Water and trail update 27th July 2022

[UPDATED Sunday 31st July 2022: like yesterday, an intense thunderstorm directly over Idyllwild for just one hour between 1030-1130 produced an impressive 1.08 inches of rain (at 5550 ft). Also like yesterday, the eastern slope seemed to be largely missed by the storm cells, with no rain visible or reported at Long Valley. An extremely intense storm cell was stationary over the northern Santa Rosa mountains for about two hours, and likely produced several inches of rain. Obviously two days of monsoonal rains will have significantly changed the water situation, which will be surveyed and reported over the coming week.]

[UPDATED Saturday 30th July 2022: an intense thunderstorm over Idyllwild starting at 1220 produced 0.77 inch of rain (at 5550 ft elevation) in just one hour before ending abruptly. Similarly intense storm cells were seen across the western side of the San Jacinto mountains, especially in Garner Valley. The eastern side was largely unaffected, with Long Valley reporting zero rainfall. Obviously this rain will locally impact water sources, although the effects may be limited to a few days.]

Despite hours of thunder in the afternoons of both 24th and 25th July, negligible rain fell (e.g., on 24th, 0.02in recorded at Long Valley and only a trace in Idyllwild). On the morning of 25th in Tahquitz Meadow the trail and bracken ferns were slightly damp but flow rates at multiple locations on Tahquitz Creek were (unsurprisingly) unaffected. Elsewhere the trails were dry. It is possible that a very localized storm cell produced substantial rain somewhere in the mountains on either day.

Otherwise 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. Water conditions where known are detailed at the foot of this Report. Recent hikes have included thorough surveys of water resources and trails around the Tahquitz area meadows, Willow Creek Trail and Round Valley, and on both the western and eastern slopes of the San Jacinto high country. Current conditions for individual trails are discussed in detail below where known.

Hikers should be prepared for continuing hot weather, with overnight low temperatures forecast to generally remain well above seasonal into early August at least, and daytime highs generally near seasonal averages. 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, typically in the afternoons, are tentatively forecast from 29th July to 1st August, and again from 5th-8th August. 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.

Typical view of a large adult Southern Pacific Rattlesnake at about 7550 ft elevation on Devil’s Slide Trail, late morning on Saturday 23rd July 2022. Some hikers with a dog wisely chose to turn back after this snake did not move out of the trail for more than ten minutes. This was one of two rattlesnakes on this trail that morning, the other a small juvenile near Jolley Spring (c.7100 ft).

Be bear aware. Although rarely reported, 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 in August.

WEATHER

The persistent heatwave that has dominated much of July has eased somewhat with daytime highs generally forecast to be near seasonal for the remainder of the month, although overnight lows will continue to average 5-10°F above seasonal at mid elevations for the foreseeable future. While there is currently little sign of significant precipitation in the forecasts, this could change at short notice with monsoonal storms forecast as a possibility for most days in the remainder of July and into the first week of August, but especially 30th July to 1st August, and 5th-8th August.

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 48 trees (July 2022 survey) are down between Skunk Cabbage Junction and Hidden Divide, 39 of these on the Forest Service section. A couple of these require significant caution to pass. Three or four nearest to Hidden Divide on the State Park section appear to have been recently cut.

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 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 more obvious near Caramba. Very 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 pipe in Round Valley (9100 ft) on 23rd July 2022. Water continues to flow very gently at roughly 0.5L/min, but this water source will likely dry by September without additional rainfall.

WATER CONDITIONS: Eastern slope

The Round Valley pipe is flowing (photo above) 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 (photos below) 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 springs 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 weakly but reliably where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail (photo below).

Tahquitz Creek is flowing gently at the northern (lower) end of Little Tahquitz Valley at a flow rate of >2.0L/min (photo below). 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 below). 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.

Willow Creek flowing, but very weakly for the time of year, where it crosses Willow Creek Trail, 23rd July 2022.

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 flowing relatively weakly where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail (photo 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 just about 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 will dry in August without monsoon rain input. 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. However, even when Fern Valley Water District is diverting flow into the pipe system 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 very weakly, but 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 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.

Above and below, Tahquitz Creek on 25th July 2022. Above, flowing steadily at the lower end of Little Tahquitz Valley, and below, flowing very weakly near its source where it crosses the PCT at about Mile 177.
The well-known northern springs at Wellman’s Cienega (9300ft, above and below) are both reduced to minimal flow, 23rd July 2022. The less commonly used spring a few yards to the south (lower photo) is flowing slightly better. Both seem destined to dry completely by about September, as in 2016. For now, sufficient surface flow just remains for drinking and slow filtering.
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 month. 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 just sufficient for filtering, 15th July 2022.

One thought on “Water and trail update 27th July 2022

  1. I was at Cedar Spring on May 21, 2022 and I can tell you the trough was bone dry on that day. When I visited in September of 2021 it was full so I was very surprised it was dry. I didn’t realize it was vandalized.

    Jim

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s