Snow and trail update 19th May 2023

UPDATE Sunday 21st May 2023: a spectacular monsoon thunderstorm around noon produced an impressive 0.56 inch of rain in Idyllwild in under one hour. The storm cells appeared to be largely confined to the western side of the mountains, including over Garner Valley, with no recorded, for example, in Long Valley.


Skyline Trail between the State Park boundary (5800 ft elevation) and Grubbs Notch (Long Valley) reopened on Friday 19th May. The Skyline Trail forms the lower section of the C2C (Cactus-to-Clouds) route.

Considerable warming in recent days has greatly accelerated melting of snow. Above seasonal temperatures are forecast to continue until about 20th, while an exceptionally early monsoon weather pattern this week, about two months earlier than is typical for Southern California, may exacerbate the feeling of a premature summer.

Hiking different routes to San Jacinto Peak 2-3 times per week facilitates assessment of snow conditions on the trail system around the high country including the highest sections of the PCT in the San Jacinto mountains (Miles 179-181 and 183-185.5). Our daily hikes in between mainly assess other parts of the PCT, plus side trails and alternates.

Our hike on Monday 8th May was the first of 2023 for which I didn’t use spikes either for ascending or descending San Jacinto Peak, using an Alpine start (plus reliably grippy boots) to ensure I had relatively easy going on cold, firm snow on the east side route using Devil’s Slide, Wellman, Peak and East Ridge trails. In contrast, on Monday 15th, spikes were extremely useful above 9000 ft on Deer Springs Trail on an ascent on hard icy snow, and down to 8500 ft descending Marion Mountain Trail through rapidly softening snow patches. Overall spikes continue to be very valuable in the high country, and some hikers may prefer trail crampons.

On Wednesday 10th May we surveyed Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Miles 185.5-190.5) again, with a summary video report on YouTube available here. There was a very light dusting of fresh snow (<0.5 inch) above about 8000 ft overnight, but most melted by the afternoon, and it had no significant impact on the trail conditions.

Currently trails above about 8900 ft remain largely obscured by light to moderate snow (much lower in places). Trails as low as 7700 ft elevation can have shallow but very patchy snow cover, mainly on north-facing slopes. The reliable boot tracks of April and early May have become increasingly messy and meandering with patchy melting. Cautious navigation remains important 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 track across snow several feet deep may be much easier hiking than a poorly defined track across just a few inches depth of steeply angled ice.

Traction decisions have generally become easier again following the minor snowstorm in early May. 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 traveled and compacted. The willingness of the hiker to posthole in soft afternoon snow (which is rarely easy) also influences choice of traction.

Spikes remain very useful for the foreseeable future above about 9000 ft (lower in places) but they may no longer be essential depending upon the specifics of your route, comfort level hiking on icy snow, plus the quality of tread on footwear being used. This elevation will continue to move steadily upwards with melting of snow over the next few weeks, but spikes are expected to remain useful well into June in the high country. Spikes tend to be especially helpful for descending even when they are not required for ascending.

Crampons – with hiking poles and/or an ice axe, depending on terrain – are potentially useful everywhere above about 9000 ft, especially anywhere off-trail in the high country on cooler mornings, and on-trail on certain moderate and higher angle slopes, such as the Peak Trail above Wellman Divide, Deer Springs Trail above Little Round Valley, and the short section of South Ridge Trail across the north face of Tahquitz Peak.

Snowshoes remain useful above about 9000 ft for off-trail travel and on the warmest days over the next few weeks. Tracks in the high country soften rapidly once sun hits slopes and temperatures rise rapidly, at which point snowshoes may become valuable. It is clear from the overwhelming majority of high country tracks that hikers are preferring not to use snowshoes at this time.

In addition to snow and navigation issues, hikers should anticipate encountering many new treefall hazards on all trails, along with considerable amounts of debris, branches, cones, etc. While some of these issues are a consequence of the recent intense winter, most trails in the San Jacinto mountains have been inadequately maintained for years largely due to agency dysfunction, plus some effects of wildfires, the coronavirus pandemic, and climate change. In addition there can be a great deal of water in (and under) the trails, and this has also created some tricky crossings. Be very cautious of snow bridges across water.

