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Snow Creek

4th AI1-2 Mod. Snow, Trad, Ice, Snow, Alpine, 10000 ft (3030 m),  Avg: 3.7 from 19 votes
FA: unknown, BITD
California > San Jacinto Mou… > Mt San Jacinto
Access Issue: Do not trespass on DWA property! Details


(Taken and edited from SummitPost)

Snow Creek is one of the premier alpine climbs in Southern California. It has a tremendous vertical gain of 10,000 feet in less than 5 horizontal miles. Supposedly, it is the steepest escarpment in the contiguous 48.

The starting elevation is approx. 1,200 feet. From the start to about 5,500 feet, depending on the snowpack, it is all bushwacking and boulder hopping. Once you reach the snow tongue of Snow Creek you will need crampons and an ice axe. Climb the remaining 5,300 feet of snow and/or ice in one of the several chutes. You will encounter 30 to 45 degree snow slopes, with the angle increasing as you get near the top. Most people hike 2-3 hours (~5 miles) from the summit to the tram for a ride down off the mountain.

Just a short note - This is not a beginner climb. The very long approach requires conditioning and considerable route finding to get into the canyon. The exposure on this route requires solid 4th class ability & low 5th. Round trip from car to summit to tram is ~15 miles. This makes for one HUGE day, or bring minimal bivy gear and make a 2-day ascent. Many parties camp at a flat bivy around 5,300' before dropping into Snow Creek proper near the giant chockstone.


The traditional approach to the (East Fork of) Snow Creek route trespasses through one square mile of private property owned by the Desert Water Agency (DWA) -- specifically, section 33, which is demarcated on most maps. In 2010, the DWA started taking the trespassing issue very seriously. In light of this, it is recommended that climbers respect the DWA's property rights and avoid their property altogether.

The key to the approach is accessing the isthmus, which is the narrowest strip of land between Falls Creek and (the East Fork of) Snow Creek. One legal approach to this point involves ascending the ridge east of Falls Creek to the peak at ~4300 feet and then traversing directly to the isthmus.

From the Isthmus, continue south up the ridge about 100-200 feet, then bear right following ducks through very heavy brush. Stay high above the creek and aim for a notch on the spur ridge to the west. From the notch, drop down 100 feet into a boulder-strewn gully. Follow this west 200 yards to a waterfall. Go up brush/dirt slopes to the right of the waterfall and continue west and up a few hundred feet to the ridgeline. From here you can see the snow tongue in Snow Creek. Aim right for it.......

After attaining the summit, traverse east approximately 5 miles to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for a quick and easy descent. An excellent alternative during high snowpack years would be to ski/board straight back down Snow Creek and reverse the long approach.


Ice axe(s), crampons, trekking poles, buffed calves and lots of endurance.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

Around 7k after the storm on 11/30/18
[Hide Photo] Around 7k after the storm on 11/30/18
Snow Creek beta photo (Google Earth route overlay, showing no-trespassing area)
[Hide Photo] Snow Creek beta photo (Google Earth route overlay, showing no-trespassing area)
Alex and Zach near the chockstone
[Hide Photo] Alex and Zach near the chockstone
Joe postholing near the top.
[Hide Photo] Joe postholing near the top.
1/14/17.  Not bad for La Nina.
[Hide Photo] 1/14/17. Not bad for La Nina.
Giant chockstone at 5,500'.  3rd/4th class scramble around it to the right out of view
[Hide Photo] Giant chockstone at 5,500'. 3rd/4th class scramble around it to the right out of view
Above the chockstone 1987.
[Hide Photo] Above the chockstone 1987.
Joe at the start of the snow tongue.
[Hide Photo] Joe at the start of the snow tongue.
Dawn on Snow Creek.
[Hide Photo] Dawn on Snow Creek.
Pretty Epic views
[Hide Photo] Pretty Epic views
View from where we parked.
[Hide Photo] View from where we parked.
Joe and I nearing the summit
[Hide Photo] Joe and I nearing the summit

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

Benjamin Chapman
Small Town, USA
[Hide Comment] #1.....Kahiltna Base to Denali summit (13,000+)
#2....Sea level to Fairweather summit (12,500+)
#3....Bad water to Telescope Peak (11,200+)
#4....Snow Creek Village to San Jacinto summit (10,000+) Mar 1, 2013
Chris Owen
Big Bear Lake
[Hide Comment] Did it back in 1986 with a couple of other guys I met in the Sierra (Bob and Pat), took us two days to get to the summit then half a day to the bottom of the Tram. We stayed the night in the summit hut, carried skis up and tried to ski down the back side. Conditions were horrible, crust over powder over hard ice, with hard ice at the summit pitches.

Bit of an epic but glad I did it. Apr 25, 2013
[Hide Comment] Back in the early 80s Frank Curry and I left the Village around 1:30 am and headed quietly up the water dist. rd. We were within 20 yards of the house when the biggest, meanest, and loudest dog ever, charged us. We took off down hill but knew we were raw meat for this beasts early breakfast...then his large chain stopped him. We slinked through a boulder field and around the house. Made the summit by 3:00. Then down to the tram before it closed. Good times!
Later I was going to do it again so drove up to the water Dist. house to inquire of the proper etiquette. The dog was there and even worse than my imagination had envisioned. A German Shepard-Saint Bernard cross weighing at least 180. A few weeks later a ranger informed me that a Lion had ambushed the dog. When the owner came out and tried to scar the Lion off with a round from a 30/30, the Lion bolted up hill with dog in mouth. Then chain never even slowed the two down and later the St. trapper found tracks of the biggest Lion he had ever seen.
This route is really only doable as a alpine/all in one day push when the snow/ice tongue gets very low. This comes around every decade or so.
Over the years I have seen some bad asses skiing down the thing with axes as poles! Wish I had those skills so as not to have to post hole down to the tram! May 2, 2013
[Hide Comment] Enjoyed seeing this route on MP. The late Paul Gleason and I did Snow Creek twice, in 1971 and again in 1972. Both times we had excellent conditions which made for a smooth ascent -about 12-14 hours car to car. No post-holing even on the summit and over to the Tram if the route was chosen carefully.

Paul's father-in-law helped pour the concrete footings for construction of the tram in the early '60s. We briefly explored some route potential on the largest rock formation in Richard Shore's photo west of Snow Creek. What a spectacular place. May 29, 2013
ron amick
poway, ca
  4th AI1-2 Mod. Snow
[Hide Comment] Back in 1978 Paul Smith and I set out to climb snow creek in summer. We had no info whatsoever, just intended to follow the creek. We had 50 lb packs with provisions for 3 days, a small rack and a length of 9mm rope. Unbeknownst to us, following the water course put us on the seldom climbed west fork of snow creek. Day one was a series of pools and small waterfalls, and we climbed water polished, holdless rock up to 5.6 to get around and over them. Was harrowing. After about 2,000 ft of that we were in the chute proper, which was a tight gorge with no technical climbing except the odd 5.3 headwall. As we neared the top of the chute it was getting dark and the only place we could find to sleep was the top of a tower on the west side of the chute, where we spent the night hoping we wouldnt get blown off the rock. The next day as we neared the top of the chute we could hear a waterfall roaring, then we came upon an amphitheater with sheer 300 ft walls and in the center was a deep lake that the falls poured into. The route below us wasnt reversible and any rock ahead of us that looked climbable was wet. Our only choice was to climb a series of ledges where the rock wall abutted a rock and dirt escarpment. We broke out our 70ft 9mm rope and started up the ledge route in mountain boots, with 50 lb packs. The first pitch was vertical 5.6 and ended on a sloping ledge with no anchors. Paul was standing holding the rope when i got there. My lead was more dirty vertical 5.6 and i had to mantle a hummock and throw for an exposed root to get to the next ledge. Scary stuff. Paul then led another terrifying 5.6 pitch to a ledge. There had been no anchors or pro yet. I was near the end of my 2nd lead when i reached the top of the cliff, which was high angle decomposed gravel and sand covered with pine needles. I clawed my way up, every step sliding a foot before it caught. At the end of the rope i reached a little bush that i sat on and dug me heels in and brought paul up. Scariest thing id ever done. From there it was an endless series of false summits until we hit the trail to the tram, where we caught the last tram of the day down. Good thing, because we were down to our last box of raisins. Dec 5, 2014
ron amick
poway, ca
  4th AI1-2 Mod. Snow
[Hide Comment] benjamin, #1 and #2 are not in the contiguous lower 48 states and telescope peak is debatable, but nowhere near as impressive as the n face of san jacinto. You can call san jacinto a granite escarpment but cant say the same for telescope. If your are going for ground to summit rise there are lots of candidates on the eastern sierra escarpment. Lone Pine peak and Mt morrison, and maybe mt tom come to mind. Dec 5, 2014
[Hide Comment] On the approach not too far up the canyon there is a two bolt anchor with webbing above a great looking hand crack on good rock climbers right. Any info on this? Dec 9, 2014
Todd Martin
Costa Mesa
[Hide Comment] Did this on Saturday (April 20, 2019) with my buddy Rick. We followed the legal route and spent a lot of time bushwhacking and navigating. The traverse from the 4,300' point on the ridge to Falls Creek (4,200') took 1.5 hours. Note: Between the Isthmus and the Christen's Cleavage gully stay as far west as you can. What's left of "The Tunnel" is on the edge of the steep drop-off into Snow Creek. We wandered too far east and got trapped in deep barely-passable brush. The snow was not consistent in Snow Creek until way above the chockstone. Made for a 13.5 hr ascent and arms that look well road-rashed. Sure wish the water district would lighten up on us nut jobs. That approach probably would have saved us a couple hours and a lot of lost DNA! Apr 22, 2019
Parker Halcomb
Portland, OR
[Hide Comment] Made an attempt 2/11/20 and found it too dry for efficient climbing. See here:… Feb 14, 2020
Jens 1
[Hide Comment] ”Snow Creek is one of the premier alpine climbs in Southern California. It has a tremendous vertical gain of 10,000 feet in less than 5 horizontal miles. Supposedly, it is the steepest escarpment in the contiguous 48.“ Not even in the top 50 steepest escarpments in the lower 48. Not an alpine route either by definition. Apr 18, 2020
Colin Parker
Idyllwild, CA
[Hide Comment] Does this route have significant avalanche potential? Jun 30, 2020
[Hide Comment] yep. Jun 30, 2020