Water and weather update 25th August 2022

The excellent monsoonal rains of 30th July-1st August have not been repeated, although a minor storm cell over San Jacinto Peak and the western slope (notably Marion Mountain Trail) on Tuesday 24th did dampen some trails and slightly improve some water sources. Although forecasts indicate that further monsoon activity this month is unlikely, storms are possible in the first week of September.

Water conditions where known are detailed at the foot of this Report. Hikes have included thorough surveys of water resources on the major trail systems on both the western and eastern slopes of the San Jacinto high country frequently, most recently on 19th and 25th August, plus around the Tahquitz area meadows, Willow Creek Trail and Round Valley. Current conditions for individual trails are discussed in detail below where known.

Hikers should be prepared for continuing hot and humid weather, with overnight “low” temperatures forecast to remain about 5-15°F above seasonal into September, and daytime highs typically at or above seasonal averages (with the exception of 26th-28th). An intense heatwave is currently forecast for 30th August-4th September at least. Humidity has been above normal at all elevations for a month. Plan accordingly regarding route choice, start times, clothing, sun protection, and water requirements.

Hikers should continue to be prepared for the possibility of rapidly changing weather conditions in the high country in summer. Monsoon thunderstorms, typically in the afternoon, remain a possibility almost daily (although precipitation probabilities have generally lowered for the foreseeable future). 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. The lower two-thirds of Devil’s Slide Trail, near Strawberry Cienega, and around Tahquitz Peak are regular 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 Campground will not reopen this year due to staffing/maintenance issues.

May Valley Road (5S21) remains completely closed (including to foot traffic). Work to remove hazard trees finally got underway in mid August. The current closure order expires on 5th September, but work looks unlikely to be completed before late September.

Coast Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis multifasciata), 18th August 2022. This small individual, about 15 inches long, was on the trail system near Red Hill Truck Trail, at the western end of Idyllwild.

WEATHER

Daytime high temperatures are forecast to generally be around or above seasonal for the remainder of August, but well above average on 30th August until 4th September at least. Overnight low temperatures will continue to average 5-15°F above seasonal at mid elevations (5000-7500 ft). Monsoonal storms always remain a possibility at this time of year, but precipitation probabilities are currently low into the first week of September.

Based on National Weather Service data recorded at Idyllwild Fire station, the last time that the overnight low temperature was below the monthly average this year was on 9th July 2022, so we are currently on a run of at least 46 consecutive days of above-average low temperatures. While this is remarkable, it is still well short of the previous record of 56 days, set just last summer (12th June-6th August 2021).

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Thursday 25th August 2022 at 0835 the air temperature was 55.2°F (13°C), with a “windchill” temperature of 52.0°F (11°C), 67% relative humidity, and a very light NNE breeze sustained at 3 mph gusting to 4.5 mph.

At the Peak on Friday 19th August 2022 at 0830 the air temperature was 57.5°F (14°C), with a “windchill” temperature of 50.0°F (10°C), 42% relative humidity, and a gentle NE breeze sustained at 5 mph gusting to 8.3 mph.

Fires are never permitted in wilderness areas, regardless of the fact that full fire restrictions have been in place for several months. Nevertheless volunteer rangers continue to find (and remove) fire rings with depressing frequency. This one I found in the Forest next to the PCT at about Mile 180.5 on 19th August 2022, apparently built by an equestrian judging by other evidence at the campsite. It had not been there three days earlier when I hiked by the same location.

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.

Willow Creek Trail is a slow, messy hike for a couple of miles, and is currently only recommended for experienced hikers. Some 46 trees are down on the Forest Service section of this trail between Skunk Cabbage Junction and the State Park boundary (August 2022 survey). Of those, 35 are in the 0.6 mile section between Willow Creek crossing and the State Park boundary. This situation has been reported to USFS. The State Park cut about a dozen trees on the section of trail under their jurisdiction in late July. The huge amount of work that Bill Rhoads and I undertook to clear whitethorn along this trail in 2020 was not completely in vain and parts of the trail would have largely disappeared otherwise, but it has grown back rapidly and makes some of the treefall hazards more complicated to negotiate (photos in previous Report).

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 about 80 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.

On 9th August a California Conservation Corps team cut the four treefall hazards on Deer Springs Trail between Strawberry Junction and the top of Marion Mountain Trail, including the huge one of three that came down in late 2021 just south of the latter junction (photo in previous Report).

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.

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 (multiple 2022 surveys) 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 strongly 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 limited hiker traffic since November 2018, largely because Dark Canyon Road was closed almost continuously from February 2019 to July 2022. Dark Canyon Road finally reopened in mid July 2022. 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. Nevertheless 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.

WATER CONDITIONS: Eastern slope

The Round Valley pipe is flowing at roughly 1.0 L/min but recent history suggests it may not persist much longer without further rainfall input. The nearby Round Valley creek dried up in May. The small creek in Tamarack Valley also dried up in May.

All springs at Wellman’s Cienega are flowing extremely weakly for the time of year. They did not receive significant input from summer thunderstorms, and the well-known north springs (photo below) may dry completely in the next month or two without further precipitation. They should no longer be relied upon for filtering. 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 in previous Report).

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

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 in previous Report) and again downstream where it crosses the Fuller Ridge Trail on the PCT (approx. PCT Mile 186.2). However the river is completely dry where it crosses Seven Pines Trail and Dark Canyon Road (photos below).

The creek in Little Round Valley (photo below) has received periodic new precipitation from thunderstorms since late June, including on 24th August. Having been nearly dry in mid June, the creek continues to trickle through the lower half of the valley (for roughly 400 ft), forming some minor pools in the lower half. However the flow has dropped substantially in August, and may not last beyond September without further rainfall. 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 now flowing very weakly and is inadequate 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 and did not receive any meaningful water from rains in July.

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 (photo below).

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 soon without new rain input. A tiny pool remains as a useful emergency 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 (upslope from the trail that leads to the campsite). Sadly the inflow pipe to the trough – formerly the most accessible water source – was vandalized in May 2022 and consequently the trough is dry. This damage has been reported to the Forest Service, but no repair is expected until later in the year.

Apache Spring (N 33 43 11, W 116 37 13) Flowing weakly, but the spring box remains full. This spring has functionally dried up in recent years and may not be reliable by autumn.

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).

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.

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The largest of the pools in the lower section of Little Round Valley creek, 25th August 2022. A light rain on 24th has helped to keep this creek trickling steadily for now.
The North Fork of the San Jacinto River is completely dry where it crosses Seven Pines Trail (above) and about a mile further downstream where it crosses Dark Canyon Road near Dark Canyon campground (below), photographed 17th August 2022.
The well-known north spring at Wellman’s Cienega, 19th August 2022. Although barely trickling, I continue to clear out the little pool every time I hike the Wellman Trail to facilitate emergency filtering.
Switchback Spring, about 0.4 mile north of Strawberry Junction on Deer Springs Trail, 15th August 2022. Although small, it is a remarkably reliable water source. To facilitate filtering I clear out debris from the tiny pool on the upslope side most weeks.

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