Skiing Snow Creek — Page 10

Snow Creek Closure Point


I had hoped, after hiking the East Ridge bypass myself, to be able to report that the gordian knot of the Snow Creek-Desert Water Agency access conflict had at long last been resolved.

Ah, how hopelessly naive that sounds now! The sun is setting as Dave and I reach the flat plain of the Palm Springs desert, and I must confess I'm feeling more than a little twinge of disappointment. Does a bypass around DWA land exist? Yes—to the best of my knowledge. But is it viable? That, as it turns out, is not such a straightforward question.

Prickly Pear Bloom Approximate Bypass Route Rattlesnake Andy Lewicky: Heading Home

It does not help matters that the DWA is not exactly forthcoming with regard to what, exactly, its actual boundary is.

In fact, DWA posts closure signs at points that are clearly outside its control zone, including for example the road leading to the Pacific Crest Trail (as seen in the photo above).

Anecdotal evidence suggests DWA would prefer people believe it owns the entire north side of Mount San Jacinto.

So, assuming the East Ridge traverse does in fact avoid DWA land, here is my gut reaction: it is significantly longer and more rugged than the lower (illegal) section it bypasses.

In Snow Creek we have a route where even experienced mountaineers in excellent physical condition will likely be operating near their limits. The Bypass takes a very difficult route and makes it even more difficult—and, potentially, more dangerous as well.

I hope, in writing about my own journey, I have not in any way understated how long and challenging Snow Creek is.

The route is generally not a favorite of Palm Desert Search and Rescue squads, who regularly pull victims from it. People get lost here. They get trapped here. They get heat stroke here. They fall and die here.

I am especially concerned about the scenario of people coming down from above (as we did) trying the bypass for the first time. There is a strong possibility of getting lost or simply overwhelmed, and the entire area is ringed with cliffs, boulders, abominable sections of brush, and difficult climbing. Plus you'll be adding another thousand vertical feet of up-and-down to your day. That extra travel greatly increases the likelihood of ending up behind schedule.

Aesthetically and practically, there is no question the normal route is the superior of the two. It is also absolutely against the law, no exceptions. I certainly do not advocate violating the DWA closure—quite the contrary. But I understand that climbers will continue to do so, and DWA will continue to step up its countermeasures, and the whole sorry mess just makes me very, very sad.

It's not the coda I would like on a trip like this—a ski descent that otherwise stands among the most memorable I've ever done. But, as they say, it is what it is. And for now, there appears to be no hope of a solution. Try the bypass from the desert first to see what you make of it. Be safe and be conservative. And try, as best you can, to respect the DWA's decision to close off its land—even if you don't agree with it.

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.