Sunday, March 20, 2011

Falls Creek on Mt. San Jacinto

Our route up the Falls Creek headwall is marked in red.

Two weeks ago, Patrick Moran and I attempted a route up the obscure Falls Creek drainage on Mt. San Jacinto, making sure to skirt way around the Desert Water Agency’s one square mile of private property. Starting at the desert floor at 1200 feet, our plan was to gain the 8700-foot lowpoint on the crest by climbing a couloir that begins at 6000 feet. Defeated by a tremendous amount of dense brush, we bailed at around 5500 feet. A few days ago, we decided to give it another whack.

After acclimating for two days with the family in Palm Springs, I returned home for a day to revise my will (my wife insisted). Trying a tactic I’d seen other climbers use (though to what effect, I don’t know), I magnanimously announced to my wife that I would be dedicating the climb to her. She was completely unimpressed, if not slightly irritated. Nonetheless, after a terrible night’s sleep, I hopped in the car at 2:15AM to begin celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with (who else?) Patrick.

At 4:08AM, we set off by headlamp, taking a huge, painstaking detour around the DWA’s property. Ten hours later, after much thrashing and scrambling, we stepped onto the consolidated snow tongue at roughly 6200 feet. Were it not for our brutal, 16-hour reconnaissance two weeks ago, the approach would have taken much more than ten hours.

An ominous sign near where we first intersected the creek.

The aptly named Falls Creek.

A friendly section of the creek.

A fiendly section of the creek.

This is what the ten-hour approach did to my brand new leather work gloves.

Though our plan was to climb a couloir that leads directly to Shangri-La (the lowpoint on the crest), we inadvertently passed it and wound up at a point where several formidable couloirs converge. The couloir to our right snaked 3000 vertical feet to the saddle between Miller Peak and Kristen Peak, far from where we wanted to go. The wide couloir directly ahead inclined gradually to a desperately steep and narrow section where an acquaintance got into serious trouble once. The couloir to our left, which went in the right direction, was blocked by an unignorable cliff a few hundred feet up. So we sat down on some rocks for a while and distracted ourselves with unrelated issues, like: “Where did this Advil come from? Was it here when we got here or did it just fall from one of our packs?”

Patrick happy to be on snow finally.

Looking up the central couloir.  We turned left a few hundred feet beyond the waterfall.

After nearly letting the map blow away, we took a long hard look at it, and decided to traverse up and left over ridges and couloirs in the direction of Shangri-La. And that’s what we did. It took four hours to ascend roughly 2500 vertical feet of progressively deeper and softer snow. At 7:30PM, we were riding the tram back down the mountain. By 11:15PM, 21 hours after leaving home, I was waking my wife up with a long, noisy shower.

Climbing a couloir toward Shangri-La.

Nearing the top of the final ridge.  We parked on the desert floor in the upper left corner.

The numbers: 15+ hours from desert floor to upper tram station with 7600 feet of net elevation gain. All of the extra ups and downs involved in avoiding DWA property and negotiating the creek add up to well over 8000 vertical feet total.

 I hereby dedicate this climb to my lovely wife.

 Patrick's excellent photo set is here.


Mike said...

Well done guys!

Hikin' Jim said...

Oh my gosh. Amazing.

Jesse St Louis said...

Any experience with Andreas Falls?