Pyles Peak


Key Hike Statistics:
Distance, Trail Style: 5-8 miles (depending on your route up Cowles), Out & Back
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Elevation Gain: ~2000 feet
Popularity: High to Cowles; Low to Pyles
Best Time: Morning, October through June
Dogs: Allowed
Bathrooms: At Trailheads
Parking: See Chosen Start Point Write-up
Trailhead: Any Cowles Mountain Trailhead

Pyles Peak is another summit within Mission Trails Regional Park and is accessible only from the trail that begins near the summit of Cowles Mountain. For this reason, you’ll need to hike to the top of Cowles Mountain before you are able to head over to Pyles. For write-ups of each of the Cowles Mountain starting points you can choose from the leads below.

Cowles Mountain – South Approach

Cowles Mountain – East Approach

Cowles Mountain – Northeast Approach

Sign Marking the Start of the Trail to Pyles Peak.

Once you’ve arrived at the Cowles Mountain summit you’ll need to locate the start of the Pyles Peak trail. If you’re standing at the concrete monument that marks the top of Cowles Mountain you’ll head north (towards the radio antenna). Follow the steps in this direction and then bear left (again, towards the radio antenna). A sign marking the Pyles Peak trail will become visible on your left hand side where you will see a trail leading down in elevation (image above)

The first section of the trail to Pyles descends away from the Cowles Mountain summit until you reach a small saddle where it bends around and begins to climb slightly again. You’ll contour over the rolling hills that form the spine between Cowles Mountain and Pyles Peak following a well maintained trail the whole way.

Sign Marking the First View Point Along the Pyles Peak Trail.

Eventually, you’ll arrive at the second of two viewing areas (the first is marked by a sign should you want to take a minute to enjoy the scenery). At the second view deck is where you will begin the final ascent to the top of Pyles Peak. The final push starts with a few switchbacks that give way to the last and steepest of the day’s climbs. When the trail levels out again you’ll find yourself in an open area with some flat rocks scattered about. Don’t stop here, continue ahead until you find the sign marking the summit of Pyles Peak.

View Point With Wooden Coral, the Final Push to the Top of Pyles Peak Begins Here.

Congratulations, you’ve reached the hardest of the 5 peaks within the Mission Trails Regional Park 5 Peak Challenge! Once you’re ready to head back to your car, just follow your footsteps back the way you came (yes, back up Cowles Mountain again, too).

Summit Sign Atop Pyles Peak!


Cowles Mountain – Northeast Approach

Key Hike Statistics:

Distance, Trail Style: 5 miles, Out & Back
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: ~1400 feet
Popularity: Moderate
Best Time: Morning, October through June
Dogs: Allowed
Bathrooms: At Park, Near Trailhead
Parking: Along Street Near Big Rock Park
Trailhead: Cowles Mountain Northeast Trailhead on Mesa Road

The northeast route up Cowles Mountain is the longest of the access points that will get you to the top and is also the least popular. For these reasons, this is my personal favorite way up the mountain. The trail traverses the rolling hills of the northeast side of the most prominent feature within Mission Trails Regional Park, so there is a little bit more up and down than the more popular south and north approaches.

Cowles Mountain Northeast Trailhead near Big Rock Park on Mesa Road.

After half a mile you’ll come to a fork in the trail. Continue straight ahead towards the peak as the trail to your right will lead you to the other side of Big Rock Park along Big Rock Road. Just before the mile mark you’ll find another trail junction. The sign here will tell you that the trail to the left will bring you back down to where Mesa Road ends, this is another alternate access point with limited parking. The route from the end of Mesa Road is also slightly shorter than starting from the Big Rock Park entrance.

Sign marking the  junction to the Mesa Road alternate trail. Often has dog bowls.

Continuing on from the second trail junction and you’ll find yourself at the service road, which is about 1.5 miles from your starting point at the park. Once you’ve reached the service road, follow this path directly to the summit.

Sign marking the Cowles Mountain Service Road junction.

Reaching the peak you’ll find the concrete monument that marks the summit as well as a few interpretive panels that describe what may be visible while gazing in the various directions on a clear day. After you’ve taken in the views you’ll proceed down the same route you came up. There are other routes up and down the mountain so do make sure you’ve started your descent on the same path that brought you up.



Monument at the summit of Cowles Mountain!

