San Jacinto Peak
By: Ron Jones
(VIA SNOW CREEK)
A strong wind was pushing dark clouds in over San Gorgonio Pass on the morning of May 2nd, when Arkel Erb, Ruth Karimi, Gordon McLeod and I started our climb of San Jacinto from the north side up Snow Creek. This is a third class route, involving nearly a 9,000-foot elevation gain, more than 5,000-foot which is on snow. We planned to descend by a much easier route-- the Palm Springs Tramway. The previous night we left a car at the Tramway parking lot, to be used as one leg of our car shuttle. The parking lot entrance is open from 8:00 AM to 9:30 PM and overnight parking ordinarily is not allowed. We were able to get parking permission from the Manager of the Valley Station by telephoning from the toll gate, but to be safe it might be better to write beforehand, care of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
It was also necessary to write the Palm Springs Water Company, P.O. Drawer 33, Palm Springs and ask permission to park our second car on their Snow Creek property. This is necessary as both the access road and the area around the road are posted as private property. The road to the Water Company property has in the past been a little difficult to find but now the turn off is marked with a sign just before entering the little community of Snow Creek.
After parking our car near the caretaker's house, we met three climbers from San Diego who had decided that the weather was too threatening for climbing the peak that day. They wished us luck as we set out.
From the road head at 2,000 feet we climbed up to the small plateau between Snow Creak and Falls Creek, and proceeded along it for a little more than an hour. At about 4250 feet we descended into Snow Creek Canyon, at a place called the Narrows. The descent involves a loss in elevation of about 150 feet. Starting up the moderate]y brushy canyon we soon encountered the first waterfall. We climbed around it on the right side, and found later that nearly all the falls in Snow Creek Canyon are easiest to negotiate on the right side.
Forty minutes after entering the canyon, at about 4600 feet, we came upon a large cascade which we decided to climb around rather than climb over. We scrambled up a shallow chute to our right and detoured up from the canyon bottom, finding the only bad brush whacking of the climb. 25 minutes later we had climbed to 5100 feet, where we dropped back into the canyon bottom, having bypassed several falls and cascades. We encountered several short third class pitches in the lower part of the canyon while climbing over the many falls, but found it unnecessary to use a rope. However, it would be advisable for all parties to carry a rope for emergency use.
We climbed onto the long snow slope in the canyon at about 5300 feet and were on snow nearly continuously from here to the summit, 5500 feet above. At 5800 feet, the last major falls in the canyon were encountered and we used a crack to the right of the falls to climb up and over. The canyon branches at about 6600 feet and we stayed to the left. Forty minutes later, at 7300 feet, it branched again, and here we took the right hand fork. Shortly beyond, we stopped for a thirty minute lunch break. The wind was still blowing, but the clouds had made no further headway into the Pass. We thought our luck would hold for the rest of the way.
Shortly after starting out from our lunch stop, at about 8500 feet, the canyon branched a third time and here we stayed to the left. One hour beyond, at about 9l00 feet, the canyon divided into four large diverging chutes. We took the third chute from the right. The snow was deeper and not as well packed at the higher elevations, and sometimes instead of kicking steps on a hard crust, we would flounder through a stretch of soft snow. Even so, we averaged better than 900 feet an hour elevation gain on the long snow chute.
The chute we were in trended a little to the east of the peak. After climbing an hour we got on the ridge to our right and followed it directly to the top. It took us nine hours of climbing, not counting our lunch break, to reach the summit at 10,804 feet. The wind was still blowing and the temperature was 33 degrees, however the sky overhead was clear. After warming up for a few minutes at the hut just below the summit, we hiked the three and a half miles over to the Tramway Mountain Station located at 8515 test. Hers we paid $2.00 for a one way trip and made a 15 minute descent to our car at the Valley Station, 5873 feet, below.
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