We were nearly to the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail and the South Ridge Trail and about a half-mile from Tahquitz Peak (8846′). It was hot. In the shade the temp was in the high 80s, but in direct sun the temperature was close to 100°F.
A few hours earlier Skye and I had grabbed the first car up on the Palm Springs Tram and done the 5 mile, 2435′ ascent of San Jacinto Peak. At 10,800’+ at 10:00 in the morning it had been 70°F — warm for one of the higher mountains of Southern California. Remarkably, a couple of small patches of snow remained on the south side of the summit.
Where we were now, 70 degrees would feel like a refrigerator. We’d given up that cooler clime and all the elevation we’d gained, and run five miles down the Wellman Divide Trail and PCT to Saddle Junction — a descent of about 2700′. The temperature had increased all the way down.
We might as well have been in a drying oven. The combination of the hot weather, a high sun, low humidity and higher altitude had desiccated me. At the turn-off off from the PCT to Tahquitz Peak I lifted my pack and squeezed the reservoir — again. In the few minutes since I last checked, no water had magically found its way into my pack. There was less than 20 ounces remaining and that wasn’t going to be enough.
After running over to Tahquitz Peak and visiting the lookout, there was still the minor detail of getting back to the Tram. The Mountain Fire closure was still in effect, which meant we could not use the Willow Springs Trail and would have to retrace our steps and climb all the way back up to Wellman Divide.
During the drought I would bring extra water when doing this route, and stash it along the trail. With this year’s good snowpack it seemed we should be able to find water if we needed it.
Prior to the Mountain Fire I’d used Willow Creek as a water source, but since the Willow Springs Trail was closed, that was out. The seep at Wellman Cienaga was too far up and the flow was low. Skunk Cabbage Meadow and Tahquitz Valley were a possibility. Originally included in the Mountain Fire closure area, they had reopened. I recalled a water source in Skunk Cabbage Meadow, but didn’t remember much about it.
When we got to Tahquitz Peak we asked Joe, the volunteer Ranger at the Tahquitz Peak Lookout, what he thought would be a good water source. He suggested Tahquitz Creek in Tahquitz Valley. I hadn’t been to Tahquitz Valley, so this was a great time to check it out.
Although small in its upper reaches, Tahquitz Creek had plenty of water. Using a UV Pen, we refilled our packs and drank until we couldn’t drink any more. Continuing, we found there was also water available at Skunk Cabbage Meadow. At least for now. I wouldn’t hazard a guess how long these water sources will last.
Ah water, wonderful water. With water the hike and run back to Wellman Divide was just a sweaty, strenuous and scenic climb, and not the hellish ascent it might have been.
Summits that can be accessed by trail are usually busy places, especially in good weather. That was certainly the case this morning. Each of us had encountered someone we knew on or near San Jacinto’s rocky summit.
It seemed everyone on the peak was doing a different adventure. One hiker mentioned he had run out of food at Wellman Divide. That seemed strange until he explained he was doing the “8000 Meter Challenge” — ascending Baldy, Gorgonio and San Jacinto consecutively in 24 hours. The 8000 meters refers to the (approximate) cumulative gain and loss when doing the three peaks. In round numbers Baldy via the Ski Hut would be about 2375 meters of gain+loss, Gorgonio via Vivian Creek 3350 meters and San Jacinto via the Tram about 1500 meters. If you skip the Tram and do San Jacinto from Idyllwild the gain+loss is about 2680 meters.
An ultrarunning friend that reached the summit shortly after we did was doing Cactus to Clouds to Cactus (C2C2C). This arduous route starts in Palm Springs at an elevation of about 460 feet and climbs all the way to the summit of San Jacinto at about 10,834 feet. Including a couple of short downhills along the way, the total elevation gain is around 10,800 feet. Round trip that works out to about 6600 meters of gain+loss.
Ann, Telma and I were doing a route I’ve enjoyed for many years — ascending San Jacinto from the Tram and then running down to the fire lookout on Tahquitz Peak. The route has excellent running and (on a clear day) hundred-mile vistas. The views of Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks bring to mind many fine days spent with friends at these superb rock climbing areas.
When we got our wilderness permit at the Long Valley Ranger Station the ranger had warned us about 45 mph winds and cold temps on the summit. The strong winds had been forecast to moderate before sunrise and the forecast was spot on. The weather on the summit was near perfect — warm in the sun and cool in the shade with light winds.
