San Jacinto Overnight

I pulled into the overnight parking lot at the Palm Springs tram station and got myself ready for another overnight on San Jacinto. This was going to be my first overnight and major peak since my foot surgery in April. Having done this trip 15 months earlier, I knew what lay ahead for me. I pulled on my hiking boots, slung my pack onto my back, and headed up to the tram station. I was also trying out my new smaller bear canister (Bear Vault 425) for this trip. It is just the right size for a quick one- or two-day overnight trip. The tram car was only partially full as we made our ascent up from the desert. Once at the station, I walked down the concrete switchbacks and over to the ranger station. I checked in with the ranger and got some last-minute information about being mindful of camping under trees. Tropical Storm Hillary has done some damage to the mountain, and recently a tree limb fell and injured a camper. I certainly was going to be inspecting my possible campsite a bit closer before pitching my tent.

Long Valley Creek was flowing nicely as I made my way up to Round Valley. I passed a few hikers along the way, including one who had attempted Cactus to Clouds (C2C) that day. We chatted about his attempt, and he told me he had some trouble just before the tram station (a section known to be difficult), and once he reached Round Valley, he knew he was done. C2C is one of the hardest hikes in the US, so just doing Cactus to Tram is a major accomplishment. He headed back down the trail and continued upward toward the campground. I decided to stay at the same site I stayed at last time—Buckthorn. The forecast called for some wind, so I was looking for one of the more sheltered sites. I surveyed the various tent spots and opted for a different one from the last time, in part not to be under a tree. I set up my site, grabbed my water bags, and returned to the water spigot at the trail junction. The water was flowing well and I quickly filtered my water needs for tonight and tomorrow. I relaxed for a while and enjoyed my dinner and the beer I hauled up (for 2 miles I’ll carry a can of beer). Soon after the sun dropped behind the mountain, I turned in. The general plan was to be at Wellman Divide around sunrise.

The winds weren’t too bad. Once in a while the tent got a good shake, but it was nothing like the winds I had when I camped at Parson’s Landing on Catalina. The bigger issue was I pulled a muscle in my shoulder and could not get comfortable to really fall asleep. Ugh! It finally relaxed enough for me to get some sleep before my alarm went off. I had a nice warm breakfast. I am guessing it was about 40°F as I finished loading my slack pack. I began my climb up toward the Wellman Divide. From Round Valley, it is just about 1 mile, but you are going to gain about 800 feet of elevation. I briefly lost the trail a couple of times in the dark, but just for a minute or two. I would stop, turn about, and take in the beautiful colors that were appearing to the east.

At the Wellman Divide, I took a well-earned break. I am trying to be better about taking rest breaks and eating snacks along the way. I mentally broke the hike into three parts; Round Valley to Wellman Divide, Wellman Divide to Miller Peak, and then Miller Peak to the Summit. Each section was about a mile in length, so a perfect way to balance the effort out.

The trail up Miller Peak went well. This section is more exposed, so I got some nice views of the sun as it rose up through the bands of clouds. While the air was getting thinner, the grade wasn’t as bad as that first mile. Soon Miller Peak came into view. I was considering adding it in, but was going to wait and see how I felt after the summit. I took another break when the trail turns back southward, knowing I had about 8/10 of a mile to the summit. I continued my steady pace and at the junction with the trail from Little Round Valley, I took another quick rest break before the final push. I was feeling the poor sleep affect me some and I was at over 10,400 feet. I continued climbing, scanning the trail ahead for that first glimpse of the rescue hut. That was the sign that the maintained trail would end, and then the final rock scramble to the summit would begin. I picked my way up the rocks, following a path that I remembered, and soon the summit came into view.

I scrambled up the rocks to the benchmark and took my photo with my challenge badge next to it as my summit proof. I surveyed the views for a short while, then ducked down to find a spot out of the wind and take a VERY well-earned break. I looked around to see if any of the summit signs were around, but I suspect the high winds yesterday and last night might have blown them away. After a nice break, I knew it was time to head down the mountain. I still had to pack up camp and hike back to the tram station. At the Wellman Divide, I met two hikers who had come up via Devil’s Slide. We chatted briefly. One was heading back, while the other was going for the summit. We said our goodbyes and took off down our respective trails. As I made my way down toward Round Valley, I wondered if I might encounter someone attempting C2C today. It was still too early for any hikers to have come from the tram station. Alas, my descent was one of solitude.

