UPDATE Thursday 6th April 2023: the State Park wilderness reopens tomorrow, Friday 7th April, according to a media release from the Park. Skyline Trail remains closed indefinitely, as discussed below.
UPDATE Wednesday 5th April 2023: I have updated the PCT section (and other sections) below based on significant new information from my hike this morning in the high country.
This is an outline of current snow and trail conditions, following the 24th storm of this remarkable winter on 29th-30th March. It was a storm of two distinct days, with steady rain at mid elevations on 29th (totaling 0.7 inch at 5550 ft in Idyllwild), with light, intermittent snow in the high country that day. Much colder precipitation overnight and throughout much of 30th produced 6 inches of snow in Idyllwild, and a snow level down to 4000 ft elevation. I measured 2 inches at PCT Mile 151 (4800 ft) in Garner Valley early that morning, as described in a short video report (available here on YouTube).
It was periodically clear in the high country above about 8000 ft elevation while it was still snowing at mid elevations on 30th, and consequently there was relatively little difference in the snow totals between Idyllwild (6 inches at 5550 ft) and San Jacinto Peak (10 inches at 10,800 ft), with locations in between generally at 7-8 inches.
The State Park wilderness closed on 1st March (see State Park website and associated social media for their explanation of the situation). An additional closure applies to Skyline Trail (part of the C2C route) as discussed below under Trail Conditions. The latter does not sound likely to reopen before June.
Currently there is no avalanche risk on the high country slopes that are crossed by the established trail network, based on my multiple surveys since the recent snowfalls. There remains only a minor avalanche risk for the Snow Creek drainage on the north face of San Jacinto Peak now that the latest snowfall has consolidated. The biggest avalanche of the season so far occurred at around 7000-7500 ft in the Snow Creek drainage on 22nd-23rd March, immediately after the previous week’s heavy snowfall, and a substantial debris field is readily visible even from San Jacinto Peak in the 5000-7000 ft elevation range (see photo in previous Report).
I conducted survey hikes on 31st March and 2nd and 5th April. All went from Devil’s Slide Trail to San Jacinto Peak, via a short section of the PCT, Wellman’s, Peak, and East Ridge trails, descending the same way. On 31st I broke trail the entire route through fresh powder averaging 7-10 inches deep.
To give an idea of the current traction challenge, I am generally hiking with all three of snowshoes, crampons, and spikes, changing between them as conditions warrant. On 31st, conditions averaged better for snowshoes for the entire hike. Although I switched to crampons above about 10,000 ft, they proved to be of limited additional value. By the time I descended Devil’s Slide Trail, a relatively well-traveled compacted track was already forming.
In contrast, on 2nd and 5th April, I was able to ascend and descend the entire route just in spikes with no significant postholing (I carried snowshoes and crampons but they were unused). This was in part because of the relatively compacted track that I broken previously, and also because I had Alpine starts, returning to Humber Park by late morning, before the sun had become too potent on the exposed slopes.
Currently trails above about 6000 ft are obscured by moderate to deep snow. Trails down to 5000 ft elevation currently have shallow and very patchy snow cover. With the State Park closure in place, there are few tracks anywhere above 8000 ft. Very cautious navigation is essential everywhere.
Conditions will change dramatically over the next couple of weeks, with a major warming trend bringing rapid and widespread melting (see Weather below).
Details of snow depths measured at various locations on the trail system are given at the foot of this posting. Note that snow depth itself is rarely indicative of the difficulty (or otherwise) of hiking a particular track or trail. For example a firm, well-compacted snowshoe or crampon track across snow several feet deep may be much easier hiking than an angled icy section just inches deep.
Conditions are currently excellent for snowshoes everywhere above about 7000 ft (lower in places for the next week or so). Tracks in the high country can be firm if the early morning is cold (crampons or even spikes best) but then soften very rapidly once sun hits slopes and temperatures rise, at which point snowshoes are preferable. Even after trails become compacted through freeze/thaw cycles and hiker traffic, snowshoes will remain invaluable for off-trail travel for many weeks especially above 8000 ft.
