Cruising the High Peaks in the San Jacinto Wilderness:
A Pants-ripping Back Pack
Leaders: Kent Schwitkis and George Wysup
On Saturday, July 13, 10 excited hikers joined provisional "I" leader Kent Schwitkis and evaluator/assistant (and Rainier summitter) George Wysup at Long Valley Ranger Station just beyond the Tramway building, to back pack up to Round Valley for a weekend of trekking in the San Jacinto range. The group included Sherry Ross (as always a fount of knowledge about plants and the odd habits of bugs), Kent's son Zachary and his friend Matt (two courageous 19 year olds who were challenged to keep up with the older generation), Lisa Cozzetti (who had traveled from fire-damaged Arizona for a weekend of cool hiking), Connie Leonard, Ken Norris, John Bacon, Marlen Mertz, Jane Fontana (another musician member of HPS), and Laura Joseph.
En route to Round Valley, we were all made vividly aware of the after effects of George's amazing feat on Mt. Rainier (described elsewhere) by his hacking, gut wrenching coughs and almost inaudible voice (there's a good side to everything). Close to the campground we passed Byron Prinzmetal's group consisting of Sandy Burnside and one "follower" which was on a day hike to Cornell and the presently named Langells.
We hauled our heavy packs -- there was no water at Round Valley -- to the far side of the camp ground to find a suitable campsite. Once finished with "chores", we headed to Cornell where Laura hoped to retrieve the trekking poles lost there a year ago (hope springs eternal).
Kent is a very organized and knowledgeable leader and handles HPS hikers well, having had a lot of experience with unruly Boy Scouts. Here's a section of his guide written prior to our expedition:
There are many ways to get the peaks that we will do on Saturday and Sunday. Consideration needs to be given to navigation and expected energy effort. Remember, I'm not interested in exercise here, just a relaxing stroll [Hah!]. Another desire of mine is to make loops. It gets rather boring to go someplace just to retrace your steps. Isn't it better to visit someplace new?
The first issue was the specific track to Cornell. Even though the peak is obvious, the specific track is not. One needs to balance the amount of climbing with the group strength. Doing this peak on Saturday by itself was part of the plan.
Kent had modified his original trip plan to account for the lack of water at Round Valley. We are each quite different in this regard. One guideline is to have 1 liter for each 1000 feet of gain. Another is to have one gallon per day. We should be able to fine-tune our needs by Saturday afternoon, and we will have the opportunity to get more on Saturday afternoon. The water situation was exacerbated by high temperatures, even at our lofty altitude. As it turned out, collectively we had enough to last through the trip thanks to Kent and the two young men carrying extra gallons.
Leaving camp at midday on Saturday, Kent led us on an easy route to the base of the wonderful rocky summit of Cornell where we again encountered Byron and company who regaled us with references to life insurance. Our group was perhaps a little heartier than typical as all of us reached the summit easily and then, seeing that there was more rock to climb to get to the tippy-top, each of us in turn, with coaching from Kent and Sherry, climbed another twelve feet or so.
We returned to camp in mid afternoon and, not long after, were joined by Sandy B and began an extended happy hour that lasted into dinner (for those who could still eat). Happy hour was enhanced by wine brought by Sherry, Jane and Laura; Sandy B's customary culinary delights, exotic things prepared by Sherry, Laura's (fat free) brownies and much more.
After an uneventful night punctuated by George's incessant coughing, we set off shortly after 7 for the remaining 5 peaks in the following sequence: Marion, Drury, Folly, San Jacinto, and Jean. We would arrive at these peaks through a combination of trail walking, cross country, and even some class 2.5ish hiking with a total of 10.5 miles and 3200' gain. Here's Kent's description.
The day can be easily described in legs to specific locations, just like an orienteering event. The first leg was from camp to Wellman Divide, next Wellman Divide to Marion, then Marion to Drury, then Drury to Folly, Folly to San Jacinto, then to Jean, and finally from Jean to camp. So there were a total of seven legs. Every leg had an attack point or a handrail. Once identified, these attack points and handrails define a strategy to gain the target. Then it is just a matter of executing on the plan, and making minor corrections to account for vegetation or rock.
