Snow storm and trail update 22nd March 2019

[UPDATE 24th March 2019: Whitewater Preserve (PCT Mile 218.5) issued this statement today. “It is with heavy hearts that we have decided that due to the severe damage to Whitewater Canyons roads and trails that Whitewater Preserve will not be able to accommodate day use or overnight PCT hikers this year. There would be no phones available (landline or otherwise), no restrooms, no wifi, and no road access to be picked up or dropped off. Also as of right now the trail from the PCT to Whitewater is non-existent and requires a wide water crossing with quickly flowing water.”]

Today (22nd March) I hiked to San Jacinto Peak from Devil’s Slide Trail via Wellman Divide, descending the same way. On 21st we hiked the Spitler Peak Trail to the PCT between Apache and Spitler peaks, and on 20th to Tahquitz Peak via South Ridge. I recorded the following video at San Jacinto Peak at about 1230 today.

Detailed trail conditions are below and measured snow depths are at the foot of this posting.

In classic San Jacinto mountains style, the snow conditions today were very different from just four days ago. We had a couple of inches of fresh snow overnight on 20th, and slightly more during the day on 21st. As the underlying snow was very icy due to recent cold days, the new snow created a challenging loose powder layer that was giving way on even moderate slopes. Above 8000′ I used snowshoes to break trail but with considerable slippage. Crampons would be a good option, but with heavy postholing in unbroken areas. Microspikes were useful below 8000′.

Carrying snowshoes (with poles), crampons (with ice axe), and microspikes, is the unfortunate but ideal combination at present, such is the variability of snow conditions due to altitude, aspect, and time of day.

Current road and trailhead access issues have changed and are discussed at the bottom of this post.

Spitler Peak in the cloud, 21st March 2019.

WEATHER Temperatures will be at or above average for the remainder of March, with extensive snow melt at all elevations, especially below 8000′. There is no notable precipitation in the forecast.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810’/3295m) today, Friday 22nd March 2019, at 1230 the air temperature was 29°F (-2°C), with a windchill temperature of 16.3°F (-9°C), 29% relative humidity, and a light 7 mph NW wind gusting to 11 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 18th March 2019, at 0935 the air temperature was 30°F (-1°C), with a windchill temperature of 17.1°F (-8°C), 44% relative humidity, and a light 9 mph SSE wind gusting to 12.2 mph.

Tahquitz Ridge as seen from the PCT, 22nd March 2019.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 6500′ were snow-covered today. As I descended today, very rapid melting was already underway below 7500′. This will continue for the foreseeable future, so trail conditions will once again change rapidly. Details for specific routes are below.

Despite warmer weather overall, hikers should nevertheless be prepared for temperatures at or below freezing in the high country (and colder when considering windchill effects).

Microspikes are recommended everywhere especially once trails have been broken and become consolidated, in particular for descending. Crampons with an ice axe (and knowledge of how to use both) are currently useful in many areas above 8000′, and they are strongly recommended for moderate angle slopes (PCT Miles 169-174, Fuller Ridge, Tahquitz Peak) at least until underlying snow conditions soften over the next few days. Snowshoes are recommended off-trail above about 7800′, for breaking trail everywhere at present, and may also be useful on-trail in soft afternoon snow on warmer days.

Waterproof footwear is useful on approach trails (e.g., Devil’s Slide, lower Deer Springs) due to multiple stream crossings and considerable water flowing in the trails. It is also advisable due to the slushy quality of melting snow in many areas, especially after mid-morning.

The limited number of trails that had obvious tracks over the past ten days have now been completely covered with fresh snow. As a result routefinding is challenging for those not familiar with the area. Most signage above about 8500′ is snow-covered. Most PCT marker posts are also completely obscured. Currently no trails have been broken other than my route today (and I would not recommend following that above 10,000′ as I took a very direct ascent route from the base of Miller Peak).

Pacific Crest Trail Shallow snow will quickly clear from Highway 74 to about Mile 165. Between Mile 169 and Mile 193, snow depths average 1-3 feet. See my video above for the specific problem around Apache Peak (Mile 169.5).

Fuller Ridge Trail has been traversed by very few hikers, carrying crampons/ice axe, however it remains a largely a featureless ice slope along almost all its five mile length. Crampons and ice axe remain very strongly recommended. The majority of PCT hikers (those who are not familiar with angled snow/ice travel) should consider the Black Mountain Road alternative to Fuller Ridge.

Black Mountain Road will quickly clear of snow for its lower 2.5 miles. Up to 7000′ (5 miles up) there is shallow patchy snow. From the Boulder Basin junction to the PCT/Fuller Ridge campground (miles 5 to 8) snow cover is continuous at 1-2′ deep. Snow is largely soft and extensive postholing is inevitable without snowshoes. Beyond Fuller Ridge, snow is largely 1-2′ deep, with deeper drifts, almost to Camp Lackey. [Note that vehicle access is not possible beyond 2.5 miles due to downed trees and snow. Black Mountain Road is not currently accessible to private vehicles due to the closures on Highway 243.]

