Friday, April 20, 2012

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.


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