Cowles Mountain – East Approach


Key Hike Statistics:

Distance, Trail Style: 3 miles, Out & Back or Loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: ~1000 feet
Popularity: High
Best Time: Morning, October through June
Dogs: Allowed
Bathrooms: At Trailhead
Parking: Along Street Near Service Road Gate
Trailhead: Cowles Mountain East Trailhead on Barker Way

If you want to avoid the large crowds on the popular south side while not lengthening your hike to the Cowles Mountain summit then the east approach is your route. The east approach begins from Barker Way, a small neighborhood street off of the main thoroughfare of Navajo Road.

Vehicle Gate Marks the Start of the Cowles Mountain Service Road & East Approach Trails

From the trailhead you’ll have the option of staying on the service road to the right or splitting off on the narrow hiking trail to the left. Both will eventually get you to the peak but offer slightly different experiences up the mountain. The service road is wide and great for trail running and mountain biking while the hiking trail winds partially up the mountain through the chaparral growth before it meets up with the service road for the final push to the summit. If you choose the spur trail route, you’ll have another decision to make as you make your way towards the top. You can either take the Barker Spur Trail East which cuts over to the Service Road earlier than your second option, Barker Spur West. You’ll want to make sure that if you skip the East Spur that you don’t miss the West Trail turn off. If you should miss the turn, you’ll end up on the front side of the mountain (South Approach) with the rest of San Diego.

Reaching the peak you’ll find the concrete monument that marks the summit as well as a few interpretive panels that describe what may be visible while gazing in the various directions on a clear day. After you’ve taken in the views you’ll proceed down the same route you came up. There are other routes up and down the mountain so do make sure you’ve started your descent on the same path that brought you up.

Monument Marking the Cowles Mountain Summit


Cowles Mountain – South Approach

Key Hike Statistics:
Distance, Trail Style: 3 miles, Out & Back
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: ~950 feet
Popularity: Very High
Best Time: Morning, October through June
Dogs: Allowed
Bathrooms: At Trailhead
Parking: Small Lot at Trailhead; Overflow Parking on Street
Trailhead: Cowles Mountain South Trailhead on Golfcrest Drive at Navajo Road

Cowles Mountain is one of, if not the, most populated hiking spot within San Diego and the south approach is the most tread trail to the peak. One reason for the high popularity is the panoramic view at the top where you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean to the west and the surrounding mountains to the north and east.

Refreshments and Restrooms at the Parking Lot with the Trail Behind

From the trailhead you’ll follow the well worn trail (and likely a line of fellow hikers depending on your start time) almost directly up the mountain. There are many switchbacks cut along the mountain’s side but the grade is manageable with a few rock steps to navigate. The trails are well marked as there are a few spur trails to explore or ignore depending on your level of adventure for the day.

Monument at the Top of Cowles Mountain.

Reaching the peak you’ll find the concrete monument that marks the summit as well as a few interpretive panels that describe what may be visible while gazing in the various directions on a clear day. After you’ve taken in the views you’ll proceed down the same route you came up. There are other routes up and down the mountain so do make sure you’ve started your descent on the same path that brought you up.


Rose Canyon

Key Hike Statistics:
Distance, Trail Style: 3.5 miles, out & back
Difficulty: Very Easy
Elevation Gain: ~100 feet
Popularity: Moderate
Best Time: All Day, Year Round
Dogs: Allowed
Bathrooms: None
Parking: Street Parking .2 Mile North of Trailhead
Trailhead: Rose Canyon Trailhead

For many San Diegans the Rose Canyon Open Space provides an ideal spot for walking, jogging, or an easy bike ride within the city center. Due to the relative flatness, soft ground and mostly wide trial conditions, this trail is a very easy hike. My wife and I took our 4 month old daughter for a stroll on a grey afternoon in Winter.

The Rose Canyon Trailhead offers no parking on site as the entrance rests off of busy Genesee Avenue just south of Highway 52 in the Clairemont neighborhood of San Diego. Street parking can be found .2 mile north of the trailhead on Decoro Street. From there, you’ll simply walk down the hill (south) along Genesee Avenue.

Signage marking the Rose Canyon Trailhead.

You’ll see a nice big sign marking the trail entrance. The trail is quite wide with some small spur trails near the beginning where you’ll find a few signs marking some of the varieties of plants that can be found along the trail. Mostly, the trail is lined with willow and sycamore but be watchful with dogs and kids in spots as you will spot poison oak lining the trail from time to time. The trail follows the Rose Creek stream bed making the conditions just right for this irritating foliage.

