San Jacinto via Devil’s Slide

I wanted to try to cross off another peak on the SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks challenge before my upcoming vacation to see my sister in Arkansas. Of my remaining peaks on the list, several have already been earmarked for other attempts later in the year, so that really only left San Jacinto available right now. Setting my alarm for 3 am, I hit the sack early. The drive up to Idyllwild was uneventful, sans passing what I later learned was a fatal roll-over crash on the southbound I-15. I picked up my permit from the ranger station and drove a bit further to Humber Park. This was going to be my third summit of San Jacinto. My first summit had been done via the Marion Mountain route, and the other time Ted and I had done the traditional route from the tram station. This time I opted to take the Devil’s Slide Trail until it connected with the PCT, then continue on to the summit.

I arrived a bit before dawn at the parking lot. Thankfully, the trailhead has some bathrooms, so I took advantage of that before setting off. I had hiked some of the Devil’s Slide trail years ago when my wife and I spent a weekend in Idyllwild. Unfortunately, I don’t remember a lot about that hike. Grabbing my gear, I headed for the southeast end of the parking lot to the start of the trail. While it was still dark, my eyes had adapted enough to clearly see the well-maintained trail, and I set off.

Knowing I had about 15 miles of hiking ahead of me, I kept my pace measured. As I made my way up toward Saddle Junction, I could see Suicide Rock to the west starting to emerge from the darkness. Once at Saddle Junction, I turned north onto the PCT. I would have a couple of sections of switchbacks to use. Just a friendly reminder that I was climbing to a peak that stands at 10,843 feet.

After crossing from the San Jacinto Wilderness into the Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness, I soon passed the Wellman Cienaga. Two springs still had some flowing water. I had packed my small water filter just in case I needed to refill upon my descent. It was just past here I finally met another person on the trail. He had camped at Little Round Valley the night before, and after summiting this morning was heading back down. We chatted a bit before parting ways.

I found a nice spot past the Wellman Divide for a short break for some fuel and fluids. Since I had dinner plans with some friends back in San Diego, I needed to be mindful of my time. I set a hard turnback time of 11, figuring I would be able to have a quicker pace on the descent. 

The trail had now become familiar to me, as this was the same as the route Ted and I followed last time. Around 10,000 feet I started developing a bit of a headache from the altitude, so I needed to be mindful of it as I continued pushing to the summit. As I kept working my way up, I also kept an eye on my time. It was going to be tight, but I should be ok. Finally, the hut came into view and I knew the peak was a short scramble away. I worked my way to the summit. Unlike last weekend, where I had the peak to myself for a bit, this was not the case today. Several Boy Scout troops were scattered about, along with other hikers. I snapped just a few photos and headed back down to the hut for a short break and a snack. It was almost 11 and I needed to begin my descent. I had really hoped to relax on the summit for a while, but I knew that was not going to happen. 

Making my way down, I passed more and more hikers heading up. I suspect many of these had started at the tram station. Continuing back the same way, I would check my current pace to see if I was still on track. Thankfully, I was. Reaching the spring, I stopped for a bit. My water bladder still had enough water, so I did not need to filter any, but I did take the opportunity to wet a towel to toss around my neck. I certainly could feel the day becoming warmer. But between the shade of the trees and the slight breeze, it was still a mostly pleasant descent. Judging by the faces of those ascending, they might have a different opinion.

I knew there was a chance of some thunderstorms in the later afternoon, and to the south, I could see the start of some clouds forming. Once I reached Saddle Junction again, I knew I had a mere 2.5 miles to go. Since I had forgone any long rest breaks, I was starting to feel the miles at this point. Finally, the parking lot came into view. I happily took off my hiking shoes and slipped on my sandals. The thermometer in the car read 91°F! Thankfully, I really did not feel it during the descent, although on some of the exposed sections, it was a bit warm. I grabbed a couple of cold drinks from the market and another snack and began the long drive home. All told the hike was 14.9 miles with 4,378 feet of gain in 9:45. And yes, I made the dinner party without any issue. 🙂

Baden-Powell

Decided to get back to working on the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge by summiting Mount Baden-Powell. Since we were under a heat advisory, I knew a very early start was in order. I set the alarm for 3 am, and begged forgiveness from my wife. As I finished getting my gear ready in the morning, I discovered that my water bladder was leaking. Crud! I pivoted to using side bottles instead and tossed in an extra bottle in the pack as well. With that problem solved, I began the two-hour drive to the trailhead. When I pulled into the lot at Vincent Gap, there were just a handful of cars there. Another hiker was also getting ready across the lot. We chatted briefly. It turns out he drove up from Oceanside. He planned to do Big Horn Mine first with a friend, then attempt Baden-Powell. I wished him well and I left him waiting for his friend to arrive.