Devil’s Slide Trail now has patchy snow to 7500′, but is completely under snow thereafter. The trail has been heavily traveled, is obvious, and microspikes are ideal especially for descending.

Deer Springs Trail is melting rapidly to about 7500′. From there to Strawberry Junction (8100′) there is almost continuous soft snow cover, with some hazardous sections of water flowing under or on the trail route.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat [updated 20th March] remains very treacherous even as the snow softens. There are no tracks to follow and no sign of any attempt to traverse this trail in the past ten days. Crampons in conjunction with an ice axe are strongly recommended for this section, but it may be passable for those very confident with the use of microspikes.

Ernie Maxwell Trail will quickly clear of snow for most of its length, with shallow snow patches more frequent near Humber Park.

South Ridge Road is largely clear of snow, but is impassable near the top due to severe road damage. South Ridge Trail will quicklyclear of snow below Old Lookout Flat (7800′), but is almost completely snow-covered above it. Microspikes are very valuable for descending, and can be useful for ascending the final switchbacks close to Tahquitz Peak. An ice axe would be a good idea on the uppermost switchbacks.

SNOW DEPTHS measured today are as follows, with new snow accumulation given first and total in parentheses. Strong winds have led to major drifting and drifts can be much greater than the average depth. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10,810′): 7″ (75″)

Wellman Divide (9700′): 6.5″ (43″)

Annie’s Junction (PCT at State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 6.5″ (34″)

Saddle Junction (8100′): 6″ (20″)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6500′): 4.5″ (5″) (but largely melted)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 3.5″ (3.5″) (but largely melted already)

ACCESS CLOSURES The parking area at Humber Park has reopened, as has the trailhead access for Marion Mountain Trail. The Valentine’s Day flood events continue to make access to the San Jacinto mountains challenging. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed until 1st April (according to their website). Highway 243 between Banning and Idyllwild is closed from north of Bay Tree Spring to just north of Alandale until approximately July. Highway 74 between Mountain Center and Valle Vista (Hemet) will partially reopen by May. Several minor roads around Idyllwild-Pine Cove remain partly closed or damaged. Apple Canyon Road (access for the Spitler Peak trailhead) is still flooded at Hurkey Creek and is recommended only for 4WD/high clearance vehicles.

Snow and trail update 18th March 2019

[UPDATE 20th March 2019: multiple hikers (wearing microspikes) turned back at PCT Mile 169.5 today due to steep ice on the NE flank of Apache Peak. This slope had probably been easier on recent warmer days when the snow was softer. Also tonight it is currently snowing in Idyllwild (about one inch so far).]

[UPDATE 20th March 2019: Snow conditions are basically unchanged from the report below, microspikes are ideal on traveled consolidated trails. At Tahquitz Peak (8836′) this morning it briefly snowed on us, but with no accumulation. It felt very cold, with high humidity and a windchill temperature of 19°F (-7°C) despite only a fairly light 11mph wind. I have updated the Tahquitz area trails in the text below.]

Today (18th March) I hiked to San Jacinto Peak from Devil’s Slide Trail via Wellman Divide on the eastern side, descending the western side via Deer Springs Trail, including some of Fuller Ridge, a route which incorporated a few miles of the PCT. On Saturday we hiked part of the PCT north of Highway 74 to assess conditions at lower elevation, and on Friday I hiked Black Mountain Road at the north end of Fuller Ridge. I recorded the following vlog from San Jacinto Peak at about 0935 this morning.

Detailed trail conditions are below and measured snow depths from my circuit today are at the foot of this posting. At elevations below 8000′ there is little sign of the fresh snow that fell on 11th/12th March (described in the previous report). There has been considerable melting at lower elevations, but proportionately less high up. Increased trail traffic and consolidation of the main trails makes hiking much easier than just a few days ago. However many slopes and traverses are still challenging. Of the two PCT hikers I passed today (neither wearing even microspikes) one had just fallen about ten yards below the trail in one of the low angle sections near Deer Spring.

Current road and trailhead access issues are discussed at the bottom of this post.

WEATHER A strong warming trend has been in evidence in recent days, accompanied by extensive snow melt at lower elevations (<8000′). After another spring-like day tomorrow, it will cool considerably on 20th and 21st, with windchill temperatures at the highest elevations close to 0°F (-18°C). On those days, light rain or snow is possible depending on elevation. From the 22nd, mild, cloudy, and somewhat unsettled weather is forecast and continued melting will resume at all elevations.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810’/3295m) today, Monday 18th March 2019, at 0935 the air temperature was 30°F (-1°C), with a windchill temperature of 17.1°F (-8°C), 44% relative humidity, and a light 9 mph SSE wind gusting to 12.2 mph.

In contrast, at the Peak on Tuesday 12th March 2019, at 0755 the air temperature was 16°F (-9°C), with a windchill temperature of -4.7°F (-20°C), 100% relative humidity, and a bitter 15 mph due North wind gusting to 22.4 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 7500′ remain completely snow-covered, despite rapid melting in the past few days. Details for specific routes are below.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or near freezing in the high country, below freezing above 10,000′, and well below freezing on 20th and 21st March (especially when considering windchill effects).

