Water and trail update 20th July 2022

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

There has been no additional rainfall since a few highly localized thunderstorms on 22nd June, and with recent hot, dry, and windy weather, most water sources have continued to deteriorate steadily. 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 on the western and eastern slopes of the San Jacinto high country. Water conditions where known are detailed at the foot of this Report.

Hikers should be prepared for continuing hot weather, with temperatures – especially the overnight lows – forecast to generally be above seasonal for the remainder of July. Plan accordingly regarding route choice, start times, clothing, sun protection, and water requirements.

Hikers should also be prepared for the possibility of rapidly changing weather conditions in the high country in summer. Monsoon conditions, usually in the afternoons, are tentatively forecast from 25th-29th 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. Readers interested in the uniqueness and challenges of rattlesnakes in the San Jacinto high country may find this article that I wrote two years ago informative.

Be bear aware. Although rarely reported recently, up to three Black Bears have been in the San Jacinto mountains since 2017. On Devil’s Slide Trail at first light on 18th July 2022 we were very fortunate to see the same large (>250lb) dark brown individual that I had seen in September 2021 (one short, poor quality video from the earlier observation is available here). This was clearly a different individual, based on colour pattern and size, from the “blond” one I saw on Devil’s Slide Trail in August 2020 and had previously filmed at home in Idyllwild in 2018 (available here).

Seasonal campgrounds and Forest Service roads are now generally open. Note however the fire restrictions mentioned above. Dark Canyon Road (5S02) reopened on about 11th July. 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

The persistent heatwave that has dominated much of July is forecast to persist until about 24th, although overnight lows in particular will continue to average 5-15°F above seasonal at mid elevations for the remainder of the month. There is currently no significant precipitation in the forecasts, with only a very small probability of monsoonal storms from 25th-29th.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Friday 15th July 2022 at 0840 the air temperature was 56.3°F (14°C), with a “windchill” temperature of 54.7°F (13°C), 61% relative humidity, and a moderate due South wind sustained at 8 mph gusting to 17.5 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

The trail system 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.

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 July 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 was closed almost continuously from February 2019 to July 2022 (with a brief reopening October-December 2021). Dark Canyon Road finally reopened in mid July 2022 however. 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 were removed and almost the entire trail 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 weak subsurface flow that briefly emerges at the base of the undercut slope, 15th July 2022. For now, sufficient surface 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 extremely 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 will 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 relatively weakly but reliably 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, have been dry since May.

The North Fork of the San Jacinto River is now flowing relatively weakly where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail (phot below) 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 substantial new precipitation from a thunderstorm on 22nd June, the effects of which have been remarkably persistent. Having been nearly dry in mid June, the creek continues to flow very gently throughout most of the valley, forming some reasonable pools in the lower half (photo below) before disappearing subsurface where it crosses Deer Springs Trail. The same creek continues to flow gently 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 earlier 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) has been dry since June.

On Devil’s Slide Trail, Middle Spring is barely trickling 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 where it crosses the trail. Fern Valley Water District is diverting flow into the pipe system but small fresh pools remain among the rocks 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. 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 earlier Report). This has been reported to the Forest Service, but no repair is expected before the autumn.

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

The North Fork of the San Jacinto River where it crosses Deer Springs Trail at about 9400 ft elevation, 15th July 2022. The flow rate here has roughly halved in the past three weeks. This is (so far) one of the genuinely perennial water sources on the mountain, having never dried up in recorded human history.
Small pools in the creek at the lower end of Little Round Valley, still adequate for filtering, 15th July 2022.

One thought on “Water and trail update 20th July 2022

  1. The North Fork of San Jacinto at Deer Springs was flowing fine on Sunday (July 24th). Plenty of water, easy to collect.

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