Crampons – with hiking poles and/or an ice axe, depending on terrain – are becoming increasingly useful everywhere above about 7000 ft, as cold temperatures on some days, plus freeze/thaw cycles, lead to hardening of the snow surfaces. They will likely become invaluable over the next few weeks on certain moderate and higher angle slopes, at a minimum on the Peak Trail above Wellman Divide, the Wellman Trail, Deer Springs Trail above Little Round Valley, and uppermost South Ridge Trail, and on both flanks but critically on the north face of Tahquitz Peak.
Increasingly as snow conditions change spikes are strongly recommended for the foreseeable future everywhere above about 5500 ft. They can currently be valuable even for walking around Idyllwild early on cold mornings! This elevation will slowly move upwards with steady melting over the next few days and weeks, but may remain relatively low into May.
Hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country, and often well below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for my recent weather observations from San Jacinto Peak).
The USFS gate at Humber Park is closed. Even when the gate is closed there are nine legal parking spaces below the locked gate (which still require an Adventure Pass or equivalent to be displayed). If there are “Road Closed” signs across Fern Valley Road near its junction with Forest Drive then those nine spaces are also unavailable for legal parking.
Forest Service roads currently closed to vehicular traffic by a revised closure order include Black Mountain Road (4S01), Dark Canyon Road (4S02), South Ridge Road (5S11), May Valley Road (5S21), and Santa Rosa Road (7S02), plus their various side roads.
The great melting begins! Warm, sunny, stable weather is generally forecast for at least the first half of April. With the exception of a brief cooling on 3rd-4th April, mid elevation temperatures warm to seasonal and then starting next weekend move well above seasonal at least for 8th-12th April. Even at the highest elevations air temperatures will be far above seasonal for early April in the second week of the month. Sadly snowmelt will be remarkably rapid below 8000 ft and also on sun-exposed slopes at high elevations.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Sunday 2nd April 2023 at 0810 the air temperature was 31.3°F (0°C), with a windchill temperature of 14.2°F (-10°C), 39% relative humidity, and a bitter due West wind sustained at 22 mph gusting to 33.2 mph.
At the Peak on Friday 31st March 2023 at 1040 the air temperature was 23.4°F (-5°C), with a windchill temperature of 10.8°F (-12°C), 26% relative humidity, and a steady due West wind sustained at 8 mph gusting to 10.2 mph.
At the Peak on Monday 27th March 2023 at 1045 the air temperature was 25.3°F (-4°C), with a windchill temperature of 12.6°F (-11°C), 19% relative humidity, and a light WNW wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 11.3 mph.
INFORMATION FOR PACIFIC CREST TRAIL HIKERS
Between the State Park closure and the storms throughout March, completing the San Jacinto mountains has been a major challenge even for experienced hikers this season. That said, melting will happen fast once it starts in earnest. Conditions in the southernmost sections will generally improve rapidly starting in the first week of April (judging by the forecasts), and most or even all areas will become readily passable with – crucially – suitable skills and equipment, patience, and a thorough knowledge of all the possible alternates if needed.
Recently I have mentioned the challenges of hard, icy snow underfoot and the value of using spikes (and/or crampons) especially for descending and traversing. While softening, melting, snow (and fresh powder if we have more storms) may be ideal for snowshoeing for the next several weeks, snow at all elevations will generally become increasingly firm and icy following multiple freeze-thaw cycles, and compaction by increasing hiker traffic (especially once high country trails reopen). I cannot overemphasize the importance of having both appropriate equipment and the right skill set for the terrain. The latter includes interpreting the snow/ice conditions, understanding your physical and mental abilities, and conservative decision making. These concerns will steadily increase over the next few weeks with temperatures fluctuating either side of freezing, seasonally stronger insolation, and highly variable snowmelt.
