"One Horse Peak," Black Mountain, San Jacinto Peak via Snow Creek Trail

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Note: This trip report assumes that the reader possesses prior knowledge of the Snow Creek Trail (S2S) route. If you are seeking specific route information, please see this trip report before reading the current one. 

June 8, 2013
It was 11:20 pm Friday night (Jun 7). 7 of us stood on the side of the road before Snow Creek Village, adjusting our packs and eagerly chatting about the long hike ahead. We were about to hike to San Jacinto Peak via the Snow Creek Trail. Having hiked this route last year and thoroughly enjoying it, I was eager to get started. Udi, who had planned this hike, had already done it something like seven times before and was very familiar with the route. There were a few new peaks not part of S2S that I wanted to check out if there was time,  peaks such as Castle Rocks, Black Mountain, and the highpoint of One Horse Ridge.

Temps were in the high 70s when we started hiking at 11:32 pm. It was supposed to get up to 106 in the valley later that day.

As soon as we met the PCT and climbed above the valley, the temperature suddenly rose up into mid 80s. It lasted for about a mile, then started slowly dropping. By 4,200 ft, it was back in the comfortable 70s. There was no moon, so we relied purely on our headlamps for navigation. I could just barely make out the dark mass of San Gorgonio rising up towards the northwest. One thing I did notice was that the trail below 4,500 ft had been greatly improved since the last time I was there. Several areas of brush had been thinned out, and although I did not think it necessary, there were a few areas where blocks of wood were half buried to act as steps (Thinking back, it might have been done to prevent erosion, not to aid hikers). Above 4,500 ft, the trail appeared as I remembered it- slightly overgrown, particularly with scrub oak. It seemed that whoever was improving the trail hadn't gotten there yet.

The PCT continued to climb in long, gentle switchbacks. Our rate of elevation gain was low, and the hiking did not feel overly strenuous. Many times it felt like we were contouring the side of a ridge, not gaining any elevation.

5:20 am at 6,300 ft

Sung and I reached the first grove of conifers at 6,400 ft just as sunlight flooded over from the eastern horizon. We were glad to have made it this high, as temperatures of all areas below 4,000 ft would almost certainly skyrocket into the 90s shortly after the sun rose. We had also made it just in time to watch the sunrise glow on Mt. San Jacinto's impressive northwest face.

Pretty soon, I was looking at my first peakbagging objective of the day: the highpoint of One Horse Ridge, which starts down at the desert floor and terminates at around 7,000 ft on the northwestern slopes of Mt. San Jacinto. This highpoint (shows up on TOPO as "7024"), which I will refer to as "One Horse Peak," does not have the sufficient prominence to be considered an official peak, but so are many other highpoints on Southern California. Even so, it was still an interesting spot to check out.

As we got closer to the "peak", I noticed its vertical looking summit block, and wondered how the heck I was going to climb it without rope.

I parted with Sung at the base of the peak. She was going to continue on to the picnic tables at Fuller Ridge campground and wait up for the rest of us there. I dropped my pack and began walking up the hillside. The peak was not far off trail and about 200 ft above it. There was almost no bushwhacking required as a series of small clearings connected and led to the base of the summit block.

I stopped at the base of the summit block and studied it. It was about 25-30 ft high and involved some low class 5 climbing. My first move would be to climb up a crack to a flat topped rock to the left of the highest block, then somehow work my way up the near vertical face of the highpoint.

the plan

Climbing up the crack was very enjoyable. The rock was solid with good friction. Upon reaching the flat topped rock, I saw that the wall of the tallest block consisted of a series of 1 inch holds on its right side. Now it seemed doable. I carefully inched my way up the exposed face. The holds ended starting from 2-3 ft below the highest point, so I reached over the top and pulled myself up for those last few feet. This was definitely the most technical highpoint (by its easiest route) that I had climbed in the San Jacinto Mountains.

views from summit

To climb back down to the flat topped rock, I reversed my moves, gradually lowering myself down the highpoint until my feet met with some holds, then climbing down backwards with my face against the wall. Downclimbing the crack was a little more tricky. It was slightly difficult to see the holds below me. At one point, I had to lower myself with just arms until my feet met with the hold below. After a few more carefully coordinated moves, I was back on the ground.

Still rushing with adrenaline, I jogged back down to the PCT to find Udi, Jess, and Chris taking a snack break, waiting up for two more to get there. I plopped down beside them, eager to finish a peanut butter jelly sandwich I had been munching on for the last few miles.