Forest Service roads currently closed to vehicular traffic include Black Mountain Road (4S01), Dark Canyon Road (4S02), South Ridge Road (5S11), and Santa Rosa Road (7S02), plus all their various side roads. The USFS gate at Humber Park reopened on Wednesday 19th April. The State Park Stone Creek campground reopened in early May, but Forest Service campgrounds remain closed at this time.


Temperatures are forecast to be well above seasonal for May until Tuesday 23rd, when there will be a subtle cooling (but only down closer to seasonal temperatures). Overnight low temperatures in particular will be at least 10°F above average for the next week at both mid and upper elevations. Air temperatures around the highest peaks will be more typical of midsummer for those elevations.

While there is no significant new precipitation in the forecasts, there is the likelihood of cloudy conditions, possible minor rainfall and even associated thunderstorms on at least 19th-22nd May (there were a few raindrops and rumbles of thunder on the afternoon of Wednesday 17th in Idyllwild). These are exceptionally early monsoonal conditions, a month before the earliest monsoons recorded in the past decade and two months before the normal start of our monsoon season, as warm, moist air originating over Texas is pulled across Southern California by an unseasonal weather pattern.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Monday 15th May 2023 at 0750 the air temperature was 41.6°F (5°C), with a windchill temperature of 30.7°F (-1°C), 39% relative humidity, and a fresh ESE wind sustained at 11 mph gusting to 18.8 mph.

At the Peak on Thursday 11th May 2023 at 0745 the air temperature was 44.3°F (7°C), with a windchill temperature of 36.8°F (3°C), 25% relative humidity, and an extremely light WSW breeze sustained at 0 mph gusting to 2.6 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 8th May 2023 at 0740 the air temperature was 32.3°F (0°C), with a windchill temperature of 16.8°F (-8°C), 17% relative humidity, and a steady WSW wind sustained at 18 mph gusting to 23.7 mph.

A beautiful unnamed seasonal creek flowing very strongly with snowmelt alongside upper Marion Mountain Trail, 15th May 2023.


All of the PCT in the San Jacinto mountains is readily passable with, crucially, suitable skills and equipment, patience, and a thorough knowledge of all the possible alternates if needed. Snowmelt is expected to be rapid for the remainder of May. 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. Some of these challenges may actually increase over the next couple of weeks with temperatures fluctuating either side of freezing at the highest elevations and highly variable snowmelt.

The PCT is now largely clear of snow through the San Jacinto mountains. However two significant sections remain extensively snow-covered. The trail is clear from Miles 151 (Highway 74) to about Mile 169, and functionally clear (with only a handful of tiny snow patches) to Mile 175. Treefall hazards are a problem on this section but none are insurmountable. I counted at least 94 between Miles 169-175 on 1st May. Apache Peak (Mile 169.5) is now clear of snow. See my latest video for details of Miles 169-179 (available here), where conditions remain fairly similar now despite the changeable weather in the intervening two weeks.

Snow cover is about 60% from Miles 175 (Red Tahquitz) to 178 (south of Saddle Junction), but with a well traveled track through the extended snow patches and with limited consequential terrain. Most hikers will find that spikes remain useful on this section, and note that the posthole track on Miles 175-178 does not accurately follow the trail route.

Descending the well-signed alternate at Spitler Peak Trail (Mile 168.5) is an option for hikers less comfortable on the sections of snow further north or lacking suitable traction. Spitler Peak Trail is clear of snow. Sadly this winter has has brought down about 30 minor trees and half-a-dozen washouts in the uppermost 1.2 miles but nothing overly 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).

PCT hikers should not attempt to use South Ridge Trail between the PCT at Chinquapin Flat (roughly Mile 177.7) and Idyllwild via Tahquitz Peak, even though this looks temptingly simple on apps and maps. There are no steps to follow through a lengthy section of steeply angled (and notoriously treacherous) ice slopes. Crampons, always with an ice axe, and expert knowledge of how to use this equipment on high angle terrain, are critical. Even in low snow years these slopes always take many weeks longer to clear of ice than adjacent areas, and they are expected to remain treacherous at least until the end of May this year.