The remarkable winter has created some challenges in addition to the snow. There can be a great deal of water in the trails, and this has also created a few tricky crossings. Be cautious of snow bridges across water. Forested trails are covered with downed branches and debris, plus many new treefall hazards, some of which are only becoming apparent as the snow recedes. Trail maintenance by agencies was already years behind schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic, among other reasons, and this winter has greatly exacerbated the situation. Again, patience and caution will be essential this season more than most.
The PCT from Mile 151 (Highway 74 crossing) to Mile 166 (Fobes Trail alternate) is clearing of snow steadily [checked multiple times each week]. Fobes Ranch Road and Fobes Trail are clear of snow.
There are tracks continuing from Mile 166 to about Mile 169, but at this time there is no track continuing beyond Apache Peak (Mile 169.5) through to Mile 177. I recommend descending via the well-signed alternate at Spitler Peak Trail (Mile 168.5). There is a track to follow through about 6-10 inches of snow on its uppermost section, and it is then functionally clear of snow for its lower 3.5 miles. It is possible to get a ride on Apple Canyon Road, or to hike via the Forest Service roads (Bonita Vista Road and May Valley Road) into Idyllwild.
Proceeding north from about Mile 169 currently requires considerable snow hiking experience. At this time I recommend carrying snowshoes, crampons, and ice axe, plus you will need the necessary snow hiking experience to use that equipment safely in moderate angle terrain, along with patience, stamina, and route-finding skills.
As of Wednesday 5th April, there were no tracks through the snow on the PCT route coming north from Mile 175 (Red Tahquitz) through to Saddle Junction (Mile 179) and along Fuller Ridge (Miles 185.5-191).
A track was put in from Annie’s Junction (Mile 180.8) west to Strawberry Junction (Mile 183) on 5th April 2023, allowing easier access to descend Deer Springs Trail back to Idyllwild. At this time continuing north on Fuller Ridge requires crampons and ice axe (and knowledge of how to use that equipment), plus excellent snow hiking skills.
A well established alternate is to connect back to the PCT at about Mile 191 using Black Mountain Road. Black Mountain Road currently has continuous moderate snow cover but there are tracks to follow through the snow, and melting of the lower section will proceed steadily over the next week or so. Ignore any signage that indicates the road is closed to hiker traffic, this is erroneous and has been reported to Forest Service. Soon the conditions will be similar to my survey on 17th March, when the Road had 50% snow cover on the lower two miles, 90% cover for the next three miles averaging 2-6 inches deep, then 100% cover for the upper three miles, at 6-18 inches deep. Early on cold mornings the snow is hard and icy making it easy to hike, but snow is soft and postholing is poor by late morning. At last check, no vehicle had driven up from Highway 243 since the last snows.
PCT hikers are reminded that overnight stays are not permitted at or near San Jacinto Peak, including in the historic shelter (even after the Park wilderness reopens). Mt. San Jacinto State Park regulations permit overnight stays only in established campgrounds (when open). Little Round Valley and Strawberry Junction are good options for thru-hikers.
Trails above about 6000 ft remain largely snow-covered (wholly snow-covered above about 7000 ft). This will change steadily with further melting over the next few days and weeks.
Devil’s Slide Trail has a reliable, compacted snowshoe and posthole track to follow up to Saddle Junction. It can be firm in early mornings (perfect for spikes all the way to Saddle) but it can be soft otherwise, as early as late morning (snowshoes required, or expect periodic deep and wet postholing). Beware of some tricky stream crossings. The track that I put in after the last storm is steep and (intentionally) does not follow the established trail route in the uppermost switchbacks close to Saddle Junction, so careful navigation is required.
My snowshoe-and-posthole track from multiple ascents/descents continues on to San Jacinto Peak, via a route roughly approximating to the PCT, Wellman, Peak, and East Ridge trails, climbing more steeply in places than the established trails, and generally contouring through the snow as needed to minimize unnecessary elevation loss. This track has now been moderately well-traveled and compacted, and with no significant fresh snow expected it should remain reliable for some time.
