Back in February, I vowed to return to the San Jacinto wilderness and make it to the top of San Jacinto Peak. Little did I realize how soon I’d get the opportunity. As soon as I shared with friend D how great the hiking there is, she decided that I needed to return with her.
What a difference a few weeks makes, especially in the mountains. The winter jacket of my last hike was replaced with a t-shirt. We still encountered a good amount of snow along the way, but the clean white blanket had turned into a crusty, needle covered-mess. Still beautiful to look at from afar, but not as much fun to hike in. In fact, it was much easier back in February when a single trail was well-packed and easily identifiable. Now, scores of errant hikers created a maze of false tracks that resulted in our losing the trail several times.
Fortunately, the area’s topography is recognizable, so we were never far from the real trail. D and I enjoyed the cool pine-scented air on our ascent. The information the ranger gave us upon getting our permit was right on: 40% snow to Round Valley, then 100% to Wellman Divide, and then a clear, dry trail to the peak.
We still managed to miss the junction at Wellman on the way up, though we did find it on the way down – and to my delight saw that P and I had passed it in February! Round Valley to Wellman was my least favorite leg, primarily due to the snow. But the traverse to the peak more than made up for it. Just before the peak, we came upon the emergency shelter. It was fun to see the mementos that previous hikers left behind. We’ll see if the card I left behind is still there on my next visit. Although the shelter is not intended for overnight guests, I suspect it has seen a few over the years, and it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful view to wake up to.
Unlike Baldy, where the peak taunts you for what seems like miles, San Jacinto Peak sneaks up on you – we rounded a corner, scaled a few boulders, and there it was. Its topographic prominence helps provide an amazing 360 degree view, one of the best I’ve ever seen, despite the distant haze. We could see over the Little San Bernardinos into Joshua Tree National Park. We could also look right down on the Whitewater Preserve and the cities of the Coachella Valley. Mt. San Gorgonio stood directly across Banning Pass from us, and invited us to pay it a visit soon.
Though we mostly had the place to ourselves, we met some fun hikers along the way; one stayed with us from the summit down to the divide before splitting off to return to his car down at Humbert Park. Another group had come up from the valley via the Skyline Trail. So while we hiked almost 12 miles round trip, we almost felt like cheaters having taken the tram. No worries, it was well worth it.