Snow and trail update 15th February 2019

[UPDATE II Saturday 16th February: Highway 74 from Garner Valley to Mountain Center and Highway 243 from Mountain Center to Idyllwild are open to all traffic (not just residents). When descending from Idyllwild, use the Saunders Meadow Road diversion (i.e. past the transfer station) as Hwy 243 is single lane for uphill traffic only. All other road closures remain in effect.]

[UPDATE I Saturday 16th February: Just back from a hike from home up South Ridge Trail to Old Lookout Flat. About 3.5″ fresh snow at top of South Ridge Road (6500′) and the same depth at Old Lookout Flat (7800′). Bitter conditions high up with 30-40 mph winds. Idyllwild (at 5550′) had 2.25″ of snow overnight, but melting is now very rapid at town elevation. South Ridge Road has a huge boulder in the road at 0.4 miles up, and was severely damaged by washouts from 0.7 miles to the top. Do not attempt vehicular access. At Long Valley (8600′) there was little more than an inch of fresh snowfall.]

Following the unprecedented rainfall and flooding event yesterday, discussed in detail in the posting linked here, today I hiked to San Jacinto Peak from Humber Park via Saddle Junction and Wellman Divide, descending Deer Springs Trail to the Suicide Rock Trail, then back to Humber via the Suicide Climbers Trail. There was not a single track anywhere to be seen on the mountain.

I recorded a rambling and overly long (sorry) vlog at about 0945 at San Jacinto Peak this morning, available on YouTube at this link.

For the second time this year, it rained all the way to San Jacinto Peak, and consequently snowfall in the upper elevations was far below what had been forecast, with barely 5″ at San Jacinto Peak, and only 1-2″ above 10,000′. Even that snowfall seemed to have been accompanied by freezing rain, so there was barely any powder on top of very icy snow.

Relatively mild and heavy rain, accompanied by strong winds, has smoothed the existing snow at all elevations, so there is very little evidence of the trails, especially above 8500′. This also makes even fairly low angle exposed slopes (like those on the Peak Trail above Wellman Divide) quite challenging to traverse in anything other than crampons. Considerable caution is required with both route-finding and traversing slopes.

Currently, there is no change to the timetable for road closures that I outlined yesterday. However, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway will be closed indefinitely due to flood damage to the access road to Valley Station. Check their website for updates.

Snow depths measured today are as follows. Only average depth is given, due to the complexity of past storms. Strong winds have led to major drifting; drifts can be much greater than the average depth in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10,810′): 55″ [was c.50″ on Monday 11th]

Little Round Valley (9800′): 40″

Wellman Divide (9700′): 30″

Fuller Ridge Trail/PCT at junction with Deer Springs Trail (8950′): 36″

Annie’s Junction (State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 24″

Marion Mountain Trail at junction with PCT/Deer Springs Trail (8800′): 22″

Saddle Junction (8100′): 16″ [was 26″ on Monday 11th]

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 11″

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6500′): 3″ [was 7″ on Monday 11th]

WEATHER Well, it can’t be as crazy as it was on Valentine’s Day! However, in the El Niño-driven winter we are having, it seems that conditions will remain highly variable and unpredictable. Minor storms with snowfall down as low as 5000′ are forecast for tonight and Sunday 17th. Snowfall at all elevations may be just a few inches at most, with about 2-3″ forecast for the Peak on Sunday. Then a potentially more substantial storm is currently predicted around Thursday 21st, with greater snowfall possible (4-9″ at the Peak}. Temperatures will remain well below average for the foreseeable future, with consequently little or no melting of snow and ice above 6500′.

At San Jacinto Peak today, Friday 15th February 2019, at 0945 the air temperature was 19.5°F (-7°C), with a windchill temperature of -2.4°F (-19°C), 31% relative humidity, and a harsh 18 mph WSW wind gusting to 27.8 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 11th February 2019, at 1225 the air temperature was 22°F (-6°C), with a windchill temperature of 3.6°F (-16°C), 28% relative humidity, and a moderate 9 mph WNW wind gusting to 18.3 mph.

20190215_145650
Middle Spring well before dawn this morning, 15th February 2019. It looked more like Falls Creek than Devil’s Slide Trail (with only a hint of hyperbole)!