Microspikes are recommended everywhere on well consolidated trails, in particular for descending. Crampons with an ice axe (and knowledge of how to use both) are strongly recommended for moderate angle slopes (at least Fuller Ridge and Tahquitz Peak) as the snow continues to consolidate with freeze-thaw cycles, at least in the morning, or all day in colder temperatures. Snowshoes are recommended off-trail above about 7800′, and may be useful even on- trail in the afternoon on warmer days.

Waterproof footwear is useful on approach trails (e.g., Devil’s Slide, lower Deer Springs) due to multiple stream crossings and considerable water flowing in the trails. It is also advisable currently due to the slushy quality of the snow in many areas, especially after mid-morning.

With increased foot traffic on the trails, navigation is not as tricky as it has been for the previous month, however routefinding through snow remains challenging for those not familiar with the area. Do not assume that the hikers who put down tracks ahead of you knew where they were going (based on what I saw today, they often didn’t)! Most signage above about 8500′ continues to be snow-covered. Many PCT marker posts are obscured.

Pacific Crest Trail Clear of snow from Highway 74 to about Palm View Peak. Patchy snow starts at about Mile 165. Between Mile 175 and Mile 195, snow depths are 1-3 feet. Fuller Ridge Trail has been traversed by a few hikers carrying crampons/ice axe, however it remains a largely a featureless ice slope along almost all its five mile length. Crampons and ice axe remain very strongly recommended. The majority of PCT hikers (those who are not familiar with angled snow/ice travel) should consider the Black Mountain Road alternative to Fuller Ridge.

Black Mountain Road is largely clear of snow for its lower 2.5 miles. Up to 7000′ (5 miles up) there is shallow patchy snow. From the Boulder Basin junction to the PCT/Fuller Ridge campground (miles 5 to 8) snow cover is continuous at 1-2′ deep. Snow is largely soft and extensive postholing is inevitable without snowshoes. Beyond Fuller Ridge, snow is largely 1-2′ deep, with deeper drifts, almost to Camp Lackey. [Note that vehicle access is not possible beyond 2.5 miles due to downed trees and snow. Black Mountain Road is not currently accessible to private vehicles due to the closures on Highway 243.]

Devil’s Slide Trail has patchy snow to 7500′, but is completely under snow thereafter. The trail has been heavily traveled, is obvious, and microspikes are ideal especially for descending.

Deer Springs Trail is largely clear to about 7500′. From there to Strawberry Junction (8100′) there is about 80% soft snow cover, with some hazardous sections of water flowing under or on the trail route.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat [updated 20th March] remains very treacherous even as the snow softens. There are no tracks to follow and no sign of any attempt to traverse this trail since the fresh snow last week. Crampons in conjunction with an ice axe are strongly recommended for this section, but it may be passable for those very confident with the use of microspikes.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is largely clear of snow for most of its length, with shallow snow patches more frequent near Humber Park.

South Ridge Road is clear of snow, but is impassable near the top due to severe road damage. South Ridge Trail [updated 20th March] is largely clear of snow below Old Lookout Flat (7800′), but almost completely snow-covered above it. Microspikes are very valuable for descending, and can be useful for ascending the final switchbacks close to Tahquitz Peak. An ice axe would be a good idea on the uppermost switchbacks.

SNOW DEPTHS measured today are as follows. Strong winds have led to major drifting and drifts can be much greater than the average depth. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10,810′): 69″ (75″ on 12th March)

Little Round Valley (9800′): 40″

Wellman Divide (9700′): 41″ (47″ on 12th March)

Annie’s Junction (PCT at State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 29″ (33″ on 12th March)

Pacific Crest Trail at south end of Fuller Ridge Trail (8950′): 35″

Pacific Crest Trail at top of Marion Mountain Trail (8700′): 30″

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 11″

Saddle Junction (8100′): 17″ (26″ on 12th March)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6500′): 1″ (6″ on 12th March)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 0″ (2.5″ on 12th March)

ACCESS CLOSURES The parking area at Humber Park has now reopened, as has the trailhead access for Marion Mountain Trail. The Valentine’s Day flood events continue to make access to the San Jacinto mountains challenging. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed until approximately 15th April (according to local media). Highway 243 between Banning and Idyllwild is closed from north of Bay Tree Spring to just north of Alandale until at least June. Highway 74 between Mountain Center and Valle Vista (Hemet) is closed until June. Several minor roads around Idyllwild-Pine Cove remain partly closed or damaged. Apple Canyon Road (access for the Spitler Peak trailhead) is still flooded by Hurkey Creek and was closed to non-residents.

The Peak Trail at 9800′ above Wellman Divide (above) today 18th March 2019, (below) six days earlier on 12th March.

The sign at Annie’s Junction, the high point of the PCT in the San Jacinto mountains at 9070′ (above) today 18th March 2019, (below) on 12th March 2019.