After packing up camp, which is much easier in the daylight, I sauntered back toward the tram station. I passed a lot more folks this time, including 10 or so backpackers heading to Round Valley. As I neared the Ranger station, my eye spotted something moving on the trail. I looked down and it was a Western Mountain Toad. I grabbed a photo or two before continuing on. There had been a sign to be aware of them at the Ranger station and I was happy to actually see one. I checked back in with the same ranger as the day before. I also let him know they were down to one roll in the pit toilets near the Gooseberry campsite. I then made that long climb up the concrete switchbacks to the tram station. It certainly was busier than the day before. I got a nice cold soda and waited for the next tram. I always feel bad for folks riding down and having to stand next to stinky hikers and backpackers. 

Once back at the car, I let Anita know I was skipping going on to Baden-Powell, as I was a bit wiped from the hike, and I would be home in time for dinner. While certainly not my fastest time up the mountain, it was a solid hike for me. 

Ranger Station to Round Valley Campsite: 2.27 miles, 1:19, and 800 feet of gain

Summit: 5.81 miles, 4:30 (moving time), and 1,648 feet of gain.

Round Valley Junction to Ranger Station: 1.94 miles, 1:09, and almost all downhill :).

I am an avid peak bagger, sometimes backpacker, and former sea kayaker living in San Diego. In 2019, I became the third person to complete the San Diego 100 Peak Challenge. Not stopping with that accomplishment, I set my sights on the harder San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list, which I completed in 2021. In addition, I have conquered several Six-Pack of Peaks challenges (SoCal, San Diego, and Arizona-Winter). Beyond attempting the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list a second time, I am looking forward to exploring new summits and new adventures across the southwest. 

Little Lakes Valley

After spending the night at the Grandview Campground, I made my way toward Mosquito Flat Trailhead to begin my backpacking trip in Little Lakes Valley. While I could have made breakfast at the campground, I had a recommendation to stop at the Rock Creek Lakes Resort and have breakfast there instead. After enjoying some eggs, toast, and coffee out on their deck, I hopped back in the car and continued driving toward the trailhead. While it was just after 9:30, I got the last available parking spot. There were some available in the overflow section about ¼ mile back down the road. As a point of trivia, this parking lot is the highest paved trailhead in the US at 10,200 feet!

My basic plan was to saunter along the trail, soaking in the views until I reached Chickenfoot Lake, and then find a campsite. Once I had my camp set up, I would then continue exploring the valley up toward its end at Gem Lakes. After taking advantage of the pit toilets at the trailhead, I set off down the trail. The sounds of Rock Creek flowing past me filled my ears. The trail would take me past several lakes, each with its unique beauty. 

Since I was in no hurry, I made sure to keep my pace relaxed. This was in part to manage my foot, but also to remember the fact I am hiking at over 10,000 feet. The trail would gradually climb for a bit, then rise up a bit as it neared a lake, then it would mostly level out again as it passed by it, then repeat the cycle again.

After formally entering the John Muir Wilderness, the next milestone was the junction with the trail that could take you up to Ruby Lake and over Mono Pass. But that was for another adventure. Soon, my first lake, Mack Lake, would come into view. This lake sits down a bit from the trail, so I did not go exploring it. I could see some folks trying their luck in fishing. Over the two days out in Little Lakes Valley, I saw quite a few folks with fishing rods along the trail.

Continuing on, I soon came to my second lake, Marsh Lake. I left the main trail and followed a small spur trail to get an even better view of the lake. I had barely begun this hike and was already blown away by the beauty of the area. Once back on the main trail, and after a short climb, the next lake would open up before me. The trail now hugged the shoreline of Heart Lake. Here a string of Boy Scouts passed me, returning from their overnight adventures. 

Side streams would flow into the lakes. Some of them had real bridges, while others were just rock-hopping across. My next lake along the trail was Box Lake. Much like Mack Lake, this one sits slightly below the trail. Checking my tracker, I had covered about half of the planned 3-mile hike to the campsite.

