Weird Beard Joel: A Hiker's Quest to Find Snow in OC

Categories: Environment
Joel Robinson
Hiking group poses in hail and snow in Silverado Canyon, Santa Ana Mountains, Orange County

On the second-to-the last day of 2012, our Fir Forest & Tree Bridges Tour in Upper Silverado was promoted in the Orange County Register. The article coincided with the tail end of a series of storms. Maple Springs Road, our national forest access point, was closed to vehicular traffic due to muddy conditions.  The road closure meant that we would have to hike an additional three miles to arrive at the printed tour destination.

The newspaper's publicity attracted considerable attention, and I received an influx of tour reservations by phone and email. When I explained about the road closure and the extra mileage, many inquirers canceled their reservations. A cloud of disappointment amassed over my grand hiking plan.   

Despite the cancellations, I was pleased to meet eleven friendly followers at the Canyon Market on Sunday afternoon in downtown Silverado. I did not worry about their modest attire because I only expected clear skies and a winter breeze (ne bold gentleman wore a hooded sweatshirt, board shorts, and tennis shoes). I explained that the extended tour length might prevent us from reaching our destination.  No one was discouraged by the daunting news, so we hopped in our vehicles and drove to the Maple Springs parking area.    

There was a chill in the air and a collection of ominous clouds swirled beyond the closed Maple Springs Gate. We swiftly entered the forest in an effort to warm our bodies and accommodate the extra mileage.  The temperature steadily decreased.  When we stopped to identify a bigleaf maple tree, I noticed the shivers, `pale faces, clenched fists, and bobbing motions of my freezing followers.  We could not afford to stand still, so I picked up the pace.  Our speed walking left one individual behind.  I was down to ten followers.    

Along the way, we encountered a hiking couple that was surprised to see that we were dry.  They explained that there was a massive downpour of hail just upstream of our location.  This sounded improbable since we could not see any evidence of nearby rain or hail. We chuckled at the idea of such an extreme and isolated weather event. After a few more bends in the road, it started to drizzle and two more followers retreated. I was down to eight. I don't typically lose followers, but I figured the unpredictable weather scared them away.  I laughed nervously.    

The temperature plummeted as we gradually gained elevation; it was probably forty-some degrees. I knew that we only had a few hours before sunset, so I suggested Spruce Canyon as an alternate destination.  It required a departure from the main road and a scramble up a rugged tributary of Silverado Creek. My younger followers were psyched to go up Spruce, but not everyone shared their gung-ho attitude.     

We left the road and tromped into a thicket of sopping wet shrubbery. One of the participants noticed a small pile of pale pebbles in the grass and asked what they were. I bent down to inspect the pile and realized that it was leftover hail refrigerated in the shade.  We began to traverse Silverado Creek towards the mouth of Spruce Canyon. We stumbled along the slippery rocks.  Ahead, there was a deep rock pool and a jungle of vegetation. I turned to gauge my followers and found most of them stumbling along in hesitation. I was convinced that this was probably not a good idea.  At that moment, the clouds unleashed a heavy curtain of hail.  Soft white pebbles of ice quickly accumulated over every surface.

Cindy Crawford
Hail and snow in Silverado Canyon, Santa Ana Mountains, Orange County
We took shelter under some oaks and alders. With a frozen grin, Cindy (a volunteer with Naturalist For You) excitedly pranced around to photograph the whole experience. A mountain biker slid down the slushy road and briefly spoke to her. She turned to us and announced that the mountain biker had observed snow a little bit further up the road. The rumor of snow was enticing enough for us to embark on a new quest. We scurried back to the road and trudged forward through the relentless hail. "Maybe a quarter mile to go!"

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