Water and trail update 23rd June 2022

With relatively little changing on the trail system at present, other than the steady deterioration of the limited water resources, the Trail Report may be updated somewhat less frequently – normally it is at least weekly – for the next couple of months. Any significant news (e.g., fires, storms, closures, openings) will of course be reported immediately.

A day of intermittent thunderstorms in the San Jacinto mountains on Wednesday 22nd June produced only 0.05in rain in Idyllwild (at 5550ft). However, one intense storm cell over the north-east of the mountain did generate about 0.5in of rain in Long Valley in early afternoon. Such localized rain will improve (if only temporarily) flow rates of impacted water sources.

The trail system has been clear of snow since April. Current conditions for individual trails are discussed in detail below where known. Recent hikes have included thorough surveys of water resources on the Desert Divide and around the Tahquitz area meadows. Water conditions where known are detailed at the foot of this Report.

Hikers should be prepared for unseasonably hot weather, with temperatures well above average for the month, starting Tuesday 21st June and lasting until the end of the month. Please plan accordingly regarding route choice, start times, clothing, sun protection, and water requirements.

Hikers should also be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions in the high country in summer. Monsoon conditions, usually in the afternoons, are a possibility for the foreseeable future, currently most likely on 22nd and 27th June. Thunderstorms with lightning, brief but intense precipitation, and rapid temperature drops, can occur in the high country even when such storms are not forecast for lower elevations.

Air quality and visibility down in the lowlands, especially the Coachella Valley, has been generally poor all year due to the lack of rainfall combined with windier than average conditions. Sadly this poor air quality has been visibly climbing into the higher elevations in recent weeks, with some occasional clearer days.

Full fire restrictions were introduced on Thursday 26th May on Forest Service lands, as described in detail here. Campfires on all USFS lands in the San Jacinto mountains (including in fire rings at campgrounds and yellow post sites), and smoking, are prohibited for the remainder of the year.

Be rattlesnake aware. Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus helleri) have recently been seen on the trail system up to at least 8900 ft elevation. As usual, the lower two-thirds of Devil’s Slide Trail, and around Tahquitz Peak, seem to be particular hotspots, but rattlesnakes are possible anywhere up to at least 9300 ft.

Seasonal campgrounds and Forest Service roads are now generally open. Note the fire restrictions mentioned above. Dark Canyon Road (5S02) remains in “winter closure” and consequently Dark Canyon Campground remains closed. May Valley Road remains closed to vehicles due to “hazard trees”.

We have been working steadily for seven years to enhance the wildlife habitat on the small patch of forest we own adjacent to our cabin in Idyllwild. This Mule Deer chose to have her fawns here this year, and remarkably she had triplets! This photo was taken through a spotting scope from our deck, and the (still very wobbly) triplets are visible on the foreground of the doe, 18th June 2022. This is the only time we have seen triplets in the San Jacinto mountains, although twins are relatively common.

WEATHER

Delightfully cool mornings on 18th-20th June presaged another major heatwave starting Tuesday 21st June. Overnight low temperatures in particular are forecast to average 10-15°F above seasonal for the remainder of June at mid elevations. Temperatures will then moderate to around seasonal for the first week of July. There is no significant precipitation in the forecasts.

Short-, medium-, and long-term weather projections are summarized in this NWS San Diego video, along with very informative data regarding the past couple of years of weather and fire seasons.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Monday 13th June 2022 at 0730 the air temperature was 42.6°F (6°C), with a windchill temperature of 31.6°F (0°C), 7% relative humidity, and a blustery due West wind sustained at 15 mph gusting to 26.2 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

The trail system, including the entire PCT throughout the San Jacinto mountains, cleared of snow in late 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, most hazards were not removed in 2021. With a couple of storms this past 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. In my most recent survey I counted at least 72 treefall hazards between PCT Miles 170-175, plus about six more on PCT Miles 175-177. At least a third of the former are major hazards that require scrambling over or around.

Recent significant treefall hazards on Devil’s Slide and Marion Mountain trails have been removed by the agencies.

Three new trees that came down in late 2021 on Deer Springs Trail just south of its junction with Marion Mountain Trail are readily passable for hikers (but not for stock).

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 currently a slow, messy hike. About 45 trees (May 2022 survey) are down between Skunk Cabbage Junction and Hidden Divide, 75% of these on the Forest Service section.

Spitler Peak Trail is currently in its most hiker-friendly condition since the 2013 Mountain Fire. Forty downed trees, most from an ice storm in late December 2021, plus dozens of additional trunks and branches in the trail, were removed by the Trail Report from this trail in early 2022 in time to aid PCT hikers using this as a snow-free alternate.

Fuller Ridge Trail has 14 treefall hazards (May 2022 survey) obstructing the trail, but all are readily passable by relatively agile hikers. Eleven of these are in the 1.5 mile section closest to Fuller Ridge Campground (approx. PCT Miles 189-190.5).

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, 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. Between November 2021 and May 2022, 61 downed trees have been removed and almost the entire trail has been thoroughly trimmed and cleared. Despite this very considerable effort, Seven Pines remains a genuine wilderness trail and is nothing like the relatively wide, bare, and obvious routes of, for example, Devil’s Slide or Marion Mountain trails. Cautious navigation remains required for those who do not have substantial experience of hiking this trail.

