It would be an understatement to say that the first half of September 2022 was complicated. The first few days continued a record-breaking heatwave that started in late August, with a run of nine days in Idyllwild with high temperatures at or above 90°F.
Late afternoon on 5th September the Fairview Fire started just south-east of Hemet. With light but shifting winds the fire initially went west, then east, south and finally south-west. Ultimately the fire spread to over 28,000 acres, killing two people and destroying multiple properties. Thousands of acres at the western edge of the San Jacinto Ranger District of the San Bernardino National Forest centred on Bautista Canyon were burned, including the Red Mountain Fire Lookout.
The heatwave ended in remarkably dramatic fashion on Friday 9th when Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Kay passed offshore about 250 miles to the south-west of the San Jacinto mountains. This brought record-setting strong winds to the area, and sufficient rainfall to functionally extinguish the Fairview Fire. I spent the day observing the weather at San Jacinto Peak, where I recorded a maximum wind gust of 77.8 mph just after noon, shattering the previous strongest known wind speed recorded at that location. Wind gusts in Idyllwild exceeded 50 mph, stronger than even the fiercest Santa Ana winds recorded there, causing widespread damage to trees and overhead cables (we lost internet access for a week). Two different videos giving a sense of the conditions at San Jacinto Peak that day are available on YouTube and embedded in the previous Report.
The Forest Service has issued a closure order for areas impacted by the Fairview Fire currently valid until 1st October 2022. Details and a map are available here. Almost all of the San Jacinto Ranger District south and west of Highway 74 is closed. This includes all of the South Fork Wilderness, the Cahuilla Mountain Wilderness, Bautista Canyon, and the Thomas Mountain area, including the Ramona Trail.
Tropical Storm Kay brought down many trees and branches, and hikers should anticipate finding new and additional treefall hazards and branches on trails. I am steadily hiking the trail system surveying for new treefall hazards and reporting them to the relevant agencies. So far nothing I have found has been too challenging to hike past. I have found seven new trees down on the PCT but there are doubtless many more. Five are down between Miles 183-185.5 (photos below), and there are two minor ones near Mile 180.5, roughly 1.5 miles north of Saddle Junction. There are five trees down on Deer Springs Trail between the Suicide Rock and Strawberry junctions, including a couple of major ones. Three I found on Spitler Peak Trail are all minor. Marion Mountain, Wellman, Peak, and Devil’s Slide trails are all clear.
Flow rates on springs and creeks, including some minor ones, briefly improved due to rains from Tropical Storm Kay. However the effects have been remarkably short-lived. 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, and the Tahquitz area meadows. Current conditions for individual trails are discussed in detail below where known.
All hikers, but especially those planning to hike Skyline Trail (either on its own or as part of the “Cactus-to-Clouds” route), should note that the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is closed for annual maintenance from Monday 12th September to Sunday 9th October 2022, with a tentative reopening date of 10th October.
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. Fires are never permitted in the State Park wilderness.
Dark Canyon Campground will not reopen this year due to staffing/maintenance issues.
The closure order for May Valley Road (5S21) expired on 5th September, but work on hazardous tree removal continues and looks unlikely to be completed before October. A new closure order will presumably be issued in due course.
The autumnal temperatures ushered in by Tropical Storm Kay have remained and will persist for another week, before moving back somewhat above average starting Friday 23rd. There is no further significant precipitation in the forecasts.
Kay was accompanied by significant rainfall, and also facilitated an easterly airflow that brought light monsoon rainfall and thunderstorms on several subsequent days. The five day period 9th-13th September produced the following rainfall totals: 1.78 inches in Idyllwild (5550 ft), 2.43 inches at San Jacinto Peak (10,700 ft), and 2.88 inches at Wellman’s Cienega (9300 ft).
In Idyllwild the overnight low temperature dropped below the monthly average only twice between 9th July 2022 and 10th September, a period of 64 days (and the exceptions were marginal, on 27th and 30th August when lows of 55°F were recorded, the average low for August being 55.4°F). The record for consecutive days of above-monthly-average low temperatures was set just last summer at 56 days (12th June-6th August 2021).
