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Snow Creek 5-20-06
Remember how your parents or grandparents would tell you about how tough they had it back in the good’ol days? “When I was your age, I had to walk to school thru the snow up to my hips in the blazing hot sun”, or something like that. Remember how funny it all sounded. Well Snow Creek showed Rick Kent (RK) and me that there’s a lot more fun out there to be had on a day hike.
Today’s objective was to day hike Snow Creek up the north face of Mt San Jacinto. This is one tough hike that meanders thru desert flora, across manzanita and scrub oak slopes, boulder hopping and climbing the cliffs along the creek, and finishes with several thousand feet of snow slopes; starting at 1200’ and tops out with Mt San Jac at 10,800’ and then finishes back at the tram station. The beta on this route is sketchy and with no real trail, route finding can consume a lot of time and energy.
The plan was to meet Rick Kent at the tram station parking lot at 4am, then car shuttle over to Snow Creek village. But, the tram road was gated shut which cause us some concern about whether the tram was shut down for maintenance. RK did his hi-tech thing and found that it would be open, but due to a private party the last tram down would be at 9pm. Bah! 9pm, there’s no way we’d have to worry about that, right
We started (4:30a) at the power/pump station about ½ mile down from Snow Creek village and then quietly walked up and around the village. Although the bright quarter moon allowed us to avoid using headlamps, we did miss the fork where the paved road goes up to the aqueduct/guard house and had to go x-country until we found it, then immediately ditched the road when a car approach and took off x-country again. Going x-country in this terrain you get sliced by cat claw bushes and your socks filled with foxtail barbs; the fun is just getting started.
Passed the top of the aqueduct system and started up x-country on the big ridge that separates Snow creek from Falls creek. Gaining the top of this ridge was harder that I though it was going to be and from the car it took us 3 hours of bushwhacking, boulder hopping and route finder to get to the isthmus between Snow creek and Falls creek ~8am (~3300’). From the isthmus, we started traversing west through very thick brush where the vague use-trail and trail ducks are hard to keep track of. We spent a lot of time back tracking and route finding; more fun.
Eventually we entered Snow creek (10am) and started up the water polished rock along the stream bed before getting to the 1st major obstacle (11am); the 60’waterfall and the rock face to the west of the waterfall (~5500’). After a snack, we played around with climbing the class 5.4-5.5 rock face near the waterfall before deciding to move down the creek a bit and climb the easier class 3/4 option to get around the waterfall. This took over an hour (12:30) and just added to the fun.
Once above the waterfall (~5700’), in normal Mar-Apr condition there’s a snow tongue that goes all the way to the summit ridge. But on May 20, the snow tongues starts >7000’ and all the snow that has melted is seeping out of some additional rocky obstacles. One of these wet rocky cliffs required a rope & belay and an extra hour to negotiate. By now it’s around 1:30 and still have >4000’ to climb, the fun just keeps coming.
We finally get to the main snow tongue that consists of consolidated snow with a soft 4-8” layer on top and find that it’s easier to kick steps with crampons on. We head straight up as best as our tired bodies will allow and finally get to the summit ridge at 6:40. We now start worrying about making that last tram at 9pm, funny huh!
Hiking next to the summit cabin (7pm) I decide to head down (couple hundred feet short of the summit). I know that with about an hour of headlamp time in front of me, I’m going to need every minute to get down before the last tram. RK decided to makes a mad dash to the summit. We regroup (7:15) at the trail junction below the cabin and start motoring down the trail. We quickly reach Wellman Junction at 7:40 and Round Valley with 2 miles to go at 8:00, but then have to slow down with headlamps in the dark. Trying to avoid tripping or a twisting an ankle we move as quickly as possible and finally get back to the ramp up to the tram station at 8:40pm. As we’re struggling up the ramp, we hear over the intercom “Last call for the last tram down in 5 minutes”. Now that’s funny
Another great, long (~16 hrs), and fun day in the mountains.
Here are some photos;
Snow Creek Photos
p.s. as I’m writing the trip report and looking at the photos, I can feel every cut, scratch, bruise, ache and pain; the fun never stops.
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