SHOVEL, Summit Hut, Mt. San Jacinto

Summit Hut, Mt. San Jacinto


In plain view of the sun baked city of Palm Springs, the summit of Mt. San Jacinto (10,804 ft.) is markedly alpine. While Easter vacationers bask in pool side temperatures of eighty or ninety degrees, a cross-country skier on the summit of "San Jack" may be experiencing arctic like conditions with high winds and frigid temperatures.

Not far from the summit is a weather beaten stone hut where hikers and skiers can retreat from the wind and cold, eat lunch, and discuss the challenges of the day.

When there is adequate snow, the ski tour to the summit of San Jacinto is an excellent day trip. The Palm Springs Tram provides "chain-less" access to the 8500 ft. level of the mountain, and it's all "up" from there. (A wilderness permit is required.)

The terrain is extremely varied, ranging from deep cut, heavily forested stream canyons, to wide open bowls. Although steep in places, the variety makes the climb much less tedious.

Unless it's very icy, it is usually possible to ski all the way to summit, and it's a great summit. To the northeast the face drops nearly 10,000 ft. to the desert floor. To the north is the tallest peak in Southern California, San Gorgonio Mountain (11,502 ft.). On some days an expansive layer of low clouds will move in to the southwest of the mountain evoking a real top-of-the-world atmosphere. (And sometimes innocent appearing clouds can envelop the mountain and can give the unprepared a real "what-am-I-doing-here" feeling!)

Even on bad snow days the broad, tree protected summit ridge often holds excellent snow. A graceful series of telemark turns here will give the skier the confidence needed to link turns on the steep bowls below.

For many, the most challenging part of the descent comes near the end of the tour. The well used trail between Round Valley and Long Valley is often icy, smoothed and packed from the passage of innumerable snowshoes. The narrow tree-lined trail, with its occasional switchbacks, can be great fun or a difficult and icy test for the tired skier.

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