Snow cover is moderate and averages 60% between Miles 179 to about Mile 192, but with extensive clearing on sun-exposed sections (especially Miles 181-184 and around Mile 187.5-188.5). Spikes can be useful everywhere throughout this section, but may not be essential at this time for hikers most experienced with snow travel.

There is a boot track through an average of 70% moderate-to-deep snow cover on the PCT along Fuller Ridge (Miles 185.5-191), as described in detail in my video report from 10th May (available here). The track does not accurately follow the PCT route in some places and passes through some challenging terrain, especially in Miles 185.5-187. At this time continuing north on Fuller Ridge requires the skills and comfort level to hike on angled terrain with some moderate exposure, and spikes (at a minimum) are recommended. Almost all hikers I have seen and talked to are carrying an ice axe to use with their spikes. Some hikers will prefer to use trail crampons. Judging by what I see and hear firsthand on the mountain, a significant proportion of thru hikers continue to prefer using the Black Mountain Road alternate at this time.

There is a myth circulating on PCT social media that going up and over San Jacinto Peak somehow avoids Fuller Ridge. Please note that this is both incorrect and potentially dangerous. Whether you remain on the PCT northbound (going around at lower elevation via Strawberry Junction) or leave the PCT at Annie’s Junction (Mile 180.8) to go up to San Jacinto Peak and then down the west side to reconnect to the PCT at about Mile 185.5, you still have to hike Fuller Ridge (which is Miles 185.5-190.5). It is possible to do the former route more safely by leaving the PCT at Strawberry Junction (approx. Mile 183) and descending Deer Springs Trail, which is completely clear of snow below Strawberry Junction, back into Idyllwild.

A well established alternate from Idyllwild – avoiding Fuller Ridge – is to connect back to the PCT at about Mile 191 using Black Mountain Road. Black Mountain Road is clear of snow for the lower five miles, and then has increasingly patchy 20% snow cover for the upper three miles to the PCT but there are excellent tracks to follow through the snow patches. Mile 192 northward to Interstate 10 is clear of snow.

PCT hikers are reminded that overnight stays are not permitted at or near San Jacinto Peak by the State Park, including in the historic shelter. The shelter should be left available for use by emergency services at all times. Little Round Valley and Strawberry Junction are excellent overnight 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 has unique challenges, and clearly 2023 is already 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 southern end of the Fuller Ridge Trail (PCT Mile 185.5) at its junction with Deer Springs Trail, 15th May 2023.


Trails remain almost completely snow-covered above about 8900 ft. This elevation will continue to rise steadily with rapid melting during the course of May. Trails below about 7600 ft are now clear of snow. Elevations between 7600-8900 ft vary considerably in snow cover depending on aspect, drifting, and tree cover, but typically average about 30-70% snow cover. Details of PCT tracks and alternates are given in the PCT section above.

Devil’s Slide Trail [surveyed 19th May] is functionally clear of snow to Saddle Junction. Spikes are not required.

There are tracks to follow around the Tahquitz area meadows. However few if any accurately follow the trail routes at this time, and at least on the initial 0.5 mile of the Caramba Trail and through Little Tahquitz Meadow there are multiple meandering tracks.

The track north from Saddle Junction follows initially follows the PCT route fairly accurately and is now only about 30% snow-covered for the first mile. From 8900 ft elevation, snow cover is functionally continuous.

The now heavily-traveled and well-compacted route thereafter follows the posthole track that I originally established on 31st March following the last major snowfall and continues on to San Jacinto Peak, via a route approximating to the Wellman, Peak, and East Ridge trails. Multiple boot tracks on the Wellman Trail, especially in the area of the switchbacks just below Wellman Divide, are potentially confusing and require careful navigation. The Wellman Trail has several extended areas already clearing of snow due to its high sun exposure.

There is a well-traveled boot track through largely continuous snow up from Round Valley to Wellman Divide.

The Peak Trail track above Wellman Divide is very well-defined given the additional foot traffic from the Tram/Long Valley. Almost all boot tracks ascend San Jacinto Peak directly via the East Ridge route rather than the switchbacks of the upper Peak Trail.

