This past weekend, our good friends, Nicole and Steve, who could very well be Mr. and Mrs. Adventure II, invited us to share an epic weekend summiting Mount Jacinto, the 2nd highest peak in Southern California. Somehow Drew and I hadn’t even heard of this peak before so, naturally, we were thrilled to join them! On top of that, our friends are training to summit Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous US, the last weekend in July and we are training to summit Mount Gorgonio, the highest mountain in Southern California, in August!
Friday night we prepared our packs, Drew with his Northface Terra 60 and me with my JanSport Big Bear 63. We tried to pack as lightly as possible to spare our backs on this 16-mile trek. Some essentials included our headlamps, Camel Baks, sleeping bags, Long Johns, sunscreen, sunglasses and of course, food! We got our favorite cashew, almond and mango trail mix at Trader Joe’s, it’s better than candy! Along with dates, apples, Builder bars for the man and tofu and veg sandwiches for me. It was tricky learning what foods a vegan mountaineer would pack.
Saturday morning we awoke at the crisp and dewy hour of 5am. We poured our coffee, packed the trunk and were on the road by 5:45. There is something incredible about driving through LA at that hour, there is absolutely no traffic, just you, the road and this incredible city- feels kind of surreal.
After 2 hours of driving, we met our friends at the Village Market in Idyllwild. The Village Market is a great place to stop and pick up anything you may have forgotten; they have everything from freeze-dried food to bottle openers, hats, hot coffee, a fresh bakery and even a deli! They are open from 5:30am-9pm. From there, we packed into one car and drove up to the Forest Service Ranger Station to get our overnight permit, you can also just get a day pass if you don’t plan to stay the night. Do note that with this overnight pass you must set up camp with in the Federal Park boundary and 200-feet away from the trail ($159 fine per person), if you want camp in the State Park check out this site for additional information.
Once we had our pass in hand, we drove up Fern Valley Road and parked along the side of the street at Humber Park. You must have an adventure pass for each day ($5) you plan to have your car parked on the street, they are valid from 10am-10am and you can place as many as needed on your dashboard; they are available to purchase at any gas station in the area, we bought ours at the Chevron station just across from the Village Market.
We began our hike at 10am along Devil’s Slide Trail. It was an incredible day with the cool breeze off setting the beaming sun. We hiked up 2.5 steep miles, which took about 2 hours, before arriving to Saddle Junction to take a break. Many people with a day hiking permit will hike to this point for a moderately difficult, 5-mile, introductory hike. After some refueling and rock sitting, we were up and at it again for another mile until we found our perfect camping spot 200 feet off the trail and within the Federal Park boundary line. It’s difficult to say exactly where it was, but we found our spot about .25 miles before arriving to Wellman’s Divide on the left side of the trail. We popped our tents and had a picnic on the rocks, overlooking some of the most incredible scenery we had all ever shared together.
By 2pm we were ready to head towards the peak. We unloaded as much as we could from our packs, taking only the necessary layers of clothing, our dinner and water. At Wellman’s Divide we took the Mount Jacinto Peak Trail, 4 miles, you can’t miss it. But no one tells you that 4 miles, going up hill… or should I say “up mountain,” feels more like 40! We all had our fair share of switchbacks before finally arriving to sign that pointed .3 miles to the San Jacinto Peak! At this point, all clear trails are moot. You basically scramble your way to the top, taking the safest and clearest path that your eye can find. If you take the route that we took (we went up more towards the right) you will pass an old stone cabin. This cabin is free for campers and nomads alike, it has 2 bunk beds and is maintained by none other than those who decide to stay in it. Very Into The Wild.
As the rocks began to grow larger and the trees fewer, we knew we were arriving to our destination. Just a few more steps and we saw the sign we had been hoping for, “Mount Jacinto Peak: Elevation 10,834.” We made it!
We were above the city lights, above the clouds, above just about anything we could set our sights on (except for Mount Gorgonio which peered down on us in the distance). At this point there was nothing to do but enjoy it, everything about it. We sat together, devoured our dinners and enjoyed the company of other fellow summiters.
If you are up for a little added adventure, hop the rocks past the peak and you will find some even more incredible vistas that only the truly adventurous find.
By 8pm the sun began to set, we put on all the layers we had in our packs and began our journey back towards camp. The sky was a beautiful layered canvas of lavender, pinks, and blues. We could see the golden shimmering lights of beautiful Palm Springs below us shine brighter and brighter as the night grew darker. We pulled out our headlamps as the sun disappeared and by 11:15pm we were all warm and snug back in our tents.
It was 40 degrees that night, I slept with 2 pairs of socks, 3 layers of clothing and a beanie and I still felt like my toes were going to freeze right off. Our friends had these amazing Big Agnes down sleeping bags that zip together, they were so warm that they were sweating… you can guess those are on our Christmas List ;)
That next morning we awoke, semi-rested, filtered the water we gathered from the little streams, ate our breakfast, the guys bouldered and we talked. It was a nice lazy morning and by 11:30 we had packed up and started back on the trail home. It was much faster on the way down, we were at our car by 2pm and went down to Idyllwild for a celebratory drink at JoAn’s Restaurant.
Ready for a nice hot shower, an IV of water and a comfy bed, we all left this weekend fully satisfied and, at the same time, hungry for our next summit. Life on the rocks is pretty darn awesome.