Poison Oak intertwined with some other trail side shrubs.
Poison Oak intertwined with some other trail side shrubs.

Once you’ve tread 1.5 miles from the trail entrance you’ll see a post marking your distance. This is a good spot to turn around if you’re just out for a leisurely stroll with kids or pups. We pressed on a bit further to see what the trail looked like past this point. In the book, Jerry Schad only details up to this point in the trail.

The 1.5 mile marker is a great place to turn around and head back to the trailhead.

From the 1.5 mile marker the trail begins to narrow and become much more rocky, this made navigating this section with our sleeping daughter in her jogger a bit of a challenge but we managed. Eventually, the trail will cross the creek bed a couple of times. The first crossing being a well-built foot bridge with hand rails and the like. As you press on and the trail begins to become noticeably narrower and less groomed you’ll come to the second crossing of the creek: two planks spanning what was a murky algae filled creek. This is the area where we decided to turn around and head back. Simply retracing our steps to get back to our car.

Algae filled Rose Creek with a board bridge served as our turn around point.
Algae filled Rose Creek with a board bridge served as our turn around point.
Our youngest 'hiker' enjoying the ride over the first creek crossing foot bridge.
Our youngest ‘hiker’ enjoying the ride over the first creek crossing foot bridge.


Cactus to Clouds a.k.a. Mount San Jacinto via Skyline Trail

Key Hike Statistics:
Distance, Trail Style: 21 miles, Out & Partial Back
Difficulty: Extremely Difficult (like, the hardest)
Elevation Gain: ~10,300 feet
Popularity: Light to Tramway; High Above Tramway
Best Time: Very Early Morning; Fall/Spring (sweet spots between too hot and too cold)
Dogs: Not Allowed in State Parks
Bathrooms: At Tramway
Parking: At Trailhead; Parking Structure for Shade
Trailhead: Palm Springs Art Museum

*Note: This is the write up of my Cactus to Clouds hike which is one of America’s most difficult day hikes. If you are a novice hiker or haven’t been training recently but want to get to the peak of San Jacinto please consider hiking Mount San Jacinto via Aerial Tramway.

Mount San Jacinto is one of Southern California’s most recognizable features, rising seemingly out of the desert floor to the impressive height of 10,834 feet above sea level. Because of this prominence and the fact that one can hike from the desert floor to the peak directly makes it a coveted check mark for the serious So-Cal hiker, and many beyond the region as well.

On this, my first, attempt at Cactus to Clouds I was hiking with my Brother-in-law. We stayed at a motel in Palm Springs in order to get an early start on the trail in the morning. We woke up at 3:30 am for a quick breakfast and headed over to the Palm Springs Art Museum where there is a parking structure near the trailhead. Using the parking structure is recommended since your car will be sitting in the desert sun all day while you’re hiking.

A Well Marked Trailhead Just Behind the Palm Springs Art Museum.

We were on the trail right around 4 am, headlamps and all. The reason for such an early start is that even in late September, when we did our hike, the temperatures in Palm Springs will reach the upper 90s. The goal is to gain as much elevation as quickly as possible. Reaching the 4,500-5,000 foot mark before dawn is ideal as that’ll be high enough to mitigate the heat from getting to you later on as you climb.

Headlamp Up & Ready to Hit the Trail!

The trail is well marked to begin with, even in the dark. Locals maintain the bottom few miles of the trail and they do a pretty darn good job. White marks blaze the trail and are fairly easy to spot when the headlamp hits them. The trail begins with a set of switchbacks as you quickly get away from the desert floor. After just under a mile you’ll reach some lonely picnic tables. At this point you’ve already done close to 1,000 feet of climbing!

Writing on the Rock, Marking the Way.

The next landmark on the trail will be rescue box 1. The rescue box sits around the 2.5 mile mark and about 2,300 feet above sea level. Here you’ll find a metal box with reflector tape. The box contains some first aid supplies as well as some emergency water and snacks. Feel free to add a small water bottle to the cache if you have extra, and only take something if you absolutely need it. What you take won’t be available for someone who may be in a life or death situation. This is a good time to mention that I carried 3 liters of water from the trailhead to the tramway where I refilled back up to 3 liters at the ranger station in order to get to the peak and back. I recommend that amount or more depending on how much water you tend to drink while hiking.

