Are you Strong Enough? Well, we set out to find out this past Saturday (5/8). There are few places in Southern California where you can find continuous and sustained elevation gain, especially on trail. Perhaps the classics in CA are Telescope Peak from Death Valley or White Mountain from Bishop where you can get over 10K gain without interruption. However, these options present logistical annoyances and a long drive.
But, right here in So CA, towers Mt. San Jacinto at 10,804', which I consider a desert peak. Climbing Snow Creek on the peak's north face is one option to the summit, but that requires a good snow pack and some creative stealthing. What's more realistic in the cool of the spring season is what'ss often called the Palms to Pines trail which starts literally in downtown Palm Springs. The trailhead is at about 700' and begins at the west end of Ramon Road, then heads up to the Palm Springs Tram Station at about 8,400'. So, you can get almost 8,000' of sustained gain (there are some minor downs) and then take the tram down (great for saving those knees).
However, why stop there when Mt. San Jacinto is only another 6.3 miles and 2,400' gain away? So, our group of about ten started out at 4:45 AM Saturday morning and staggered into the tram area from about noon to one depending on individual speeds. We took a lunch break around 5,800 feet and hourly water/food breaks to help maintain our pace. It was a clear day but sometimes warm below the 7,000' elevation. Above this, pines and cool breezes soothed our fatigue. Since several people in our group needed to return or were too tired to continue, only three of us proceeded on after obtaining a day hiking permit from the ranger and refilling our water bottles. So, Richard and Patsy Hughes and myself, leaving about 1, took the trail to Round Valley, then to Wellman Divide, then on up to the summit where the final summit boulders and altitude tried their best to deter us. We were just a bit tired and the altitude took its effect and those final big steps to the summit boulders were almost comical. Nonetheless, we topped out at 4PM sitting on the top block, 10,430' gain later (this was measured by my Avocet altimulator). It was good to be on top and the views were awesome. There were some residual snow patches along the way, but nothing consequential. San Gorgonio is almost naked of snow, it's melting fast! We remained on top for about half an hour or so, but cold winds and a strong desire for a cold beer urged us off the summit, heading down, much to the relief of our tired calf and hamstring muscles, now rock hard but a little wobbly. Leaving the summit, we stopped to sign the register in the nearby cabin and departed around 5. Our quads finally took up some of the effort and we were flying back to the tram chalet arriving there about 6:45PM after another 170' of gain for an altimeter total of 10,600' gain for the day and we suspect 21 miles. With breaks, lunch and other misc. stops, our total time was about 14 hours. We were beyond beat!
Once inside the tram chalet, we climbed a few more sets of stairs (like we needed that) then headed directly to the adult beverage dispenser where Richard and I savored well-deserved 22oz frothy beers (Palm Springs Red Feather) while watching the sunset over the desert after a very satisfying yet enduring day. We caught the 7:45 PM tram down and were lucky enough to meet a local hiking couple that generously gave us a gratis ride in their brand new plush and comfortable sedan back to our car on Ramon Road. Since we were feeling better, we thought we'd have dinner, return to camp there and do it again Sunday, I mean, why not? So, if you think we would really try this again the next day, you are nuts!
After dinner in the very trendy Palm Springs we arrived home about 11:45 PM technically making this a "day hike" since we had left Richard's near 3 AM.
This was a great day with good friends on a challenging climb to one of Southern California's most worthy and scenic peaks.