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 6000′ remain snow-covered at this time, despite considerable snow loss at lower elevations due to rainfall. Measured average snow depths are listed above. Trail damage from the rain event yesterday was less than feared. Although many washouts occurred in areas where streams cross trails, none were so severe as to be impassable. In fact, it was delightful to see so many ephemeral creeks flowing that had had little or no flow for much of the past six years.

For at least the next ten days hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country (>6000′) and well below freezing above 10,000′ (with potential for severe cold when considering windchill effects).

Microspikes (or even better crampons with an ice axe) are currently essential on all trails above 6500′, especially in the morning. Snowshoes may soon be useful depending on the depth of fresh snowfalls, and/or during afternoon melting on exposed and lower elevation trails.

Waterproof footwear is strongly recommended on the approach trails (below 8200′) due to multiple stream crossings and considerable water flowing in the trails.

Routefinding will be challenging for those not familiar with the area. Almost all signage above about 9000′ is currently completely snow-covered. Many PCT marker posts at lower elevations are also completely obscured. No trails had been broken whatsoever on my circuit of the mountain today. The snow is so icy from the rainfall yesterday that I did not posthole at all until the early afternoon descent of lower Deer Springs Trail. Consequently there are no tracks anywhere on the trail system above 8000′. Below about 8900′ there were subtle signs of the trails from traffic earlier in the week, but these may disappear in the next day or so with forecast fresh snowfalls.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat will be extremely treacherous. Crampons in conjunction with an ice axe, and knowledge of how to use both, are essential.

The Ernie Maxwell Trail is almost completely snow-covered with about 1-2″ snow, but is passable without additional traction. [Thanks to Anne and Anabel King for this update from today.]

20190215_130642
Marion Creek crossing the Suicide Rock Trail, this afternoon, 15th February 2019.

Major flooding event 14th February 2019

Today Idyllwild and neighbouring communities in the San Jacinto mountains experienced a once-in-a-generation rainfall and flooding event. Many minor roads remain flooded, severely damaged, and/or impassable. There is currently no road access to Idyllwild. Unless under an evacuation order, please do not attempt to move around or visit the region. Highway 74 is closed at Lake Hemet and Valle Vista (both with an estimated reopening on 16th February).

Highway 243 from Pine Cove to Banning is also closed. This CHP link has a dramatic photo of Highway 243 completely washed out just north of Lake Fulmor. CalTrans has already posted an estimated reopening of 23rd February.

In about 24 hours we had an astonishing 7.77″ of rain in Idyllwild. By 0700 this morning, we had had 3.66″ of rain at home in Idyllwild (5550′) since yesterday. It finally stopped raining at about 1745 by which time we’d had an additional 4.11″.

With air temperatures above 45°F for much of the day, and so much mild rain, melting of existing snow was prodigious. Huge snow loss – basically all of the 6″ we had in town – massively increased the flood water volumes.

Long Valley (8600′) received a remarkable 9.1″ of rain in the same period. It then started snowing after about 1415 on top of the rain-saturated pre-existing snow. So far there has been only about an inch of fresh snowfall. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway has been closed all day, and will not reopen until Saturday 16th February.

I will start assessment of trail conditions tomorrow. There may be washouts, trees down, and even landslides, in addition to horrible slushy snow conditions, that may make hiking anywhere in the region challenging for the foreseeable future.

My video below shows where upper Fern Valley Road – access for Humber Park – is impassable as Chinquapin Creek has flooded the road (with floodwater 2-3 feet deep).

Strawberry Creek where it flows under Village Center Drive near Idyllwild Post Office at about 0900.

I took this video of Strawberry Creek – between River Drive and Tahquitz Drive – at about 0800 this morning. Nowadays it is rarely more than a gentle trickle at best. Not today.

Tahquitz Drive just down from the Episcopal Church turned into a river, a foot deep in places, with the snow berms functioning as river banks.

Storm update 11th February 2019

[UPDATE Wednesday 13th February: We are bracing ourselves for a major “pineapple express” storm system. Currently much lighter rainfall than forecast, with barely 0.1″ in the past five hours since it started raining at 1300 this afternoon in Idyllwild. As much as 5″ (125mm) of rain has been forecast for elevations below about 8000′, with about two feet of snow possible at the high peaks. Flooding and landslides are possible on mountain roads, with voluntary evacuations in/near areas affected by the July 2018 Cranston Fire.]

