| Mount San Jacinto
Mount San Jacinto
Vertical gain: ~2,700ft
Mileage: 12 miles
Date climbed 4/9/2011
Duration: 7 hours
Mount San Jacinto is a stunning peak located near and towering over the desert town of Palm Springs in Southern California.
It's intimidating north face watches over Route 10 to the west, with its deep couloirs filled with seasonal snow which help to define
its aggressive features and give it its handsome shape. In the cooler months, it's one of the rare places in the desert that sees and holds significant snow
while the arid landscape below simmers in the hot sun, palm trees waving in the breeze.
The photo above shows what I thought to be the receding storm, but another was right behind it. I'd wait a day to climb it and it would look a bit whiter 24hrs later.
This climb would be a bit challenging due to the current snow base (5-7 feet) plus the new 12" which had just recently fallen in the storm the day
before my arrival. The fact that I'd be starting from a night at sea level would not help as I'd have zero acclimatization. In all honesty, after seeing
the conditions, I was merely aiming for a nice walk or maybe snowshoe around the area for a couple of hours, not anticipating being able to
reach the summit. In summer conditions, this is a fairly easy, but rigorous hike; but in the snow, a different story. As I was looking for a challenging
snow climb, I thought this was perfect!
Another unique fact about this trip was that I'd be taking the 'aerial tram' to the trailhead, thus avoiding any risk of being unable to get to the trailhead
in the road conditions after the storm in my rental car. The tram was a bit of an adventure in itself! Soaring over mountains, ravines and canyons, it takes
you up +6,000ft as it climbs above the valley floor to just over 8,000 feet where you'll begin the summit climb. It rises and towers hundreds of feet above steep
canyons and sharp escarpments as the car sways and rotates on its ascent. Pretty fun way to start the day!
As my expected route was in "full on" winter conditions, I was prepared with adequate clothing, snowshoes, crampons, poles and my trusty ice axe.
The temp to start the day was a balmy 14* F. Luckily winds were calm, though skies were still unsettled to the southeast from the storm.
It was not pleasant starting out in such a cold morning and I was eagerly waiting for the sun to rise up higher in the sky.
As I filled out my required permits, and said goodbye, the Ranger simply said "be careful" as I walked away into the forest. Not the most comforting words.
The adventure started straight away as I was the first one out after the snowfall and was hiking in untracked snow into the San Jacinto Wilderness.
As there was no visible trail, I stopped frequently to consult my topo map and use my compass to point me in what I ascertained to the proper direction.
Occasionally I was wrong, but moved on, towards what appeared to be the right direction. I backtracked a few times, correcting myself as I moved...
I met up with four other hardy souls looking to climb the peak today and we walked together for a good distance as none of us really knew the exact route. They were four local folks and seemed to be good guys so it was good to walk together for a while.
The snow deepened as I moved deeper into the forest. The forest itself was like walking through a Holiday Greeting card. Ten foot drifts of snow
bounded around the many creeks and streams in the woods and all the pines and firs were covered in snow, glistening in the morning sun.
The terrain soon turned more vertical as I made my way out of the coniferous forest and into the open meadow where I had the first glimpse of the
peaks around me. Hopefully, I was aiming for the correct one. The snow was untouched in all directions and was literally pure white as...
appropriately enough, the driven snow. The entire landscape was cloaked in a thick white blanket.
I was walking through a winter wonderland. Wait, wasn't it April?!!
Due to the cold temperatures, all of the trees were encased in a white cocoon of snow and ice, and higher up the mountain, rime ice coated everthing,
rocks included. Coupled with the impossibly blue skies, the landscape was surreal, it looked artificial, like those white plastic Christmas trees in Kmart. We took turns leading the march up the mountain. The glare off the snow was blinding and as soon as I exited the forest, I needed to put my glasses on or else I am sure I'd have risked snowblindness or at the least a pounding headache later on.
I soon reached the beginning of the traverse of the southeast face leading to what appeared to be the summit (I'd later realize this was Miller Peak instead).
The traverse was about a mile in length and steadily climbed across the southeastern face of the mountains bulk to a prominent point to the north.
After a few hundred feet, it was clear that crampons would be needed to navigate this section as I kept falling down unable to gain purchase with boots alone.
The consequences of falling were not too great, and there were no cliffs below, but the traction made it far more enjoyable and much more stable.
The climbing was tiring given the snow conditions. Of the party of four I met earlier, only two remained as the other two had turned back earlier not
feeling too well and too worn out to continue. The remaining two had no crampons and only two poles between them, so they were having a tough time negotiating the terrain. After watching them struggle a while, I gave them my poles to help them cross the face. They still were having trouble moving, so I kicked steps for them to follow then cut steps with my axe, which ultimately
helped them get up the mountain. It was nice to have a bit of company for a change.
I forged ahead, hoping to soon be nearing the summit, only to be disappointed with a false summit. I turned left and
continued up as the terrain steepened and snow deepened. With each step the softening snow would reach my thighs as I move onwards, post holing as I went,
sometimes up to my waist in the frosty powder. As I had given my poles away the climb was a bit more arduous than it needed to be, but since I was helping two
folks ascend who may have otherwise not have been able to, I figured I could manage, it just took a bit more effort. We were still making decent time, so we
were not in a major rush yet. The two guys I met earlier, brothers actually, were almost there, I was glad they were going to be able to make it after all. Unfortunately, I didn't exchange emails, so cannot send them photos...
The clouds were moving in behind us, so I really wanted to reach the summit before things got ugly; they were in agreement so we pushed onwards. My turnaround time was rapidly approaching.
We were 5-6 miles from the Ranger Station and not in a good place to get stranded in a whiteout. From our vantage point, we could see it was snowing
in the distance and raining lower down. The clouds though seemed to be holding at lower elevations and not advancing further. As I moved up, I thought I glimpsed clouds moving over the top of the peak, a sure sign we were close to the top.
After another 20 minutes, I reached the summit and from what I could gather, was the first to do so on foot since the storm. The summit was a cold frozen place, rocks and stunted shrubs were covered in a thick, milky white rime ice, the icicles angled parallel to the ground from the prevailing winds.
All of sudden, the wind died and allowed us a brief reprieve to savor the moment and snap a few photos before it started up again.
I started down soon after, wanting to beat the possible storm still brewing to the south. I took off my crampons and strapped on my snowshoes for a an easier walk down in the deep snow. This was a good choice as I was able to more easily float down the steep hill and deeper and now softer snow. I kept them on for the next two hours and then finally removed them once in the meadow before the last bit of forest where the trail hardened out
our prior tracks and less steep terrain.
Back at the trailhead area, several tourists were frolicking in the snow, waiting for the next Tram to take them down. As I passed the peak theat evening, the clouds lifted, revealing the imposing North face, so steep, snow could barely cling to its walls, yet beckoning me for another climb one day.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):