Early on Monday 24th January we hiked via Devil’s Slide, Wellman, and Peak trails to San Jacinto Peak without needing spikes, although hikers less familiar with icy snow travel would prefer to use them. Not being much of a user of hiking poles, I have recently found an ice axe handy traversing the slopes high on the east flank of San Jac. We descended via Deer Springs Trail, and high on the initial descent to Little Round Valley I twice saw the obvious marks of significant hiker falls in the snow. I may repeat this too often in these Reports, but spikes are often invaluable for descending, even when not needed for ascending. I finally removed mine just south of the junction with Marion Mountain Trail.
In addition to ascents of San Jacinto Peak in recent days we have also surveyed many of the trails in the Idyllwild area, and have spent significant time on Spitler Peak and Seven Pines trails. Current conditions for individual trails are discussed in detail below where known.
Snow from the five (mostly minor) storms that impacted the San Jacinto mountains in December 2021, plus the dusting in the high country last week, has continued to melt slowly but steadily. Snow depths measured on Monday 24th are detailed at the foot of this post.
Trails remain completely snow-covered above 9000ft, with thinning and increasingly patchy snow down to about 7500ft, and largely clear below that elevation. Overall snow conditions on the trails are more typical of April than late January. Tracks at the highest elevations (>9800ft) currently only approximate to the routes of established trails (especially Deer Springs Trail above Little Round Valley). Cautious navigation is recommended everywhere.
Spikes are useful everywhere above about 7500ft as trails are icy where compacted by hiker traffic and following freeze-thaw cycles. Spikes are especially valuable on colder mornings when conditions are particularly icy, and for descending. However they are no longer essential, especially on warmer days as the snow softens. Snowshoes may be useful in off-trail areas only above about 9000ft although in many areas snow depth is becoming too shallow.
Note that relatively mild and dry weather is forecast to continue with temperatures largely above seasonal at all elevations to the end of January. This will lead to continued melting and freeze-thaw cycles which will combine to steadily change trail conditions and, in places, the preferred equipment for the terrain.
Hikers should be prepared for temperatures near or below freezing in the high country, and often well below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for some of my recent weather observations from San Jacinto Peak). Forecast temperatures in the high country in the first week of February may be dangerously cold.
Hikers should anticipate encountering significant new treefall hazards, especially in vulnerable burn areas (e.g., Spitler Peak Trail, Willow Creek Trail, PCT Miles 166-177). Storms in December 2021 left trees very heavily laden with ice, and I have since found many broken tree limbs and downed trees on the trail system. Severe Santa Ana winds on 22nd January will have brought down further trees and branches.
May Valley Road [updated 29th January] was closed by Forest Service to all traffic, including foot traffic, on Friday 28th due to hazardous trees. According to USFS social media feeds, there is no timeline for reopening.
The USFS gate at Humber Park reopened on 21st January having been closed since 13th December 2021.
South Ridge Road remains closed [updated 30th January] but is clear of snow and ice.
Dark Canyon Road, the access for Seven Pines Trail, closed in December 2021 due to winter conditions. It is now [updated 21st January] clear of snow.
WEATHER Temperatures at all elevations will remain at or above seasonal averages before dropping to about seasonal on Tuesday 1st February. The first few days of February may be cooler and unsettled. Steady melting will continue at all elevations this week, most pronounced below 9000ft and on sun-exposed slopes.
Worryingly for January – the second most important month of the year for rain and snow behind February – there is no significant precipitation in the forecasts for the remainder of the month. Light precipitation on 17th-18th January produced 0.32in rain in Idyllwild at 5550ft (and a paltry 0.75in snow at San Jacinto Peak). Remarkably, that is the only measurable precipitation to date this January, a month for which Idyllwild averages 4.74in rain and 6.3in of snow (NWS 1991-2020 data), and the high country should receive feet of snow. There is the slim possibility of a storm system around 1st-4th February, although forecast models vary enormously on potential precipitation amounts, if any.
At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Monday 24th January 2022 at 0855 the air temperature was 31.2°F (0°C), with a windchill temperature of 17.8°F (-8°C), 63% relative humidity, and a light NNE wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 12.6 mph.
At the Peak on Tuesday 18th January 2022 at 1115 the air temperature was 25.6°F (-4°C), with a windchill temperature of 14.2°F (-10°C), 78% relative humidity, and a light NNE wind sustained at 4 mph gusting to 7.6 mph.
Trails below about 7700ft are now clear (or largely clear) of snow, snow cover is increasingly patchy below 9000ft, and is continuous everywhere above 9000ft. Melting has been slow but steady at all elevations and may accelerate significantly over the next week with warmer temperatures.
Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has no steps to follow through the steeply angled icy snow. These icy slopes are notoriously treacherous. Currently crampons with an ice axe (and knowledge of how to use both) are required. Snowshoes are not advised due to the angle of the icy snow.
The Ernie Maxwell Trail is functionally clear of ice and snow.
Devil’s Slide Trail is now largely clear of icy snow to about 7700ft, and then with 80% cover to Saddle Junction. Spikes are useful on the upper trail, especially for descending.
South Ridge Trail is functionally clear of snow to Old Lookout Flat (7600ft). Icy snow cover remains about 10% to near Tahquitz Peak, increasing to about 25% on the uppermost half-a-dozen switchbacks. Spikes are not essential, but most hikers will find them useful, especially for descending.
