Leaders: Eric Sieke, Edna Erspamer
I found nine eager participants waiting at the Pomona carpool point at 7:30 am on a sunny Sunday morning. After I had issued a strong warning about the condition of the road up Millard Canyon, we chose the sturdiest vehicles and drove out to the Desert Hills Outlet Center between Banning and Cabazon. In front of the Eddie Bauer Outlet store, we found Edna and a few more participants sipping gourmet coffee from the food concession. We ended up with an interesting mix of people, including at least three list finishers and several beginners. I was pleasantly surprised that the limit on my wilderness permit became a concern.
We then caravanned to the trailhead. The past winter's rains were not kind to the dirt roads in Millard Canyon. The streambeds we had to cross (and in some places the roads themselves) were full of rushing water. More of a problem than the water was the depth of the streambed cuts; because the vehicles had to enter and leave the cuts at such a steep angle we couldn't afford to build up the momentum we would otherwise prefer to carry us through. We found one more participant waiting near her car just before the worst spot. We should have been forewarned, because two of our vehicles (a truck and a van) couldn't make it up the sandy slope on the far side of the cut until after we had done some road work and helped push.
We finally hit the trail about a quarter to ten. We initially appreciated how the overcast skies helped keep the temperature down on what otherwise could have been a hot day. The first part of the trail along the bottom of the beautiful, forested canyon had been eroded by the rains but was still fairly easy to follow. The front of the group was treated to one of the most serious political discussions I have yet heard on an HPS trip. Around 11:15, about a half mile short of the trail junction at the first saddle, we felt the first few drops of rain. From then until we returned to the cars, the rain never really stopped, although it would vary between light drizzles and steady pours. Most of the route is protected by either a forest or brush canopy. Several of our less experienced participants who had not brought raingear probably learned an important lesson on this trip. Although no one complained or asked to be signed out, the experience could not have been an entirely pleasant one. Edna and I remained vigilant for signs of hypothermia, but everyone seemed to be OK so long as we kept moving.
Rest stops were minimized at the request of the group, and I didn't always wait for the rear to catch up as I otherwise would have. My mind sometimes drifted to the expected pleasures of driving the dirt roads out in the pouring rain.
Lunch on top necessarily lasted less than twenty minutes. We were treated to a thunder and lightning show, although it wasn't close enough to be particularly threatening. Nearby Snow Peak drifted in and out of the clouds; higher summits such as San Jacinto and San Gorgonio were completely hidden. It was also raining in Palm Springs and other nearby desert communities. Admittedly, the interesting view was not shared with equal enthusiasm by all participants. We arrived back at the cars around 3 pm and hastened to begin the drive out. The water level in the streams had risen significantly. Fortunately, all of the vehicles made it to the pavement without a problem.
Many thanks to Edna for her assistance and to the participants for their good attitudes in less than perfect weather.