Friday, April 20, 2012

Tahquitz Peak, San Bernardino National Forest. April 18th, 2012.

A few days prior, I had been hiking in San Jacinto State Park with Jeremy when we took a wrong turn and came into view of a beautiful snow filled cirque and face.  We noticed that the north facing slopes in particular looks really filled in.  And it looked steep.  In short, it looked like fun skiing.  So when I got home, I looked on some topo maps and determined it was Tahquitz Peak that we were looking at.  And I noticed that a nearby trailhead looked to be in a well protected, steep northwest facing canyon.  I thought, this has potential.  So I went to check it out.

From the parking lot in Humber Park, Tahquitz Rock, or the western ridge of the peak, looms high.

Just a few hundred yards up the trail, the snow bowls off the peak show just a bit of themselves.

The peak first comes into view.  The fire lookout is clear, but the lines we wanted to ski are further looker's left.

Conditons were less than ideal.  The snow pack was thin.  I was solo.  But the good news was it seemed to have a solid overnight freeze die to the clear sky.  The corn looked supportable.  I headed up the summer trail in hikers and switched over to ski boots and skins at just under 8000 feet.  From there, the skinning was near perfect.  The north facing slopes were still a firm crust, but the east facing snow was perfectly softened for nice skiing.  I followed the summer trail only as far as the ridge, as I wanted to turn along the ridge to get a better view of the lines I wanted to ski.  The ridge had a few ups and downs, but it also afforded views of almost the entire run.  The steeps looked plenty filled in, if a but spicy.  The runout, which was still a steep run had snow, and it looked like I could ski to within a couple hundred vertical of where I had left the car at Humber  Park.  If the snow held up, it could be a go.  About 500 feet from the final ridge that reached the summit, I cam across a deep valley and decided it was best to ski down and traverse lower, in the trees, where there was more snow.  

Suicide Rock looms to the left of the trail, with views of Diamond Valley Lake in the distance.

The second view of Tahquitz Peak, with the top of the ski line just coming into view.

The line comes into view.

The final push toward the summit had me wishing for more snow.  The rock scrambling was exciting to say the least.  I never made it past the final ascent, and decided to stop at the top of my line.  The rocks had a very thin cover of snow, and a fall would have not been good.  As for the skiing, the top 1000 feet was perfect steep corn.  After that, the snow held up, but things began to tighten up.  The ski turns became more and more interrupted by fallen leaf turns.  Finally, it seemed too difficult to even wiggle through with the big skis I brought on this trip.  It was the first time in a while that I wished I had my smaller, lighter get up.  Anyway, the bushwacking seemed worse when I was doing it.  But is was not long downstream before I found my car and lunch.  This is a great line, but I hope to try again when there is a few feet of snow pack at 6500 feet.  Then it would be pretty epic.

Palm Springs Tram and Jean Peak. April 15th, 2012.

When one thinks of Palm Springs, one often thinks of golf courses, pools and music festivals.  But that is not really my cup of tea.  Sure, the warmth can be fun, but I fidget.  So, while seeing a late season snow storm pummel Tahoe the day before I am scheduled to head south, I did some quick research, made some phone calls, and set a plan into place.  THe San Jacinto Mountains top out at 10,833 feet, and access is given by the Palm Springs Tram that whisks one from 2500 feet to 8,500 in less than fifteen minutes.  But you better have a good car, as the access road rises over 2000 feet from the valley floor and into a tight little canyon.

Morning breaks in Palm Desert.  The storm has cleared and the San Jacinto Mountains are blanketed in fresh snow.

The 8AM tram heads up the unskiable face.  If only we had an ice age...

At the top station, we get the first view of our goal.  The northeast face of Jean Peak.

The trek in was not without several creek crossings.  Jeremy shows off his skin skills.

Really?  It has only been 1.7 miles?  Snow coverage is great at 9000 feet.

Getting off the tram at 8500, the view of dry desert instantly transforms into winter wonder land.  Upon exiting, a ramp drops down about 150 feet into the valley.  From the station you can see across the valley to Marion, Jean and other peaks.  Once down the ramp, you are in the woods.   Long Valley slowly rises from the top station of the tram over several miles.  The trek is mostly along a stream bed, with views obscured by the forest.  It is not until one reaches Round Valley do the local mountain peaks show themselves.  Sone after rising up along the ridges, the valley below comes into view.  The contrast is stark.  We are lucky as a storm has just cleared.  The snow is powdery, and even more beautiful, the trees are covered in a fresh layer.  It is just like hiking around in winter.  Except it is late April, and we are just above Palm Springs where folks will be in bathing suits enjoying 85 degree heat.

At Round Valley, the climb seems to be coming towards its end.

But a wrong turn leads us up Marion, and to the best views of the valley.

Simply stunning sitting almost 10,000 feet above the valley floor.