WATER CONDITIONS: Eastern slope

The Round Valley pipe is flowing but recent history suggests it will not persist all summer. The nearby Round Valley creek dried up in May. The small creek in Tamarack Valley also dried up in May.

Both the northern and southern springs at Wellman’s Cienega are flowing very weakly for the time of year. In the second week of June the flow rate at the well-known northern spring again dropped dramatically in a matter of days to barely a trickle (photo in previous Report) and it seems destined to dry up in the next couple of months without precipitation from summer monsoons. This spring dried for the first time in recorded history in October 2015, then again in September 2016.

The Wellman’s Cienega springs are the sources for Willow Creek, which is currently flowing steadily where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail.

Tahquitz Creek is flowing steadily at the northern (lower) end of Little Tahquitz Meadow (photo in previous Report). It is flowing very weakly further upstream at its source (known colloquially as Grethe Spring) where it crosses the PCT at approx. PCT Mile 177 (photo in previous Report). Between these locations Tahquitz Creek is basically dry (but presumably flowing subsurface). The small creek in Tahquitz Valley dried up in May.

Skunk Cabbage (“Candy’s”) Creek – that flows through Skunk Cabbage Meadow and then crosses the remaining visible section of Caramba Trail near Reeds Meadow – is now barely trickling, is unsuitable for filtering, and will likely dry in July.

WATER CONDITIONS: Western slope

Ephemeral creeks, such as those along Marion Mountain Trail and on Deer Springs Trail, are now all dry.

The North Fork of the San Jacinto River is flowing steadily where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail and again downstream where it crosses the Fuller Ridge Trail on the PCT (approx. PCT Mile 186.2).

The creek in Little Round Valley barely trickles for about 150 ft at the lower end of Little Round Valley before disappearing subsurface. It will likely dry up in July (if not before), and should not be relied upon. The same creek continues to flow where it crosses Fuller Ridge Trail (at about PCT Mile 186.4).

Shooting Star Spring (below Little Round Valley but above the North Fork of the San Jacinto River crossing) is flowing weakly and is barely adequate for filtering.

The Deer Springs stream crossing at the PCT/Deer Springs Trail (approx. PCT mile 185.6) completely dried up in late May where it crosses the trail (photo in previous Report).

The tiny Switchback Spring at PCT Mile 183.5 (about 0.4 miles on the PCT northbound from Strawberry Junction) is flowing gently, and there is just about adequate depth from which to filter water in the tiny pool on the upslope side of the trail.

The little creek at Strawberry Cienega (PCT mile 183.0) is functionally dry.

On Devil’s Slide Trail, Middle Spring is now barely trickling, and will likely dry in July. A tiny pool remains as a useful drinking source for dogs. Other springs on this trail have been dry for months.

On the Ernie Maxwell Trail, the crossing of Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park is dry again where it crosses the trail. Even when Fern Valley Water District diverts flow into the pipe system, there are small fresh pools just upslope from the trail (these are an important source of water for the many dogs walked on the Ernie Maxwell).

The trough at Cedar Spring, 19th June 2022. The pipe that brought water into the trough was apparently vandalized, probably sometime in May, completely drying up the trough. Both Forest Service and the PCTA have been informed.

WATER CONDITIONS: Desert Divide

Live Oak Spring (N 33 37 21, W 116 33 24) Flowing steadily. The most reliable water source on the Desert Divide.

Cedar Spring (N 33 40 36, W 116 34 35) Flowing very weakly (well upslope from the trail into the campsite) and should no longer be relied upon. Sadly the inflow pipe to the trough – formerly the most accessible water source – was vandalized in May 2022 and consequently the trough is now dry (photos above and below).

Apache Spring (N 33 43 11, W 116 37 13) Flowing weakly, and the spring box remains full (photo below). This spring has functionally dried up in recent years and should not be relied upon by late summer.

Spitler Peak Trail Descending the trail there are five water crossings. The first two, at 0.90 and 0.95 miles down, cross a tiny side creek which is largely dry and should be ignored. The next three crossings, at 1.1-1.5 miles down, are Spitler Creek and is the best source of water (currently flowing steadily at both the uppermost and lowest crossings, photo below).

Antsell Rock Creek (N 33 41 52, W 116 39 08) Right by the Spitler Peak Trail trailhead on Apple Canyon Road, Antsell Rock Creek is dry, nearly two months earlier than last year (photo below).

Thank you for taking the time to read this. While all time and labor is volunteered, the San Jacinto Trail Report depends on your small private donations to cover our costs. Your contribution keeps the Report available to all, free from advertising or paywalls, and independent from agencies. If you have found this Report useful, please use this link to the Donate page. Zelle, Venmo, and PayPal are all options. Thank you for your support.

Tiny, gently flowing pool just downstream from Cedar Spring (but above the trough), 19th June 2022.
Lowest of the three crossings of Spitler Creek on the Spitler Peak Trail, about 1.5 miles down from the PCT, 18th June 2022.
The spring box at Apache Spring, 18th June 2022.
Antsell Rock Creek where it crosses Apple Canyon Road adjacent to the Spitler Peak Trail trailhead, 18th June 2022. This water source has dried up nearly two months earlier than in 2021.

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