Mt. San Jacinto is the second largest peak in Southern California (San Gregornio is the first). I suppose having graduated from Mt. San Jacinto College it was altogether fitting that one day I would one day hike up Mt. San Jacinto. In order to do this however one has to find Mt. San Jacinto. You would think this would be a no brainer. Just go to San Jacinto and climb the highest mountain right?! Wrong, in fact as fate has it Mt. San Jacinto is kind of far away from the city of San Jacinto. Not terribly far, but considering the amount of walking one would have to do from the city of San Jacinto to Mt. San Jacinto it wouldn’t be worth the effort (not to mention some of those highway crossings might be a bit tricky).
I mention the route up to San Jacinto because depending on the route taken it can really change one’s experience. For those with money the quickest way up is probably the Palm Springs Aerial Tram. For $24 dollars per person you will get up to 9,000 ft. in just a few minutes and make the final 1,800 ft. up on a slightly ascending 5 mile trail. If money isn’t in the budget, but you have some time you can go up the mountain from Idyllwild and maybe camp overnight in one of the many campsites along the trail. Devil’s Slide Trail and Deer Spring Trail are very popular choices. Then there is the Marion Mountain trail. At 5.25 miles (6.5 if you are like me and go all over the place), the Marion Mountain trail is the shortest way up to the San Jacinto Peak. When I got my wilderness permit (permits are free but required on all trails) for this hike the lady told me “you know this is a steep trail right?” I told her I would be ok because I had a walking stick, but it was a very steep trail.
Going up the trail I had a few limitations. The first and foremost limitation was time. According to the campsite rules we had to leave the site by 2 pm. A generous checkout time, but it didn’t leave me much climbing time. I set my ipod alarm for 5:00 am and I left the campsite (Fern Basin, $10 per night) by 5:15 am. I also set another alarm for 12:00 pm, which was my absolute return time. It is always good to set an absolute return time if you are limited on time because it can get away from you. I have some really good Scarpa hiking boots but after hiking in them a few miles it turns out I bought them too small and so I had to do the trail in my Asics running shoes. It was nice to have light shoes on the trail, but for the steep parts and the rocks I didn’t have much tracking (it was a good thing I had that walking stick). As far as a backpack goes I just had my daypack. I was only going to be out for the day, but I always bring enough gear with me so that if I had to I could spend the night. For example I brought along 3 litters of water, when I only really needed 1 (maybe 1 1/2). It makes me feel better to be a bit over-prepared and the overpreparedness gives me confidence to be more adventurous.
The trail was tough, but it was a very beautiful hike. The first 2.5 miles was the Marion Mountain trail. Very steep but filled with a lot of trees and nice overlooks towards Hemet. Beyond the Marion Mountain trail was the Pacific Crest Trail and the Deer Springs Trail. At this point the trail got a bit easier, but the trees went away so there was not much to look at, but that was ok because there were lots of streams that cut the trail so it was important to be careful (or get really wet).
Coming off what seemed be a lot of switchbacks was Little Round Valley. This was to me a .25 section of paradise. There were a lot of people camping in this section and I had fun talking to them. There was also this little creek that I hung out at that was very idyllic. Out of Little Round Valley Campsite there was a one mile section of switchbacks that were not too steep but at this point the air started getting thin to me, so it caused a bit of strain. At the end of the last switchbacks the trail connected with the end of the tram trail for a rock-hopping .3 miles to the peak.
I got up to the peak around 9:30 in the morning. It turned out to be a good time to get there.
There were not a lot of people on the trail yet and I was free to explore without a lot of people in the way. At about 10:30 I started going back down the mountain and saw a lot of people making the last of their ascents. When I got to the switchbacks I noticed a decent amount of people also coming from the tram trail.
Coming down the trail was not as strenuous as going up, but it did take almost about the same time as it did to go up the trail. Especially in the last part of the trail I had to watch it so that I didn’t go sliding. I think this is where a good set of hiking boots would have come in handy. I did my best and took it slow and was eventually able to get back at camp at 1 pm.
One day I would like to hike the entire PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) or the AT (Appalacian Trail), but today is not going to be that day. However, in the spirit of getting there someday I am glad I took the chance to go up Mt. San Jacinto. For a detailed map of my ascent along with my times and elevation gains please click HERE.