Monday, April 26, 2010

Folly Peak: NW Face Reconnaissance

The Snow Creek route on the north side of Mt. San Jacinto is well-known. It follows the East Fork of Snow Creek for nearly 10,000 vertical feet to the summit of San Jacinto Peak (10,804 feet). The climbing season for the route is mid-winter to mid-spring when the snow-filled couloirs provide over 5,000 vertical feet of continuous snow climbing. Although the normal route involves trespassing on Desert Water Agency property, there is no lack of information about the route on the internet. Given the popularity of the route, it is curious that there is, as far as I can tell, no information about climbing the equally impressive couloirs on the neighboring northwest side of Folly Peak (10,480 feet).

San Jacinto Peak and the East Fork of Snow Creek on the left.  Folly Peak (NW side) and the West Fork of Snow Creek on the right.  Photo by Norma Ryan.

The northwest side of Folly Peak drains into the East Branch of the West Fork of Snow Creek. It appears to me that straightforward snow climbing would begin at around 5,000 feet in season. But the approach looks tricky. The lower section of the West Fork crosses DWA property. However, the Pacific Crest Trail skirts around the property and reaches 3,600 feet before veering off in the wrong direction. From maps and satellite imagery, the terrain from 3,600 to 5,000 feet looks complex, brushy, and precipitous, which could explain why I haven't found a single recorded ascent of Folly's NW side. It was time to see for myself.

At 5:45AM on Saturday, I pulled into the PCT parking area near Snow Creek Village. Considering the DWA sting operation exactly two weeks prior, I was not surprised that my car was the only one there. Within a few minutes, a vehicle emerged from DWA property and made two passes. The driver, who shot me an expressionless glance, was wearing a green camouflage jacket, which was totally ineffective in his white truck.

In between chugs of water in the car, I made sure to pocket my precious wilderness permit. On Tuesday, I faxed a permit request, not entirely confident that I would get a response. To my astonishment, a wilderness permit arrived in the mail the next day.

The East Fork of Snow Creek leads up to San Jacinto Peak and the NE side of Folly Peak.  The West Fork of Snow Creek goes off to the right.

The East Fork of Snow Creek is left of the boulder.

Mt. San Gorgonio from the PCT.

For a leisurely 3.5 hours, I followed the PCT from 1,200 feet to a hairpin turn at 3,600 feet. The trail was narrow and overgrown in places and seemed to go far out of the way. While I labored up the trail listening to the constant buzz of bees, I envisioned plopping down at the aforementioned hairpin turn for a relaxing rest. Upon reaching it, I was delighted to see a welcoming flat rock that offered a commanding view of the West Fork of Snow Creek. It was the perfect place to rest. But the instant I touched the rock, the bees attacked. After one stung my shoulder, I ran up the trail with others in hot pursuit. After about 100 feet, they lost interest and I stopped. There I concluded wrongly that since one bee had already stung me, it was safe to return. Once again, as soon as I touched the rock, a bee stung me, this time in the chest.

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

Fed up with the bees at the hairpin turn, I scrambled a short distance uphill in search of a better viewing spot. That was as far as I got. My initial plan was to climb to the top of the ridge (4,630 feet) that splits the West and East Branches of the West Fork of Snow Creek. From there, I hoped to scout out the rest of the approach. But I was out of time, and between me and Peak 4630 lay nearly one mile of trail-less, densely vegetated terrain.
The NW side of Folly Peak.

Back at Falls Creek Road, I enjoyed some refreshingly cold water at the DWA drinking fountain. Moments later, a security guard drove up and stopped. He looked like a bad guy in one of Clint Eastwood's western films. He chewed on an unidentifiable object and got right to the point: "You know you're not allowed on the property up there." After responding affirmatively, I told him about being attacked by bees on the PCT. Satisfied with another successful sting operation, he drove off.


Andy said...

Funny -- I was wondering the exact same thing when I saw the PCT trailhead last week. Too bad you didn't get up any higher. Guess the DWA's "sting" operation has expanded its reach. :)

Anonymous said...

Great "TR", Sam!
Hey, I'm digging the new tunes on your blog. Who's that performing "Namche Bazaar"?
Dave G

Sam Page said...

Thanks guys. Dave: That's me performing "Namche Bazaar".

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's awesome Sam! I had no idea that your talents extended into music. I'm going to have to insist that you bring your guitar the next time we climb something!
Dave G