And then we spied this beauty off in the distance.

Looking across the valley from the shoulder of Jean, toward San Jacinto's SE face.

Of course, we take a jog to the left, when we should have taken a jog to the right, and we begin to ascend the north ridge of Mt. Marion.  The bad news is that our hike just got a whole lot longer.  The good news is that we were treated to fantastic valley views, as well as views of a ridge to our south that held good snow and great terrain.  Later research revealed that it was Tahquitz Peak we were looking at.  We thought of skiing back down and taking a different route.  Instead, we soldiered on and found some interesting route finding along the east and southeast face of Jean.  Adventure skinning.  Finally, at 2PM, we top out on Jean, eat some food, take in the views and switch over for a down hill.  We were tired, the sun had baked the snow some, but once in over the ridge, we found snow that brought smiles to our faces.

Like I said, stunning views.

And then it was time to ski down.  

Long Valley.  The top station of the tram is along the ridge, on the second hump left of center.

Just off the ridge tops, the snow transitioned from slop to, well, almost powder like.  

Piggity further down skis what was once powder.

It was a longer day than anticipated, but we learned a lot.  I think the best way to get some spring skiing in up there, is to take up an afternoon tram in the storm, hike and set up camp near Round Valley and get out early the next morning to score some great pow turns on the East and Northeast faces of Jean Peak.  The tree skiing is pretty low angle, but other than that, it is superb.  We headed down around 5PM, satisfied with our day.


The boogie roll rewarded stash after stash of smooth spring pow turns.

Piggity shows off that rocker.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

April Showers.

So April Fool's Day started up with digging out the house, brushing a foot of fluff off the car and getting ready for a 7AM trailhead time.   We started skiing at 7:45.  Must have not gone as smooth as planned.  No worries, with snow like this it is sure to be a good day.  Especially when you consider the winter we had and the fact that it is well into spring.  Cold blower was waiting for us just a short hike away.  We chose this instead of waiting in line at the base of Kirkwood.  Oddly enough, the lifts opened on time and the entire mountain popped.  But, by far the best turns of the day were the ones we hiked for.  And with three of us sharing powder, instead of fighting 5000 others for powder, well, it was blissful.

Frozen bindings?  No problem.  The day begins with a little Duke defrost action. 

Andrew graciously breaks trail on the short ascent through beautiful pines.

Alex trains for Alaska and brings up the rear.  

Still snowing, we begin our descent.  It was powdery.


The night before we had all hiked for turns.  I hiked nearby by, while the others had fun on Powderhouse.  During the storm, the snow piled up and was super light.  By morning, things had settled just a bit, making the blower B+ grade, but blower none the less.  On the other hand, the bottom was completely spongy.  We would later confirm that the bottom inbounds was firm.  One thing I learned this day, is that with a bluebird spring powder day, sometimes it is just better to hang outside the ropes and earn your turns.  And the views were stunning.

But even moments later, the sky started to turn blue.  Andrew finds a deep patch.

Boo-ya.  A Fly by.

Alex hits up an old friend who has slowly shrank through the season, but is still good for a visit.

Enter the White Room.

Sometimes things just come together.  We hiked up during a morning squall.  We figured lighting would be decent at best for pictures, but who cares when it is just getting deeper.  Then, as we worked our way down the hill, one at a time, from safe spot, to safe spot, the storm began to fall apart.  And then the sun started to come out.  As I was scoping out my line, I realized I had a perfect angle to capture Andrew's line.  Got some of my favorite pics of the the season.  I like the middle one the best, but all three are winners.  

When the light comes on, Andrew is ready to slay


Oh, so that is where you are going.  

Blower and giant roller balls.  Must be a cold spring moring.

After our first lap we elected to head inbounds.  It was fun enough.  Long lines.  Tracked snow.  Alex got to pop his Once cherry.  That was good times.  I got my Once for this year.  That was good times.  Found some fun snow, then a few sunny side inbounds wet slides shut down the hill.  April sun baked it good.  So we decided to head back out to our morning stash to get one more before it really became spring like

Back inbounds, Alex finds some slightly tracked fun.

The afternoon was still fun, if a little blurry (and over exposed)

Alex wraps it around a tree.  Better than wrapping into the tree...
Of course, being the ultimate amature, I somehow fiddled with my camera settings and lost almost everything from the afternoon.  Oh well, here a few I "saved" enough to capture a sense of how horrible the spring sun muddled our powder.  Still a great run in the afternoon warmth.  And a great way to wrap up a spring powder day.  Now, for next week, corn and slush are on the menu.  And don't forget to wear sunblock folks.  This is burn season.

More pics and words here.

Andrew finishes his day with a powder turn

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cold Smoke

Another good day in the mountains.  April Fool's delivered.  Andrew goes under.

White room is entered.