Saturday, August 17, 2019

Climbing Mt. San Jacinto (photos)


Swimming in the headwaters of San Andreas Creek, on the upper slopes of Mt. San Jacinto, where the San Jacinto and San Andreas faults meet. We wallowed in a pool sheltered by house-sized boulders that created a cave. The water was icy cold, while the ambient air outside about 119°. The gap of sky between the massive boulders created a visual tension that made bathing worrisome.

I once climbed Mt. San Jacinto in the late 1980s. It took us all day to climb the 2nd highest peak in SoCal on what is now called the Cactus to Clouds Trail that begins on the desert floor in Palm Springs, and rises up through granite scree to the summit at 10,834 feet. That's one mother-tough 10,700 ft. climb through five climate zones. The only climb more arduous than Mt. San Jacinto was Mt. Whitney, and that hike took us three days. (Not counting Machu Picchu, that was the mother of all climbs.)

Thought I was gonna die by the time John Oliver Simon and I reached the lodgepole pine timberline. I hardly even remember being on the summit. I remember seeing some sort of bog orchids and corn lilies, but not the summit. John was a stickler for things like that, so I know we reached the summit. I probably tried to die right there. Or take a nap on the geodetic marker.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway sure saves a lot of time. But that wasn't an option. We descended down the mountain in near darkness and camped on San Andreas Creek, beneath the native CA fan palms (Washingtonia filfera palms) whose fronds clacked and gurgled like creek waters. And we slept and slept and slept in the oasis. I have no photos to commemorate the event. Only a memory triggered by another memory.

But on this day captured in the photo, the 4th of July, 2007, we merely hiked up the San Andreas Creek until we could go no further. I was hiking in flipflops, and I blasted my knee...but the water was so cold, I never even knew it was injured until we came back down the canyon. Then it swelled up to the size of a basketball. But my wrist, which I had strained from an excessive pruning bout, was fine (note the wrist brace.)


Eons of snowmelt carved a deep gorge in Andreas Canyon. The canyon wall looks like the trunk of the native California Washingtonia fifera fan palm. I felt like a child caught between giant elephant legs. Native California palms are like redwoods, they need to keep their feet cool. Both have an extraordinarily small range and specific micro-climate needs. They favor the fissures caused by the San Andreas fault.
To the Cahuilla Indians, the peak was known as I a kitch (or Aya Kaich), meaning "smooth cliffs." It was the home of Dakush, the meteor and legendary founder of the Cahuilla. Naturalist John Muir wrote of San Jacinto Peak, "The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!" —Wiki

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