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Wednesday 14th September 2022 at 0850 the air temperature was 42.5°F (6°C), with a windchill temperature of 35.2°F (2°C), 73% relative humidity, and a light SSW breeze sustained at 3 mph gusting to 8.5 mph.
At the Peak on Monday 12th September 2022 at 0840 the air temperature was 42.6°F (6°C), with a windchill temperature of 32.0°F (0°C), 78% relative humidity, and a gusty SSE wind sustained at 13 mph gusting to 18.7 mph.
At the Peak on Friday 9th September 2022 at 1220 the air temperature was 42.4°F (6°C), with a windchill temperature of approximately 26°F (-3°C), 100% relative humidity, and a wild ENE gale sustained at 43 mph gusting to 77.8 mph. Both wind speeds were all-time records for the Peak.
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. This situation has been exacerbated by the impacts of Tropical Storm Kay in early September 2022 as described above. Not all trails have (yet) been checked since Tropical Storm Kay, and treefall conditions may be worse than described below.
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.
There are ten new treefall hazards on Deer Springs Trail (photos below, surveyed 19th September). The State Park has been notified. Five of these are between the Suicide Rock Trail junction and Strawberry Junction, with a further five between Strawberry Junction and the Fuller Ridge Trail junction (PCT Miles 183-185.5). Two near the top of Marion Mountain Trail include one right at the trail junction.
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 (surveyed 16th September) remains 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. Several small trees, including three actually across the trail, came down during Tropical Storm Kay, but all are in the lower half of the trail and are easily negotiated.
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 trickling at about 0.5 L/min. The nearby Round Valley creek dried up in May. The small creek in Tamarack Valley also dried up in May.
Springs at Wellman’s Cienega are flowing (photo below). The flow rate of 3L/min immediately after Tropical Storm Kay had already dropped to 2L/min on 14th September, and 1.5L/min by 19th.
The Wellman’s Cienega springs are the sources for Willow Creek, which is currently flowing gently but reliably where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail.
Tahquitz Creek is flowing gently at the northern (lower) end of Little Tahquitz Valley at a flow rate of roughly 2L/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, dried up in May. Although they flowed for a few days after Tropical Storm Kay, they were largely dry again on 14th September.
The North Fork of the San Jacinto River is flowing gently, but reliably, at about 4-5 L/min where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail (down from 8L/min immediately after Kay), and somewhat weakly 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.
The creek in Little Round Valley dried in both mid June and again in late August, but flowed between those times and subsequently thanks to monsoon and storm rainfall. It is now flowing very weakly for about 400 feet in its lower half (photo below). Recent experience has shown it will continue to dry rapidly over the next few weeks.
Shooting Star Spring (below Little Round Valley but above the North Fork of the San Jacinto River crossing) is flowing 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 and has not restarted despite recent rains.
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 usually just adequate depth from which to filter water in the tiny pool on the upslope side of the trail. What this springs lacks in volume it makes up for with remarkable reliability.
The little creek at Strawberry Cienega (PCT mile 183.0) has been dry since June (although it flowed for a couple of days immediately after Tropical Storm Kay).
On Devil’s Slide Trail, Middle Spring is barely trickling. A tiny pool remains as a useful emergency drinking source for dogs. Other springs on this trail had been dry for months before the passage of Tropical Storm Kay, and five days later were already largely or completely dry again.
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.
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 gently at both the uppermost and lowest crossings; photo of the latter 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. This large creek dried up in late spring, nearly two months earlier than last year, and remains dry now despite recent rains.
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3 thoughts on “Trail and weather update 19th September 2022”
Thank you, Jon! (I wish those simple words adequately expressed my great appreciation for what you do for the people who can use the information you provide to plan ahead and be safe on their journeys.)
Many thanks Mary for your very thoughtful comments and your continuing support.