After ascending San Jacinto we returned to Wellman Divide and then descended the Wellman Divide Trail and PCT to Saddle Junction. From Saddle Junction it is only a couple of (mostly uphill) miles to Tahquitz Peak. This Google Earth image shows my GPS track from Wellman Divide to Tahquitz Peak and back.
A dozen or so hikers were enjoying the warm sun and great weather at the lookout. As always, the fire lookout host was friendly and informative, answering questions about the lookout’s equipment and surrounding landmarks. Want to become a volunteer host? Check this page.
My usual return route from Tahquitz Peak is to go back to Saddle Junction and then follow the Willow Springs Trail to Hidden Lake Divide. With the Willow Springs Trail closed due to the 2013 Mountain Fire it’s necessary to climb back up to Wellman Divide and then descend to the Tram from there. This adds about a mile and 800′ of gain to the usual route. Although we had descended it earlier in the day, the trail going up to Wellman Divide had a different feel to it, and the out and back wasn’t nearly as onerous as I thought it might be.
About an hour after topping out at Wellman Divide we were back at the Long Valley Ranger Station and not long after that on the Tram and headed down the mountain. I smiled as the decades-old recording in the tram car began, “You’ve had a great day…”
Comparison of Whitney (Trail), San Gorgonio (Vivian Creek) and San Jacinto (Devils Slide)
Updated November 12, 2014. Added Register Ridge on Mt. Baldy and the Siberia Creek Trail in Big Bear.
Southern California is noted for its foothills and mountains. It’s so hilly here that most trail runs have at least one good climb. Even if you aren’t a high mileage runner, the elevation gained on those hills can add up fast. So far this year SportTracks puts my cumulative elevation gain at about 320,000 feet.
I was curious to see how some of the “hills” in Southern California compare, so I wrote a Flash application that interactively displays the elevation profiles of a selection of SoCal ascents. Generally trails were picked that could be done in day from L.A. The selection includes some East Side Sierra ascents, routes up most of the major Southern California peaks, and some hills from some Southern California races.
The profiles and other stats are based on DEM corrected data from GPS tracks. All distances, elevations, elevation gains and elevation profiles are approximate. Elevations have been corrected and elevation gains (conservatively) calculated using SportTracks.
The Flash app is loading a lot of data, so it may take a while to load. The app is best viewed on a desktop, laptop, or tablet. It can’t be viewed on an iPad/iPhone unless a browser that supports Flash, such as Photon, is used. Here is the updated selection of elevation profiles and the selection from 2012. The “Fit Selected” button is used to fit the chart to the currently selected set of elevation profiles. The “Fit Elev/Distance” button is used to format the chart according to user specified elevations and distances.
In this selection of hills Cactus to Clouds is the longest (14.7 miles) and has the most altitude gain (10,812 feet). Register Ridge on Mt. Baldy has the steepest mile (1745 fpm) and is the steepest overall (1127 fpm). Mt. Whitney has the highest finishing elevation (14,505 feet).
Following are some additional details about each of the ascents, including the length of the climb, elevation gain, average gradient and steepest mile. The distance specified is just for climb described — not the entire run. The headings below are the shorthand name of the climb used in the legend of the app.
Mt. Whitney via the trail from Whitney Portal. Distance: 10.5 mi – Gain: 6657 ft – Avg Gradient: 632 fpm – Steepest Mile: 900 fpm @ mile 4.5
Requires permit. The 1991 Los Angeles Times story about Marty Hornick’s 2:08:30 ascent of Whitney via the Mountaineers Route mentions a 2:17 time via the trail. According to the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group’s Talus Pile December 2002, Issue # 126, Jason Lakey did the roundtrip via the Mountaineer’s Route in a record 3:10:07.
Mt. Baldy from Manker Flat via the Register Ridge Trail. Distance: 3.5 mi – Gain: 3909 ft – Avg Gradient: 1127 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1745 fpm @ mile 0.9
Mt. Baden-Powell from South Fork Campground via Manzanita Trail and PCT. Vincent Gap is at about mile 5.75. Distance: 10.0 mi – Gain: 5074 ft – Avg Gradient: 510 fpm – Steepest Mile: 805 fpm @ mile 8.6
The Siberia Creek climb starts at Bear Creek and climbs to Forest Service Road 2N11 via the Siberia Creek Trail and a short segment of the Champion Lodgepole Trail. It is part of the Kodiak 100M and 50M courses. Distance: 6.9 mi – Gain: 3008 ft – Avg Gradient: 435 fpm – Steepest Mile: 698 fpm @ mile 1.4
Mt. Wilson from Sierra Madre via the Mt. Wilson Trail. Orchard Camp is at about mile 3.5. Distance: 7.1 mi – Gain: 4720 ft – Avg Gradient: 662 fpm – Steepest Mile: 925 fpm @ mile 4.0
Edison Road (In 06/08/2012 selection.)
