Ascent of Thomas Mountain on 2016-02-02

Climber: Joseph Esparza

Date:Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Thomas Mountain
    Elevation:6825 ft / 2080 m

Ascent Trip Report

Positioned directly between the pine-dotted Garner and arid Anza Valleys is the great ridge of Thomas Mountain. Stretching about 10 miles from Lake Hemet to Highway 371, this impressive ridgeline both is the stalwart ballast of the southern San Jacinto Mountains, and an impressive block in keeping the Sonoran Desert out of the Southland. From its wide summit, one can lookout openly into five counties: Los Angeles County with distant Mount Baldy and Santa Catalina Island, San Bernardino County crowned by the San Gorgonio Massif, Riverside County, the county in which the peak is in, Orange County's Santiago and Modjeska Peaks, and San Diego County, with its respectable forested summits of Hot Springs, Agua Tibia, Palomar and Volcan. As mentioned, the views are phenomenal; and with all of the Los Angeles-San Diego Metro area's major mountains in sight, the Sonoran Desert, and the distant sea with its islands it is hard to think of a better viewpoint at this elevation.

The Ramona Trail, named for Helen Hunt Jackson's famous 1884 locale novel Ramona, in which the story is told in these very mountains, is seldom used. The trip can be made even more solitary by attempting on a weekday, and when snow covers most of the trail, both conditions of which were met for my climb. As such, I saw no one all day, which when considering the silent glistening forest and freezing, blustery temperatures made for quite an extraordinary day.
Category: Strenuous
Miles: 13
Elevation Gain: 2400'
Location: San Bernardino National Forest
Directions: HERE
The Trail: From the easy-to-miss trailhead, follow the trail as it leads up onto the lower, chaparral covered slopes of Thomas Mountain. The vegetation at this elevation is comprised mainly of Red Shank, distinguishable by its namesake peeling red bark and Scrub Oak, a hardy plant able to withstand freezing winters and blistering, dry summers. As the trail ascends, the view north will become more expansive with the bulwark of San Jacinto Peak, and the Taquitz formation. Directly across from you is the Desert Divide and the Pacific Crest Trail, charred from the relentless 2013 Mountain Fire; eventually consuming 28,000 acres of prime forest, 23 buildings, and $25 million until its satiation.

About 2 miles from the trailhead, the vegetation morphs into a quasi-forest, with chaparral still being dominate, but with many Coulter and Ponderosa Pines and Live Oaks also taking their stand. The trail passes Dripping Springs, which flows seasonally from a spout about 3 miles from the start. Shortly thereafter, you arrive at a summer campground along the Thomas Mountain Road (6S13), and some restrooms. From here you are about half-way to the summit, but with only 800' of gain left. Head west (right) on the dirt road as it meanders through the forest of pine and cedar, taking extra caution if their is snow present. The USGS Topo Map has the small spur road to the summit marked incorrectly as 6S13D; however that route is nonexistent, so follow the path up marked 6S13C, about 3 miles from the camp, to the blustery summit of Thomas Mountain at 6,825'.

On summit there used to be an old fire lookout, but the Forest Service has since taken it down, but instead had placed a small radio-communicated near the actual high point. Enjoy the expansive view south towards Cahuilla Mountain, the Palomar's, the Volcan's and Santa Ana's, and the Panamanian north and east towards San Jacinto, and lonely Toro Peak respectively. When I went, it was 30 F, with 20 MPH wind on top, so I did not stay long. Return the way you came.

Hiked: 2/2/2016. Riverside County
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2425 ft / 739 m
    Total Elevation Loss:2425 ft / 738 m
    Round-Trip Distance:13 mi / 20.9 km
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Cold, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2425 ft / 739 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 2325 ft / 709 m; Extra: 100 ft / 30m
    Loss on way in:100 ft / 30 m
    Distance:6.5 mi / 10.5 km
    Route:Ramona Trail
    Start Trailhead:Ramona Trailhead  4500 ft / 1371 m
    Time:3 Hours 20 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:2325 ft / 708 m
    Distance:6.5 mi / 10.5 km
    Route:Ramona Trail
    End Trailhead:Ramona Trailhead  4500 ft / 1371 m
    Time:3 Hours 

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