Trip Report: San Jacinto Wilderness, May 12-14, 2016

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Trip Report: San Jacinto Wilderness, May 12-14, 2016

Postby pietro257 » Thu May 19, 2016 12:36 pm

Day 1: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Round Valley

Day 2: Wellman Divide, San Jacinto Peak, back to Wellman Divide, Wellman Cienega, Saddle Junction, Tahquitz Meadow

Day 3: Little Tahquitz Valley, PCT (1 mile), Tahquitz Peak, Saddle Junction, Humber Park

I grew up in Idyllwild, adjacent to the San Jacinto Wilderness, and spent my formative years tromping around the high country. I hadn’t been in the area for forty years, since about 1976. This trip was my chance to visit old haunts (including a day in the town of Idyllwild) with my son and a friend.

There is probably no way on earth to get into the high country faster and more spectacularly than the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The place has a bar, which I forgot about. At the Long Valley Ranger Station they informed us that water was in short supply. Even the spigot at Round Valley wasn’t working as the water table is so low. I was apprehensive about water throughout the trip. In all my years in the San Jacintos I never had to worry about water, even in September, but the current drought and dare I say it global warming have taken their toll.

We walked a short two miles to Round Valley and made camp near a snow patch that we used as our water source (one big chunk of snow in a metal pot heated for four minutes equals 1.5 liters of water, we discovered). Round Valley looked great. I always thought the place is magical – a large meadow appearing out of nowhere in the forest. (I remember playing baseball in the meadow in 1969 or so; it was different time.)

In the afternoon we walked to Tamarack Valley to look for the so-called Sid Davis shortcut to San Jacinto Peak (an old topo map I have printed in the 1970s shows a genuine trail from Tamarack Valley up the mountainside, but this trail has faded away). We couldn’t find the shortcut – couldn’t find a use trail or any other evidence of humans passing through. The forest floor was littered with fallen trees and other dry fuel. I felt you could get turned around in there and lost pretty quick. A large State Park crew was busy constructing campsites in Tamarack Valley, which had me wondering who would use the sites. It’s no fun camping without water.

Next day, after a cold night spent in 30-degree temperatures, we plodded a mile uphill to Wellman Divide, left our packs there, and proceeded to San Jacinto Peak, another two miles. I was feeling the altitude. The view from the Peak was glorious, as always. It was probably my twentieth time on the peak. You can see 360-degrees and pick out various SoCal landmarks, including Mt. San Gorgonio and Mt. Wilson.

In the hour we rested on the peak I got a glimpse of an unusual phenomenon – the PCT pilgrimage. About twenty Pacific Crest Trail hikers appeared, most of them young women, most of them inspired to tackle the PCT by Cheryl Strayed’s book “Wild” and the subsequent movie starring Reese Witherspoon. They all have nicknames given them by other hikers. I met Billy Goat, Kitkat, and Beans. Beans was tripping on mushrooms. San Jacinto Peak is about two weeks out of Mexico on the PCT. We had a fun time observing the pilgrims and speculating about who would and who wouldn’t make it all the way to Canada.

We returned to Wellman Divide, got our packs, and proceeded downwards through Wellman Cienega to Saddle Junction and Tahquitz Meadow. A trickle of water was flowing from a spring in Wellman Cienega. We filled our water bottles. I have fond memories of Wellman Cienega, a lush enchanting sloping meadow in the middle of a hot zone, and it saddened me to see the place reduced to that state of dryness. The creek in Tahquitz Meadow was dead – dead in May. Unbelievable. Again we got water from a snow patch. Two weeks from now it will melt and there will be no water for campers at Tahquitz Meadow.

A minute after we got in our tents and started to fall asleep someone wondered in our camp asking where the trail was. We told him, but a minute later he returned saying how he needed to get to the Tram as soon as possible. The Tram? The guy, a day hiker, 19 years old, had been on San Jacinto Peak when he realized the last tram down would leave within the hour, so he sprinted down the trail, made a wrong turn at Wellman Divide, and wound up in our camp in Tahquitz Meadow. He was thoroughly lost and disoriented. It took all my powers of persuasion to get him to stop running around the forest at night and stay with us. We gave him food and fixed him up with a sweater, a down jacket, gloves, and a space blanket (oldtimers will know what that is) so he could sleep. He passed the night in our camp. Next morning at dawn he was awake. I gave him some food and very specific directions how to get to the Tram. Then I went back to sleep.

