Mexico – San Jacinto

Finding A Groove

As I set out thru Southern California and beyond, what’s really striking to me (and everyone else), is the water. Water is everywhere, and typically not just in the form of a trickle. Stream crossings are even a part of the to do list for week one, which to me seems quite unusual. There are still of course some otherwise usual suspects including lots of daytime heat/sun exposure, and plenty of blisters for me as a result. There is also trail magic, which is almost always a welcome relief.

To manage the heat, I found myself enthusiastically waking up at 4am every single day to get some night hiking in. Naturally, when you’re up that early you also get to enjoy the desert sunrises, which I find to be some of the most charming moments this landscape has to offer. New bodily pains would put a stop to the fun every day, like a game of injury whack-a-mole. From lower elevation to the forested highlands surrounding Mt. Laguna, I found myself slowing down and taking my first zero. Tough days getting started, but it’s nothing a Baja Salad, local IPA and some bucket laundry can’t fix.

Visual Feasts(and literal ones too)

Heat quickly turned to frost along the sunrise highway. There were even a number of trees and shrubs that had formed icicles overnight, only to have them come crashing down in the warmth of the morning light. I was in pursuit of trees to hang my hammock from, strong ones that are also ice free. As a result I found myself pushing big miles into scissors crossing. Not the most picturesque spot on the PCT but there was good company under the bridge. As a hiker, I gladly collected my free slice of pie: apple pie, with cinnamon ice cream and a cup of coffee from Mom’s in Julian. It made for the best breakfast so far on trail, and I think about it nearly once per day.

At this point moving forward I had even faced the first stretch of dreaded water carries, although a well placed and maintained water cache offered the impossible. The water cache is an easy way to hydrate, but an easier way to feel humbled by generosity. The unforgiving days were also then juxtaposed by the truly delightful presence of seemingly neverending succulents and wildflowers. The superbloom had delivered.

As I continued past the San Felipe Hills and Barrel Spring(thanks for the ride and resupply Mike/everyone at Montezuma Valley Market!), the landscape once again evolved, as it does many times over on a daily basis. Seeing Eagle Rock alone in the early morning light made for a pretty trippy experience. There was a defensive, even troll-like lizard hiding out in the eagle’s wing that day. Funny looking expression on it’s face for sure, albeit vaguely threatening. For the rest of the morning I continued my new favorite hobby: accidentally herding cattle toward Canada. As a reward for my hard day’s work, I got to enjoy the famous bucket shower stalls at the community center in Warner Springs. People seem to really embrace the hikers here, which is heartwarming to say the least.

There was very easy and scenic campsite selection moving forward near Agua Caliente Creek. It helped that along the way I started to feel strong and capable on the somewhat standard 3,000 foot climbs. After making it to the saddle near combs peak and sleeping through the strong and whipping winds I was greeted with views of the snow covered and stunning San Jacinto Range. Now only one long and hot day of hiking left until the famous (veggie)burger at Paradise Valley Cafe. Sorry no photo here, I quickly and unceremoniously ate it, before hitching into Idyllwild.

Risks and Rewards

A zero day at the San Jacinto State Park campground was convenient and affordable. This also gave me a chance to pick up an ice axe at the gear shop. I’d be needing it soon. A long ascent the next day was totally worth it for aerial views of Coachella valley at camp that night. Later on there were definitely a few moments of hesitation while navigating Spitler, Apache, Ansell, and Taquitz though each of them proved to be not just attainable but also quite enjoyable. Microspikes or crampons are more or less necessary because of the high snow year and an ice axe was quite helpful too.

Some simple or fundamental mountaineering skills are also helpful, but it’s certainly a good environment to learn in if you have the inclination. With that being said, everyone must be honest about their risk tolerance and make these decisions for themselves. I found that waking up early, keeping an incredibly slow pace, and expecting plenty of postholing late in the day, was the most realistic approach. The postholing was especially true while climbing San Jacinto where the snow is still quite deep. While technically off trail, it’s one of the most rewarding ascents in Southern California. It felt wrong to pass up.


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Comments 3

  • Nephi Polder : May 1st

    Herding cows toward Canada was hilarious. Great pics and writing. I look forward to more. You bloggers are my armchair trail magic.

    • Sandra : May 1st

      Your descriptions transported me to the trail! Awesome. I’m looking forward to following your journey. Enjoy!

  • Topher : May 2nd

    Living vicariously through vivid descriptions! From the desert floor to the snow cap peaks, seems like you’re getting some great variety. Hopefully there’s more well-earned free dessert in your future!


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