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March 15, 2014
On several occasions while hiking in the San Jacinto Mountains, I had noticed a spectacular feature on the north face of Mt. San Jacinto: a continuous ridge extending from Snow Canyon directly up to Folly Peak, dividing the East Branch and East Fork of Snow Creek. The ridge itself looked massively large, rising over 8,400 feet of elevation in a little over 3 miles distance. It looked so impressive from all angles that I had to attempt climbing it. Researching the route online yielded no results, and as time went on, the ridge, which I later dubbed "Folly Ridge" became almost a kind of obsession. Each time I saw it, I would stand there staring at it and taking numerous photos which I would later pour over to gain little (if any) practical knowledge of the route.
Folly Ridge seen from Highway 111, April 15, 2012
Folly Ridge seen from the Pacific Crest Trail, May 12, 2012
the upper portion of Folly Ridge seen from Fuller Ridge, May 12, 2012
Folly Ridge seen from San Jacinto Peak, May 12, 2012
In November of 2013, after asking several people about the route, I had heard a few rumors of a party that had recently summited Folly from the north. The rumors were highly ambiguous, not even mentioning the names of those in the party. All I knew was that the northern side of Folly had been climbed, whether or not it was by Folly Ridge or one of several minor ridges and gullies that made up the northwestern and northeastern faces. The one thing that all these rumors had in common was that the northern side of Folly entailed a serious amount of bushwhacking, which was not too surprising given the dense greenish look of the place.
As 2014 arrived, I made up my mind that the only way I was going to have any chance of setting foot on this ridge was to go all out and take a stab at it solo. I had given up on looking for partners, and the beta I had was not going to get any better. I reasoned that if the route looked dangerous, I would simply turn back with at least the satisfaction of trying. I set the date of my attempt for March 15, reasoning that at that time, the desert would still be relatively cool, and the upper mountain snow would've consolidated some. Less then a week before March 15, I had contacted a local who had mentioned that the ridge had a few sections of low class 5 climbing, and of course, a lot of bushwhacking. So it had been climbed before.
My plan for this route was to start just before Snow Creek Village where the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crossed over Snowcreek Canyon Road. The main problem was that the most direct route to the toe of the ridge (marked as Section 33 on most topo maps) was owned by the Desert Water Agency, which strictly forbid trespassers. Section 33, which is often used for the popular Snow Creek route, had been rated as an S7 by the Sneak Climbing Section, and would severely minimize success. Following the advice of a local, I would be able to avoid Section 33 by taking the PCT around the west side of it, then dropping down to the toe of Folly Ridge. This would involve about 900 ft of extra elevation gain on top of the 10,000+ ft that was already part of the original route, but it was preferable to getting shut down. Once on Folly Ridge itself, I would follow it up to Folly Peak, passing over two prominent features which I had dubbed "Plateau Point" (7,820 ft) and "Jagged Point" (9,070 ft), which served as reference points. From Folly Peak, I would traverse to San Jacinto Peak, then head down the Sid Davis route to the upper station of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
Getting to the trailhead: Take I-10 east, 6 miles past Cabazon, and turn right onto CA 111. Travel 1 mile on CA 111, then turn right onto the paved Snowcreek Canyon Rd. Travel 1.6 miles on Snowcreek Canyon Rd until you see two signs on either side of the road: one that says "Snow Creek Wildlife Refuge" to the left and another that says "Snow Creek Village" to the right. This is the trailhead. Upon starting your hike, be sure to veer left onto another paved road (Falls Creek Rd) 100 ft further up Snowcreek Canyon Rd from the trailhead. If you continue up Snowcreek canyon Rd, you will enter Snow Creek Village. You should not have to pass through any part of the village for this route.
Trailhead coordinates (lat/lon): 33.893765, -116.682985
It was a cool windy morning as I started hiking from the trailhead (1,230 ft) at 6:15 am Saturday morning. As the eastern sky began lighting up, I quickened my pace, wanting to get up as high as possible before sunrise. The forecast from Palm Springs called for temperatures in the low 90s. 1.2 miles after the trailhead, I turned off onto the PCT. This turnoff was marked by the letters "PCT" spray painted on a large boulder to the right.
sunrise from PCT
north face of Mt. San Jacinto
The first routefinding decision was figuring out where to drop down from the PCT to the toe of Folly Ridge. I had chosen to drop down at a soft saddle (3,230 ft) just west of the spot elevation 3252 labeled on the topo map. This saddle was located approximately 4 miles after the PCT turnoff.
From Saddle 3,230 ft, the toe of Folly Ridge was very obvious. I dropped around 900 ft of elevation down a gully, crossed the East Branch of Snow Creek with a little bushwhacking, and got on the ridge, which began ascending steeply from the start.
East Branch of Snow Creek
Once on Folly Ridge, the bushwhacking immediately increased, getting worse as I ascended higher. Between 2,900 ft and 3,500 ft, the brush thinned briefly, but then came back even thicker.
views from the beginning of Folly Ridge
As the ridge became increasingly rocky and brushy, there were fewer spaces to go, and I found myself zigzagging all over the ridge, sometimes only to gain a few feet of linear distance. My entire body was covered with clothes to shield myself from the branches. It was getting hot, with not the slightest breeze. The numerous snow-covered ridges and gullies on the upper mountain looked so inviting.
