Sitting in the very square cubical which was her office, my college counselor Corie and I would talk about anything but school. She was the one who prodded me to drive up the West Coast to Vancouver, and now she was doing it again. But this time it was to head Eastward and Up. We got talking about hiking and camping, and while I told her I had no gear to my name, she offered to lend me hers. She suggested an area called the San Jacinto Mountains.
The mountain range is about 90 miles east of Los Angeles and boasts a peak of 10,834 feet. Since most of my prior hiking experience was from the Boy Scouts at least six years earlier, I was happy to get back in the game, and so the next weekend I hopped in my car and went my merry way.
Coming from Los Angeles, commuters should take I -10 towards Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, getting off at Route 243. I made my way down to the Park Headquarters in Idyllwild, just to familiarize myself with the area, possibly obtain a map, and figure out which trail to take. It turns out you need a permit to enter the Park, so I’m lucky I stopped in. (Not that anyone really checks.) I then drove back up the road to a designated parking area, and entered to woods via Deer Springs Trail. Starting out at 5600ft in elevation, my first goal was to make it to the first unofficial junction 2.3 miles ahead at 6900ft. There I could split off to Strawberry Junction or Suicide Rock.
The hike up Deer Springs Trail is absolutely beautiful. Coming from a person who has only hiked on the east coast, it was spectacular to see the different kind of vegetation and landscape the west has to offer. From smoothed rocks to Coulter Pine Trees. From dry brown dirt to Western Fence Lizards. It was familiar, but with its own twist. Aside from the picture above, here are some of my favorite memories:
Eventually I made it to that first junction, grabbing a shot of Suicide Rock and deciding to continue on Deer Springs Trail to Strawberry Junction. Here is where my memory gets a little shady. I do recall spending the rest of the afternoon hiking, but I’m not sure if I made it to Strawberry Junction. (Being that SJ was only another 1.8 miles, I’d like to think I made it.) What happened was I felt a slight pain in my right ankle in the late afternoon / early evening. I stopped to rest in a fairly open area (SJ?) and decided that since the view was so great and the ground was so level to set up camp for the night.
After setting up shop and finding some firewood, I cooked dinner and enjoyed a beautiful view of the stars as the evening continued. When I was ready for bed (probably around 9pm) I promptly put out the fire and hit the sack. After what felt like only a few hours I awoke to the sun beaming brightly on my tent door. Or so I thought. Apparently I didn’t put the fire out good enough and some wind must have kicked ash up and relit it. As a Eagle Scout who takes very good care of his fires I was highly embarrassed. Using most of my remaining bottled water, as well as some urine (which is 95% water), I put it out again. I stomped and buried the ash and piled the rocks on. There was no way this sucker was going to reignite.
Several hours later I woke up to a slimmer of sunlight shining on he tent. I thought it was odd though the moment I saw it flicker. I opened my tent to see the campfire lit itself once again. Granted it could not have expanded much because of the rocks placed atop it, it was still disconcerting. I stomped it out, saving my last remaining drops of water for the hike down, and watched the sunrise as my body awoke.
By the time I was ready to head down, I felt like the fire had no chances of relighting. It had been about 8-10 hours time, put out twice, and closely monitored that morning. I have never encountered such a feisty fire before.
The hike back was just as rewarding as going up (if not more so being that it was easier). Heading down gives you scenic views overlooking the land below. Sprawling hills, huge white rocks, and treetops covered the land for as far as the eye could see. My ankle still did hurt while hiking back, but at least the descent went much quicker than the ascent.
This hike happened several years ago and yet I still cannot get it out of my head. I constantly find myself looking back at these photos and recalling the fond memories of this trip. A picture may be worth a thousand words but a memory like this will last a lifetime. The uniqueness of the terrain and interesting plant life keep drawing me to come back. If you ever get a chance to climb this mountain range I highly recommend it.
If you’d like to see a few more pictures you can check out my album here.
Here is a copy of the trail map: