It is a huge pleasure (and frankly a great surprise) to let readers know that the Trail Report won the Ernie Maxwell Community Spirit Award this past week. Organized by the Idyllwild Town Crier newspaper (which was founded by Ernie and his wife Betty in 1946), the Award may be largely unknown outside Idyllwild-Pine Cove, but is quite a big deal within our little community. An avid hiker, early activist for protection of the mountain environment, and unique artist, among many other things, for much of the latter half of the 20th Century Ernie Maxwell was arguably the dominant personality in the San Jacinto mountains. He is of course memorialized in the name of the well-known Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail. It is a genuine honor to have the Trail Report associated with him via this Award. Special thanks to Mark Dean of Pine Cove, long-time advocate and supporter of the Trail Report, for nominating me for the Award, and to those readers of the Idyllwild Town Crier (who apparently also follow the Trail Report!) for voting.
Our best (and certainly longest) monsoon season in years may finally be over, with no further significant storms currently forecast. Nevertheless the season was unusually long, persisting into mid October, and went out with a bang with an intense storm of thunder and lightning on the afternoon of Saturday 15th, accompanied by 0.51 inch of rain in Idyllwild. Similar rainfall was recorded at Saddle Junction (0.70 inch), Wellman’s Cienega (0.53 inch), and in Long Valley (0.63 inch). However such storms can be localized, and San Jacinto Peak received only 0.15 inch, while Little Round Valley and upper Deer Springs Trail showed evidence of only very light rain.
Hikers should be prepared for temperatures near freezing in the high country, and generally below freezing above about 10,000 ft elevation when considering wind chill effects (see below for my latest weather observations from San Jacinto Peak).
Forest Service revised the closure order for areas impacted by the Fairview Fire valid until 24th January 2023. Details and a map are available here. The closed area is substantially reduced from the original September 2022 order, and is now largely confined to the actual burn scar in northern Bautista Canyon, plus the Red Mountain area.
The passage of Tropical Storm Kay on 9th September 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 agencies. Details are given under Trail Conditions below. Current conditions for individual trails are discussed in detail below where known.
Based on multiple surveys in the past week throughout the trail system, water conditions have not changed significantly since the previous Report (linked here). Photos below illustrate the current state of upper Tahquitz Creek, Little Round Valley, and Wellman’s Cienega.
Full fire restrictions introduced on Thursday 26th May remain in place 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.
May Valley Road (5S21) reopened on 6th October, having been closed for eight months.
Temperatures for the third week of October are forecast to be around average for the month, before dropping significantly to below average (especially the daytime highs) at all elevations from Saturday 22nd October onwards. There is a chance of light precipitation overnight on 22nd at mid elevations. It has been very unusual for the monsoon season to persist into mid October, but there are now no further significant thunderstorms in the forecasts.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Monday 17th October 2022 at 0835 the air temperature was 35.1°F (2°C), with a windchill temperature of 20.1°F (-7°C), 86% relative humidity, and a steady NNE wind sustained at 18 mph gusting to 23.2 mph.
At the Peak on Tuesday 11th October 2022 at 0930 the air temperature was 45.9°F (8°C), with a windchill temperature of 38.7°F (4°C), 72% relative humidity, and a very light ESE breeze sustained at 1 mph gusting to 4.9 mph.
Some major trails have accumulated treefall hazards since late 2019 (partly due to reduced agency work during the coronavirus pandemic) passable with care by hikers but not for stock. This situation worsened following Tropical Storm Kay in early September 2022.
Willow Creek Trail remains a relatively slow, messy hike for a couple of miles. Some 37 trees are down on the Forest Service section of this trail between Skunk Cabbage Junction and the State Park boundary (23rd September 2022 survey). Of those, 27 are in the 0.6 mile section between Willow Creek crossing and the State Park boundary. A few trees were cut by chainsaw at the far (Hidden Divide) end of the Forest Service section recently, presumably by a CCC or State Park crew. The State Park cut about a dozen trees on the section of trail under their jurisdiction in late July. Another tree came down near the start of this trail close to Saddle Junction in Tropical Storm Kay.
Nine of the ten new treefall hazards on Deer Springs Trail from the Suicide Rock turning to Fuller Ridge following Tropical Storm Kay were cut by a State Park crew on 30th September, just ten days after I reported them.
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 since. In my most recent survey there were 82 treefall hazards between PCT Miles 170-175 including at least 20 major ones, plus about six more on PCT Miles 175-177.
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 (resurveyed 29th September). Those are expected to be cut in October.
Spitler Peak Trail 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 (surveyed 16th September) but all are in the lower half of the trail and are easily negotiated.
On Fuller Ridge Trail there are five major treefall hazards obstructing the trail in the 1.5 mile section nearest to the campground (PCT Miles 189-190.5). Although most of the downed trees reported this summer were cleared in July, at least four more major trees came down in Tropical Storm Kay.
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 described by the Forest Service as “not maintained”. This is frankly grossly misleading and in reality both trails no longer exist and are so completely 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 former trails (local hikers Charles Phelan and Mark Gumprecht kindly nicknamed 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. Remarkably Tropical Storm Kay did not add any new treefall hazards to this trail. Nevertheless Seven Pines remains a genuine wilderness trail unlike 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.
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