The trail began its steady climb to the summit. I was mindful of my pace, as I knew I had almost 2,800 feet of gain ahead of me. I kept an eye on the east, as the sun had not cleared the mountains yet, and I was hoping to capture some nice photos. 

I would stop every so often and grab some water from my side bottles. While the short break was nice, I am more of a sipping style of hiker. I continued to make my way up the 40 switchbacks. It was not until the last mile or so that I finally encountered some hikers coming down. 

I stopped at the Wally Waldon Tree for a short break. This limber pine is believed to be the oldest living thing in the entire San Gabriel Mountains and was named after Michael H. “Wally” Waldron, an L.A. area Boy Scout leader who helped organize a nine-week project to repair the trails and erect the concrete monument and plaque to Lord Baden-Powell.

From there I continued on the last tenth of a mile to the summit. The hikers that passed me were resting on the concrete platform where the monument to Lord Baden-Powell is erected. I headed over to the flag and the sign and took my summit photos. As I stood on the summit once again, I knew I had a better ascent. While I felt the last bit of the climb, I pushed on since the summit was close and I could refuel then. The other two hikers headed back down the trail, so I grabbed their spot and enjoyed my snacks. A couple more hikers joined me on the summit. One was another Six-Pack Challenger, and in fact, this was his final peak! Then I heard my name being called out. The two women I had met on Oakzanita had just summited. I went over and chatted with them for a bit. Meanwhile, the summit I once had to myself was now swarming with people. I figured now would be a good time to head back down, plus it was starting to get warmer.

I set off back down the trail at a quick pace. The trail was certainly more busy than during my ascent. One group of four ladies stopped me to inquire about my Garmin InReach and its use. We chatted a bit about it and how I use it when I am out. One of them has a Whitney permit and wants to have something with her. We parted ways, and I continued motoring down the trail. As I drew closer to the trailhead, I could feel the day becoming very warm. Whenever the trail passed through an exposed section, I could really feel it. My greetings to passing hikers changed from simple encouragement to more cautionary about staying safe. I could not believe hikers were still starting out under the heat for this hard of a hike. When I reached the car, its thermometer was at 88°F! I’m glad I started when I did. With that, my 4th peak on the Six-Pack of Peaks was in the books. I covered the 7.58 miles in 3:51, about 15 minutes faster than last time!

Gonzales Canyon

I decided to do this hike after work, since it is just about 15 minutes from my house. My daughter decided to join me for this jaunt. We parked at Torrey Highlands Park and headed to the north end of it. From there we picked up the Nature trail and began our descent into the canyon. The route we choose became a touch rocky, since my daughter did not have trekking poles, she had to be careful.

We chatted about our upcoming road trip to see my sister and the new school year as we made our way to the selfie spot. I pointed out the poison oak that lined the trail. We took our photo, and began to retrace our path. Instead of climbing back up to the trailhead, we opted for a different route. She was not pleased with the steep hill we had to climb, but she made it. With that my 2021-2022 Coast to Crest Challenge was complete!

Blue Sky to Lake Poway

The latest edition of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy’s Coast to Crest Challenge kicked off on July 1st, so I knew what much of holiday weekends plan were now. I decided that I would start the challenge off by hiking from Blue Sky Ecological Reserve, then up and around Lake Poway. This was going to be a nice 5.2-mile hike. I have not hiked Blue Sky in a long time, so I was looking forward to it. I pulled in about 8, and the lot was almost full, but I found a space. I applied my sunscreen, grabbed my gear, and set off.

I cruised along the wide trail for a bit until I came to the junction with the Creekside Trail. I was looking at my map and deciding if I want to take it. Two women ask for an opinion on the trail options. I told the Creekside trail would be better coming back, as it should have a touch more shade. I told them I was continuing on the main trail, then heading up to the Lake and around. We headed off together. I began chatting about the hike and the C2C challenge. When we reached the turn-off to Lake Poway, they asked if they could tag along. I welcomed the company. We started our ascent and I learned they were fairly new to hiking, so I began giving probably more information on hiking San Diego than they bargained for. I pointed out some various landmarks as we made our way to the lake. But more importantly, I showed them what poison oak looks like.

We cruised around its shoreline. I took my required selfie for the challenge near the southern end of the lake. The trail was busy but not crowded. We dropped back down from the lake onto the main trail. Soon we were back at the parking lot. I gave them some more suggestions for their next adventure and bid farewell. All told the hike was 5.27 miles and we did it in 1:59.

