Cactus to Slush
We got started around 6:00, and while it was not as punishingly hot as last time, it was still warmer than t-shirt weather. The climb still felt just as interminable, though, since the top is hidden much of the way, and it is difficult to get a sense of scale from the barren ridges around you or the plains below. I amused myself by playing with the local flora, including a savage cactus (it won) and a green plant that smells like a hot garden hose when crushed. Higher up, we were treated to views of an impressive-looking storm over the San Bernardinos.
The snow started abruptly as the trail crossed the drainage to begin the final climb, so Noah donned his heavy boots and I my bread bags. While we were a bit behind my pace last time, we seemed to be on track for the 6-7 hours I expected it to take to reach the tram. I remembered more or less where the trail went from here, but fortunately someone with a GPS track had been up recently, since the trail was not deep enough to show through the snow. We gratefully followed the tracks. The slush was ankle-, then calf-, then knee-deep, but snowshoes still seemed like more of a hindrance when winding through the scrub.
I was hoping it might be cold enough on the steep part for there to be some crust, but we had no such luck. Though we had three axes and six crampons between us, we had only four snowshoes. Retracing our steps was too horrible to contemplate, so Noah and I took one snowshow apiece and made our limping way up the last few thousand feet, knee- and then thigh-deep in a giant slurpee.
Crossing below a rocky ridge on the traverse to the final chute, we lost the tracks we had been following. After some time spent searching for a familiar-looking gully, we chose one that looked like it didn't cliff out, and began the final slog. There were clear signs of past avalanches, but things seemed stable now. While we definitely chose something steeper than the correct gully, some tiresome but non-threatening climbing got us to the valley and, with some relief, to the tram around 3:00. While it seemed possible to reach the summit by sunset and return to the tram by headlamp, the prospect held little appeal. It was Miller time.