Major snow storm 12th March 2019

[UPDATE 16th March 2019: I was in the Black Mountain/Fuller Ridge area yesterday. Melting has continued steadily mainly below 7000′. General snow conditions are little changed from the report below, although snow is soft on warm afternoons. There are now tracks on the PCT through Fuller Ridge but crampons/ice axe are required. Two sets of prints far off-trail showed that PCTers were having great trouble navigating safely in the Fuller Ridge area.]

In anticipation of the forecast storm, yesterday I ascended San Jacinto Peak up Devil’s Slide Trail, a short section of the PCT, then via Wellman Divide. From the latter I took the “scenic route” via Jean Peak (I guess I needed a little more exercise). This morning I descended roughly following the trail system to Humber Park, but with plenty of off-trail travel through thick snow. As forecast the storm produced about a foot of fresh powder throughout the high country (measured snow depths detailed below) on top of the existing few feet. I recorded the following vlog at San Jacinto Peak at about 0800 this morning.

Conditions were considerably more wild at San Jacinto Peak yesterday evening, as shown in this short video clip.

As described in the posting from last week (available here), the basal conditions are very firm and icy. This meant that the ascent yesterday in microspikes (to 9000′) and then crampons was solid, but technical at higher elevation. This morning I descended in snowshoes in the glorious fluffy powder, but where I postholed through to the ice beneath (especially as the new snow grew shallower) it became very treacherous. I kept sliding downslope and had to switch to crampons for one traverse, and then descended the lower elevations in microspikes.

Carrying snowshoes (with poles), crampons (with ice axe), and microspikes, is the unfortunate but ideal combination at present, such is the variability of snow conditions due to altitude, aspect, and time of day.

WEATHER A strong warming trend was already in evidence this afternoon, with most snow in Idyllwild already rapidly melting. Since I recorded the vlog above, forecasts have somewhat moderated the high temperatures expected, but they will nevertheless be at or above average for the next week or so.

At San Jacinto Peak today, Tuesday 12th March 2019, at 0755 the air temperature was 16°F (-9°C), with a windchill temperature of -4.7°F (-20°C), 100% relative humidity, and a sharp 15 mph due North wind gusting to 22.4 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 11th March 2019, at 1805 the air temperature was 17.5°F (-8°C) with a windchill temperature of -7.1°F (-22°C), 100% relative humidity, and a brutal 32 mph NE wind gusting to 40.1 mph.

San Gorgonio mountain from San Jacinto Peak early this morning, 12th March 2019.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 6000′ are again completely snow-covered, although rapid melting is anticipated in the coming days, at least below about 9000′. The very limited number of tracks that were present on some parts of the PCT in the San Jacinto mountains have now been completely covered by fresh snow. Please see this posting about the specific challenges of Fuller Ridge just two days ago.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or below freezing in the high country, and below freezing above 10,000′ (considerably colder when considering windchill effects).

Snowshoes are currently recommended everywhere above about 7500′. Microspikes may become useful mainly in the colder early mornings as the most popular trails become consolidated (e.g. Devil’s Slide, lower Deer Springs). Crampons with an ice axe (and knowledge of how to use both) are useful at higher elevations, as the icy snow underlying the fresh snowfall is treacherous. Their usefulness will increase with the strong freeze-thaw cycle expected in the next week. Crampons and ice axe are currently essential on Fuller Ridge, as discussed here.

Waterproof footwear is strongly recommended on the approach trails (e.g., Devil’s Slide, lower Deer Springs) due to multiple stream crossings and considerable water flowing in the trails. It is also advisable due to the slushy quality of the snow due to thawing.

Routefinding remains very challenging for those not familiar with the area. Almost all signage above about 8500′ is snow-covered. Most PCT marker posts are also completely obscured. Currently no trails have been broken whatsoever, other than my descent route today, and those tracks may be obscured quickly due to melting of surface snow and spindrift.

Please note that Tahquitz Peak trail from the PCT at Chinquapin Flat is extremely treacherous. With the fresh snowfall there will not even be a hint of “trail” to follow whatsoever. Crampons in conjunction with an ice axe, and excellent knowledge of how to use both, are critical.

Snow depths measured today are as follows. The first number is fresh snowfall overnight, followed by the total depth in parentheses (based on pre-storm measurements as I ascended yesterday). Very strong overnight winds have led to major drifting; drifts can be much greater than the average depth, especially at the exposed peaks. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10,810′): 13″ (75″)

Wellman Divide (9700′): 11″ (47″)

Annie’s Junction (PCT at State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 7″ (33″)

Saddle Junction (8100′): 6.5″ (26″)

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6500′): 5″ (6″)

Idyllwild (at 5550′): 2.5″ (2.5″, but largely melted already)

Round Valley and Long Valley from the Peak “trail”, 12th March 2019.

Snow and trail update 10th March 2019

Yesterday I hiked to Castle Rocks on Fuller Ridge. With our continuing road closures, this involved a lengthy hike each way, along a closed section of Highway 243, then up a snowy Black Mountain Road, before using crampons and ice axe to ascend Fuller Ridge. Most of the week was spent hiking trails nearer Idyllwild to check conditions. I recorded the following video from Castle Rocks at about 1140 in the morning yesterday.