Dust Devil Trail

Decided to hike the easiest of the Coast to Crest Challenge’s hike, the Dust Devil Trail with some of the family. We pulled into the parking lot in the early evening to enjoy the end of the holiday weekend. The sun was just behind the late-day clouds, as we strolled to the wildlife view spot, aka ‘selfie spot’.

The family returned the same way to the car, as it was getting close to when the trail closes. I opted to hustle around the larger loop to take in some sights. We meet back at the car almost at the same time. One more hike to go and I will have completed this year’s Coast to Crest Challenge.

Santa Fe Valley Connector trail

Once I was done with my summit of Black Mountain, I drove the short distance to the trailhead for the Santa Fe Valley Connector trail. This section of the Coast to Crest Trail was recently acquired, so I was looking forward to exploring it. The trailhead is shared with the Lusardi Creek Loop. The early morning cloud cover was burning off, so I made sure to apply my sunscreen before setting off.

The trail passes by some incredible homes before dipping down toward the Lusardi Creek. The creek is still flowing, from residential runoff, and it made for a fun crossing. A guide rope is secured to the trees to help you across. From there, the trail follows the creek for a while, before turning east. 

After following the San Dieguito river for a bit, I had a small climb to reach my turn-around spot. I located my ‘selfie’ spot, with the Crosby Golf Course behind me, and took my photo. I retraced my route. The day had warmed up and I was glad I only had the short climb back to the car.  

Black Mountain-Miner’s Ridge

For the second hike on the Coast to Crest Challenge, I decided why not do the one that is almost in my backyard, Black Mountain. The recommended route was to take the Miner’s Ridge trail to the summit to snap your selfie. From the parking lot, the trail heads east for a bit before making its turn and starts climbing toward the summit.

I took a more direct route so I could also summit the ‘secondary’ summit as well. Plus, I was planning on getting in a second hike in after.

Once I reached the summit, there were numerous mountain bikers, some other hikers. I stayed long enough to take the photo and retreated from the crowds. I made my way back to the car, tossed in my gear, and headed off to the Scorpion Ridge-Santa Fe Valley Connector trail.

Tecate Peak

From the summit of Otay Mountain, we drove down the east road back to the 94. A lone motorcycle passed us during our descent, so far we have had the mountain all to ourselves. Once at the border, we drove along the border wall. Here we passed a border patrol truck. I rolled down the window and let the agent know what are plans were. He wished us well and we continued on.

Tecate Peak

The road was certainly rougher than the Otay Mountain Truck Trail, but nothing that the Subaru could not handle. We worked our way up to the summit. It was in the mid-80s, so I drove all the way to the top.

We took in the views, spotting the various peaks we have climbed and a few that Ted still needs… Once we were done, we carefully drove back down. There was a border patrol lookout along the way, but it appeared not to be staffed. We also passed another parked truck while we made our descent, but was not sure if it was also border patrol or not. It was getting close to lunchtime, so we headed home and grab some Mexican food from Mi Ranchito and enjoyed it in the shade of my backyard. It was nice to cross these two off the list again without any issues.

Otay Mountain

With the 4th of July weekend upon us, the thought of fighting holiday traffic and crowds on any of the Six-Pack of Peaks I still needed to do did not seem appealing. Since I was still on vacation, I opted to go ahead and summit Otay Mountain and Tecate Peak. These are drivable summits, and I really don’t have any desire to hike them. Ted Markus was also free, so he hopped into the passenger seat and we set off.

Looking back at Otay Mountain Truck Trail

The road was in really good shape. I was hoping being early and on a Friday we would not encounter anyone on the road, as it can it narrow at times. It was not almost until Doghouse Junction that we pass our first car. Thankfully we were at a nice wide spot so there were no issues. Since it was warm, rather than parking at Doghouse Junction, we drove to the turn off to the summit and parked there.

We hiked the 1/2 mile to the summit and took in the views. A new rescue station was in place for any migrant that finds themselves here and in trouble.

We poked around the summit for a bit then headed back to the car to continue on to the second peak of the day, Tecate!

