This was our second attempt to backpack the mountain (see "Summit Attempt Fails, Lessons Learned (21-24 Mar 03)"). We liked the spot we camped at last time so much (at the boundary of the state and national wildernesses), we headed there again, but this time we had a permit for both wildernesses, so no worries. We made MUCH better time above Saddle Junction without the snow, getting there by 1pm. We set up camp, then reconnoitered the route up to the Wellman Cienega to look for water. There was plenty flowing at the time, so we filtered enough for dinner, and knew we could fill up the next morning on the way up.
The next morning (Sunday), the remaining snow fields under the trees below the Cienega and below Jean Peak were pretty firm. My buddy and I used our crampons over these sections, but snowshoes weren't necessary. On the way up the big switchback between Miller Peak and the saddle between Jean Peak and San Jacinto Peak, we passed a large group of young'uns coming down. They had trammed up, and were curious why we were wearing big backpacks (lightly loaded, of course). Upon explaining we'd humped it up from Idyllwild, one of the guys exclaimed "I feel like a pussy for taking the tram!" From such comments are dreams born. Didn't do my 39-year-old altitude-abused ego any harm, either.
The final 50 yards or so to the summit were tough. The final slope was completely covered in deep snow, but luckily for us, the trammers had compacted a route up, and our crampons helped immeasurably here. Huffing and puffing, we clattered (crampons still on) onto the highest rocks for photos. We shared the top with one other fellow. The weather was hazy--Gorgonio was gorgeous, but Baldy and the Salton Sea was mere blurs. South we could easily make out the Palomar observatory and Cuyamaca Peak (our back yard, as it were). The coast was invisible.
Climbing back down, the snow was soft and easily navigable. We met lots more people tramming up (really puffing), and several who were dayhiking up from Idyllwild. Some seemed terribly unprepared for cold weather. Two girls were a mass of goosebumps late in the afternoon. And, oddly enough, I ran into an old workmate who I'd not seen since '92! The trails are amazing.
This was also the trip during which I finally figured out how not to get sick while climbing high. I thought the problem was that I was no longer able to go high without feeling ill. Turns out it was more a problem of exhaustion. The trick for me is to continually nibble and sip as I go along rather than to wait for "meal time" to refuel. Waiting doesn't work because I don't feel like eating lots at one time, so I don't eat, so I run low on fuel, which exhausts me and makes me nauseous, so I feel like eating even less, etc. By keeping a Clif bar in my pocket and nibbling on it all day long, accompanied by continuous sips from my handy drinking tube, I kept something on my stomach, I kept fueled, and my stomach felt fine when meal times rolled around. It was wonderful! Also, a BIG shout out to the makers of GookinAid. This glucose/electrolyte powder in my water kept my stomach happy, and I ate dinner like a starved pit bull. This experience proved to me I could do altitude with pleasure, and gave me the confidence to tackle bigger mountains--this nibble and sip technique got me all the way up Whitney a month later.
Anyway, we made it back to our campsite, packed up, and headed down. That last 2.3 miles down from the Junction seemed to last forever. We didn't think about it 'til later, but we'd done 7 miles roundtrip from the campsite, then about 4 more miles to get out. With 7 of those miles above 9000 ft., and the last 4 with full packs in rising heat, we were tired puppies at the trail head. Like the last time, our best spent $1 was at the San Jacinto State Park campground for the showers. We drained a local establishment of its iced tea, then headed home, satisfied we'd finally bagged the peak on our own agenda.