Following a minor two-day storm over the weekend, today I snowshoed to San Jacinto Peak from Humber Park via Saddle Junction and Wellman Divide, descending the same way. For the second time in a few days I was breaking trail all the way to the Peak. Snowfall yesterday evening plus windy, drifting conditions, meant that again there was not a single track anywhere to be seen on the mountain. Very unusually, when I returned to Saddle Junction this afternoon the only tracks visible for the day were those from my early morning ascent. I recorded the following vlog at San Jacinto Peak just after noon today.

The weekend storm occurred in two phases, some very light snow throughout the mountain on Saturday (mainly in the morning) and a somewhat heavier snowfall on Sunday that was confined to the western side of the mountain below 9000′ (the top of the mountain was above the cloud). Saturday snowfall was about one inch at all elevations. The Sunday snow produced an additional 2.5″ at 5550′ in Idyllwild, 3″ at Humber Park (6500′), 5″ at Saddle Junction (8100′), and 6″ at Annie’s Junction (9050′). There was no clear sign of significant fresh snowfall above about 9000′. Otherwise conditions looked very similar to those following last week’s major storm described in detail here. With cold conditions for the last week, signs of melting were minimal.

Snow depths measured today are as follows. Average current depth is given (known new accumulations are described above). Locations not surveyed since last week are estimated based on the depth six days ago and their elevation. Strong winds have led to major drifting, again even as low as 7500′ on Devil’s Slide Trail. Drifts can be double the average depth in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10,810′): 50″ (with drifts averaging 5-6 feet)

Little Round Valley (9800′): 45″ [estimated]

Wellman Divide (9700′): 37″

Fuller Ridge Trail/PCT at junction with Deer Springs Trail (8950′): 38″ [estimated]

Annie’s Junction (State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 31″

Marion Mountain Trail at junction with PCT/Deer Springs Trail (8800′): 27″ [estimated]

Saddle Junction (8100′): 26″

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 20″ [estimated]

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6500′): 7″ (some significant recent melting)

San Gorgonio from San Jacinto Peak, today 11th February 2019.

WEATHER In keeping with the theme of this winter, a mild multi-day storm system is forecast from the afternoon of Wednesday 13th through to early morning Friday 15th. At San Jacinto Peak, about 1-1.5′ of snow is predicted across the period, although air temperatures even there will be only just below freezing. Most precipitation is forecast to fall as rain, potentially as high as 8500′, with the likelihood of a mix of rain, freezing rain, and snow above about 8000′. At all elevations below 8000′, at least three inches of rain are forecast in only a 30 hour period. Obviously this may lead to substantial loss of snow volume at mid and lower elevations.

At San Jacinto Peak today, Monday 11th February 2019, at 1220 the air temperature was 22°F (-5.5°C), with a windchill temperature of 3.6°F (-16°C), 28% relative humidity, and a cool 9 mph WNW wind gusting to 18 mph.

At the Peak on Wednesday 6th February 2019, at 1150 the air temperature was 4.9°F (-15°C), with a windchill temperature of -31.7°F (-35°C), 71% relative humidity, and a savage 21 mph WNW wind gusting to 48.8 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 5000′ are completely snow-covered at this time (measured average snow depths are listed above). This includes almost the entire PCT from Highway 74 near Paradise Corner to below the Black Mountain Truck Trail (roughly PCT miles 150-195).

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country (>8000′) and well below freezing above 10,000′ (with potential for even more severe cold when considering windchill effects).

Snowshoes are currently strongly recommended everywhere above 6500′. Crampons or microspikes may soon be useful (following rain/freezing rain later this week) on almost all trails above about 7000′.

Waterproof footwear is recommended on the approach trails (below about 8200′) due to multiple stream crossings and water flowing in the trails. This will become quite extreme with the change in the weather in the next few days.

Routefinding will be challenging for those not familiar with the area. Almost all signage above about 9000′ is currently completely snow-covered. Many PCT marker posts and some other signs at lower elevations are also completely obscured. Few if any trails will be meaningfully broken prior to further precipitation this week.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat remains extremely treacherous. It has not been traversed since the latest snowfall. Crampons in conjunction with an ice axe, and knowledge of how to use both, are essential.

The Peak “Trail” at about 9800′ just above Wellman Divide, (above) today 11th February, and (below) Wednesday 6th February.

Major storm update 6th February 2019

[UPDATE Sunday 10th February: it has snowed gently on/off in Idyllwild (5550′) since 0900 this morning, adding about 2.0″ to the existing snow depth. It is clear and sunny higher on the mountain (>8000′) and on the eastern side, with no new snow accumulation today.]