The Ernie Maxwell Trail [surveyed 4th April 2023] still has 90% icy snow cover on the lower two-thirds of the route, becoming continuous on the upper trail nearer Humber Park. There is a well-marked but uneven posthole track to follow through the snow, which can be firm and icy on cold mornings, but becomes soft and slippery later in the day. Melting will be very fast on this trail over the next week or two.
There is a track south from Saddle Junction (PCT Mile 179) towards Chinquapin Flat (PCT Mile 177.5), but it does not accurately follow the established trail route, and snowshoes are recommended.
The 0.4 mile section of South Ridge Trail between the PCT at Chinquapin Flat and Tahquitz Peak has no steps to follow through the steeply angled ice with overlying deep snow. These icy slopes are notoriously treacherous. Currently crampons, always with an ice axe, and thorough knowledge of how to use this equipment on high angle terrain, are essential. Snowshoes are not advisable due to the angle of the icy snow.
Spitler Peak Trail [surveyed weekly] is clear of snow in its lower half (first 2.4 miles). The upper half of the trail has continuous light snow cover. The initial part of this snowy section has the rapidly melting remains of an excellent snowshoe track to follow (firm in the morning, spikes ideal) but this ends about 3.8 miles from the highway, about one mile below the PCT junction. There is a posthole track the remainder of the way to the PCT.
In addition to the wider closure mentioned above, effective 26th January 2023 the State Park closed the section of Skyline Trail that falls within its jurisdiction, above 5800 ft elevation, “until further notice due to dangerous weather conditions”. (For readers who are unclear, Skyline Trail forms the lower two-thirds of the “Cactus-to-Clouds” [C2C] route.) The State Park boundary is not marked but is near the site of the old Florian’s Cache, below Flat Rock. The open section of trail below 5800 ft received some light snow cover down to about 4500 ft over the past week, but this has already melted.
Measured on Friday 31st March unless otherwise stated. The first number is the current snow depth, followed in brackets by the new snowfall in the storm of 29th-30th March, and then where relevant in parentheses by the maximum depth at that location in winter 2022/23. Note that averages are given; due to strong winds accompanying all storms, and the differential effects of rain on snow in some earlier storms, there is considerable inconsistency of depth. Altitudes and PCT Miles are approximate.
San Jacinto Peak (10810 ft): 100-105 inches [10 inches], greatest depth of this winter, and since at least 2011 at this location
Wellman Divide (9700 ft): 70-72 inches [8 inches] (70-75 inches on 3rd March)
Annie’s Junction/PCT Mile 180.8 (9070 ft): 75 inches [8 inches] (80 inches on 3rd March)
Long Valley (8600 ft): 50 inches [c.7 inches] (c.60 inches on 3rd March)
Saddle Junction/PCT Mile 179 (8070 ft): 40-45 inches [8 inches] (48-50 inches on 3rd March)
Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6550 ft): 15-20 inches, already melting rapidly on 1st April [7 inches] (46 inches on 3rd March)
Idyllwild (at 5550 ft): 0-6 inches, melting rapidly by 31st March [6 inches] (45 inches on 1st March)
PCT Mile 151 at crossing with Highway 74 (4800 ft): 2 inches, measured 30th March, largely melted by 31st (13 inches in first week of March)
While all time and labor is volunteered, the San Jacinto Trail Report uses small private donations to help cover modest operating costs. Every year seems to have its unique challenges, and clearly 2023 will be no exception. 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 consider using this link to the Donate page. Zelle, Venmo, and PayPal are all options. Thank you so much for your support.
On Sunday 2nd April 2023 as I descended from San Jacinto Peak I twice crossed paths with friends and neighbors who are great supporters of the Trail Report. As it was my 750th ascent, setting the record for most ascents all time of a 10,000 ft peak in Southern California, we took photos in celebration. The record was previously held by the late Seuk Doo “Sam” Kim, who had summited Mt. San Antonio in the San Gabriel mountains just over 740 times.
One thought on “Snow storm update 2nd April 2023”