Snow and trail update 7th April 2023

On Friday 7th April I surveyed Spitler Peak Trail and the PCT north to Apache Peak (Mile 169.5). There is now a posthole track north from Mile 169.5 – which goes over the saddle at Apache rather than around the east – to Saddle Junction (Mile 179). For hikers with limited snow hiking experience the alternate at Spitler Peak Trail (Mile 168.5) remains an excellent option. Sadly Spitler Peak Trail has deteriorated again this winter (details below).

Our last significant storm on 29th-30th March, the 24th of this remarkable winter, was described in the prior Report (linked here). We just caught the edge of a very minor system on 3rd April, which produced about 0.5 inch of snow in the high country, not enough to significantly impact the few tracks in place. I recorded a rather lengthy video from San Jacinto Peak on the morning of 6th April that discusses many of the key points herein (available here on YouTube).

The State Park wilderness reopened on Friday 7th April having been closed since 1st March. Frankly the less said about that closure the better. Skyline Trail (part of the C2C route) above 5800 ft remains closed, apparently indefinitely, and does not sound likely to reopen before late May. Currently there is no evidence of avalanche risk in the high country.

I conducted survey hikes in the high country on 31st March and 2nd, 5th, and 6th April, generally 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, following a storm the previous day. With little change in the weather that track has held up really well, and became a fast and firm route on cold mornings (photo below).

On 31st March 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, 5th, and 6th April, I was able to ascend and descend the entire route just in spikes with no postholing (I carried snowshoes on 2nd and crampons on all three days, 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 7000 ft are obscured by moderate to deep snow. Trails as low as 5000 ft elevation can have shallow and very patchy snow cover. With the State Park closure in place for a week since the last snow storm, there are few tracks in place anywhere above 8000 ft. Very cautious navigation is essential everywhere.

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 just a couple of inches depth of steeply angled ice.

Conditions will change dramatically over the next couple of weeks, with a major warming trend bringing rapid and widespread melting (see Weather below), and greatly softening snow in all areas, impacting the quality of tracks.

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. This challenge will evolve over the next week with warm temperatures on many days. The optimum traction device at any given time and place depends on a complex interaction of factors including time of day, sun exposure of the trail, air temperature, and extent to which a track has been established and compacted. The willingness of the hiker to posthole (itself somewhat correlated to fitness) also influences choice of traction.

Snowshoes are expected to become increasingly helpful everywhere above about 8000 ft (potentially lower in places on the warmest days for the next week or so). Tracks in the high country can be firm if the morning is cold (crampons or even spikes best) but then soften rapidly once sun hits slopes and temperatures rise, at which point snowshoes may become preferable. Even after trails become compacted through freeze/thaw cycles and hiker traffic, snowshoes will remain invaluable for off-trail travel for many weeks above 8000 ft.

Crampons – with hiking poles and/or an ice axe, depending on terrain – are potentially useful everywhere above about 8000 ft, when cold temperatures on some days, plus freeze/thaw cycles, lead to hardening of the snow surfaces. They may become invaluable over the next few weeks (depending on temperature) 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 7000 ft. This elevation will slowly move upwards with steady melting over the next few days and weeks, but may remain relatively low into May.

Despite unseasonably warm weather over the next week, hikers should nevertheless be prepared for temperatures near freezing in the high country, and below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for my recent weather observations from San Jacinto Peak).

The USFS gate at Humber Park remains 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 – which has generally not been the case for the past week – 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.

Sunrise as seen from Wellman’s Cienega, on a very hazy day throughout Southern California, 6th April 2023.


Warm, sunny, stable weather is generally forecast for at least the first half of April. With the exception of a brief cooling on 13th-14th April, temperatures will be at or above seasonal for the foreseeable future. Even at the highest elevations air temperatures will be above freezing almost daily from 8th April onwards. Snowmelt will be remarkably rapid below 9000 ft and will proceed steadily even higher especially on sun-exposed slopes.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Thursday 6th April 2023 at 0755 the air temperature was 27.2°F (-3°C), with a windchill temperature of 18.0°F (-8°C), 39% relative humidity, and a very light NNW wind sustained at 3 mph gusting to 6.5 mph.

At the Peak on Wednesday 5th April 2023 at 0815 the air temperature was 20.1°F (-7°C), with a windchill temperature of 2.3°F (-17°C), 13% relative humidity, and a fresh NW wind sustained at 12 mph gusting to 19.7 mph.

At the Peak 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.


Between the lengthy Park closure and storms continuing throughout March, completing the San Jacinto mountains section has been a major challenge even for experienced hikers this season. That said, rapid and widespread melting is underway and will accelerate over the next few days. Most or even all areas will soon become readily passable in April with – crucially – suitable skills and equipment, patience, and a thorough knowledge of all the possible alternates if needed.

The PCT from Mile 151 (Highway 74 crossing) to Mile 168.5 (Spitler Peak Trail alternate) is rapidly clearing of snow [checked at least weekly]. Fobes Ranch Road and Fobes Trail (another earlier alternate at Mile 166) are clear of snow.