So far, everything was feeling good as I made my way up toward Long Lake. The trail passes on the left side of the lake, along a rocky shoreline. I could start to see the landscape changing, transitioning from the forest into the alpine. I knew after Long Lake, I would reach the junction with the trail that would take me over to Chickenfoot Lake. 

One of the reasons for picking this lake to set up camp is that it sits off the main trail and is a bit more secluded from the main trail traffic. I worked my way up and over to the lake. While the gain is not much, being at altitude certainly has an effect on the effort needed. I passed several sites but wanted to survey my options before picking one. I found a nice one with a good view of one of the “toes” of Chickenfoot Lake and began to set things up. As I headed down to the lake to filter some water, a couple of hikers were nearby enjoying their lunch in the shade. It turns out one of them was the volunteer at the Bristlecone Forest Visitor Center and the one who swore me in as a “Junior Ranger”. Small world… I quickly filtered some water, as I was hungry as well. I tried a new method of filling my ‘dirty’ Sawyer bags by using a Ziploc bag to scoop the water from the lake, then transfer it into the Sawyer bags. This worked like a charm. No more struggling to fill them via their small openings. 

After stashing my bear canister, I tossed some items into my slack pack and set off to explore the rest of the valley. I rejoined the main trail and headed toward the Gem Lakes. Rising to my left was Morgan Pass. Apparently, there was an effort to have a road cross it and come into the valley from that direction. In fact, the frame of one of those cars sits rusting by the side of the trail. I gave serious thought to climbing up to the pass, but the desire to see the lakes won out.

Gem Lakes is a small collection of about 5 or so lakes at the end of the valley. The two main lakes sit almost next to one another at the actual end. A few wildflowers dotted the trail as I hiked toward it. The steep walls of the valley gave me a clear idea of how much further I had to go. I came up over the small rise, and the main lake spread out before me. Some snow still remained tucked against the rocky talus of the northside of the slope. Some folks had pitched their tents at some of the available spots along the shoreline. I followed the trail along it until I reached the western shore, then found a comfortable spot and just relaxed. 

I decided to head back to my camp. I kept eyeing the climb up Morgan Pass and gave it one last consideration at the junction, but I knew I needed to stay conservative as I still did need to hike out tomorrow. Once back at the camp, I gave my feet a nice soak in the cold lake. I figured they had earned that reward. I found some shade, kicked back, and listened to an audiobook for a while. 

As the sun began to set behind the mountains, I left the shore and began making dinner. I sat against some rocks, gazing at the water while eating my meal. The bugs started to come out, so I opted to retreat to my tent and continue my audiobook for a while. Soon, I could feel sleep coming on and I drifted off. Since it was one day after the full moon, I knew I was not going to have a dark sky to enjoy. Around midnight I woke up and poked my head out of the tent to be rewarded with a magical sight. The glow of the moon was lighting up the mountains and I hoped my phone’s camera captured it. Thankfully, it did.

I woke a bit before sunrise, which was fine as I had hoped to also capture some of the early morning aspenglow. I tried to have some breakfast, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I guess the altitude was getting to me a bit. As I was packing, I got the moon setting behind the pointed peaks to the west, and a few minutes later, I got my aspenglow.

Those pancakes back at the Rock Creek Lake Resort were sounding really good, so I set off. The air was calm as I neared Box Lake, and its smooth surface was a wonderful mirror of the majestic mountains behind it. While the hike out was going to be mostly downhill, I did have a few small bumps to cross over. Several of the other lakes also provide similar shots as I drew nearer to the trailhead. About halfway back, I started to encounter some other hikers, and quite a few dogs as well. I stopped and chatted with some, as they inquired about where I had camped, much like I had done the day before.

The sun finally rose above the high valley walls just before I reached the trailhead. With that my adventure in Little Lakes Valley was drawing to a close. As I made my way to the parking lot, a couple in a truck asked if I was leaving. I told them “yes, in a bit”. They swung around and politely waited for me to switch out of the hiking gear and clean up a bit before heading out. The parking lot was once again full. As I drove away, I saw several folks walking up from the overflow lot to begin their hike. I once again sat on the deck, enjoying a warm breakfast, scrolling through the hundreds of photos I took across the three days, being ever thankful for the opportunities to find peace and joy in this world.