Deer Springs Trail [surveyed 15th May] is clear of snow to Strawberry Junction. The snow cover is increasingly patchy for more than a mile north of Strawberry Junction to about 8600 ft. Thereafter the predominant posthole track through continuous snow badly meanders in places and only vaguely approximates to the true trail route until Fuller Ridge. Once the Deer Springs track leaves the PCT at the south end of Fuller Ridge, there is rarely one predominant boot track, and there are often multiple lightly-traveled tracks generally taking direct routes up the various snow slopes and rarely approximating to the trail route. Above Little Round Valley there is a multitude of ill-defined posthole tracks all of which ascend steeply and directly up towards San Jacinto Peak. Very cautious navigation is required on Deer Springs Trail above the Fuller Ridge Trail junction, and spikes are strongly recommended.

The Ernie Maxwell Trail is clear of snow. Crossing Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park can be tricky as it is swollen with snowmelt.

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 required.

South Ridge Trail [surveyed 14th and 16th May] is functionally clear of snow to Tahquitz Peak. Spikes are no longer required. Fourteen recent treefall hazards on the trail were removed by the Trail Report on 16th May. South Ridge Road is clear of snow but remains closed to vehicle traffic.

Marion Mountain Trail [surveyed 15th May] is clear of snow for its lower 1.5 miles to 7500 ft. Snow then starts quite abruptly and from that elevation the softening snow cover averages 40% but with a mix of long clear sections and some lengthy snow patches. There is a great deal of water flowing in the trail in its uppermost mile, and there are many increasingly fragile snow bridges. The boot track is not always easy to follow in its uppermost section as it nears the PCT/Deer Springs Trail. Most hikers will prefer to use spikes, especially for descending the upper half.

Spitler Peak Trail is clear of snow. Sadly most of my work of the past two years, in which more than 60 trees were cut 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 (photos in prior Report).

Black Mountain Trail is completely clear of snow for 3.5 miles. The final 0.3 mile in the uppermost switchbacks has about 20% snow cover in patches. There is a lightly-traveled posthole track through those snow patches. From the top of the trail to the fire lookout, snow cover remains >50%, but is soft and thinning rapidly.

Snow cover on Black Mountain Road is described in detail in the PCT section above.

Dark Canyon Road – the access for Seven Pines Trail – is completely clear of snow, but remains closed.

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 11th-15th May 2023. The first number is the current average snow depth, followed in parentheses by the maximum depth recorded in winter 2022/23 where known. Note that broad averages are given; due to drifting in strong winds, and the differential effects of melting and of rain on snow in some March storms, there is considerable inconsistency of depth. Altitudes and PCT Miles are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810 ft): 36-40 inches, with some clear patches now on the south face, but drifts up to seven feet deep remain in places (105 inches on 31st March)

Little Round Valley (9800 ft): 40 inches, with a few small clear patches now but also some drifts 6-7 feet deep.

Wellman Divide (9700 ft): 30 inches (70-75 inches on 3rd March and again on 31st March)

Annie’s Junction/PCT Mile 180.8 (9070 ft): 35-40 inches (80 inches on 3rd March)

Long Valley (8600 ft): 0 inches, a few very shallow snow patches remain (60 inches on 3rd March)

Strawberry Junction/PCT Mile 183.2 (8100 ft): 0 inches

Saddle Junction/PCT Mile 179 (8070 ft): 6 inches, many clear areas and very patchy snow drifts up to 20 inches deep (48-50 inches on 3rd March)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6550 ft): 0 inches (46 inches on 3rd March)

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

PCT Mile 151 at crossing with Highway 74 (4800 ft): 0 inches (13 inches in first week of March)

Two versions of the same view of upper Little Round Valley, taken almost exactly a year apart. Above, on 15th May 2023, with an average of about four feet of snow, but including drifts 6-7 feet deep in the foreground. Below, the same location on 9th May 2022. The prominent sign in the lower image is completely buried in snow in the upper image.
The San Jacinto Peak summit hut at 10,700 ft elevation. Above, on 8th May 2023, and below the same view just over five weeks earlier on 31st March 2023. Average snow depth at the Peak has more than halved from over eight feet to about four feet in that time.

One thought on “Snow and trail update 19th May 2023

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