Sun, Mar 27, 2005
We hadn't gotten to the motel until nearly 11p the previous night, and hadn't a plan as to where to go today. In that late hour we got out the laptop and started looking around. I saw a note posted by Patty Rambert of the Sierra Club on one of the bulletin boards that she and a party were heading up the Palm Springs Tram at 7a for a climb of Folly Peak. Matthew had met Patty while out in the backcountry near Mt. Prater the previous summer, but I'd never met the energetic SPS leader. There was no way we could make the 7a tram without giving up some much-needed rest, so that seemed out of the question. Matthew reminded me that there are six or seven HPS peaks around San Jacinto that we might consider doing in a single outing, and about that easily we had a destination for the following day.
We got up sometime after 6a and had breakfast in the Holiday Inn Express lobby while we used the courtesy computer in the lobby to print out a map of the San Jacinto summit area. We were taking good advantage of the nice amenities offered there, somewhat compensating for the stiffer-than-usual fee we paid to sleep comfortably. I thought it might take an hour to drive from Pasadena to Palm Springs, but it was well over that, and we arrived at the Aerial Tramway a few minutes too late for the 8a ride to the summit. While we waited for the next tram, we saw a notice advertising a special Easter Sunrise service up top, the first tram heading up at 4a - three hours earlier than usual. As the wait came near an end, the crowd increased. Not full capacity, but we loaded with maybe 40 persons (80 max) that made it seem pretty full.
The last time I'd taken the tram had been over twenty years earlier when I had gone to the summit with my girlfriend for the Ride and Dine afternoon special. I'd like to say that it brought back memories as we rode up the tram, but that wasn't the case at all. I recalled almost nothing from that previous trip, not what we ate, what we saw, or how we felt. I do recall being impressed by the snow at the top of the tram and thinking I ought to come back for a hike some time, rather than just for the view and the forgettable fare they served us for dinner. The tram cars had been replaced since that last visit, the new ones now rotate slowly as the cars rise over 6,000 feet from the desert floor. Alternately one gets views of Palm Springs, the Salton Sea, and the desert beyond, with that of the steep eastern escarpment of the San Jacinto plateau. I studied the chutes below us, wondering if one couldn't scramble in them from bottom to top - it sure looked like it would go at class 3 or less, though not without a great deal of work over so much talus.
Arriving at the top of the tram station, we immediately threaded our way through the debarking throng and made our way out of the station and down the walkway to the plateau below. We paused briefly outside at the top to make out the first three peaks on our list: Cornell, Miller, San Jacinto. They were lined up on San Jacinto's East Ridge and assuming we had identified them correctly, there didn't look to be any route-finding difficulties. While most of the visitors stayed either in the tram station or along the concrete walkway, there were still quite a few others gathering outside for the trek to San Jacinto. Most had just boots and possibly crampons, there were few that carried snowshoes. The regular route to the top we came to find is so heavily used that the trail is well-packed shortly after each snowstorm, and snowshoes aren't really needed. It was 9:20a before we had our gear strapped on our feet or loaded on our backs and we were headed out.
It was a fine morning, chilly, but not cold. T-shirts sufficed under hazy skies that never cleared throughout the day. The wind was non-existent at the start, but would blow stronger the higher we went. Still, other than the summit of San Jacinto, the wind offered little trouble. We followed the packed trail west past the ranger station (failing to sign in as it seemed to indicate we should) and into the forest. We came across several other groups in that first half mile or so before we left the trail, following a drainage west towards Tamarack Valley. We followed up the creek, noting a pinnacle southeast of Cornell that looked to be an interesting climb. We decided to have a go at it, and corrected our course to aim for what looked like the easier NW side of the unnamed pinnacle.
Arriving at the base of the rock, we noticed there was minimal, but still troublesome amounts of snow on the steep rock face here. I left my snowshoes and switched to crampons, heading up before Matthew had a chance to change. It looked like a straightforward class 3 climb, maybe 70 feet high, but ice coatings on some of the rocks stopped me before I had gained even 15 feet. Dang, this was going to be harder than it looked. I took off the crampons, and scrambled up a short ways on some dry rock I found, but this led to nowhere nearly as quickly. Frustrated, I called down to Matthew to not bother following me - I had done a poor job of recon on the route. Matthew traversed east along the base while I extricated myself from above, and we found a more climbable section of dry rock further along. We left the crampons below and headed up, a bit of stiff class 3 climbing to be sure. Later we found it was even easier further east, but we didn't mind the challenge of the rock face. About 40 feet up I paused to get out my camera and photograph Matthew passing the crux below, an awkward little dihedral with a bit of an overhang above. Matthew didn't notice the overhang as he reached up, bumping his face on a rough edge. He let out a yelp followed by several curses, but had enough composure to hold on and keep from falling. Getting past this spot he paused where he could to straighten his glass frames which had been bent in the impact. Blood was trickling down his face now, and when he noticed this he made some swipes with his hands to clear it off. Having corrected his glasses, there was little he could do about his face except wipe it off and hope it would coagulate soon. Reaching the ledge I was waiting on, I examined his injury which appeared to be a cut at the eyebrow, looking like he'd been in a boxing match. Later, Matthew found there was also a cut just outside the eye socket, but this had been masked by the blood trickling down from above. He looked a bit of a mess, but was in good spirits again, so we continued up. The climb was short, but fun (aside from the bit of head-bashing), and we were soon up on the summit. No register, no cairn, no log sticking out, just a short, narrow stretch with mixed snow and rock. We took some pictures and headed back down to collect the gear we'd left at various places.
