UPDATED 25th February 2021
Following a general discussion, this information is organized roughly south to north (all Mile numbers are approximate). It should be used in conjunction with the main updates to the Trail Report (updated at least weekly or during/after any storm). The latest Report is available here.
Good news (potentially) regarding the Snow Fire closure (Miles 191-206). US Forest Service has indicated to the Trail Report that if there is no new major weather impact in this area during March, the Pacific Crest Trail through this fire closure area will likely reopen in April.
Current snow cover on the PCT is minimal from Miles 151 (Highway 74) to about 160, and patchy between Miles 160 and about 175 (Red Tahquitz), mainly concentrated on north-facing slopes e.g., Spitler Peak (Mile 168) and Apache Peak (Mile 169.5-170). Note that in addition to the challenging north-east side of Apache Peak, the off-trail north side of the Apache saddle is also still largely snow-covered (also requiring spikes). Snow is then more-or-less continuous between Miles 175-178. Snow cover is increasingly patchy and limited between Miles 178 to 183.5, with the exception of the notoriously stubborn half mile just south of Annie’s Junction at about Mile 181. From Mile 183.5 to 191, snow is largely continuous, although some exposed sections of Fuller Ridge (e.g., Miles 186.5-188.5) are clear or thinning rapidly.
Spikes are currently recommended. With relatively warm weather forecast for several days in the next couple of weeks, snow melt will be steady and this advice may change. In the next week or two, depending upon your comfort level in variable snow/ice conditions, most thru-hikers using appropriate footwear with good traction in combination with hiking poles may find spikes unnecessary. Please always practice safe decision-making based on your own comfort level (not that of your hiking partners), experience, ability, available equipment, time of day (which can greatly affect traction on snow and ice), and current snow and weather conditions.
There are complications this season beyond the usual challenges of snow and ice, such as a major fire closure, and the coronavirus crisis, the latter resulting poorly maintained trails. Some of these factors will likely change (hopefully for the better) as the spring progresses, probably at short notice. Considerable patience and caution are recommended.
The bottom line is, if everything remains snowy/icy, and if the Snow Fire closure section doesn’t reopen soon (both of which are very big “ifs”), this will be an even more challenging year than usual to hike the PCT through the San Jacinto mountains section. Many folks may choose to skip some subsections.
To date, this has been a far-below average snow year for the San Jacinto high country (but oddly slightly above average snowfall for mid elevations, 4000-6000ft). Given accelerating climate change here, there may be relatively little snow and ice by the time you reach the San Jacinto mountains. Nevertheless even small, isolated sections of icy snow can be perilous. Details of current snow/ice conditions will be clear from updates to the Trail Report over coming weeks and months.
PCT hikers – thanks for taking the time to read this. The San Jacinto Trail Report depends entirely on small private donations to cover its direct costs. With a busy winter overlapping with an unusually complex PCT season, every contribution, no matter how small, is truly valuable. If you have found the Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you, and safe hiking.
Coming off at Mile 168.5 (the well-signed Spitler Peak Trail alternate) may be a good option for many this nobo season. In addition to possible snow/ice issues ahead, at last survey there were more than 40 trees down across the Trail between Miles 172-177, plus the rock slide at Mile 172.5. Spitler Peak Trail itself is clear of snow (other than a couple of tiny patches) [checked 21st February].
The short snow slope on the NE side of Apache Peak (Mile 169.5) that has had incidents in recent years is currently snow-covered. Snow is hard and icy in the early mornings. Spikes are currently recommended. Every individual should make their own assessment of whether to cross based on their comfort level on angled snow, their experience, available equipment, time of day, and current snow conditions. If in any doubt whatsoever, turn around and take the very well signed Spitler Peak Trail alternate option at Mile 168.5.
The Pacific Crest Trail remains open at the rockslide just north of Antsell Rock (Mile 172.5). USFS has told the Trail Report that responsibility for removing the rockslide is currently with the PCTA, and that there are currently no plans to close this section of the PCT for removal work before summer 2021 at the earliest. A video report (available here) may be useful for deciding whether to try to hike around the rockslide or take an alternate route.
It is possible to regain the PCT from Idyllwild via Devil’s Slide Trail at Saddle Junction (about Mile 179) then hike on through to Mile 190.5 (Fuller Ridge campground). Currently this would involve significant snow travel, but nothing challenging, as snow is relatively shallow and melting steadily, including Fuller Ridge Trail (Miles 185.5-190.5). Do not attempt to regain the PCT via South Ridge Trail as the slope on the north side of Tahquitz Peak is currently ice-covered and is notoriously treacherous.
Miles 191-206 of the PCT are currently closed, in theory until October 2021, due to the Snow Fire closure (closure order document here). Until this section reopens, it will be necessary to leave the trail at Black Mountain Road (about Mile 191) and hike the eight miles down Black Mountain Road to Highway 243. Currently the upper 3.5 miles of Black Mountain Road are largely snow-covered, with limited patches lower down also.
Black Mountain Road is open to hikers, it is only closed to vehicles. This is a seasonal closure, and it might reopen to vehicles again by March (although that is weather/snow dependent).
PCT hikers are reminded that overnight stays are not permitted at or near San Jacinto Peak, including in the historic shelter. 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 once they reopen.