Next morning, with a helicopter circling overhead (was the helicopter looking for our lost hiker?), we hiked to Tahquitz Valley and then up the PCT a mile to look at the burn zone, the results of the 2013 Mountain Fire. It was eerie and beautiful in a strange way. For once the forest floor was clean of combustible debris. In the 1960s and 70s you would be rewarded with a squirrel card if you made it to Tahquitz Peak. I found a squirrel card on the internet and rewarded my two companions with one card each at the Peak. The card admits you to “the ancient and honorable Order of Squirrels” and has you vow to be a good steward to the wilderness.



When we returned to Saddle Junction we found four forest rangers huddling there. Yep, they were looking for the lost kid who had been in our camp. He was still lost. He had wondered toward Caramba where fortunately he was able to send a text message to his mother with his GPS coordinates. They knew where he was anyway. I felt bad. Maybe I should’ve escorted him out of the wilderness. But the ranger told me he was an adult capable of making his own decisions, and besides, they get people like the lost kid all the time. Cell phones and GPS devices give people a false sense of security in the wilderness, the ranger said. They have more lost hikers than ever before.

We made great time down the Devil’s Slide trail to Humber Park. I don’t know of a better constructed trail. It doesn’t deserve the “Devil’s Slide” appellation (I understand the name comes from the period in the late 19th Century when cowboys and vaqueros drove cattle straight up the steep hillside). In Humber Park some compadres met us with cold beers and car to take us to Idyllwild. I spent the next day hanging out in my old hometown, and then we drove back to Palm Springs.

Oh, and they found the lost hiker. I was relieved to get the news.
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Re: Trip Report: San Jacinto Wilderness, May 12-14, 2016

Postby cam » Fri May 20, 2016 10:55 am

Nice trip report!

Yes the 19yr old hiker was tracked into the Caramba area. The Sheriff's Aviation was dispatched to search that area, where he was located on the steep downslope just northeast of the Caramba lookout. He was good shape, just a little tired and dehydrated. He was airlifted to lower Tramway, and soon after reunited with his family. By the way that was awesome of you for taking him in for night, including the food, water, and the warm clothes/blanket! He may not be in as good shape as he was if it wasn't for your help.

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Re: Trip Report: San Jacinto Wilderness, May 12-14, 2016

Postby Florian » Sat May 21, 2016 6:48 am

Seems that guy didn't follow your directions very well. But great of you to help him out.

You can still get a Squirrel Card at Tahquitz Peak! We're opening for the season on Memorial Day weekend.

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Re: Trip Report: San Jacinto Wilderness, May 12-14, 2016

Postby Ed » Sat May 21, 2016 9:54 am

pietro257 wrote:I have fond memories of Wellman Cienega, a lush enchanting sloping meadow in the middle of a hot zone, and it saddened me to see the place reduced to that state of dryness.

Same with me. It was once an enchanted place. Now it's simply a stretch of trail with annoying walls of brush on the sides. Still, the trail from Humber Park has held up very well, and is remarkably clean. And I don't even see many people on it on weekdays, until you hit the tram crowd at Wellman's Divide.

You probably did not see signs of the Sid Davis route because it is normally done when there is a good layer of snow over the brush. The trail on the topo from Tamarack Valley was closed years ago, for wildlife reasons I believe. I think there are a few rascals on this discussion board who know where it is and use it sometimes.
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Re: Trip Report: San Jacinto Wilderness, May 12-14, 2016

Postby mattytreks » Wed May 25, 2016 1:33 pm

pietro257 wrote:Trip Report: San Jacinto Wilderness, May 12-14, 2016

Absolutely spectacular write-up, Pietro. I love hearing all of the wonderful, granular details and experiences of a persons trip into the mountains.

But, why does my soul suddenly feel empty? Perhaps it is because I yearn for inclusion in the Order of Squirrels. I cannot rest easy until that day arrives.
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