Edison Road from the West Fork San Gabriel River to Angeles Crest Highway at Shortcut Saddle. Part of Mt. Disappointment 50K. Distance: 5.5 mi – Gain: 2027 ft – Avg Gradient: 372 fpm – Steepest Mile: 520 fpm @ mile 3.3
Bulldog Lateral and Motorway from Crags Rd. to Castro Motorway. Part of Bulldog 25K/50K, XTERRA Malibu Creek Challenge and other races. Distance: 3.4 mi – Gain: 1727 ft – Avg Gradient: 514 fpm – Steepest Mile: 732 fpm @ mile 2.0
Corridor Trail from Corriganville to Rocky Peak Rd. Then Rocky Peak Rd to high point near Rocky Peak. Part of Bandit 15K/30K/50K. Does not include initial loop in Corriganville. 50K descends to Santa Susana Pass. Distance: 3.3 mi – Gain: 1547 ft – Avg Gradient: 464 fpm – Steepest Mile: 836 fpm @ mile 0.6
Eagle Rock from Vereda De La Montura via the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail, Musch Trail and East Topanga Fire Road. Distance: 5.6 mi – Gain: 1292 ft – Avg Gradient: 230 fpm – Steepest Mile: 643 fpm @ mile 1.0
Mountain Fire perimeter from GEOMAC timestamped 07/28/13 0230
Update Wednesday, July 31, 2013 7:00 a.m. As of 6:00 PM yesterday, Inciweb reported the Mountain Fire at 27,531 acres and 100% contained. The fire perimeter has been refined and updated.
Update Saturday, July 27, 2013 3:30 p.m. As of about 2:30 PM today, Inciweb reported the Mountain Fire at 27,531 acres and 98% contained. Full containment is expected by Tuesday, July 30, 2013. The fire perimeter has been refined and updated.
Update Thursday, July 25, 2013 7:00 a.m. As of 6:00 AM today, Inciweb reported the Mountain Fire at 27,531 acres and 92% contained. Full containment is expected by Friday, July 26, 2013. The fire perimeter has been refined and updated.
Update Wednesday, July 24, 2013 8:30 a.m. As of 6:00 AM today, Inciweb reported the Mountain Fire at 27,531 acres and 91% contained. The fire perimeter has been refined and updated.
Update Monday, July 22, 2013 1:15 p.m. Significant rain fell in the area of the Mountain Fire yesterday. The Mt. San Jacinto automated weather station located near Long Valley recorded 2.36 inches of rain. As of 6:00 PM yesterday (July 21), Inciweb reported the Mountain Fire was 68% contained. This morning’s AFMP MODIS fire dectections showed no new detections in the last 24 hours.
Here’s an interactive Cesium browser View the Mountain Fire perimeter from GEOMAC timestamped 07/28/13 0230. This is a 3D view that can be zoomed,rotated and tilted. Placemark locations are approximate. GPS tracks (yellow) of some of the area’s trails have been added. Requires Google Earth plugin.
MODIS Google Earth fire data is from the USDA Forest Service Remote Sensing Applications Center Active Fire Mapping Program web site. Fire perimeter is the most recently available from the GEOMAC web site at the time this post was updated.
The following additional information was included with the MODIS fire detections KML file:
This KML displays the MODIS fire detections at a spatial resolution of 1km for the past 6 hours, 6-12 hours, 12-24 hours and the previous 6 day period. Each 1km MODIS fire detection is depicted as a point representing the centroid of the 1km pixel where the fire is detected. The 1km footprint of the MODIS pixel for each detection is also displayed.
KML file generated by the USDA Forest Service Active Fire Mapping Program. Please see //activefiremaps.fs.fed.us for additional fire mapping products and information.
Disclaimer: Although these data have been used by the USDA Forest Service, the USDA Forest Service shall not be held liable for improper or incorrect use of the data described and/or contained herein. The information contained in these data is dynamic and is continually updated. This disclaimer applies both to individual use of the data and aggregate use with other data. The USDA Forest Service reserves the right to correct, update or modify this data and related materials without notification.
It had been about four months since I’d been to the summit of Mt. San Jacinto. Last time there had been several feet of snow, and the summit had been an inhospitable place with frigid temperatures and buffeting winds. Not so today. Short sleeves and running shorts were the attire of the day, and the weather was more like Malibu Beach than the summit of a 10,000 foot peak.