After finishing the sandwich, I was back on my feet hiking up towards Fuller Ridge. Udi had left a water cache at the picnic tables the previous week, and everyone was planning on refilling there. If there was enough time,  I hoped to climb Black Mountain, which reportedly contained very good views.

views while hiking up to Fuller Ridge

I reached the picnic tables 20 minutes later to find Sung walking around checking out the area, trying not to fall asleep. It seemed pretty early, so I decided to go for Black Mountain, a 5.4 mile round trip and extra 1,500 ft gain/loss from the picnic tables. Caching my heavy pack and taking a liter of water, I started down towards a dirt parking lot a few hundred feet south of the picnic tables, then further down to a hard-to-miss canyon directly after that. This canyon dropped a few hundred feet, spilling out into a main canyon where I picked up the Black Mountain Truck Trail. This road was very well graded and maintained, and would take me up to the summit of Black Mountain.

Black Mountain Truck Trail

It was nice and cool under the shade of large conifers, a big contrast to the warm stuffy air I had been hiking through so far that day. I jogged along the road, enjoying a cool breeze here and there.

About 1.4 miles after meeting up with the road, I turned right onto another road which led up to the summit (note: this sign faces the opposite direction of where I had come from).

a gate located immediately after passing a bustling campground

A short asphalt ramp led to the base of a fire lookout tower at the summit of Black Mountain, which I reached at 8am. Considering its lower elevation (7,772 ft) and location, the views from this peak were surprisingly good. Even though the tower was much higher, I made sure to first tag the geological highpoint of Black Mountain, which was a boulder slightly northwest of the tower platform.

Lake Fulmor

After 15 minutes on the lookout tower, I headed down and started jogging back. The breeze had abated, and it was certainly getting warmer. I got back to Fuller Ridge Campground to find that everyone had already left, so I heaved the heavy pack back onto my shoulders and hurried up Fuller Ridge Trail.

By the time I reached the tail end of the group about 2 miles later, it seemed that everyone was now going at their own place, and the entire group was spread out over 3 miles or so. There were the familiar undulations of elevation gain/loss in the trail a few miles before the Deer Springs Trail Junction, at which several of us began stopping for quick snack breaks.

After the junction, I began feeling sleepy. It didn't come as a surprise, as all of us had been hiking throughout the night. Upon reaching Little Round Valley, I found a nice comfortable spot underneath some trees and took a 20 minute power nap. It helped a lot, and after that I walked up the last 1.6 miles up to San Jacinto Peak feeling refreshed.

view of Newton Drury Peak from switchbacks above Little Round Valley

emergency shelter below San Jacinto Peak

I reached the summit of San Jacinto shortly after 1pm to find it hustling and bustling with crowds. It seemed that many people had come up to the mountain to escape desert heat. Even at 10,800 ft, the temperature felt like high 70s. Sung and Jess, the first two in our group to summit, were sitting in the shade of a small pine tree. I sat down next to them and took a short nap, lulled to sleep by a comforting breeze, waking up 20 minutes later to find that two more of our group had joined us. We ate, relaxed, and chatted about the climb as more people came to join us.

By 2:30 pm, everyone had made the summit, and we started heading down to the upper tram station. We took the main San Jacinto Peak Trail down. As usual, there were a lot of people on that trail, filled with several groups who wanted to stand on the summit of Mt. San Jacinto. Upon reaching Round Valley, I saw that the water pipe had very good flow, and gladly splashed ice cold water in my face. From there, it was slightly over 2 easy miles back to the tram station, which we reached at 4:35 pm. There was the familiar bustling of tram riders, and of course, the familiar "SQUIRREL!" uttered by a kid who had just gotten off the tram and didn't expect to see such a creature.  

Final Stats
36.3 miles
12,300 ft/4,900 ft gain/loss

Weather Forecasts
Fuller ridge Campground
Summit of Mt. San Jacinto
Palm springs Aerial tramway upper station

Peakbagger Pages
Black Mountain
Mt. San Jacinto

Summitpost Pages
Black Mountain
Mt. San Jacinto (although S2S is not mentioned, there are many other trails that head up the same mountain)
Fuller Ridge Trail (consists of a 7.6 mile portion of S2S between Fuller Ridge campground and San Jacinto Peak)

Mt. San Jacinto message board
Pacific Crest Trail Association
Webcam at 8,000 ft elevation near upper tram station
Palm springs Aerial tramway website

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