The drive home was uneventful, just long. I made a quick stop at Erick Schat’s Bakery for some bread to bring home and picked up my other Junior Ranger badge at the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center. Once home, I unloaded the car and gave it a good airing out as we needed it to pick up my daughter later that night from the airport. Another great trip was now in the books. And as an added bonus, my foot did ok. 

I am an avid peak bagger, sometimes backpacker, and former sea kayaker living in San Diego. In 2019, I became the third person to complete the San Diego 100 Peak Challenge. Not stopping with that accomplishment, I set my sights on the harder San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list, which I completed in 2021. In addition, I have conquered several Six-Pack of Peaks challenges (SoCal, San Diego, and Arizona-Winter). Beyond attempting the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list a second time, I am looking forward to exploring new summits and new adventures across the southwest. 

Backpacking San Jacinto

Earlier this year, Jeff Hester, the founder of the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenges, asked if I would be interested in joining a group to scout out a new set of peaks for a New Mexico based Challenge. I immediately said yes! However, New Mexico had to close all its National Forests, as several wildfires were raging across the state. That meant we would have to postpone the trip, possibly to Fall. Since I had the time off, I decided to turn my focus to either working on the SoCal Six-Pack, or the Arizona Summer Six-Pack. In the end, the SoCal trip won. One of the biggest pains of the SoCal is all the driving to and from San Diego, but by turning it into more of a camping road trip, it would take some of the sting out of the effort. Plus, this would let me have an adventure! The first peak on the list was San Jacinto, but instead of hiking up via Devil’s Slide or the Marion Mountain route, I would do this peak as an overnight trip. I sent away for my overnight permit (yes, you still have to apply for the permit via the mail). Once I received my permit, I secured campgrounds near the other two peaks I wanted to climb, Baden-Powell and Sawmill. This trip was going to be a blend of backpacking and car camping, so I had an interesting collection of gear in the back of my trusty Outback. With everything loaded, I set off for Palm Springs and the Aerial Tram.

Day 1: Mountain Station to Round Valley

The first day was actually going to be pretty mild. I parked my car in the overnight lot at the tram station and grabbed my gear. While I had a reserved ticket for 2 pm, I was there a bit early. There was room on the tram, so I headed up away from the heat of the desert. After my 12-minute ride, I headed to the ranger station to check-in. The ranger went over the basic rules and showed me how the campsite actually worked. I must admit, in planning this portion of the trip I did not really understand the layout of the Round Valley campground. Along the trail, there are posts, each marked with an R and a number. These serve as junction markers to trails that lead back to the various campgrounds, which are all named. He told me to avoid R1-R4 as they are just off the main trail to the peak. Since there were some winds forecasted for the evening, he also suggested not staying at Upper Chinquapin. Now that I understood the campground, and carrying a much better map that came with my permit, I set off. 

The temperatures were in the mid-70s, but the light breeze and the shade made for a pleasant time. Since I was early, I debated heading to the campsite, dropping my gear, and heading up to the summit, but I knew I had several more days of hiking ahead of me and did not need to rush. Once at Round Valley, I began to explore some of the options to set up camp. In the end, I picked Buckthorn, as there was a spot sheltered by some boulders which could offer some additional protection from the wind. I walked back down to the Seasonal Ranger station and marked on the map that I had taken Buckthorn for the evening, then went over to the faucet to filter water. 

As evening came, I made my dinner and enjoyed a nice beer I carried up. Since I had to only cover just over 2 miles with an elevation gain of about 800 feet, I was willing to have the extra weight for a nice Victory at Sea from Ballast Point. A quarter moon hung in the sky as I crawled into my tent and drifted to sleep.

Day 2: Round Valley to Summit

I woke just before dawn, and the forecasted winds never seemed to come. I had my oatmeal and a couple of cups of coffee while I broke down camp. My plan was to stash my backpack, while I slack-packed up to the summit. I found a nice nook near the ranger station and set off up the trail toward Wellman Divide. Since the first tram up wasn’t until 10 am, I doubted I would see anyone for quite a while. I felt great as I made the climb up from Round Valley. I suspect that spending the night at 9,100 feet helped my body get a bit more used to the altitude. I reached Wellman Divide still feeling great. I stopped for a bit to grab some photos before continuing upward.

