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It's Wednesday, This Must Be the Palm Springs Tram
Cornell Peak, Langells Peak, Divide Peak

25 July 2001

By: Karen Isaacson Leverich

Leaders: Byron Prinzmetal, Carleton Shay and George Wysup

Two Wednesdays in a row, two trips up (and down) the Palm Springs Tram, two terrific hikes in the San Jacinto Mountains. Life is good.

Last Wednesday, we were there for Marion Mountain, Jean Peak, and Drury Peak. It was an adventure, with cool surprises such as stumbling over a cache of beer and being buzzed by a glider. Not to mention a fun scramble up some good rock. The beer we left for George Wysup on Marion in honor of his birthday.

So of course Brian and I couldn't resist joining a second trip, this one aiming for Cornell and Divide Peaks. (George's visit to six peaks over the weekend sounded awesome, but beyond our conditioning, so had been easy to resist.) We'd seen both peaks the earlier week, and Cornell in particular looked steep and difficult. Doing it in a friendly group was much more appealing -- there'd be someone to convey my last words to my parents if I didn't make it back! And maybe we'd find some more beer, who knows?

This hike was lead by Byron Prinzmetal, Carleton Shay, and George Wysup. The participants seemed to be continually in flux -- on the tram were Carleton and George, Janet Howell, Gary Schenk, Kent Schwitkis, Brian and Karen Leverich. Byron got bumped (there were about 80 dozen children on our tram, some kind of school group) and caught the next tram, joining us at the ranger station. On the way to Round Valley, Byron attempted to draft two groups of additional hikers, including Diane Edwards and her father, but they all seemed to have pretty good sense and continued on towards their original objectives. In Round Valley, we were joined by Dave Comerzan who had hiked up from Humber Park. After bagging Cornell, he headed back down that way, while Carleton and Janet headed for the tram. Leaving Byron, George, Kent, Brian, Gary, and I to go exploring.

Got all that straight? It'll be on the exam.

Cornell is one of those peaks that looks a lot scarier from afar. When we were actually scrambling up it, it only seemed steep, then steeper; rocky, then rockier. As we got closer to the top, my focus moved much closer in -- how am I going to get up and over the next boulder? And suddenly, we were there. Or at least, we were at the register. The peak itself seemed to just keep going, I've no clue how close we were to the real top. Standard issue slugs signed the register (placed there only two days before by Mars Bonfire and Ping Pfeffer), then got a short lesson in climbing back down from Byron, with tips on where to place hands and feet and how to leverage in order to descend most safely. Kent and George checked out things above, and determined that yes, there is a top to the mountain.

This was definitely an atypical hike. Besides the nice rest break at the ranger station while we waited for Byron to catch up, we had a nice lunch break on Cornell (Brian: "That's not a bad view for lunch!" Dave: "Sure beats looking out my kitchen window."), and then an additional long rest in Round Valley, while George split off and tried to find some poles that had been mislaid over the weekend. (Do these guys spend too much time up there, or what?) No poles to be found. No beer this time, either. The mountain apparently wasn't feeling generous.

But at last, we were on the move again. Byron took the lead, and we were on our way to explore Divide Peak. Maybe because I'd belabored him last week about being more cheery, this time he broke into song rather than expounding on the potential terrors of the trip. Byron, please, it's OK, tell us what horrors lie in store for us, just don't sing? <grin> Or maybe he was just getting back at me for the high-pitched screech I'd let loose when Brian practiced some unscheduled gymnastics on his way down Cornell, landing at my feet with his hat covering his face instead of the top of his head. (I startle easy, what can I say?)

The route across country made a pleasant walk through the woods -- not too steep, not too rocky, not brushy in the least. Shortly after passing a boulder balanced atop a boulder ("We must be close, Mars has been here!"), we were on the peak dividing Round and Long Valley from Willow and Tahquitz Creek, with terrific views in all directions. The only problem was ... this wasn't Divide Peak! It was Langells Peak. So, had Byron (trusty GPS in hand) sloppily led us to the wrong peak? Or had he decided this to be the nicer peak, and brought us here for our own good? Only the Shadow knows for sure?

The beauty of Langells notwithstanding, we were supposed to be exploring Divide Peak. Which (per Byron's GPS) was a quarter mile over there. George led us back down below the rockier ridgeline, then across. But was it this peaklet or that?

George: "That's not the first intermediate bump I've gone over by mistake." Byron: "Hey, I led up the wrong peak, now it's your turn."

While Byron, Brian, Gary and I had another nice rest break, Kent and George reconnoitered, looking for safe routes up through the rock. Eventually they determined which was higher and Kent safely summited. We quizzed him upon descent -- were the views better than over at Langells? Nah. But in his opinion, this was the better peak, much more fun. Me, given my timidity to date on rock, I much preferred Langells. And it such a nice name for a mountain, too!

By then, it was getting on in the afternoon, time to go. We headed cross country back to Long Valley, then did our usual social experimentation in the waiting area for the tram -- if we all sat in a group, would everyone else gravitate away from us? Sure enough. So, why is that? The blood? The sweat? The dirt? Obviously a research project for some future Wednesday.

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