Snow conditions are largely unchanged since the previous report on Monday (see that report for detailed snow depth data). Despite very cold conditions, there has been some slow melting at lower elevations, with no significant net change in snow depths. Two days ago it snowed lightly overnight, with an inch in Idyllwild at 5550′, two inches up to 7000′, and three inches above that. This lovely fine powder was sitting on top of very firm, icy snow, a combination which made for easy snow hiking with the right equipment (microspikes to about 8000′, crampons with ice axe higher).

Carrying snowshoes (with poles), crampons (with ice axe), and microspikes, is the unfortunate but ideal gear combination at present, such is the variability of snow conditions due to altitude, aspect, and time of day. PCT hikers may prefer not to carry the weight of snowshoes, accepting that this will result in some serious postholing on warmer days and in the afternoons.

One of the gentler sections of Fuller Ridge “Trail” just north of Castle Rocks, 9th March 2019.

WEATHER After several more days of cold weather including snowfall forecast for tomorrow (with severe cold in the high country), a major shift to settled, sunny weather and above-average temperatures later in the week will result in rapid melting at all elevations.

At Castle Rocks (8600′) on Fuller Ridge yesterday, Saturday 9th March 2019, at 1130 the air temperature was 23°F (-5°C), with a windchill temperature of 7.9°F (-13°C), 80% relative humidity, and an icy 15 mph NW wind gusting to 21 mph.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810′) on Monday 4th March 2019 at 1025 the air temperature was 34°F (1°C), with a windchill temperature of 17°F (-8°C), 18% relative humidity, and a biting 24 mph WNW wind gusting to 33 mph.

PCT junction sign at Black Mountain Road crossing, 9th March 2019.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 7500′ remain completely snow-covered, despite rapid melting in the past few days. Details for specific routes are below.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing above 10,000′ (especially when considering windchill effects).

Microspikes are currently useful mainly in the morning and on well consolidated trails (e.g. Devil’s Slide, lower Deer Springs). Crampons with an ice axe (and solid knowledge of how to use both) are recommended for higher elevations and on moderate angle slopes (e.g. Fuller Ridge, Tahquitz Peak) as the snow consolidates with freeze-thaw cycles, at least in the morning, or all day in colder temperatures. Snowshoes are recommended off-trail above about 8000′, and everywhere at mid elevations after mid-morning on milder days.

Waterproof footwear is useful at least on approach trails (e.g., Devil’s Slide, lower Deer Springs) due to multiple stream crossings and considerable water flowing in the trails. It is also advisable currently due to the slushy quality of the snow on sun-exposed slopes after mid-morning.

Routefinding remains very challenging for those not familiar with the area. Almost all signage above about 8500′ is snow-covered. Many PCT marker posts are obscured. Very few trails have been broken whatsoever, and tracks from will be at least partly obscured by forecast snow tomorrow.

Pacific Crest Trail Most of the PCT through the San Jacinto mountains has been traversed by only a handful of hikers (or not at all) for weeks, so caution is required for route finding. Patchy snow starts at about Mile 155. By Mile 164, snow depths in places are 1-2 feet. Fuller Ridge Trail is largely a featureless ice slope along almost all its five mile length. Crampons and ice axe are essential. Most PCT hikers should consider the Black Mountain Road alternative.

Black Mountain Road was largely clear of snow by yesterday afternoon for its lower three miles. Up to 7000′ (5 miles up) there was shallow patchy snow. From the Lookout junction to the PCT/Fuller Ridge campground (miles 5 to 8) snow cover is continuous at about 20″ deep. Snow is currently firm and easy to traverse, with or without microspikes.

Devil’s Slide Trail is largely snow-covered to 7500′, then completely under snow thereafter. The trail has been heavily traveled, is obvious, and microspikes are ideal for the consolidated icy snow.

Deer Springs Trail is largely clear to the Suicide Rock trail junction (6900′). From there to Strawberry Junction (8100′) there is about 90% soft snow cover, with many hazardous sections of water flowing under or on the trail route.

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

Ernie Maxwell Trail has about 10% snow cover (1-2″ deep) for most of its length, increasing to about 40% near Humber Park.

South Ridge Road is largely clear of snow in its lower half, but is impassable near the trailhead due to severe road damage. South Ridge Trail is continuously snow-covered ranging from a few inches deep below Old Lookout Flat, to 1-3 feet deep above it. Crampons are very useful on the final approach to Tahquitz Peak (above about 8500′).

Access closures The Valentine’s Day floods continue to make access to the San Jacinto mountains challenging. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed until approximately 1st April. Highway 243 between Banning and Idyllwild is closed from north of Bay Tree Spring to just north of Alandale until at least April. Highway 74 between Mountain Center and Valle Vista (Hemet) is closed until sometime in March or April. Many minor roads around Idyllwild-Pine Cove remain partly closed or damaged. Apple Canyon Road (access for the Spitler Peak trailhead) is still flooded at Hurkey Creek and closed to non-residents.