With the snowshoes back on our feet, and at the saddle between what I now dubbed "Bloody Pinnacle" and Cornell, we headed up the steepening slopes towards Cornell. We were quite close, and tasting the summit so near at hand I did another poor job of recon, heading more or less directly to the highest point on the SE side that I could reach without taking off my snowshoes. This turned out to be a lucky guess and was the side of easiest access to the class 3 peak (the summit block is rated class 4). I packed up the snowshoes to allow for the possibility to descend off the other side, and climbed up some 40-50 feet of class 3 rock to the summit block. I left the pack at the base and climbed an easy crack to the final block which was a very short stretch, maybe 5 feet, of class 4 to get atop the summit. It was a small perch that could hold maybe four or five friends if they are particularly close. Matthew hesitated for a minute at the final stretch, but then managed it quite easily enough. The wind was evident at the exposed summit so we had no wish to linger, soon making our way back down (no summit register found).
The other sides of the peak looked a good deal more difficult, so we chose to descend the way we'd come up. We found some ducks marking the easy route that we hadn't seen earlier. It was a tricky effort to descend and traverse around the south and west sides of Cornell in our snowshoes due to lots of intervening rock and steep slopes. We were discouraged by the amount of elevation we had to lose in doing this, and our next peak, Miller, rose higher and higher as time went on rather than getting nearer. After dropping maybe 250 feet we were able to get around the other side and start up the long climb to Miller. I was well ahead of Matthew due to the tricky traverse and could not see him behind me as I started the climb. He'd been moving faster than me on the easier slopes so I figured he would catch up soon enough. The slope was steep and surprisingly long. Some 1,000ft later I finally crested Miller Peak to find it was little more than a 20-foot bump on San Jacinto's East Ridge. A pair of plaques placed in 1936 honors the memory of Boy Scout leader Frank Miller. I saw older tracks on the west side of Miller Peak leading up to San Jacinto - unlike Cornell, Miller looks like a semi-popular diversion from the main mountain.
No sign of Matthew yet, so I continued upward. From Miller the slope of the ridge lessens appreciably and it was a much easier additional 500ft of climbing to get to the highpoint of San Jacinto. I met a group of seven climbers resting a short ways down from the summit on the east side, presumably to get out of the wind. Reaching the top at 1p, I got out my walkie-talkie to contact Matthew who was still nowhere in sight. The wind was making too much noise and the radios were pretty crappy on top of it, so after much shouting and futile listening, I couldn't tell whether I had gotten his attention or not. Turns out Matthew couldn't do much with the radio either. However, he had spotted me on the summit when less than five minutes away (I never saw him for some reason).
I didn't stay long at the summit - too cold and windy to linger much, and headed NW for Folly Peak. There were fresh tracks in the snow and I guessed they might be from Patty Rambert's party. Sure enough, 20 minutes later I came across a party of five at the saddle between San Jacinto and Folly. None of them were wearing snowshoes, and as I stumbled over a small cornice on my way to greet them I was wondering if I really needed mine. I walked up and greeted them with a "Hi there!" One of the two women in the group replied, "You look very familiar..." I then said, "Well, one of you must be Patty Rambert." The one who had spoken identified herself as such, after which I introduced myself. Patty's face lit up with a big grin and she jumped up to give me a great big hug like she'd finally met a long-lost relative. "Wow, I finally got to meet Bob Burd!" she shouted. It was quite a bit more surprise than I expected, but the happy welcome was warmly appreciated on my part. The others introduced themselves to me and I briefly explained how we'd seen Patty's note on the message board. Just as Patty asked, "Where's Matthew?", as if on cue he came wandering down the slope from San Jacinto. We chatted some more, I took a picture of her group with Matthew, then we parted ways - they were returning from Folly and heading back to the tram station.
Folly peak was only a five minute hop from the saddle. We found the red HPS register can and dutifully signed in. Castle Rocks, another HPS peak, was several miles to the NW and almost 2,000ft lower. It was going to be too much work to include it in our San Jacinto roundup, so it would have to wait for another day. Next on our list was Drury Peak, about a mile almost due south. The peak was the most non-descript of the day, a rounded bump much lower than the other named peaks around it. Between Folly and Drury was Little Round Valley and it was necessary to drop down about 700 feet to cross it. With some glissading and snowshoe "skiing" we were quickly down in the valley before starting the slow climb back up to Drury. Slow for me, anyway. I was beginning to feel tired and slowed a bit, but Matthew kept his stride up, forging the trail well ahead of me to the summit. There was a time only a few years ago when I could outdo Matthew on trails, cross-country, rock-climbing, snowshoes, you name it. I had to relinquish the trails to him some time ago, then the easier cross-country travel, now snowshoes. I'm finding it's tough keeping up with a guy 16 years younger who appears far more determined than I.