The trail was familiar, as this was the third time I had covered this portion of the route. Unlike last time, where I had been feeling the climb, this time I just kept cruising along. I reached the turn near Miller Peak and kept trucking along, knowing I was almost there. I came to the junction with the trail that connects up from Little Round Valley. If I was going to see anyone this early, it would be anyone who might have camped there. Although I suspect, if they had camped there, they might have tried for a sunrise summit. There was a tiny patch of snow nearby, and I wondered how much longer it would last?  

I set off for the final 3/10 mile to the summit. I briefly stopped at the Rescue Hut but was starting to run low on energy. Since I had a short scramble to the top, I pushed on. Someone had spray-painted blue arrows to help guide you up the rocks. I could not recall seeing this the last time. 

Once at the summit, I stood alone. I snapped my photos, enjoying not having to wait for others. I then found a nice spot to take my well-earned break. With a little bit of food in me, I was feeling great again. I took in the views some more, then headed back down the trail. As I neared the turn near Miller Peak, I decided to hike over and check it out. I got close to the true summit, but it would have been a bit of a scramble to the top and I just did not feel like doing it. After rejoining the main trail, I cruised back down. I would look at my watch and wonder when I might encounter my first day-hikers. My best guess was just around Round Valley. The return to Round Valley went smoothly, stopping only for photos. 

Once back at Round Valley, I switched back to my backpack, securing my slack-pack to the outside. I thought about transferring my water bladder back into my backpack but figured I had just about 2 miles of downhill ahead of me and I would be fine. Just past the first campsites, I met my first day-hikers. My guess had been correct as to the timing. We chatted a bit, then each went our separate ways. About every 15 minutes or so, I would pass another set of hikers making their way toward the summit. Some seemed a bit more prepared than others. Finally, I reached the ranger station. I checked in with the ranger to let him know I safely returned. As I enjoyed a nice cool drink of water, I listened to him caution a group of hikers about the warm day. Feeling a bit refreshed, I set off on the hardest part of the entire hike, the climb to the actual tram station. I plodded my way up the 120 feet of steep concrete switchbacks. Once there, I bought a cold soda and waited for the next tram down. With one peak down, it was off to drive over to Table Mountain Campground and tackle Baden-Powell via Dawson’s Saddle tomorrow.

Final Stats

Day 1:

Ranger Station to Round Valley: 2.25 miles, 1:17, and 795 feet of gain.

Day 2:

Round Valley – Summit: 5.9 miles, 3:39 (excluding time at the summit), and 1,735 feet of gain 

Round Valley to Ranger Station: 1.9 miles, 1:03, and 795 feet of loss. 

I am an avid peak bagger, sometimes backpacker, and former sea kayaker living in San Diego. In 2019, I became the third person to complete the San Diego 100 Peak Challenge. Not stopping with that accomplishment, I set my sights on the harder San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list, which I completed in 2021. In addition, I have conquered several Six-Pack of Peaks challenges (SoCal, San Diego, and Arizona-Winter). Beyond attempting the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list a second time, I am looking forward to exploring new summits and new adventures across the southwest. 

Trans-Catalina Trail: Day 5

I woke up just before dawn. I grabbed my phone and snapped some photos of the glorious colors of the morning sky. My heart and soul were full. I made breakfast and broke camp for the last time. Some were staying two nights, adding in the hike to StarLight Beach, the old end of the TCT, while others were like me and returning to Two Harbors and back to the mainland. I left my fuel and my remaining water for one of the others. 

With a much lighter pack, I retraced my route from yesterday. The only difference was I did need to make it back in town by 11:15. The miles flew by, and I could still feel the day warming up again. One of the campers had a thermometer, and said the low at Parsons was 71! I passed a few folks, one on a gravel bike, a couple of runners getting their miles in, and one fellow heading out to see a buddy who worked at one of the camps. 

I decided to follow the formal route into town and did not take the shortcut, plus I got to see a little bit more of Two Harbors. Once at the pier I got my ferry ticket, cleaned up a bit, bought a couple of cold drinks, and last but not least, 2 patches to add to my collection. As I boarded a ferry, I knew this adventure had come to a close. Soon Anita would be standing on the dock waiting to greet me. I am proud of this journey and what it gave me. When all is said and done, I hiked 39.7 miles over the five days. I logged 19 hours of actual hiking time and measured 6,998 feet of elevation gain.