There is a reliable well-traveled track on the PCT north to about Mile 169. There is now a track continuing beyond Apache Peak (Mile 169.5) all the way through to Mile 177. Spikes are essential as the posthole track is challenging with multiple crossings of angled snow slopes, and the track does not accurately follow the PCT route in places. Descending via the well-signed alternate at Spitler Peak Trail (Mile 168.5) is an excellent option for hikers less comfortable on lengthy sections of angled snow or lacking suitable traction. Spitler Peak Trail is functionally clear of snow, although a few minor patches remain that do not require spikes. Sadly this winter has has brought down about 30 minor trees and half-a-dozen washouts in the uppermost 1.2 miles but nothing particularly challenging to pass.

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 (check maps or apps for details).

By Monday 10th April, there was a single posthole track from Annie’s Junction (Mile 180.8) west to Strawberry Junction (Mile 183).

As of Friday 7th April, there were no tracks through the snow on the PCT along Fuller Ridge (Miles 185.5-191). However this is expected to change in the next few days.

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. Snowshoes may become increasingly valuable as the deep snow softens considerably over the next week.

A well established alternate from Idyllwild is to connect back to the PCT at about Mile 191 using Black Mountain Road. Black Mountain Road currently has continuous light to 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 signage that indicates the road is closed to hiker traffic, this is erroneous and has been reported to Forest Service. Snow on the road is rapidly melting, and expect 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.

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.

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 all 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.

PCT hikers are reminded that overnight stays are not permitted at or near San Jacinto Peak, including in the historic shelter (currently snowed in anyway). Mt. San Jacinto State Park regulations permit overnight stays only in established campgrounds. Little Round Valley and Strawberry Junction are good options for thru-hikers.

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 is 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.

The Peak Trail route at 10,300 ft, 6th April 2023. Initially a crampon track when I broke trail seven days earlier, it has become a firm and fast spike track given the lovely cold days since. This will not last, with a warm week ahead, likely leading to deep afternoon postholing. Note the remarkable haze layer in the far distance to the left of Jean Peak.


Trails above about 6000 ft remain largely snow-covered (wholly snow-covered above about 7000 ft). This will change steadily with extensive melting over the next few days and weeks. Details of PCT tracks and alternates are given in the PCT section above.

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 and switchbacking. 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 functionally clear of snow all the way to the PCT. A few minor snow patches remain on the most sheltered slopes, totaling only 2-3% of the trail, but none of them require spikes to pass. Sadly most of my hard work of past two years, when I cut 60+ trees on the upper trail, has been undone by this winter. About another 35 treefall hazards are on the trail, but thankfully almost all are small enough to be relatively easy to remove. More worrisome are 5-6 washouts in the upper switchbacks which have significantly impacted the tread in places, necessitating significant trail recovery work.

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 is clear of snow.


Measured on Thursday 6th April 2023 unless otherwise stated. The first number is the current snow depth, followed in parentheses by the maximum depth recorded in winter 2022/23. In all cases these are the greatest snow depths recorded at these locations for at least 11-12 years. 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): 90-95 inches (100-105 inches on 31st March)

Wellman Divide (9700 ft): 62-65 inches (70-75 inches on 3rd and 31st March)

Annie’s Junction/PCT Mile 180.8 (9070 ft): 70 inches (80 inches on 3rd March)

Long Valley (8600 ft): 45 inches (c.60 inches on 3rd March)

Saddle Junction/PCT Mile 179 (8070 ft): 36-38 inches (48-50 inches on 3rd March)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6550 ft): 1-8 inches, melting rapidly (46 inches on 3rd March)

Idyllwild (at 5550 ft): 0-3 inches (45 inches on 1st March)

PCT Mile 151 at crossing with Highway 74 (4800 ft): 0 inches, largely melted by 31st March, measured on 1st April (13 inches in first week of March)

The summit hut at 10,700 ft just below San Jacinto Peak. Above, on 31st March 2023, at the greatest snow depth of the winter, and below one week later on 6th April already showing evidence of significant melting (and some human disturbance).

On Sunday 2nd April 2023 as I descended from San Jacinto Peak I twice crossed paths with friends, Idyllwild neighbors, and great supporters of the Trail Report. As it was my 750th ascent – apparently setting the record for most ascents all time of a 10,000 ft/3000 m peak in Southern California – we took photos in celebration (below). 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.

4 thoughts on “Snow and trail update 7th April 2023

  1. Jon,
    That’s amazing! Congrats on #750🥳
    Plus, love reading your reports/ seeing the videos… for years now. Thank you!
    ( No, not hiking this year, building a home off grid; maybe again in a few years!! )
    Enjoy the mountain… ❤️


  2. Congratulations on your breaking that record. I am so impressed by your abilities and excellent reports. My favorite area to hike but l haven’t made it to the peak yet. This spring/summer when the snow does not cover the trails, l will try again. I cannot wait😁. Thanks again for your reports


Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s