Beginning at 4,860 ft, the ridge widened considerably. I continued up to ~5,200 ft, and noticed that a large rock up ahead was blocking progress. A short distance over to the west was a small gully that bypassed the rock. I headed towards the gully, going through what was the worst bushwhacking of the day, thrashing though shoulder-high buckthorn and under large dense clumps of scrub oak. As I made it to the gully, I was glad to see that it was generally free of brush.
looking up Folly Ridge from 4,860 ft
looking refreshing up there
The gully was definitely the way to go. It contained mostly class 2 terrain with a few spots of class 3, and was composed of mostly solid rock and areas of compacted dirt. The gully ended abruptly at 7,000 ft, and I continued up the crest of the ridge on terrain that wasnt too bushy.
views from 7,300 ft
As I neared Plateau Point, the rocks on the ridge crest became large and seemingly impassable. I dropped down to the east for ~100 ft, and contoured gradually up hoping to bypass the rocks. The bushwhacking grew more intense for a short period, followed by sections of class 4 and low class 5 climbing. The class 5 consisted mostly of wide cracks which contained very good placement options for hand and foot jamming.
By noon, I had made it to the summit of Plateau Point (7,820 ft), and stopped there to eat. Everything between Plateau Point and Jagged Point was visible. Much of what lay in between Jagged Point and Folly Peak was not. I sat there for a moment staring in awe and taking in the view. It was amazing how big the mountain really was, and how one would have to actually be there in order to fully understand the grandeur of it all.
looking up Folly Ridge from Plateau Point
zoomed in view
more views from Plateau Point
Plateau Point summit block (class 2+)
I continued up the ridge, marveling at the terrain. The ridge itself was now made up of a jumble of large boulders, which would involve sustained class 3 scrambling with ocassional class 4 moves. Shortly after leaving Plateau Point, the first big snow patches appeared, and I donned crampons. The snow was semi-consolidated, containing a mix of wet postholing and icy sections. After a few hundred feet, the snow was once again replaced by rock, which lasted another 300 ft, then more snow and ice, more class 3-4 rock, and so on. My progress slowed immensely due to the repeated action of putting on and taking off crampons.
At last, the jagged profile of Jagged Point came into view.
As I clambered to the top of Jagged Point (9,070 ft), I could see a sheer dropoff on the other side. Getting down this dropoff would involve some low class 5 downclimbing, and was the crux of the route. I poked around for around 20 minutes, peering over the ledges for any sort of crack or ledge system that would enable a descent. Finally, I located a decent crack right below an old scraggly tree. The downclimbing was solid and quite enjoyable.
looking back at my descent route from Jagged Point
After Jagged point, the ridge was characterized by a series of rocky bumps and outcroppings (as seen in this photo). These bumps were not apparent as they were hidden behind one another, and seemed to materialize out of thin air upon closer inspection. The remainder of the ridge to Folly Peak contained sustained class 3 climbing with short bits of class 4 here and there. Many of the rocks had a thin coat of ice covering them. Whenever the snow was unconsolidated, I would posthole up to my knees. Then after another few hundred feet, more rock.
crampons on....crampons off....crampons on....crampons off....crampons on....crampons off....crampons on....crampons off....
I eventually lost track of how many times I repeated the process.
By 3pm, all my efforts were focused on reaching Folly Peak. The peak looked so close, but was yet so far. Each time I went over each bump on the ridge, it looked a little bit closer.
Climb over an outcropping. Look! More ice. Crampons ON. More rock. Crampons OFF. Another small gully encased in snow. Small cracks in the ice indicating rocks below. Crampons ON. Thrash through a dense thicket of pine trees. Crampons SNAGGED.
The final ~80 ft to the summit of Folly Peak (10,480 ft) involved a short section of class 4 rock. Maybe it was class 3 in summer, but with all the ice and snow, I found myself making numerous class 4 moves. Before long, I looked up and saw that there was no more mountain above. The small cairn that marked the summit of Folly Peak was visible. I stumbled over to it, reaching it at 5:40 pm.
rocks below Folly Peak
views from the summit of Folly
It was getting late, and I remained on the summit of Folly for a few minutes before heading southeast to traverse the connecting ridge to San Jacinto Peak. This class 1-2 traverse was very quick and pleasant.
views from traverse
San Jacinto Peak, 6:10 pm
From San Jacinto Peak, the walk to the tram was fairly uneventful. I took the usual shortcut down to Miller Saddle, onto the main trail, then branched off onto Sid Davis. A bright shiny moon illuminated the surrounding rocks and snow. Everything was still and peaceful.
11,350 ft/4,300 ft gain/loss
3,772 ft along Folly Ridge
7,465 ft along Folly Ridge
Folly Peak & San Jacinto Peak
Palm springs Aerial tramway upper station
Mt. San Jacinto
Mt. San Jacinto
Mt. San Jacinto message board
Webcam at 8,000 ft elevation near upper tram station
Palm springs Aerial tramway website