[UPDATE Saturday 9th February: it snowed lightly in Idyllwild (5550′) this morning between 0800-1230, adding about 1.2″ to the existing snow. At the same time it was snowing higher on the mountain, also adding about an inch at higher elevations.]

Following another multi-day storm, today I snowshoed to San Jacinto Peak from Humber Park via Saddle Junction and Wellman Divide, descending Deer Springs Trail to the Suicide Rock Trail, then back to Humber via the Suicide Climbers Trail. I was breaking trail from pre-dawn to dusk, with not a single track anywhere to be seen on the mountain. I recorded the following vlog in spectacular, wild spindrift conditions just before noon (please excuse the ice in my moustache, it was chilly up there!).

What was effectively a four-day storm (at least at mid-elevations) started on Saturday with the heaviest snowfall at the highest elevations, as described in the previous update. A second significant snowfall occurred on Monday into Tuesday. At 5550′ elevation in Idyllwild, we ended up with an impressive 3.74″ of rain (early on) plus 6.25″ snow (towards the end of the storm). Snow level was at about 4000′ on both the east (below Mountain Center) and west (Pinyon) sides of the mountain.

Looking west from San Jacinto Peak towards Black Mountain, 6th February 2019.

Snow depths measured today are as follows. Only average depth is given, due to the complexity of past storms. Extremely strong winds have led to major drifting, even as low as 7500′ (on Devil’s Slide Trail, see photo below). Drifts can be double the average depth in places. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10,810′): 50″ (with drifts averaging 5-6 feet)

Little Round Valley (9800′): 38″

Wellman Divide (9700′): 36″

Fuller Ridge Trail/PCT at junction with Deer Springs Trail (8950′): 32″

Annie’s Junction (State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 25″

Marion Mountain Trail at junction with PCT/Deer Springs Trail (8800′): 22″

Saddle Junction (8100′): 20″

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 15″

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6500′): 10″

Tahquitz Peak and Tahquitz Rock as seen from the Suicide Rock Trail this afternoon, 6th February 2019.

WEATHER For the first time this winter, it will remain cold post-storm. Overnight low temperatures will remain below freezing everywhere above 5000′ for the foreseeable future, so melting of snow and ice will be very slow. Some light precipitation (snow in the high country, mixed below 6500′) is forecast for Saturday morning and Sunday evening, with another possible multi-day storm later next week.

At San Jacinto Peak today, Wednesday 6th February 2019, at 1150 the air temperature was 4.9°F (-15°C), with a windchill temperature of -31.7°F (-35°C), 71% relative humidity, and a savage 21 mph WNW wind gusting to 48.8 mph.

At San Jacinto Peak on Sunday 3rd February 2019, at 0635 the air temperature was 13°F (-11°C), with a windchill temperature of -5°F (-21°C), 100% relative humidity, and a bitter 18 mph SW wind gusting to 25 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 4000′ are completely snow-covered at this time. Measured average snow depths are listed above.

For at least the next ten days hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country (>8000′) and well below freezing above 10,000′ (with potential for even more severe cold when considering windchill effects).

Snowshoes are very strongly recommended everywhere above 6500′. Crampons or microspikes will soon be useful (once heavily used trails are consolidated) on almost all trails above about 7000′.

Waterproof footwear is recommended on the approach trails (below 8200′) due to multiple stream crossings and water flowing in the trails.

Routefinding will be challenging for those not familiar with the area. Almost all signage above about 9000′ is currently completely snow-covered. Mamy PCT marker posts at lower elevations are also completely obscured. No trails had been broken whatsoever on my circuit of the mountain today. My snowshoe tracks on the east side ascent were quickly invisible due to strong winds and severe drifting. My tracks on the Deer Springs Trail will be more obvious as it was less windy lower down this afternoon, however I was off-trail for some of the descent and I would not recommend trying to ascend some of my route, even where it is visible.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat will be extremely treacherous. Crampons in conjunction with an ice axe, and knowledge of how to use both, are essential.

The Ernie Maxwell Trail is completely snow-covered, but is passable without snowshoes. [Thanks to Anne and Anabel King for this update from today.]

