Cornell Peak, San Jacinto Peak
28-29 December 1968
By: Bob Van Allen
The ascent of these two peaks at this time of year presents a significantly different problem than ascent in the summer.
The most noticeable difference is the absence of flies, gnats, mosquitoes, and boy scouts. The second largest difference is that there is much more snow in December than there is in July.
On Saturday morning, Bruce Masson and I took the first tram car up from Palm Springs. We were greeted at the top by 30° in the shade, had coffee, checked in at the ranger station and proceeded to Round Valley. About 10 minutes out from the station we came to the end of the path beaten in the snow by all of the visitors. Here we put on snowshoes. We did not go to Round Valley to camp. Instead, we camped by a corral shed at the base of Cornell Peak. We arrived there in mid-afternoon and immediately prepared to climb Cornell. Continuing on snowshoes we climbed to within 150 or so feet of the summit. We then proceeded (without snowshoes) on the rocks which were sometimes bare and sometimes covered with ice. It was cold and getting colder. Clouds were beginning to move in from San Jacinto. We reached the northwest ridge about 60 feet below the summit, proceeded up traveling south to the chimney on the west. No ice in the chimney but very strong winds. Anticipating severe conditions, we went prepared. At the top of the chimney (sitting on the chockstone) Bruce set up a belay for me. We checked important data, 27°, winds steady at 20 m.p.h. with gusts to 30 and 40 m.p.h. As I started up the final rib and started the step over to the ledge on the right (east) side, a gust threw me off balance but I recovered. At this point I decided this easy 3rd class had just become 5th class so I used a piton as protection from another sudden gust of wind. Once on top and sitting in snow, I belayed Bruce. The register was not there. Part of the old box remains - but no book. We took it easy for approximately one minute and then started down. As we reached the northwest rib again we were engulfed in a cloud and to make it more interesting, it was getting dark. The descent was slow and we returned to camp in the dark.
All night long the wind kept up at approximately 10 m.p.h. with occasional gusts that sounded like a 707 coming through.
We woke at 6:45 Sunday and ate breakfast in the sack. All our gear was packed and we left for San Jacinto at 8 a.m. After a very strenuous trip we arrived on the summit at 11:45. Again we found no register but it may have been under snow. This was Bruce's 25th peak. If he picks one this difficult for his 25th, I can imagine what his 100th will be like. Noon temperatures, 26°, wind 10 m.p.h. with gusts to 20. Picture taking was great. We felt we could Telescope Peak (at least it was snow covered and in the right direction). Seeing the San Diego peaks was no problem. Everything in between was magnificent.
After pictures we retreated to the hut to eat lunch. We left for camp at 1 p.m. and what had taken us 3 3/4 hours to climb, we descended in 1 hour. After a short break at camp we left for the tram and made that portion in 1 1/2 hours.
While it was a strenuous trip, I believe both of us would like to do it again. (In about 12 months.)
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