 4 mph gusting to 8.3 mph.

Angled icy snow remaining on the north side of Tahquitz Peak, 1st May 2022. Most hikers will find that spikes are no longer required to cross this very short section on South Ridge Trail to/from Tahquitz Peak and Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Trails below about 8600 ft elevation are clear of snow. Thin patchy snow cover is rapidly becoming very limited on the trails above that elevation.

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 Superintendent stated on 25th April “we are monitoring weather conditions and the route and hope to reopen in the coming weeks”. The State Park boundary on Skyline is not marked but is near the site of the old Florian’s Cache, below Flat Rock.

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 should expect to 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 in 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 from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 to Tahquitz Peak has cleared rapidly [updated 1st May]. Two tiny patches of icy snow remain to cross, but these have well-defined steps through the snow (see photos above and below). Most hikers will find spikes are no longer required.

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 30% between Miles 175-177, but very few hikers are finding that spikes remain necessary in that area. 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 (about 50% snow cover). Some snow patches remain on the sheltered sections of Fuller Ridge (notably Miles 188-189.5)

Snow cover now averages only 5% on the Peak Trail, persisting in two short traditional areas at 10,000 ft and 10,100 ft. Spikes are generally not required. The snow route on the East Ridge still has >80% snow cover but is clearing steadily.

The Wellman Trail is almost clear of snow, other than 60% cover on the first 0.3 mile north of Annie’s Junction.

Marion Mountain Trail is clear of snow [updated 29th April]. 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 just south of the Marion Mountain Trail junction. Thereafter snow cover is a patchy 10% to about 9300 ft. Above that elevation snow cover currently averages 30%, but will continue to melt rapidly in the next few days. Snow is most extensive (50%) in Little Round Valley. Above Little Round Valley snow cover averages 20%. Some hikers may find spikes useful in places, 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. 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 is clear of snow. 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 7500 ft. Above that elevation snow cover is a patchy 10%. 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 downed trees 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 essential for those who do not have extensive experience of hiking this trail. Dark Canyon campground remains closed.

It’s northbound PCT season! Please consider helping 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 now options. Thank you for your support.

PCT Mile 185.6, the south end of Fuller Ridge Trail at its junction with Deer Springs Trail (8970ft). Above on 29th April 2022, and below just four days earlier on 25th April, when some snow remained from a minor snow storm on 22nd April. Eastern slopes more exposed to direct sun largely cleared on 24th and 25th April (as illustrated in the previous Report).
The other patch of angled icy snow remaining on the trail on the north side of Tahquitz Peak, 1st May 2022 (see also above). Spikes are no longer required to cross this very short section on South Ridge Trail to/from Tahquitz Peak and Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178.
Special thanks to great friend (and social media coordinator) of the Trail Report Charles Phelan who leaves Idyllwild-Pine Cove for New England this month in part to be closer to family. We hiked to Tahquitz Peak on 1st May 2022, where we had worked together as fire lookouts since Charles joined the program in 2016. Safe hiking Charles!

4 thoughts on “Trail update 3rd May 2022

  1. I’m not familiar with Annie’s Jct. Where is that? Thank you and thank you for your incredible service to all hikers in San Jacinto area! Jane

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    1. Thank you for your continuing support Jane. That is a colloquial name (i.e. not on USGS maps) for the junction of the PCT and the Wellman Trail, at about PCT Mile 180.8 where the PCT takes a hard turn towards Strawberry Junction (if coming northbound). It happens to fall exactly at the State Park/Forest Service boundary.

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  2. Great report! Do you think the Round Valley spigot will be open soon?

    Mike Harley

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    1. The Round Valley faucet is currently flowing steadily (checked on 5th May). The faucet has largely been flowing well since it thawed out in March (and even before that at times depending on temperature). It will likely dry up due to the very poor winter, probably sometime in the next couple of months. Safe hiking, Jon.

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