Unusually heavy drifting for Devil’s Slide “Trail”, very early this morning at about 7800′ elevation.
The trail junction sign at Wellman Divide (9700′) this morning, 6th February 2019.
North Fork of the San Jacinto River at Deer Springs Trail, today 6th February 2019. All water sources above 8500′ are currently frozen and snow-covered.
Good luck trying to use the pit toilet in Little Round Valley anytime soon!

Storm update 3rd February 2019

[UPDATE Tuesday 5th February: For the first time this winter, Idyllwild awoke to a reasonable blanket of snow, 2.5″ depth at 5550′ elevation. It has continued to snow gently all day, with an additional 2″ accumulation. Since Friday, Idyllwild has had 3.74″ rain and 5.0″ snow. Long Valley (8500′) added another 3-4″ of snow overnight, but the upper mountain has often been above the cloud today.]

[UPDATE Monday 4th February: it has rained – and tried but largely failed to snow – in Idyllwild continuously since yesterday evening. At Humber Park this morning there was an additional one inch of snow at 6500′, but it was also occasionally drizzling. By this evening another 1″ of snow had accumulated. I happened to be there when U. S. Forest Service was closing the Humber Park gate, reducing legal parking spaces from 100+ to 10. It has been snowing on/off at Long Valley (8500′), with an additional 3-5″ accumulating, but for at least part of the day the upper mountain was above the cloud.]

I spent the previous three days on the mountain, descending this morning from San Jacinto Peak via Wellman Divide to Humber Park. On Friday I was assessing the snow from the minor storm we had on Thursday, and then observed the continuous snowfall we had on Saturday. Snow conditions were perfect for snowshoeing today everywhere above 8000′, with a few inches of soft powder on top of firmer deep snow, with occasional deep drifts.

The minor storm on Thursday produced a very even snowfall across the mountain, with 2.5″ at Saddle Junction (8100′), and 3″ from Long Valley (8500′) all the way to San Jacinto Peak (10,810′), with just a fraction of an inch down to 6400′ in Idyllwild.

Yesterday’s storm was more typical in terms of the snow distribution, but failed to produce the major snowfall of 2-3 feet that had been forecast for the high country. As has been the case all winter, the system was very mild, with much of the precipitation falling as rainfall (up to 8500′) until late on Saturday. Although there was a brief dusting to lower elevations, sticking snow level was down to about 6000′, with 1″ of fresh snowfall at Humber Park, 1.5″ at Saddle Junction, 4″ at 9000′, and about 13″ at San Jacinto Peak. Strong winds have caused extensive drifting, especially into the trails, and quickly eliminate any sign of prior tracks, so route-finding is challenging.

In Idyllwild (at 5550′ elevation) we had 1.72″ rain plus 0.25″ snow yesterday.

I recorded the following vlog at San Jacinto Peak at sunrise today.

All trails above about 6500′ are completely snow-covered at this time (some individual trail conditions are discussed below). Microspikes are useful but not essential up to about 8000′, especially for descending. Snowshoes are currently invaluable above about 9000′. Crampons may be a useful alternative to above about 9,000′ (and on the north side of Tahquitz Peak) as the snow continues to firm up. Some revised snow depths are at the foot of this posting.

For at least the next ten days hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country (>8000′) and well below freezing above 10,000′ (with potential for even more severe cold when considering windchill effects).

Sunrise just east of the Salton Sea, from San Jacinto Peak, today 3rd February 2019.

Weather February is currently forecast be a cold month at all elevations. Further light snow is forecast this evening, tomorrow, and Tuesday, with a possibility of a little more again next weekend. As temperatures will remain low all week, snow conditions should remain excellent for snowshoeing in the high country.

At San Jacinto Peak today, Sunday 3rd February 2019, at 0635 the air temperature was 13°F (-11°C), with a windchill temperature of -5°F (-21°C), 100% relative humidity, and a bitter 18 mph SW wind gusting to 25 mph.

At the Peak yesterday, Saturday 2nd February 2019, at 1210 the air temperature was a relatively mild 26.9°F (-3°C), with a windchill temperature of 9.8°F (-12°C), 100% relative humidity, and a howling 19 mph SW wind gusting to 40.3 mph.

San Gorgonio from San Jacinto Peak, today 3rd February, at sunrise.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

The Pacific Crest Trail is continuously snow-covered from south of Red Tahquitz (approx. PCT Mile 175) through to at least Mile 192. Fuller Ridge Trail section has not been traveled since November, there is no trail to follow, and it will be very treacherous in places. It will likely be impassable without ice axe, crampons, and good knowledge of how to use both.