The predominant compacted tracks on the Peak Trail from Wellman Divide to near Miller Peak now generally follow the trail route. However careful navigation is still required as the slopes between 9800ft and 10,400ft remain covered with a maze of (rapidly melting) meandering tracks. Above 10,400ft most tracks form a compacted posthole route up the East Ridge. However the route of the Peak Trail also has a very lightly used track, which are challenging in one short section before Summit Junction (spikes required).
There are well-traveled compacted tracks to follow from Long Valley though Round Valley to Wellman Divide.
Marion Mountain Trail has a moderately well-traveled track that largely follows the trail route up to Deer Springs Trail. There has been patchy clearing of snow below 7500ft. Unsurprisingly, there are continue to be no visible hiker tracks on the upper sections of Fuller Ridge and Seven Pines trails.
Deer Springs Trail is clear of snow to Strawberry Junction at 8100ft. From there to 8600ft (just before the Marion Mountain Trail junction) snow cover is a patchy 50%. Above 8600ft snow cover is continuous. Spikes are useful, especially for descending. Three new trees came down in late 2021 on the PCT/Deer Springs Trail just south of its junction with Marion Mountain Trail, but they are readily passable for hikers. Through Little Round Valley the track is more direct and only vaguely follows the trail route. The most heavily traveled track from LRV to near San Jacinto Peak largely follows, unfortunately for ascending hikers, my original snowshoe route from 31st December, which is direct and steep. There are however alternative tracks meandering across this slope.
The “Strawberry Trail” between Annie’s and Strawberry junctions (roughly PCT Miles 181-183) has been well traveled and there tracks to follow. Much of this very sun-exposed section of trail is rapidly clearing of snow.
The Suicide Rock Trail is clear of snow, with only a handful of tiny patches remaining.
Spitler Peak Trail, surveyed multiple times this month, is clear of snow and spikes are not required. Nearly 40 downed trees from ice storms in December, plus dozens of additional trunks and branches in the trail, have been removed by the Trail Report [updated 26th January] .
May Valley Road is clear of snow. The multiple trees down after the storm on 14th December 2021 have been cleared (by locals rather than by Forest Service).
The rockslide at PCT Mile 172.5, just north of Antsell Rock, was removed on 14th June 2021. My “before, during, and after” video is available here. This section of the PCT is now safer and is narrow but readily passable with care by hikers (but remains impassable by stock).
Due to greatly reduced maintenance work by the agencies and PCTA during the coronavirus pandemic, many trails have accumulated treefall hazards since late 2019, passable with care by hikers but not for stock. Although reported promptly, regrettably neither Forest Service nor State Park were quick to remove most hazards in 2021. With recent storms being accompanied by strong winds and heavy ice loads, hikers will encounter some new and additional hazards. Some are described above and below, others include the PCT between Strawberry Cienega and Strawberry Junction (PCT Miles 182-183, at least 7 trees down), and Fuller Ridge Trail near its northern end (PCT Miles 189.1-190.2, three trees).
Willow Creek Trail has at least 33 downed trees between Skunk Cabbage Junction and Hidden Divide. Of these 22 are on the Forest Service section (16 between Willow Creek and the Park boundary), with 11 in the State Park. Most are readily passable by hikers with care. Despite much work in 2020 by USFS volunteer Bill Rhoads and myself, the whitethorn has grown back rapidly, but still remains much less challenging than in 2019.
Many treefall hazards from Red Tahquitz to Antsell Rock (PCT Miles 172.5-175) were cleared in June 2021 prior to the rockslide removal work mentioned above. Nevertheless more than 20 remain, including at least six major obstructions for hikers. Tahquitz Creek to Red Tahquitz (PCT Miles 175-177) was cleared in early June 2021. All of this section has likely added new treefall hazards this winter.
Seven Pines Trail has had very limited hiker traffic since November 2018, largely because Dark Canyon Road was closed between February 2019 and early October 2021, and again since December 2021. The Trail Report has “adopted” Seven Pines Trail as a priority for maintenance work as the trail has had a disproportionate number of lost hiker rescues in recent years. Starting in November 2021, 42 treefall hazards on the lower 3.0 miles of trail have been removed. Almost all of this section has also been thoroughly trimmed and cleared, and the trail is now obvious and easy to follow for much of its length (when clear of snow). However at least 18 downed trees remain on the upper 0.7 mile of trail, the route is very obscure in places, and cautious navigation is required especially for those who are not very familiar with hiking this trail. Dark Canyon campground remains closed.
SNOW DEPTHS measured on 24th January 2022 are as follows. The first number is the current average depth, with the snow depth recorded on 31st December 2021 following in parentheses. The very minor snowfall on 17th-18th January is of course included but was greatly exceeded by melting in weeks before and since. Note that average depth is given; due to strong winds accompanying some of the storms, and differential melting, there is considerable drifting and variability. Altitudes are approximate.
San Jacinto Peak (10810ft): 18 inches (was 30 inches on 31st December)
Little Round Valley (9800ft): 16 inches (was 25 inches on 31st December)
Wellman Divide (9700ft): 12 inches (was 26 inches on 31st December)
Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 181.8 (9070ft): 13 inches (was 23 inches on 31st December)
Deer Springs Trail at junction with Seven Pines Trail/PCT Mile 184.9 (8800ft): 6-7 inches (was 11 inches on 31st December)
Strawberry Junction/PCT Mile 183 (8100ft): 0-1 inches (was 8 inches on 31st December)
Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179.9 (8070ft): 2-3 inches (was 12 inches on 31st December).
Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6520ft): 0 inches (was 7 inches on 31st December)
Idyllwild (at 5550ft): 0 inches (was 6.5 inches on 31st December)
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