Posted by: martinworster | June 30, 2015

Mount San Jacinto (10,834 feet)

…second highest mountain in Southern California..lets, er, do this…

Distance: 11.4 miles
Elevation: 10,834 feet
Vertical gain: 4,689 feet

Mount San Jacinto

Mount San Jacinto – are we there yet? Early morning trail start…

Originally our plan had been to keep in order of mountain height on the Six Peak Challenge and climb Mount San Bernadino. Sadly – due to wildfires – this mountain was closed so next up on the list was Mount San Jacinto. I was a little intimated by this one as I’d heard and read how tough a hike it was – not helped by it’s proximity to Palm Springs which of course also means it’s very hot. In fact if you have ever driven to Palm Springs from LA you will see it on the right as you cruise down the 10 freeway into Palm Springs. You can even take a cable car from Palm Springs to near the summit.

Mount San Jacinto

Are you having a giraffe? (Are you having a laugh?)

Our way in was via the Marion Mountain trail which is just outside of Idylwild, the main town in the San Jancinto mountain range. We camped the night before pretty much on the the trail head so as to ensure an early (and cool) start. My alarm went off at 4.45 am and we had started by 6am. This hike is steep. Luckily the first 3 miles were in shade as the sun was still rising – looking ahead you could ominously see the sun and where we would have to eventually break out of the shade. At times a lot of trail included scrambling up over steep boulders as we continued to gain elevation.

Mount San Jacinto - apparently a fungus?

Mount San Jacinto – apparently a fungus?

Sometimes when I hike I think to myself – ‘do I actually enjoy this?’. I mean I love being outside in nature and the fact that my mobile phone doesn’t work. But many of these hikes are very tough and challenging and it becomes quite a mental test. I kept thinking I would be better off by the pool on a hot day like this. We were in a heatwave. I was tired starting the hike but you have to find the will to soldier through it and keep a good mental attitude. And Tristan didn’t fail to really impress me on this hike with his strength and positive mental attitude. We carried on up the valley admiring the hazy views and wildlife.

Did we peak too early...? Well no..

Did we peak too early…? Well no..

Even though it’s only 5.3 miles to the top it’s pretty unrelenting and hence it feels like it’s a lot longer. After 2.5 miles we completed the Marion Trail and hit the basic campground and the only flat (but short) section of Round Valley. Then we continued to climb now in full sunlight. It was hot and dusty. There is no drinkable water on the trail so I was carrying 3.5 Litres plus enough food and sweets to start a corner shop. I had to really focus to get through the last through couple of miles. Asking any hikers who were descending from the summit ‘how long left?’, the adult version of ‘are we there yet?’. The answers varied and were inconsistent – perhaps with a view to keeping your spirits up.

Looking East to the hazy desert...

Looking East to the hazy desert…a band of smoke and pollution.

Finally we got to the last section with 0.3 miles left which was basically scrambling over boulders on steep mountain. There was a hut / refuge in which you could sign the book and at the very top a geographical marker. The views were awesome. A 360 panoramic on the whole of southern California. Looking East Mount Gorgonio was visible across the pass – although with clouds of smoke making all of it except the summit visible. At best of times – with the heat and pollution – the views are hazy. Looking over the steep escarpment Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley lay below us, a seemingly infinite sand and desert scape with no visible horizon. Looking West we could see Orange County and it’s highest mountain Santiago Peak. It was truly an awesome, top-of-the world view.

Ice cool stream for some much needed toe dipping..

Ice cool stream for some much needed toe dipping..

Tristan was very happy and proud of himself. I was even prouder of him. This climb is no easy feat for anyone, but for a nine year old it’s a major accomplishment. Once you reach the top it’s a major psychological relief as the rest is – mainly – all down hill. The return did drag on. We had a nice little respite by paddling in stream we passed. Bizzarely, despite the desert heat, the water was icy cold. I didn’t see how there could be any snow or ice left to chill the spring water to this cold a temparature? There must be a deep mountain spring full of icy water from the snow melt. Incidentally, there are various ski descents of this mountain in water, although strictly for the intrepid / slightly mad.

Mount Jacinto..looking up the creek..without a paddle

Mount Jacinto..looking up the creek..without a paddle

As we carried on with the descent I could sense Tristan’s furstration for the last two miles as it never seemed to end. I was also getting annoyed by it – it becomes a good test of character. We’d left at just before 6am and arrived back at base camp at just after 5 so it was a good 11 hour trek in hot and slightly hostile conditions.  Tristan passed with flying colours. We have two mountains left to climb on this challenge but they are both closed by the large fire (17, 000 acres at time of writing) so this might scupper our plans to get this finished before our trip to England. Nevertheless it’s still a case of onwards and upwards…

Nice frond...

Nice frond…

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