3rd Annual BPL San Jacinto Loop: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
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Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
3rd Annual BPL San Jacinto Loop: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on 05/31/2011 20:36:49 MDT Print View

Sounds like lots of people hit some strange Memorial Day weather. We were no exception.

We met at the trail head at 5:30 AM. Team consisted of Chad, Stephan, Josh, and me. I really did not know any of them well via BPL, but we really got along well as a team.

I had been watching the weather closely for the past week, daily checking the Palm Springs, Idyllwild, and Tram Station weather reports. It looked like a very hot weekend, but the last two days showed a cooling trend. Weather prediction was perfect for this time of year. Rather cool in the desert, and zero chance of precipitation. This time of year, heat is the biggest challenge.

We started out in perfect weather. Nice temperatures and clear blue skies for 360 degrees. One bad omen; I was tired. I had worked for 24 straight hours on Tuesday and again on Thursday, but felt fine at the start. Day 1 took me 3 hours longer than my usual pace, and my speed was the limiting factor for the team. So it took us 10 hours to hike 11 miles and gain 8,000 feet in elevation. Still not bad for an old fart.

I am not big into pictures and only took 5 or 6, but I am sure the team members have some great ones to share.


0510

Here is a picture from about 4,800 feet looking at San Gorgonio (11,503'). Notice the blue sky. But below the peak is a thick cloud and it just sat there for a couple hours as I watched it while climbing. At the time I mentioned to the team that it looked very strange, because it seemed the windmills were not turning from my vantage point and normally with that kind of a weather front they would be spinning full speed.



0512

Picture at around 6,600 feet. That ridge in the foreground runs from about 4,000 - 4,600 feet. We came up from the back side of the ridge on the right. Pretty much a straight up climb from 600 feet to 4,000 feet. Notice the blue sky. From here we could see the south end of the San Jacinto range, and it was perfectly blue. It is now about 2 PM.

We get to Long Valley around 4 PM. The temperature is nice. We hustled to the Ranger Station as Josh and I are out of water; Chad and Stephan have just a little left. While they are filling up, I go into the Ranger Station to check in. The Rangers are all standing around. When I give them our permit for Little Round Valley, they just shake their heads and said we needed to go home unless we had a Mt Everest tent. A what? They said the winds were going to be above 90 mph all night. "No way," I replied, "I just checked the weather this morning."
Well apparently there was a freak storm heading in, and all of Southern California was under a severe weather watch. They told me people had already come down from the peak with stories of bad winds. Geesh! They also said they were expecting 65 mph winds in the lower elevations, but all the campsites were full, even though they were trying to get people to leave. Additionally they were expecting snow sometime before 11 AM the next morning!

So I go outside, and the team is lounging around in the nice warm sun. I relate the story, and they think I am pulling their legs. Then a couple of gusts hit us and the temperature starts to plummet. Another Ranger walks by and I ask him about the weather, and he tells the same story, so now the team believes me. I offer that we could probably stealth camp at a lower elevation and skip the peak since no one really wants to bail, but Chad provides the correct common sense answer; it is too dangerous with a chance of blow-downs.

We decide to take the Tram down, and check the weather in the morning to see if we can then take the tram back up and complete our loop. So off we head down the tram. When we get to the desert floor, the sky above Palm Springs is blue except for a huge Altocumulus floccus (I looked it up on the Internet) formation in the center of the sky. By now the southern San Jacintos are covered by deep dark clouds, but the area around the peak is still clear blue.

So we go to Shakey's for Pizza before heading to my house.


0514

Left to right: Stephan, Chad, me, and Josh.


We get home around 8 and the weather at the Tram shows 45 mph winds with gusts up to 65mpe. So we all crash for the night.

In the morning the weather calls for 20% chance of precipitation until 4 PM, and then clearing for the rest of the weekend. It is 35F at the Tram, and the high in Idyllwild will be 45F, which is a good indicator of the temperature along the Desert Divide section of the PCT. So we head up. First car up is 8 AM, so we will get started on the trail at around 8:30 AM, which is later than we really want. Hiking goes well, and it is cold and a little windy for the first 3 miles. As we head down to Saddle Junction, the temperatures begins to warm up and we get an occasional gust of wind. Once we get to the Desert Divide it is warm and no wind at all. We do several miles on the east side of the San Jacintos and the weather is perfect. Chad hikes ahead at lightning speed, and then stops to take a nap in the warm sun while he waits for us. We chat for a while and then take off towards Antsel Rock. Then the winds start to blow. A few clouds start to form and the trees are icing up in the wind when the trail crosses over to the west side of the ridge.

515

Check out the clouds and the ice on the trees.

By the time we get to the back side of Apache Peak, the air is a dark black cloud of arctic air, visibility is about 10 feet, and all the plants and trees are covered in 1 inch of ice. Walking is difficult in the wind. We top out above Apache Spring and welcome the wind break of the Manzanita forest and then later protection of forest as we quickly pace south.

We get to the Spliter Peak Trail Junction and discuss our options, as the weather is getting downright bad. It is 5 PM and the predicted clearing of weather is not happening, it is getting worse. We are prepared for hot temperatures not a cold, windy, winter storm. We decide to hike to Fobes Saddle two miles away, and then make a decision. There are some nice sheltered areas in the saddle, but the saddle can have the worst weather and wind in the range. By the time we get to Fobes it is probably around freezing and getting worse. No one wants to bail, but everyone seems relieved when I push to cancel. Odds are things will get better, but if it gets worse, we will be in a bad position. For the first time ever on a backpacking trip, I had brought my cell phone, as I felt responsible for the group as the organizer. We call my wife and she drives up. After about 3 or 4 miles of hiking we meet her on the road. We can always do the trip another time, and are alive to talk about it :)

Well, that is the Good, Bad, and the Ugly.

