Our hikes are really only half over when we reach the peak, the lake, or the summit. The hike isn’t complete until you return safely to your starting point. Because this hike, number 20, would be my halfway point in my quest to hike 40 times in 2013, I wanted to do something special.
I knew that we were going to take our annual trip to Palm Desert for a week in June. I also knew, largely from reading “The Modern Hiker” blog, that there are some terrific trails in the San Jacinto Mountains of southern California that form the western boundary of the Coachella Valley. (Modern Hiker is located here: http://www.modernhiker.com/)
To get to my starting point, I would take California State Route 74, “The Pines to Palms Highway” from Palm Desert up, up, up, through the mountains and the Santa Rosa Indian Reservation to the beautiful Garner Valley. After getting some advice from the Forest Service at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center, I was persuaded that the hike up the Devil’s Slide Trail would be strenuous (about 1,600 feet elevation gain in 2.5 miles) but, was well worth the effort. The top of the trail intersects the Pacific Crest Trail (http://www.pcta.org/), which would take me to the peak trail and on to the Fire Lookout at Tahquitz Peak at 8,825 feet.
Because I would be hiking in a Wilderness Area, the Forest Service requires a Wilderness Pass. These passes are limited in number and are obtained by waiting in line at the Idylwild Ranger Station before they open. Yes, you must get in line early during the peak season to be able to get a pass. All of the passes were distributed before I got on the trail! Call ahead to get the Ranger Station hours so that you get your pass!
After obtaining your pass, and listening to a very short “safety on the trail” speech by a friendly Forest Service Ranger, you drive about a mile up the mountain to a parking area at Humber Park. Before you hit the trail, there are additional signs to remind you that you are entering a Wilderness Area and not taking a Sunday afternoon stroll through the park!
Then, load up on water – I carried 4 liters – and snacks, and off you go…
The switch backs at the bottom of the hill aren’t too bad. There were several other hikers along the trail on this day. So, I was never without company.
Suicide Rock is off to the left as you really start to climb out of Strawberry Valley on the Devil’s Slide Trail…
Because I started about 8 am on the trail, and most of the trail is on the northern slopes of the mountains, I stayed relatively cool. Great views of the San Bernardino Valley to the west gave me a good excuse to stop and rest!
The Forest Service does a very good job of keeping this trail maintained.
A shot of the Sugar Pine, Jeffrey Pine and the White Fir that kept me cool.
I saw several Stellar’s Jays, white headed woodpeckers, and gray squirrels along the trail. Unfortunately, my photo skills aren’t quite good enough to get any decent pictures of these critters. However, there were several different wildflowers blooming and a natural spring or two…
After about 2 miles of climbing, I caught my first glance of my destination from the trail…Tahquitz Peak!
As I neared the top, the trail got a bit steeper and more car-size granite boulders appeared above the trail
You’ve reached the top of Devil’s Slide Trail at about 8,000 feet when the trail really flattens out at a point called Saddle Junction. Here’s a view approaching the top:
When your calves are screaming…you reach the Saddle Junction…flat and shady!
Saddle Junction is a football field size junction between the PCT, the Caramba Trail, the Willow Creek Trail to Long Valley and the Palm Springs Aerial Tram station, and the San Jacinto Peak Trail. There were 2 Forest Service Rangers posted here checking everyone’s Wilderness Passes, helping with directions, and making sure that we all had enough water, etc. to continue down whatever trail we were going to take. To reach Tahquitz Peak, I would head south on the PCT another 3 miles. It is pretty flat for the first mile or so…
The hard to find Snow Plant…along the PCT
PCT and Tahquitz Peak Trail Junction…
Just about another mile and about a 800 foot climb along the side of Tahquitz Peak from this trail junction to the top! Looking south east, Red Tahquitz Peak (8,738′) from the trail.
View looking west along the ridge…
And then you leave the ridge, head west along a steep grade, some switchbacks, and continue climbing on the northern edge of Taqhquitz Peak.
Lily Peak looking north
I was getting very tired when some hikers coming down told me that I only had another 100 yards or so to go…Hooray! I hiked through a path between some granite boulders and there to my left and above was the Forest Service Fire Lookout Station at the top of Tahquitz Peak! The view was awesome!
Mileage: 12.0 miles Round Trip…but, I did a lot of exploring (my mileage didn’t match the map)
Elevation Gain/Loss: approximately 2,400 feet
I would rate this 12.0 mile hike as strenuous. The trails themselves are are very steep in some parts. The Devil’s Slide trail alone rises 1,600 feet in only 2.5 miles. There was about 1.5 miles of relatively flat trail along the Saddle Junction ridge. The trail then rises another 800 feet on the climb up to the Fire Lookout Station. Trails: Devil’s Slide / P C T / Little Tahquitz / Peak Trail.
Great time in the Wilderness! This was a grueling hike…but, well worth the view. I met some great people along the trail. I was also really impressed with the Forest Service Rangers and volunteers who helped me along the way. Well, that’s 20 hikes and 115 miles! 20 hikes and 85 miles to go. Until next time, if you are looking for me, I’m over the hill.