Five peaks down, two to go. We next headed east, back up to the main summit ridge. Jean Peak lies along South Ridge of San Jacinto and forms the second highest peak in the area. Matthew led the whole way up, driving more or less directly to the summit. I avoided the steepest slopes as we neared the summit by heading left, closer to the saddle between San Jacinto and Jean. It wasn't that the slope was dangerous or technically difficult - I was just getting tired. Matthew saw me wander off to the side and shouted something over to me. I thought he might be wondering if I knew something he didn't about the peak. But I couldn't hear him clearly and knew my shouting and gesturing would be equally uninformative. I decided to be mute and continue on, and Matthew did likewise. He'd been on the summit 5 minutes before I got there. He was looking rested and ready to carry on. I needed a potty break and would then be ready as well. Jean's summit had similar views as one gets on the other peaks in the area. In fact it is the most centrally located of the group, so there really aren't any views unique to it in any direction. I took a single photo really just to record the time we reached the summit rather than to memorialize the view.
The last peak of the day was Marion located a little more than a mile southwest of Jean. We followed the connecting ridgeline with an intermediate, unnamed highpoint that was actually higher than Marion Peak. Still out ahead, Matthew went directly up the intermediate point while I followed a few day-old boot prints around the east side of the bump. I supposed maybe the earlier visitors knew a quicker way over to Marion and thought it might help me keep up with Matthew. The SE side of the bump was uncomfortably sloped for snowshoes and I found myself slipping, sliding, and having a devil of time maintaining traction while trying to traverse the slope around the bump. I noticed the prints I was following took a decidedly different tack and headed back up to the highpoint - evidently they gave up on the traversing manuever. I doggedly persevered in the traverse, much to the dismay of my ankles which were forced at an awkward cant, but eventually I got around to the broad saddle on the SE side between the bump and Marion Peak. There was no sign of Matthew at the saddle, either in person or in snowshoe prints. A single pair of boot prints headed to Marion's summit.
I took a slightly zig-zagging pattern up from the saddle hoping to come across Matthew's prints in the snow. I was surprised to not find him, and could spot him nowhere behind me. Matthew, it turned out, had waited a good deal of time for me at the top of the intermediate bump, thinking I'd been following him. After 15 minutes or so he gave up and continued on. Meanwhile, I was making my way to the summit, or at least what I thought was the summit at the east end of the summit ridge. The map showed the benchmark there, but when I was atop it I could see the west peak to be perhaps 10 feet higher. A few minutes later I was at the base of the summit block, removed my snowshoes, squeezed through a narrow, snow-filled gap, and surmounted the final obstacle. I was on the summit less than two minutes when Matthew appeared, seemingly out of nowhere - I never saw him approach until he was taking off his snowshoes. I chuckled as he struggled up the narrow opening, finally managing to join me atop the block. The red HPS can was under a rock, the last person signing in was some months ago (though boot prints at the summit testified to at least one recent visitor). From the summit we could see SW to Idyllwild, south to Tahquitz & Suicide Rock, even further south to the Santa Rosas and beyond. North of us were the last four HPS peaks we'd just climbed prior to Marion, all blanketed in winter white.
It was after 3:15p, and with all our planned peaks "in the bag" so to speak, it was time to head back to the tram. We decided to minimize additional elevation gain by taking a traversing descent down to Wellman Divide, avoiding a climb back up to Jean Peak. We first reclimbed the intermediate bump, then headed east down the slopes. They were steeper than we'd have liked, and the snow too hard for a safe glissade, so we carefully stepped our way down the slopes in our snowshoes. At Wellman Divide we had a fine last look at Cornell Peak across the plateau, then started down towards Round Valley. It was another mile before we stumbled across the closed up Ranger's hut at the west end of Round Valley, and shortly thereafter found the well-packed trail running between the tram and San Jacinto's summit. As we crossed Round Valley Meadow heading east, we passed a couple of young ladies out for an afternoon stroll, the first persons we'd seen since leaving Patty's party back near Folly Peak several hours earlier. We soon came upon other hikers as we made our way back.
It was 5p we passed the Ranger Station just west of the tram. The ranger was outside taking down the flag for the day, getting ready to close up shop. Back at the tram we found the place swarming with winter visitors, most just there to play in the snow or have dinner and take in the views. Unlike the morning when the hikers were the majority of those taking the tram, we now looked oddly out of place amidst the throngs of people. We got some odd looks, and at first I thought they were just fascinated that we were carrying snowshoes. But they were looking at Matthew mostly, the dried blood from his brush with the rock still smeared down one side of his face. As we waited for the tram Matthew decided to go clean up his face to avoid the attention, and it was there that he found his injury was a bit worse than I had first indicated (fortunately it would heal up quite nicely over the next few weeks). A little blood shed for a good adventure never hurts. Even better if it isn't my blood that's being shed... :-)
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Cornell Peak - Miller Peak - San Jacinto Peak - Folly Peak - Newton Drury Peak - Jean Peak - Marion Mountain
This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:06 2007
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