All in all, it was a great time and we had a lot of fun. But everyone was bummed we bailed, and glad at the same time.

Edit: The cloud formation we saw over Palm Springs was a Altocumulus lenticularis.

Edited by ngatel on 05/31/2011 20:51:48 MDT.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: 3rd Annual BPL San Jacinto Loop: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on 05/31/2011 20:50:44 MDT Print View

Hey Nick,
Too bad you had to bail.
I was wondering about you guys as I was in the Morongo Basin camping with my family on Saturday-Sunday. The wind was really picking up at around the time I figured you'd be at Wellman Divide or thereabouts.

60+ MPH gusts were no joke! I got the poles on my family tent bent even though I had over 6 guylines out on the windward side. We woke (actually we never slept) to fine dirt and sand coating everything in the tent...including our teeth.
We bailed earlier than we wanted to on Sunday morning. When out for mellow family camping and your breakfast keeps getting blown off of your lap (literally, my pancakes went sailing), it's time to go.

On the way out on Sunday morning it looked like San Jacinto was really getting hammered. All I could ponder was that if you were carrying as minimal gear as we were last year, you guys would be in for a real treat...

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
San Jacinto Loop on 06/01/2011 11:25:02 MDT Print View

Thanks for posting the TR Nick! Great story and photos to go with it. The photo of the iced-up tree is particularly impressive. I can imagine how fast that all came about.

I got caught by surprise by the storm as well up on Pine Mountain in the Los Padres. We ended up bailing a day early due to a lack of sufficiently warm clothing and a general lack of desire to continue on into what seemed to be a worsening storm on Sunday morning.

Jeff Rash
(jlrash)

Locale: Southern California
Weather on 06/01/2011 12:53:27 MDT Print View

My wife and I went out Sunday afternoon from the 74 to Live Oak Springs for the night via the PCT. It was a bit windy at the peak but not too bad down at the spring. Got into the low 30's that night and the wind completely stopped shortly after midnight. Monday we woke to beautiful clear skies and perfect weather for the hike out. I'm assuming the weather at Cedar Springs would have been similar.

Casey Bowden
(clbowden) - MLife

Locale: Berkeley Hills
Re: 3rd Annual BPL San Jacinto Loop: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on 06/01/2011 12:59:55 MDT Print View

> One bad omen; I was tired. I had worked for 24 straight hours on Tuesday and again on Thursday, but felt fine at the start. Day 1 took me 3 hours longer than my usual pace, and my speed was the limiting factor for the team. So it took us 10 hours to hike 11 miles and gain 8,000 feet in elevation. Still not bad for an old fart.

I think it was your new, much discussed, "heavy" pack that slowed you down.
;)

Brad Walker
(brawa)

Locale: SoCal
Windmills on 06/01/2011 13:01:53 MDT Print View

"At the time I mentioned to the team that it looked very strange, because it seemed the windmills were not turning from my vantage point and normally with that kind of a weather front they would be spinning full speed."

Seemed weird initially to me too driving in and out of Joshua Tree this weekend, but all of the blades were rotated so they didn't catch any wind. It was TOO windy!

Chad Eagle
(Eaglesd)

Locale: SoCal
Thanks Again Nick on 06/01/2011 20:43:35 MDT Print View

Nick, Thanks again for putting the trip together. Even with the surprises and early end it was alot of fun and great to see some new areas to hike close by. Tell your wife thank you for her hospitality and quick rescue. I will owe you one for your generosity. Here are a couple more pics.

Pic 1

Pic 2

Pic 3

Pic 4

Pic 5

Pic 6

Pic 7

Pic 8

Pic 9

Pic 10

Pic 11

Pic 12

Pic 13

Pic 14

Edited by Eaglesd on 06/01/2011 20:46:50 MDT.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Weather on 06/01/2011 23:48:54 MDT Print View

Jeff,

I was pretty sure that was going to happen. But for us, the weather at Fobes Saddle and Live Oak is a huge difference in bad weather. We made the right decision based on the circumstances.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: 3rd Annual BPL San Jacinto Loop: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on 06/02/2011 00:08:18 MDT Print View

I think it was your new, much discussed, "heavy" pack that slowed you down.

------------

Must be it :)

Still had a base weight under 7lbs, and it carried all the water well. Lets see if this picture of the gear list is readable.

gear list San Jacinto Loop May 2011

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Thanks Again Nick on 06/02/2011 00:11:22 MDT Print View

Chad,

Nice pictures. You captured the variety of this hike. Lower desert, alpine forests, clouds, fog, snow, and hikers.

Really enjoyed your company.

Hopefully Stephan will post some pictures. I think he took a lot of them.

Not sure is Josh brought a camera.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: 3rd Annual BPL San Jacinto Loop: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on 06/02/2011 00:43:26 MDT Print View

Craig,

Speaking of sand, this is what Indian Canyon Drive near I-10 looked like yesterday morning. Road crews removed SEVERAL THOUSAND CUBIC YARDS of sand. Here is a picture from the local news station.


Indian Canyon Sand removal