I was running with Craig Kinard, a long-time backpacker, but relatively new convert to trail running. With the help of Team CrossFit Academy, Craig discovered he likes to run up mountains, and has done well in both the Baldy Run to the Top and Mt. Wilson trail races. Next month he’s planning to run his first ultra — the Mt. Disappointment 50K.
Today we were doing an approximately 20 mile course from Long Valley (8400′), near the top of the Palm Springs Tram, up to San Jacinto Peak (10,834′), then down to the historic Tahquitz Peak Fire Lookout (8,828′). From the Lookout we would return to the Tram by way of Hidden Lake Divide. Totaling about 4000′, the ups and downs would be good training for the 6200′ of elevation gain in this year’s Mt. Disappointment race.
Winter snow translates to Summer water, and its beneficial effects could be seen in everything from the new growth on the chinquapin to the healthy green of the pines. Wellman Cienega was a green wonderland of ferns and corn lily, and near Skunk Cabbage Meadow bright yellow lemon lilies were sprinkled among the bracken and old growth Jeffrey pines. In places western azalea bloomed in profusion, its sweet fragrance mixing with the smells of damp earth and sun-warmed pine needles.
Smoke from the Eagle Fire remained trapped below a strong inversion most of the morning, and for a while views of Tahquitz Peak were crisp and clear. As temps warmed the inversion weakened and there was a flare-up on the Eagle Fire. By the time we reached Tahquitz Peak Lookout, a smoky haze had moved into the area.
At the fire lookout volunteer host Joe Mendoza described the history of the tower and demonstrated the use of the Osborne Fire Finder. Using an earlier sighting he plotted the location of the fire and showed us it was in the vicinity of Warner Hot Springs. He also showed us the “hot seat” used in lightning storms. Thanks Joe!
Orographic Lift, Waves, and Turbulence over the San Jacinto Mountain Range
After last Sunday’s record-setting storm in Southern California, and the cool, unsettled weather during the week, we expected snow conditions on Mt. San Jacinto to be even better than on previous trips this March. But snow conditions — especially backcountry snow conditions — aren’t always what you expect. The new snow, maybe a foot of it, was as thick as wet concrete. If we’d had a little kiwi fruit flavoring, it would have been perfect for shave ice.
Even if the snow wasn’t what we had hoped for, the day was extraordinary. Another weak front was moving into Southern California and the strong onshore flow ahead of the front was creating several kinds of interesting mountain weather phenomena — some common and some not so common.
Riding up the tram, we could see plumes of dust blowing across the desert floor east of Banning Pass, and a stack of lenticular clouds hovered over the mountains east of San Gorgonio Mountain. It was breezy at the upper tram station, and from the walkway descending to Long Valley, we could see rimed trees on the southeast side of San Jacinto Peak.
We skied up a beautiful untracked drainage south of the Round Valley trail, and eventually worked our way over to Long Valley Creek and then to Tamarack Valley. We were almost to the top of the steep step above Tamarack Valley, and had paused for a moment to look around. There was a distinctive wave cloud to the southeast, and the lower cloud deck was beginning to engulf Toro Peak (8716′). I turned to continue up the slope, and as I looked up, the first of a series of tumbling and twining filaments of gossamer cloud swept past in the turbulent west-northwest flow (video).
Six months ago, also before the passage of a cold front, I’d seen similar clouds on Boney Mountain, in the Santa Monica Mountains. In that case and here on San Jacinto, a moist layer in a stably stratified westerly flow was being lifted over a mountain range. Depending on whether the flow remained laminar, or became transitional or turbulent; a wave cloud, transient wave cloud, or these turbulent thin sheets of cloud might form. In each case the atmosphere was becoming more moist and the clouds were precursors to the formation of a more widespread and persistent cloud layer.
These vaporous, turbulence-induced clouds bear a striking resemblance to interstellar molecular clouds. Both appear to occur in a high-Reynolds-number regime, and each appears to consist of a cohesive, thin sheet of condensate that can be stretched, sheared, undulated and torn. As in the case of its interstellar counterpart, when viewed edgewise, the clouds look like they are comprised of thin, web-like filaments.
The title photo was taken a little below the summit, after ascending the peak. It’s a view to the south, past Jean Peak (10,670′) and Marion Mountain (10,362′), and shows the terrain induced uplift, waves, and turbulence over the San Jacinto mountain range. The flow is from the right to left.