There were only two legs that required multiple leg plans, and perhaps a site decision. These two legs were from Drury to Folly, and from Jean to camp. The Drury/Folly leg had to deal with vegetation, while the Jean to camp leg dealt with a quest to minimize the leg length. That is, to go more directly to camp, rather than travel all the way back to Wellman Divide.
The leg from Drury to Folly required a passage on a south-facing slope. My concern was that this passage would be difficult because of thick vegetation. I had imagined that the flora in this region would be quite similar to that on the Marion Leg, and would require some on-site information. The information I had suggested that there was a path through the chinquapin, and that the path from Drury to Little Round Valley was clear. So the "grand strategy" changed from a direct route to a conservative route. This more conservative route added another handrail and attack point. Instead of angling up to the saddle between Folly and San Jacinto, we would first drop down to Little Round Valley and pick up the trail to San Jacinto. The next attack point would be the saddle, and the final attack point was Folly Peak itself.
The leg from Jean back to camp was interesting as well. The first part of the leg was to drop down into the gully that separates Jean from San Jacinto. One proceeds down this gully until the trail from Wellman Divide (to San Jacinto Peak) is reached. Then one has a decision to make. Either one heads for Wellman Divide, or one heads for Tamarack Valley. There are several possibilities if one heads for Tamarack Valley. 1) There is an unmarked trail to Tamarack, and of the three times I've summitted San Jacinto, I've never seen it. 2) There is a distinct gully (with an intermittent stream) on the map, which is supposed to be clear. 3) There is a ridge just south of the gully, which is also supposed to be clear. It ended up that we found the unmarked trail and used it.
The trail from Wellman Divide to San Jacinto Peak makes a long traverse along the eastern flank of Jean Peak. There is a pronounced gully between Jean and San Jacinto. An old un-maintained trail goes from this location to Tamarack Valley. We were going to do a straight shot down this gully and the ridge just south of it. We wanted to avoid the long traverse back to Wellman Divide. This trail goes through waist/chest-high chinquapin.
In more commonplace language, this is what we did. We had a great time summitting Marion -- another rocky peak with an interesting chute to shimmy up -- and, from there, crossed Little Round Valley to that rock pile known as Drury where the otherwise indominatable Wysup had to check out to nurse his Rainier hangover at camp. With Sandy taking over as assistant leader, we set off for Folly (the summit of which I cannot picture in my memory, no matter how many times I've been there). More fun was in store as we took a "new" route, following the ridge from Folly to San Jac, having a grand time watching Kent find the best way to get around various (in the memorable words of Mars Bonfire) "rock problems." We all thought this was a great way to get to the lofty summit which, by the usual route, is pretty uninteresting. On the summit of San Jac, we picked up two Sierra Club members who tailed after us as we made a beeline down to the saddle and up to Jean. From there, once again, we took the most direct route possible -- given the vegetation -- back to camp along a gully.
About that butt-ripping. It started with Sherry on Cornell. Feeling an unwonted draft on her nether regions, she noted a huge rip in the seat of her pants. We all assured her that, although she had neglected to wear her designer underwear, she looked just fine. The next morning she emerged with the offending rip neatly duct-taped. On the way to Marion, someone noted a similar phenomenon in the seat of George's pants. Fortunately, Sandy was at the ready with duct tape that had been wrapped around her trekking poles and Marlen made quite an operation of the taping. Not to be outdone, on the descent from yet another peak, Lisa beckoned secretively to Laura and held out a piece of duct tape to apply to her bottom.
Back at camp, a well-rested George rejoined us as we completed our preparations for leaving, redistributed water from the haves to the have-nots and set off for the promised refreshments at the tramway station. Our convivial gathering in the bar of the station was the occasion for missing one tram but we caught the next and reluctantly parted company at the parking lot.
Natural history notes from Sherry: Some of us spotted four deer grazing in the meadow of Round Valley and Laura spotted a possum in the parking lot. Among the more common flora we observed were white fir, lodgepole and sugar pine, wild gooseberry, the always popular manzanita and chinquapin shrubs in the undergrowth, corn lilies and cow parsnips in the meadows, wallflowers, ranger's buttons and lupines by the trailside. This trip deserves a repeat in a wet year for some fabulous wildflower displays -- when can we go?