Water and trail update 7th July 2022

At this time of year the Trail Report may be updated somewhat less frequently – normally it is at least every 5-7 days – for the next couple of months. Of course any significant news (e.g., fires, storms, closures) will be reported immediately.

The temporary effects of the highly localized thunderstorms on 22nd June on a handful of water sources have now largely dissipated. 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 around the Tahquitz area meadows and in the San Jacinto high country. Water conditions where known are detailed at the foot of this Report.

Hikers should be prepared for hot weather, with temperatures forecast to be well above seasonal from 10th-16th July at least. 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 around mid month, currently forecast to be most likely on 16th-19th July. 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.

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 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 however the fire restrictions mentioned above. Dark Canyon Road (5S02) currently remains closed but is expected to reopen this month. However Dark Canyon Campground will not reopen this year due to staffing/maintenance issues. May Valley Road remains closed to vehicles due to “hazard trees” but the necessary tree work is expected to be completed this month.

WEATHER

After the first few days of July were relatively cool, a major warming trend is imminent. Starting Friday 8th July and lasting until at least Monday 18th, temperatures are forecast to be above – at times far above – seasonal averages. Idyllwild (around 5200 ft elevation) may have daytime highs at or above 90°F for at least a week. Overnight lows in particular are forecast to average 10-15°F above seasonal at mid elevations. There is no significant precipitation in the forecasts, with only a slim possibility of monsoonal storms around mid-month.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Sunday 3rd July 2022 at 0835 the air temperature was 53.5°F (12°C), with a “windchill” temperature of 50.5°F (10°C), 7% relative humidity, and a light WSW wind sustained at 4 mph gusting to 8.4 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.

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 has been closed almost continuously since February 2019 (with the brief exception of October-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 the past decade. 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 significant experience of hiking this trail.

The well-known northern spring at Wellman’s Cienega (9300ft) is already reduced to little more than a trickle, 3rd July 2022. Sufficient flow remains for drinking and slow filtering.

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 (photo above) and southern springs at Wellman’s Cienega are flowing very weakly for the time of year. They did not receive additional input from the localized thunderstorms in late June, and the well-known north spring seems destined to dry up in the next couple of months without further 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 (photos below) gently at the northern (lower) end of Little Tahquitz Valley. 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. Between these locations Tahquitz Creek is largely dry (but presumably flowing subsurface). The small creek in Tahquitz Valley dried up in May.

Skunk Cabbage (“Candy’s”) Creek dried up in late June where it crosses under the trail through Skunk Cabbage Meadow.

Tahquitz Creek on 5th July 2022. Above, near its source (“Grethe Spring”) where it crosses the PCT at about Mile 177, and below about 0.35 mile further downstream at the lower (northern) end of Little Tahquitz Valley. The creek is dry between these two areas.

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 received significant new precipitation from a thunderstorm on 22nd June. Having been nearly dry in mid June, the creek is again close to drying again, but currently small pools for filtering remain. 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 this prior Report) and did not receive any additional water from rains in June.

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 barely flowing and may well 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 very small fresh pools just upslope from the trail (these are an important source of water for the many dogs walked on the Ernie Maxwell).

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 (see photos in previous Report).

Apache Spring (N 33 43 11, W 116 37 13) Flowing weakly, and the spring box remains full (photo in previous Report). 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 in previous Report).

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 in previous Report).

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.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) caterpillar above, and chrysalis below, photographed in two different locations in Idyllwild on 28th June and 4th July 2022, respectively. In both cases the food plant is Woollypod Milkweed (Asclepias eriocarpa).

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