Snow and trail update 4th March 2019

[UPDATE 8th March 2019: a minor snowfall overnight produced barely one inch in Idyllwild, and only a couple of inches up to about 9000′, with the upper mountain above the cloud. Very cold temperatures are forecast for the next five days, with potential for significant new snowfall on Monday at all elevations.]

[UPDATE 7th March 2019: yesterday Idyllwild received an additional 0.69″ of rainfall. There was a very light dusting of snow in the mid elevations (the upper mountain was above the cloud). Highway 243 remains closed to traffic either side of the Black Mountain Road, but on my hike today I found that both the highway and lower BMR are now clear of snow, so this is now an option for PCT hikers wishing to avoid Fuller Ridge.]

Today I ascended San Jacinto Peak up Devil’s Slide Trail, a short section of the PCT, then via Wellman Divide. I descended through Little Round Valley, the PCT/Deer Springs Trail southbound from the south end of Fuller Ridge to Strawberry Junction, and then descended lower Deer Springs Trail. Other than my own from last week, there were no tracks anywhere above 8100′, and none anywhere on the PCT north of Saddle Junction. Yesterday we ran the Pacific Crest Trail just south of Highway 74, to assess trail conditions at lower elevation. I recorded the following video at San Jacinto Peak at about 1030 this morning.

Snow conditions have changed dramatically compared to last week. Two days ago it rained most of the day, with a total of 1.56″ in Idyllwild at 5550′. Despite forecasts for light snow at higher elevations, I discovered today that it rained all the way to San Jacinto Peak, for at least the third time this winter. This helped consolidate snow at all elevations, augmented melting, and glazed the upper elevations with a crust of freezing rain.

As a consequence of the firm icy snow, in the early morning I was able to ascend to 9700′ with just microspikes, before changing to crampons for the final climb to the Peak. Crampons were also essential for the direct descent to Little Round Valley. By late morning, the snow was becoming soft, and at the Deer Springs-Fuller Ridge trail junction, I had to put on snowshoes to minimize postholing.

Carrying snowshoes (with poles), crampons (with ice axe), and microspikes, is the unfortunate but ideal combination at present, such is the variability of snow conditions due to altitude, aspect, and time of day.

Mild weather (and rainfall) led to significant melting in the previous few days, mainly below 9000′. Lower elevations that received the most rain lost a great deal of snow in just a few days (12″ at Saddle Junction, 15+” at Humber Park, c.20″ in Idyllwild). Conversely, the highest elevations experienced minimal melting, despite relatively mild temperatures. Snow depth measurements are listed near the foot of this posting.

My ice axe at the location of the sign (buried in the snow) for the southern end of Fuller Ridge “trail”, today 4th March 2019.

WEATHER Unsettled and uncertain are the best words to describe the weather for the San Jacintos over the next ten days. After another warm day tomorrow, temperatures will fall below average, and remain there for about a week. At mid-elevations, precipitation is possible on several days between 6th-12th March, but whether it falls as rain or light snow depends on the day and altitude. Above about 9000′ should be above the rainfall, but may also be largely above the cloud, and fresh snowfall is forecast to be little more than an inch or two for the high country all week.

At San Jacinto Peak today, Monday 4th March 2019, at 1025 the air temperature was 34°F (1°C), with a windchill temperature of 17°F (-8°C), 18% relative humidity, and a biting 24 mph WNW wind gusting to 33 mph.

At the Peak on Monday 25th February 2019, at 1145 the air temperature was 27°F (-3°C), with a windchill temperature of 12.5°F (-11°C), 57% relative humidity, and a fresh 7 mph NW wind gusting to 15 mph.

From the very top of the Snow Creek drainage, 4th March 2019. San Jacinto Peak summit to the left, San Gorgonio in the distance to the right.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 7500′ remain completely snow-covered, despite rapid melting in the past few days. Details for specific trails are below.

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures at or below freezing in the high country, and well below freezing above 10,000′ (especially when considering windchill effects).

Snowshoes are strongly recommended on all trails and off-trail areas above about 8000′, especially after mid-morning on warm days. Microspikes are currently useful mainly in the colder early mornings on well consolidated trails (e.g. Devil’s Slide, lower Deer Springs). Crampons with an ice axe (and knowledge of how to use both) are becoming increasingly useful at higher elevations and on moderate angle slopes (e.g. Fuller Ridge, Tahquitz Peak) as the snow consolidates with freeze-thaw cycles, at least in the morning, or all day in colder temperatures.

Waterproof footwear is strongly recommended on the approach trails (e.g., Devil’s Slide, lower Deer Springs) due to multiple stream crossings and considerable water flowing in the trails. It is also advisable currently due to the slushy quality of the snow, especially after mid-morning.

Routefinding remains very challenging for those not familiar with the area. Almost all signage above about 8500′ is snow-covered. Many PCT marker posts are also completely obscured. Very few trails have been broken whatsoever, and my tracks from today will be obscured quickly due to melting of surface snow and forecast light snwfall. Much of the PCT through the San Jacinto mountains high country has hardly been traversed for weeks (or in the case of Fuller Ridge, not at all since November).

