If you want to taste the steepness of the Sierras without the drive, this is the trail for you. Did it Memorial Day 2005. Past the 2nd trail junction, snow completely obscured the trail so it was GPS route finding the whole way, creating a very slow trek.
The first couple miles was as steep as any I'd even been on. Views were awesome and got to see deep blue sky very quickly. Snow pack was 6' for the whole way, making going up the side of San Jacinto challenging, trecherous and beautiful. Without the switchback trail, it's a direct assault slogging through snow. Loved it and the views it afforded. Everyone else up there came up via the tram.