Devil’s Slide Trail has a continuous snow cover of a couple of inches. Currently microspikes are not required in the soft snow for either descending or ascending, but they may become useful soon due to compaction and overnight freezing.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat remains very treacherous. Crampons (or microspikes if you are very comfortable with their use), an ice axe, and knowledge of how to use both, are essential.

The Ernie Maxwell Trail is largely clear of snow in its lower half, and the snow is very thin and soft in the upper section (nearer Humber Park).

South Ridge Road is open, and is readily passable with 4WD/AWD.

Measured snow depths from today (including all recent and past storms) are as follows. Only the average depth is given, due to the complexity of past storms, recent melting, and windblown drifts. Much deeper drifts and patches may be encountered. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 3.5-4.0 feet (very heavily drifted on east slope)

Wellman Divide (9700′): 30″ (but very heavily drifted here)

Annie’s Junction (State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 13″

Long Valley (8500′): 7″

Saddle Junction (8100′): 5″

Humber Park (6500′): 1″

The Peak Trail just above Wellman Divide this morning, 3rd February (above), and the same view two days earlier on Friday 1st February (below).

Snow and weather update 28th January 2019

[UPDATE Saturday 2nd February: currently snowing at about 0.5″ per hour here at San Jacinto Peak (1115). About 6-7″ new accumulation since Thursday.]

[UPDATE Thursday 31st January: at 1330 it just started raining here in Idyllwild, and it is snowing lightly in Long Valley. Rainfall is expected up to about 7500′ (maybe 0.5″), with a few inches of snow in the high country. Major precipitation is expected on Saturday, with 2-3 feet of snow likely at San Jacinto Peak, and a mix of rain and light snow down to 5000′ at least. Next major update will be on Sunday 3rd February. Additional light precipitation is forecast for Monday-Tuesday.]

Today I took a long circuitous hike to San Jacinto Peak via Saddle Junction, the Pacific Crest Trail, then Deer Springs Trail through Little Round Valley, before descending via Wellman Divide and back to Humber Park. Snow conditions were pretty rotten in most areas, with changes to microspikes, then snowshoes, and back again, to minimize postholing. I descended in snowshoes all the way to 8900′ on the PCT above Saddle Junction, and there was abundant evidence of hikers having postholed horribly during the weekend.

I recorded the following vlog at San Jacinto Peak this afternoon. By dusk when I returned to Humber Park it had reopened, in contrast to what I say in the video.

Almost all trails above about 8000′ remain largely or completely snow-covered at this time (individual trail conditions are discussed below). Microspikes are useful but not essential on trails above about 8000′ in the morning when snow is firm, and for descending. Snowshoes are currently very useful above about 9000′, as the snow has softened considerably at all elevations in recent days, and they are strongly recommended for off-trail travel and in warmer afternoons when snow softens. Crampons are a useful alternative to microspikes in the mornings above about 10,000′ (and on the north side of Tahquitz Peak). . Some revised snow depths are at the foot of this posting.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or below freezing in the high country (>8000′) and well below freezing when considering windchill effects (especially at the high peaks).

With the lifting of the federal government shutdown, the U.S. Forest Service Idyllwild Ranger Station and Humber Park are now open. Adventure Passes and wilderness permits are available and are required as usual.

Weather After several mild days, including today, a dramatic change is forecast starting on Thursday 31st January and lasting for the first four days of February. Precipitation is likely on several or all of those five days, with a mix of moderate rainfall and a few inches of snow at the elevation of Idyllwild (5000′-6000′), and with up to a foot of snow possible at San Jacinto Peak on Thursday, and another 2-3 feet on Friday night and Saturday.

At San Jacinto Peak today, Monday 28th January 2019, under completely cloudy skies, at 1315 the air temperature was 39.5°F (4°C), with a windchill temperature of 29.5°F (-1.4°C), 32% relative humidity, and a light 9 mph due North wind gusting to 13.7 mph.