Rae Lakes

As my permit dates for Rae Lakes began approaching, I started watching the weather forecasts with more interest. Initially, this was to figure out what I might need to pack. But as the days became closer and closer, I became more concerned about the conditions I might find myself in. This was going to be my first multi-day solo trip, so I was trending toward being extra cautious about the journey. Initially, the forecast called for a warm start, followed by a 20% chance of thunderstorms for the rest of the trip. That is manageable, as thunderstorms are common in the latter part of the day. But each day, the forecast kept trending in the wrong direction. That 20-30% chance became 30-40%, then 40-50%. In addition, the weather service also issued a Fire Weather Warning (which was later changed to a Red Flag Warning) for late Monday afternoon through Tuesday evening. They warned of dry lightning triggering fires and the high winds creating the possibility of it becoming fast-moving. Not really the conditions that I looked forward to hiking into. As I sat in my hotel in Visalia, I reached out to some of my more experienced backpacking buddies (David & Leslie/Mike) to get their take. They all agreed that it did not look like it was going to be a fun trip. The general consensus was to go ahead, get up early as planned and drive the 2 hours to Road’s End and consult with the ranger. If I liked what I heard, continue on to the first campsite and spend the night. Then I could make the call and decide if I want to continue or simply turn back. With that, I set my alarm for 4 am, and hit the pillow.

When I woke up. I checked the latest weather report and saw that it was looking more like 50-60% of thunderstorms and showers as well were now in the forecast. Given I had not camped in the rain, doing it for multiple days seemed like a poor option. I got to the permit station just a touch after 7 am. I spoke with Ranger Mary about the forecast and what her thoughts were. She basically asked, “How much do you like being wet?” That settled it, no loop for me this time, but I was still game for one night in the wilderness! So, I parked in the long-term lot, finished getting ready, and hit the trailhead just before 8 am. The forecast for Upper Paradise was to be in the low 80s, with a light breeze. I had hoped that my early start would let me stay ahead of the heat. I had not paid attention to the forecasted high, so I had no idea exactly what I might be racing against.

The trail is fairly flat for the first 1.9 miles until it reaches the junction of the Kings River and Bubbs Creek. Here I would take the left fork and begin ascending toward Paradise Valley. The sounds of the river were so refreshing. The views were as incredible as I had imagined. It was getting warmer as I pushed on. I had a liter of water in my interior water bladder, a liter in a side bottle, and 1 liter of Gatorade. I could feel my pace slow. At first, I thought I might be the added weight of 5 days of food, the extra clothing, and other items making it tougher. But, as I felt the sweat begin to soak my shirt, I knew that day was warmer than I had hoped for. 

At Mist Falls I took an extended break. Ate some of the oranges I brought for the first day and drank some more fluids. I decided to spend a bit of time in the shade and recharge before pressing on. Most everyone here were day-hikers. Oh, how I coveted their small light packs… I pressed on, being mindful of the temperatures. I dug out my cooling towel and wrapped it around my neck. 

I kept finding myself looking for a place to sit under some shade for a bit. I checked my position and the topography ahead of me. I gave serious consideration to throwing in the towel and bailing. I found another rest stop and refilled my side bottle with some cool water from the river (properly filtered of course). I finished my oranges but still could not think about having my proper lunch. I knew that this was not a good sign, so I tore open one of my goos and forced it down. 

As I made my way across the exposed switchbacks, I estimated the temperatures were either in the upper 80s or low 90s. This was going to take some serious effort if I was actually going to make camp. My spirits were getting crushed. I would move from shady section to shady section, pausing for a bit almost every time. Once I reached the southern end of the valley, I took another break and was able to eat my lunch. I again went to the river to filter more water, as my bladder had been completely emptied by this point. Rechecking the map, I was not too far from Middle Paradise campsite, so I pressed on. 

Passing through Lower Paradise, I could see the numerous dead trees and why this campsite is currently closed. I then spied the bear locker at Middle Paradise and said this was as far as I was going to go. I was the only one here, so picked a nice spot a bit back from the water, hoping the bugs would not be an issue. Thankfully, for most of the hike, they were not too bad.

I got some more water and then began to set up camp for the night. It was only 3:30 or so, but I just did not have the energy to hike another 2 or so miles to Upper Paradise. Eventually, 3 other hikers joined me at the site. And not soon after that, a doe strolled past us with not a care in the world. While soaking my feet in the cool water, I used my InReach to report in with my wife and give her my status.

My site had a fire ring, so I had planned for a small fire to pass the time later. I gathered some starter material and placed the pine needles in the pit. I then set off to find some downed wood that I could use. I started to smell the familiar smell of a campfire. I figured it must be from further down the trail. According to GaiaGPS, the Middle Paradise campsite was further north. I then looked over to the fire pit, and the started material had begun to smolder on its own! It seems the last users of this firepit had not properly put it out. Thankfully, I took care of it, but I was pissed. 