Devil’s Slide Trail is about 90% snow-covered to 7500′, then completely under snow thereafter. The trail has been heavily traveled, is obvious, and microspikes are ideal for the consolidated icy snow.

Deer Springs Trail has patchy snow up to the Suicide Rock trail junction (6900′). From there to Strawberry Junction (8100′) there is about 90% soft snow cover, with many hazardous sections of water flowing under or on the trail route.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat is extremely treacherous. There is no evidence of it having been traversed since early February, so there is not even a hint of “trail” to follow whatsoever. Crampons in conjunction with an ice axe, and excellent knowledge of how to use both, are critical.

Ernie Maxwell Trail [updated 6th March] has about 10% snow cover (1-2″ deep) for most of its length, increasing to about 40% near Humber Park. Microspikes are useful in the early morning in the upper half of the trail, and on colder frozen days, but are generally not essential later in the day.

South Ridge Road [updated 5th March] is largely clear of snow, but is impassable near the trailhead due to severe road damage. South Ridge Trail is essentially continuously snow-covered (about 90% below 7000′), ranging from a few inches deep below Old Lookout Flat, to 1-3 feet deep above it. Crampons are very useful on the final approach to Tahquitz Peak (above about 8500′) where there is no trail as such and the entire peak is a largely featureless, consolidated snow dome.

Snow depths measured today are as follows. Measurements noted from 1st March will have dropped slightly due to melting, but likely only by a few inches, and mainly at the lower elevations. 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, especially at the exposed peaks. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10,810′): 55″ [60″ on 25th February]

Little Round Valley (9800′): 48″

Wellman Divide (9700′): 40″ [45″ on 25th February]

Annie’s Junction (PCT at State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 29″ [40″ on 25th February]

PCT at south end of Fuller Ridge Trail (8950′): 35″

Tahquitz Peak (8836′): 36″ measured on 1st March, with massive drifting ranging from 0″ to seven feet.

Marion Mountain Trail junction with PCT/Deer Springs Trail (8800′): 28″

Strawberry Junction (8100′): 16″

Saddle Junction (8100′): 23″ [35″ on 25th February]

Old Lookout Flat on South Ridge Trail (7800′): 14″ measured on 1st March, very heavily drifted

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6500′): 3″ but patchy [18″ on 25th February]

South Ridge Road junction with South Ridge Trail (6500′): 4″ measured on 1st March

PCT at crossing of Highway 74 (4700′): 0″ [2″ on 27th February]

Nature note Spring is in the air! I had my first returning spring migrant bird today, with several Violet-green Swallows flying around over Saddle Junction and Angel’s Glide (8100-8500′). Early March is when I typically record the first swallows up here.

Annie’s Junction (9070′), the high point of the PCT in the San Jacinto mountains, (above) today 4th March, (below) one week earlier on 25th February.

Access closures The Valentine’s Day floods continue to make access to the San Jacinto mountains challenging. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed until approximately 1st April. Highway 243 between Banning and Idyllwild is closed from north of Bay Tree Spring to just north of Alandale until at least April. Highway 74 between Mountain Center and Valle Vista (Hemet) is closed until sometime in March or April. The status of some of the trailhead access roads was updated in an earlier posting linked here. Many minor roads around Idyllwild-Pine Cove remain partly closed or damaged. Apple Canyon Road (access for the Spitler Peak trailhead) is still flooded and completely closed.

The older of the two pit toilets in Little Round Valley, 4th March 2019. Currently somewhat challenging to access.

Snow and trail update 1st March 2019

[UPDATE Saturday 2nd March: it started raining at 0400 in Idyllwild, with 1.56″ recorded by late evening. As has often been the case this winter, it has rained to a higher elevation on the mountain than forecast, with more than an inch of rain so far at Long Valley (8600′). For much of the storm the highest elevations have been above the cloud.]

For a change of scenery today we hiked from home in Idyllwild to Tahquitz Peak via South Ridge Road and South Ridge Trail. This also allowed assessment of the snow situation on one of the most sun-exposed (and therefore rapidly melting) trails in the entire region. There was no evidence of any ascent of Tahquitz Peak since the 14th February flooding/rain event. The previous two days we had hiked/run trails in the Desert Divide area, including the Pacific Crest Trail just north of Highway 74, to assess the snow situation on the lower elevations of the PCT.

Mild weather has led to significant melting this week, but mainly below 7000′, and extensive snow still covers almost all elevations above about 6000′. Snow is largely rotten and was terrible underfoot today below about 7500′, making snowshoes essential (and postholing a nightmare). Even at higher elevations, a thin refrozen crust masked softer snow beneath, making for challenging snowshoeing. Only above 8500′, at which point spikes or crampons were better anyway (at least in the early morning), was the going somewhat easier. Carrying snowshoes, crampons (with ice axe), and microspikes, is the unfortunate but ideal combination at present, such is the variability of snow conditions due to altitude, aspect, and time of day.