At the Peak on Friday 25th January 2019, at 0955 the air temperature was 35°F (1.7°C), with a windchill temperature of 26.6°F (-3°C), 21% relative humidity, and a gentle 6 mph SSW wind gusting to 8.5 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

The Pacific Crest Trail is almost continuously snow-covered from at least Red Tahquitz (approx. PCT Mile 175) through to at least Mile 191. Immediately north of Saddle Junction, snow is patchy until about 8700′, and then again descending past Strawberry Cienega. Otherwise microspikes are useful in most areas. Fuller Ridge Trail section has not been traveled since November, there is no trail to follow, and it will be treacherous in places. After the forecast snow in the next few days, it will be impassable without ice axe, crampons, and good knowledge of how to use both.

Devil’s Slide Trail is largely clear to about 7700′, then continuous snow cover to Saddle Junction. Ascending is possible without microspikes, but they are useful for descending the uppermost section.

South Ridge Trail is largely clear to Old Lookout Flat (7800′) and no microspikes are required. There is patchy 50% shallow snow cover from there up to Tahquitz Peak. Microspikes are useful in the early morning and for descending, but are not essential.

Deer Springs Trail below Strawberry Junction is largely clear of snow below 8000′ (no microspikes required). The trail is obvious and fairly well compacted above 8800′ (junction with Marion Mountain Trail) and microspikes are fine to Little Round Valley. There is a random scattering of a few unhelpful tracks from Little Round Valley through to San Jacinto Peak, none of which follow the trail route. This section requires snowshoes, at least on warmer days and in the afternoon, and careful route-finding.

Marion Mountain Trail is obvious and well-compacted through to the PCT/Deer Springs Trail junction. Microspikes are sufficient. The trailhead is completely clear of snow..

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat remains treacherous. On 20th January, I was in microspikes and had to use an ice axe to cut steps across the ice slope. There has been very limited traffic since. Crampons (or microspikes if you are very comfortable with them), an ice axe, and knowledge of how to use both, are strongly recommended.

The Ernie Maxwell Trail is clear of snow.

South Ridge Road is passable with 4WD/AWD but some patches are slippery for hikers.

Suicide Rock Trail has only a few tiny snow patches either side of the Marion Creek crossing (flowing strongly) and close to Suicide Rock. Microspikes are not necessary.

Suicide Rock Climbers Trail is largely clear of snow, except for patches heading around to the North Face.

Measured snow depths are as follows. Only the average depth is given, due to the complexity of past storms, recent melting, and windblown drifts. Much deeper drifts and patches may be encountered. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 2-3′

Little Round Valley (9800′): 20″ (was 36″ on 18th January)

Wellman Divide (9700′): 17″ (was 30″ on 18th January)

Annie’s Junction (State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 9″ (had been 17″ on 18th January)

Long Valley (8500′): 1-4″ [as reported by State Park]

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 2″ (had been 8″ on 18th January)

Saddle Junction (8100′): 3″ (had been 20″ on 15th January and 8″ on 22nd)

Humber Park (6500′): 0″ (was 4″ on 16th January, and 1″ on 18th)

Wellman’s Cienega North spring (above) today Monday 28th January, (below) Friday 25th January, and (bottom) Tuesday 22nd January.

Snow and trail update 22nd January 2019

[UPDATE Saturday 26th: Forest Service Ranger Station in Idyllwild remains closed today. Likely reopening is Monday. Comments on access and passes below still apply.]

[UPDATE Friday 25th January: we hiked Deer Springs Trail to Strawberry Junction yesterday and from Humber Park to San Jacinto Peak this morning. Snow conditions are largely unchanged from the report below. However on the descent today the snow was softening rapidly, and this weekend the snow will be ugly underfoot due to unusually warm weather. Snowshoes will likely be useful in many areas above 8000′, especially after late morning.]

This is a fairly brief update of snow/trail conditions following last week’s major four-day storm. Details of that storm and subsequent snow depths are at the previous posting linked here. Today we hiked briskly to San Jacinto Peak from Humber Park via Wellman Divide and back. Conditions underfoot were perfect for a rapid ascent (an hour faster than on Friday 18th), with very cold weather yesterday and today leading to solid icy snow all the way up, perfect for microspikes only, with no postholing. Some revised snow depths are at the foot of this posting. Special thanks to Brian Clayton for an update on Marion Mountain and upper Deer Springs trails from yesterday, Monday 21st January.

Almost all trails above about 7000′ are largely or completely snow-covered at this time (individual trail conditions are discussed below). Microspikes are very useful on almost all trails above about 7000′, in the morning when snow is firm, and especially for descending. Snowshoes can be useful above 8000′, but currently mainly off-trail and in warmer afternoons when snow softens. They will be more useful this weekend as the snow softens in the unseasonably warm weather. Crampons are a useful alternative to microspikes in the mornings above 10,000′ (and on the north side of Tahquitz Peak).