About 4 to 6 other hikers passed on through, pushing on toward Upper Paradise. I would say now that I had an extended break here, I probably could have pushed on. But, I was fine spending the night here. Later in the early evening, two more hikers also decided to find a spot to pitch their tents. It was one of them who spotted the bear as it passed around us. We watched it as it took a look at us. It looked to be about 2-3 years old and did not seem to have any tags or collar. Eventually, it wandered away. I certainly was going to be a bit more cautious for the evening. Since I was not needing 5 days of food I treated myself to a double dinner, being a bit more mindful of any unwanted company. 

With plenty of water to manage my fire, I sat and enjoyed the flames. I reflected on what I had overcome. I let the fire die down until only the embers remained, I doused it with my water pouches and made sure it was out. I had really wanted to gaze up at the night sky from Rae Lakes, but this view would have to do. The night was pleasant, I slept without the cover on my tent and just my camp shirt on. Once the moon rose, it did wake me once, but even that was a welcomed sight. As the pre-dawn broke, I found myself rested and ready to head back out. The other folks were going to continue on to Woods Creek and then see what the weather held. I did briefly consider it, but in the end, felt it best to stick to the one night.

I repacked my bag, trying to be mindful of the other campers. I knew I was hiking down into the heat, so I wanted an earlier start. Not ten minutes on the trail, I spotted that same bear dashing in front of me and then stopping a safe distance away. I kept my face toward him as I continued carefully down the trail. Two hikers passed me before I reach Lower Paradise, and I gave them each a heads up about my earlier bear sighting. Upon reaching Lower Paradise there were two folks who had ignored the closure notice and camped there. I let them know as well. 

The miles slipped by much easier, the pack a little lighter, the temperatures pleasant and mostly going downhill. I stopped at Mist Falls, and this time the entire area was empty. I sat a listened to the roar of the river tumbling down. When I went to put my pack back on, the sternum strap snapped. Crud! Maybe this was a sign that turning back was a good idea. Also, I did discover a hole in one of my pairs of Darn Tough Socks…. About ¾ of a mile past Mist Falls, I meet my first day-hikers. A family was taking a break and politely asked if I had bug spray. The bugs had been worse today. In fact, at Mist Falls, I broke out the bug net. I turned around and told the father which pocket to find it in. They were so happy. We chatted some before we each headed our separate ways. 

As I made my way along the trail, a mule train was making its way up, I assume to resupply the ranger station at Rae Lakes. I stepped aside and let them pass. Now I would watch out for fresh droppings on the trail. A bit further down, I met two more day-hikers, they told me they just encountered a rattlesnake slithering off the trail. Sure, enough it was just off to the side, minding its own business. I safely snapped a photo or two and continued on. 

I started to encounter a mix of day-hikers and those still heading out to attempt the loop. I let the backpackers know about my bear sighting at Middle Paradise and wished them well. Soon, I found myself back at the junction of Bubbs Creek and the Kings River. I hoped to cross that bridge upon my return from the loop. But this time just a quick stroll on it would have to do.

The day was getting much warmer, and I could feel the need to drink more and more as I covered the last couple of miles. I found myself drifting from shady section to shady section again. I was guessing it was in the mid to upper 80s. I would know soon enough once I got to the car. It was about 10:30, and I met someone just heading out. We chatted a bit, he had just landed a walk-up permit. He had hoped to have the ability to send a message to his wife, but couldn’t. So I offered to pass along his itinerary for him once I was able to.

Finally, the permit station came into view. I spoke with the ranger and gave him my bear sighting information, as well as the camping at Lower Paradise and the fire issue. The area is now at Stage 3 fire restrictions, so the small fire I had is no longer allowed.  Once at the car, I cleaned up some, then threw on some shorts and a t-shirt. Unfortunately, I also developed a nice blister on my toe. I had felt something earlier, but when I checked my foot, I did not see it. I guess it was another sign that I made the right call. I picked out some snacks for the ride home, but the trail mix was not going to be one of the options, as it had melted into a mass of goo. Yeah, it had been warm on this hike. As I pulled away, heading toward Cedar Grove for some cold soda and a snack, I waited for the car’s thermometer to settle down. It read 95°F at 11 am. Yikes! That would explain why I had so much trouble, it was even hotter than I planned. 

As I drove up out of Kings Canyon, I pulled over at a nice vista and could see the start of the clouds forming in the distance. I decided to take the long way home and drive through Sequoia National Park. I did not plan to stop, I just wanted to enjoy the trees and views. Once back off the mountain, I headed back through Bakersfield, this time stopping at Dewar’s to pick up some chews for the family. All in all, it was an adventure to build on. Except for the one-two punch of the heat and the predicted rain, the trip went mostly well. Maybe in the early fall, I might find an opportunity to try again…

The forecast on Monday.