Snow depths measured today and earlier this week are as follows. Measurements from prior days will have dropped slightly due to melting, but likely only by a few inches, and mainly at the lower elevations. 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, especially at the exposed peaks. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10,810′): 60″ [measured on 25th February]

Wellman Divide (9700′): 45″ [measured on 25th February]

Annie’s Junction (State Park boundary north of Saddle Junction) (9050′): 40″ [measured on 25th February]

Tahquitz Peak (8836′): 36″, but with massive drifting ranging from 0″ to seven feet.

Saddle Junction (8100′): 35″ [measured on 25th February]

Old Lookout Flat on South Ridge Trail (7800′): 14″, very heavily drifted

Devil’s Slide trailhead at Humber Park (6500′): 18″ [measured on 25th February]

South Ridge Road junction with South Ridge Trail (6500′): 4″

PCT at crossing of Highway 74 (4700′): 2″ [measured on 27th February]

Access closures The Valentine’s Day floods continue to make access to the San Jacinto mountains challenging. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway remains closed until approximately 1st April. Highway 243 between Banning and Idyllwild is closed from north of Bay Tree Spring to just north of Alandale until at least April. Highway 74 between Mountain Center and Valle Vista (Hemet) is closed until sometime in March. The status of some of the trailhead access roads was updated in an earlier posting linked here. Many minor roads around Idyllwild-Pine Cove remain partly closed or damaged.

Looking SSE from Tahquitz Peak across the Desert Divide (PCT route) to Toro Peak and the Santa Rosa range, 1st March 2019.

WEATHER Temperatures will remain at or above average for the next week, with continued melting of snow at all elevations, especially on sun-exposed slopes. Significant rainfall is forecast for tomorrow, Saturday 2nd March, with about one inch possible at the elevation of Idyllwild, which will accelerate snow melt below c.7000′. A light dusting of snow (just a couple of inches) is likely in the high country. Further rain is forecast on/off for Tuesday to Friday next week, 5th-7th March, perhaps totaling another half-inch at mid elevations, but with more snow (2-5″ depending on altitude) above about 7000′.

At Tahquitz Peak today, Friday 1st March 2019, at 0950 the air temperature was 37°F (3°C), with a windchill temperature of 24.8°F (-4°C), 51% relative humidity, and a bitter 11 mph NW wind gusting to 17 mph.

At San Jacinto Peak on Monday 12th February 2019, at 1145 the air temperature was 27°F (-3°C), with a windchill temperature of 12.5°F (-11°C), 57% relative humidity, and a fresh 7 mph NW wind gusting to 15 mph.

The high country of the San Jacinto mountains as seen from Tahquitz Peak, 1st March 2019.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 6000′ remain snow-covered at this time, despite rapid melting in the past few days. The Pacific Crest Trail north of Highway 74 is largely free of snow (up to 5000′ elevation) on exposed sections, but thereafter has continuous snow cover (for an idea of depths depending on elevation, see measurements above).

Hikers should be prepared for temperatures near freezing in the high country and at or below freezing above 10,000′, especially when considering windchill effects.

Snowshoes are currently very strongly recommended on all trails and off-trail areas above about 7000′, especially after mid-morning, and at lower elevations in some areas and on warm afternoons in soft snow. Microspikes are currently useful only in the colder early mornings on well consolidated trails (e.g. Devil’s Slide, lower Deer Springs). Crampons (with an ice axe) are becoming increasingly useful at higher elevations as the snow consolidates with freeze-thaw cycles, at least in the morning prior to about 0930.

Waterproof footwear is strongly recommended on the approach trails (e.g., Devil’s Slide, lower Deer Springs) due to multiple stream crossings and considerable water flowing in the trails. It is also advisable everywhere else due to the soft and slushy quality of the snow, especially after mid-morning.

Routefinding remains very challenging for those not familiar with the area. Almost all signage above about 8500′ is snow-covered. Many PCT marker posts at lower elevations are also completely obscured. Very few trails have been broken whatsoever, and even my snowshoe tracks from early this morning were becoming indistinct within an hour due to melting of surface snow. Much of the PCT through the San Jacinto mountains has not been traversed for weeks (or in the case of Fuller Ridge, for months).

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat is extremely treacherous. There is no evidence of it having been traversed since early February, so there is not even a hint of “trail” to follow whatsoever. Crampons in conjunction with an ice axe, and excellent knowledge of how to use both, are critical.

South Ridge Road continues to be largely snow-covered (c.70%) at 1-4″ deep. South Ridge Trail is essentially continuously snow-covered (a few bare patches below 7000′), ranging from a few inches deep below Old Lookout Flat, to 1-3 feet deep above it. Crampons were very useful on the final approach to Tahquitz Peak (above about 8500′) this morning, where there is no trail as such and the entire peak is a largely featureless, consolidated snow dome.

The trail junction sign just below Tahquitz Peak, today 1st March 2019. The only evidence that a trail system exists near Tahquitz right now.