I am an avid peak bagger, sometimes backpacker, and former sea kayaker living in San Diego. In 2019, I became the third person to complete the San Diego 100 Peak Challenge. Not stopping with that accomplishment, I set my sights on the harder San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list, which I completed in 2021. In addition, I have conquered several Six-Pack of Peaks challenges (SoCal, San Diego, and Arizona-Winter). Beyond attempting the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list a second time, I am looking forward to exploring new summits and new adventures across the southwest. 

Trans-Catalina Trail: Day 4

I woke to foggy skies, my rainfly was damp, as was the rain cover on my pack. I made my breakfast and broke camp. I enjoyed my breakfast and strolled into Two Harbors at 8 and double-checked the supply drop. With confirmation, I set off toward Parsons. I really wanted to take the other route and cross Silver Peak off the list but I knew better. Plus it’s easy enough for me to get back here, and maybe next time with some friends. The road out to Parsons traces the contours of the island. Meaning it goes in and around steep and deep ravines. Usually tucked in the bottoms of these ravines were various camps. The heat was really bearing down on me. I hoped those coming up and over had enough fluids.

I crested the final hill and saw Parsons before me. Seeing the campsite, moved me. While I knew I still had to hike back to Two Harbors, reaching Parsons meant I had effectively trekked the entirety of the TCT. I hung out at the shelter, as there was not a lot of shade to be found. The water had not yet been delivered, so I took some from the containers that had been left to quench my thirst. After a while, I went down to my campsite on the actual beach and began to set up. Since my rain fly was still wet, I put it out to dry but I hoped I might not need it. Once I finished, I put on my bathing suit and enjoyed the cool Pacific waters again. I did find some shade beneath a large rock and had a nice nap. Later I wandered back to the shelter and the lockers. Many of the hikers I’d been traveling with were here as well. A lone bald eagle was spotted in the distance. We chatted about things for a while, then we departed with our water and firewood back down to our respective camps. 

Each campsite has a rock windbreak and a firepit. The sun began to set behind the hills and I started to feel a bit of a breeze begin to pick up, so I added an extra rock to each tent stake to hold them down.

The sound of the crashing waves and the glow of the sunset were making this a memorable evening. I reflected on this journey and on other things. My campfire danced in the pit and off to the distance the lights in LA shone. The breeze became stronger and I could see my tent begin to sway. I debated removing the rainfly since it was just acting as a sail but realized if I did I would be hard-pressed to put it back on if needed. The real problem was the direction of the wind, as that nicely constructed rock wall was on the wrong side. I crawled into the tent knowing my weight was helping keep the tent in place. I tied a part of the rain fly back to allow me to look out into the evening sky. If the wind was going to keep me awake, at least let me have a view. I did drift off to sleep, and those winds did eventually calm down.

Day 5: Parsons Landing to Two Harbors

I am an avid peak bagger, sometimes backpacker, and former sea kayaker living in San Diego. In 2019, I became the third person to complete the San Diego 100 Peak Challenge. Not stopping with that accomplishment, I set my sights on the harder San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list, which I completed in 2021. In addition, I have conquered several Six-Pack of Peaks challenges (SoCal, San Diego, and Arizona-Winter). Beyond attempting the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list a second time, I am looking forward to exploring new summits and new adventures across the southwest. 

Trans-Catalina Trail: Day 3

I awoke just before sunrise, after a fairly good sleep under the stars. I had gotten a little damp overnight, but nothing too troublesome. Today was going to be a warm one, as the forecasts for the rest of the week was going to be unseasonably hot. So I wanted to get an early start to get the climb out of Little Harbor done before it was too warm. I made a cup of coffee and ate a breakfast bar while I broke camp. I still had a coke that I had bought the day before, so I drank it down for some extra “go” juice. I waved goodbye to the woman at the next site, as she was just starting her day. My plasma lighter had trouble last night igniting the tinder, so I borrowed her traditional lighter, and that coupled with the bag my oatmeal-raisin cookie came in let me enjoy my campfire.