Despite mild temperatures forecast for much of the remainder of January, hikers should nevertheless be prepared for temperatures near freezing in the high country (and below freezing when considering windchill effects, especially at the high peaks).

Note that during the federal government shutdown, the U.S. Forest Service Idyllwild Ranger Station is closed. The gate to Humber Park is also closed, limiting legal parking to just ten spaces, being patrolled by the Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer during the shutdown. Adventure Passes are currently required to park at Humber Park. Although Idyllwild ran out of passes for sale last weekend (and new ones cannot be issued during the shutdown), Nomad Ventures has located a small supply that will likely last only through next weekend. I have been liaising with the USFS LEO regarding this situation. Those unable to display an alternative pass (e.g., interagency, golden age, veteran, volunteer) could be cited, and are requested to park elsewhere for recreation e.g., Deer Springs Trail, South Ridge, lower end of Ernie Maxwell Trail on Tahquitz View Drive.

Weather After a couple of frigid days yesterday and today, mild weather is forecast for most days until at least 1st February. On some days this will include temperatures above freezing at San Jacinto Peak, and reaching 60°F in Idyllwild. Needless to say, this will result in steady melting at all elevations.

At San Jacinto Peak today, Tuesday 22nd January 2019, at 0940 the air temperature was 13.5°F (-10°C), with a windchill temperature of -13.1°F (-25°C), 28% relative humidity, and a brutal 22 mph due North wind gusting to 32.9 mph.

At the Peak on Friday 18th January 2019, at 1045 the air temperature was 32°F (0°C), with a windchill temperature of 18.7°F (-7°C), 72% relative humidity, and a brisk 11 mph due North wind gusting to 17.8 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat is treacherous (see photo below). On 20th January, I was in microspikes and had to use an ice axe to cut steps across the ice slope. There was no sign of any use since last weeks storms, and there is no trail as such. Crampons (or microspikes if you are very comfortable with them), an ice axe, and knowledge of how to use both, are strongly recommended.

The “trail” between Tahquitz Peak and Chinquapin Flat, early morning Sunday 20th January 2019. The consequences for making a mistake here will be extremely severe.

South Ridge Trail is largely clear to Old Lookout Flat (7800′) and no microspikes are required. More-or-less continuously snow-covered from there up to Tahquitz Peak. Microspikes are useful in the early morning and for descending.

Marion Mountain Trail is obvious and well-compacted through to the PCT/Deer Springs Trail junction. Microspikes are sufficient. The trailhead is completely clear of snow.

Deer Springs Trail below Strawberry Junction is largely clear of snow below 8000′ (no microspikes required). The trail is obvious and compacted above 8800′ (junction with Marion Mountain Trail) and microspikes (or crampons) are fine through Little Round Valley. The “trail” from Little Round Valley through to San Jacinto Peak is indistinct, does not actually follow the trail route, and may require snowshoes, at least in the afternoon.

Devil’s Slide Trail is clear to about 6800′, then with patches of icy compacted snow to 7700′, then continuous snow cover to Saddle Junction. Ascending is possible without microspikes, but they are very useful for descending.

The Ernie Maxwell Trail is clear of snow.

South Ridge Road is passable with 4WD/AWD but some patches are slippery for hikers.

Suicide Rock Trail has only a few short snow patches either side of the Marion Creek crossing (flowing strongly) and near to Suicide Rock. Microspikes are not necessary.

Suicide Rock Climbers Trail is largely clear of snow, except on the branch that leads to the North Face.

Measured snow depths are as follows. Only the average depth is given, due to the complexity of past storms, recent melting, and windblown drifts. Altitudes are approximate.

Wellman Divide (9700′): 24″ (was 30″ on 18th January)

Annie’s Junction (State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 12″ (had been 17″ on 18th January)

Tahquitz Peak (8836′): 6″, with drifts to 24″ [observations from 20th January]

Saddle Junction (8100′): 8″ (had been 20″ on 15th January and 13″ on 18th) [now at 6-7″ on 25th January]

Humber Park (6500′): 0″ (was 4″ on 16th January, and 1″ on 18th)

The Peak Trail just above Wellman Divide early on morning of Friday 25th January (above) and on Friday 18th January (below)