On Sunday we packed our gear and headed for San Jacinto Peak. We took the tram from the Valley Floor Station 2,643′ to the Mountain Station 8,516′. The tram ride up was interesting since the tram is so large it fits 80 people and spins around twice in the 10 minute ride.
During the construction of the tram helicopters would land on those yellow pads.
Katharine at the beginning of the 11 mile round trip and 2,300′ of elevation gain hike
At the Mountain Station the temperature was around 45 degrees and wind gusts of up to 40 mph. We checked in with the ranger and got our hiking permit and answered their questions about our gear and how prepared we were. We stayed calm and collected when they said temperatures at the top were well below freezing and there are wind gusts up to 80 mph. We prepared for the cold but when you hear numbers like that it’s hard not react. There was also a couple feet of snow but had mainly turned to hard ice, which we had small cramp-ons to make our way across the ice fields.
Within the first hour we could feel the effects of the high altitude. We became short of breath and had to take more breaks than normal. We also lost the trail a couple times following previous hiker’s paths through the snow. Luckily we had our iphone GPS app and were able to guide other hikers back to the trail. We even made arrows with branches to help the next group of hikers.
After 5 hours of hiking we found ourselves at about 10,300 feet high but still 500 feet of elevation and 0.5 mile from the peak. We were exhausted and could see a storm rolling over the mountains.
It was 4:00, which was our agreed upon turn around time. At this point we saw very few people headed up the mountain and everyone headed down. Our faces were frozen and the sun was hidden behind the mountain. We were so close! We stood there pondering in frustration and finally called it quits and headed back down. It took us less than 3 hours to get back to the tram and then we had to wait in line for another 30 minutes before we headed down. We got to our car right at sunset which confirmed our decision to turn back when we did. Being caught on the shadowed side of a frozen mountain with high winds in the dark would have been a nightmare. We had headlamps but were glad we didn’t have to use them.
I am sure we will return and camp at Round Valley which is about 9,000′ giving a chance to acclimate to the elevation and eventually bag Mount San Jacinto at 10,834′. When we got back to Palm Springs it was warm and sunny, so it was hard to believe we were walking on 2 feet of snow and ice in 20 degree weather just an hour ago.