Asher Waxman, leader, Will McWhinney, assistant leader, Ron Crowley, Sandy Burnside, David Hankins, Keven Moore, Roy Randall, Joyce MacIntosh, David Heffernan, Rick Gordon, Michelle Owen, and Andy Taylor all met at the Palm Springs Tram hikers parking lot to sort out gear and make intoductions. The group was a mix of HPS, SPS, DPS, WTC, XYZ.
The tram got us from 2,643' to 8,516' in less time than it took to pay for the tickets. At the top there was patchy snow around the tram station and as we started off on the trail we kept our snowshoes tied to our backs. Within a mile we had gotten onto solid snow, abandoned the trail, and put the snowshoes on our feet. Our route roughly followed the creek that drains out of Tamarack Valley. Going off-trail cut a mile from the hike, but also meant we were on the steep slopes of the creek bank. It was a test of snowshoes and demonstrated which had the best crampons (from the back of the line the MSRs and Atlases seem to be doing very well).
Asher brought us directly to the Tamarack Valley campground. Most set up their tents on the snow, while a few of us found bare dirt. Soon we were heading for our first climb of the weekend, Cornell Peak, which rose above us to the northwest. We hiked about a quarter of a mile from our camp at about 9,100', to the base, where we deposited our snowshoes and climbed up the sunny south slope. Some solid 2nd class rock scrambling brought us up to the 'lunch ledge' at the base of the summit block. Asher found a 3rd class route to the summit, 9,721', and I came up another one, followed by David Hankins. Then we had to get back down, which seemed a lot tougher than going up. Somehow we made it down and returned to the ledge with the others, in time for a few photos before heading back.
In camp we found a large flat boulder large enough for everyone to sit on and cook. If we'd stayed up late we'd have seen a rare Aurora Borealis, caused by a huge solar storm days earlier.
Sunday was to be our big day of climbing with three peaks scheduled. While some were eager for the challenge, others lingered in bed and over breakfast. Asher and I discussed our plan for the day and we realized that there were no obvious routes up Jean and Marion that were gentle enough to climb safely without ice axes. We decided to limit ourselves to trying for San Jacinto, which also made sense considering our late start and the abilities of some participants. We finally set out at about 10 am. Asher forged a path up to about 10,200', where we picked up the trail at a big switchback. We took it across the east slope of San Jacinto to the north end then left it and headed for the east ridge. A few hundred feet of climbing later and we were at the top, 10,804'. Gone was the old wooden sign saying 'Mt San Jacinto' and the summit register, which had been moved to a stone cabin by the trail. Yet even without these markers we knew we were at the top. As John Muir once said, "The view is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth."
We headed down to camp, following the same route we had taken before. We had an easy hike back to the station, except for the long concrete ramp going up to it - the odd looks from the tourists are as bad as the climb. In the station there were a lot of people waiting to get back. Despite the crowded car, our fellow passengers kept their distance - was it the sharp sticks and crampon claws jutting from our packs or was it the strong odor of thirteen climbers who hadn't bathed in days? We didn't care; we had been to the mountaintop.