Hiking Before Sunrise, Climbing Fast to Avoid the Heat.

At this point, as we have, you’ve likely noticed that you’ve been climbing for nearly 3 straight miles and it’s tempting to stop and take a break while you still have the pre-dawn early morning cool air. It’s wiser, however, to continue on and keep gaining as much elevation as you can before the sun starts warming things up. We made it to about 4,300 feet before taking our first breather slash snack break slash sunrise gaze. At this elevation there are rocks arranged to mark 4,300 feet. These rocks also mean we had reached roughly 5 miles, more than halfway! …to the tram.

5 Miles In, Closer to the Tram Than the Museum Now.

After the 4,300 rocks the climb lightens up for a little while, though don’t be deceived, it’s not over. There is about 2.5 miles to reach rescue box 2. Rescue box 2 looks exactly like the first rescue box and sits about 7.5 miles from the trailhead and roughly 5,400 feet above sea level. After the climb of the early morning the 1,100 foot climb from the 4,300 rocks to rescue box 2 over 2.5 miles seems like a walk in the park. And you’ll only need to climb another 500 feet or so to reach the flat rock of a dry waterfall. This is the 8.5ish mile and a great place for another break. The climb gets significantly more difficult from this point.

Somewhere Before the Dry Waterfall, We Are Headed to the Highest Point in this Picture.

From the dry waterfall there is 2,500 feet of constant, steeply graded climbing over the 2 miles to reach Grubb’s Notch, the entrance into Long Valley where the aerial tram resides. From Grubb’s Notch it is a short spur trail over to the Long Valley Ranger Station where you will need to fill out your day hike permit for the rest of the hike. The ranger station is just short of 9 miles from the trailhead and just under 6 miles from the peak. Fill up your water at the ranger station if you need to, we did. Ask the ranger which hose is for potable water, no need to get sick for no reason.

Sign on the Long Valley Ranger Station Wishing Us Well.

Take a few minutes to rest up at the ranger station, but try not to linger long enough to let your legs freeze up there is still 6 miles to the peak and 6 miles back! Once you’ve set off from the ranger station the trails are much wider and much more well marked than the Skyline Trail that got you into Long Valley though it may not seem like a breeze after the morning’s endeavors like it would if you came up the tram. After 1.5 miles on the trail we come to the Round Valley area. Here, when the conditions are right you’ll find a seasonal ranger station, camping, and a lush meadow. There was some re-vegetation in progress when we visited so most of this was not accessible, but that wasn’t why we were there in the first place so on we went.

The View From Wellman Divide. Super Majestic, Right?!

Wellman Divide is the next trail milestone. This is area is a grouping of rocks in an open space near a trail junction overlooking the desert below. This is a great place for another rest and maybe lunch if you don’t mind not eating your lunch at the peak. Wellman Divide is just over 13 miles from the desert floor where you started and sits around 9,700 feet above sea level. From the divide the trail stretches another 3 miles with 1,134 feet left to climb…not too bad, basically there, right?!

Only .3 Mile Left to Go!

With just .3 left to the peak you’ll come to the last trail junction where a sign gives distances to the various landmarks in the area. From this sign you’ll have a relatively easy .3 miles up to the peak, first seeing the hut that sits just below the peak. From the hut, you’ll scramble up some rocks (to the left of the hut if your looking at the front of said hut) to find the sign at the peak marking the elevation of 10,834 feet. Huzzah!

C2C for Cactus to Clouds!

After leaving the peak, enjoy your basically all downhill jaunt back to the tram at Long Valley by follow your footsteps back. Hopefully, you’re pace hasn’t been slow enough to be hiking back in the dark and racing time. The last tram departure time varies by season so you’ll want to check the schedule and make sure to factor that into your plan to avoid having to do an accidental Cactus to Clouds to Cactus in order to get back to your car. Once you’ve gotten to the bottom of the tram you’ll need to call a cab or hail and Lyft/Uber to get you back over to the Art Museum.

This hike is consistently listed on just about any list of America’s hardest day hikes so completing this feat warrants a pretty solid sense of accomplishment so soak it up!


Mount San Gorgonio Via Vivian Creek Trail

Key Hike Statistics:
Distance, Trail Style: 17 miles, Out & Back
Difficulty: Difficult
Elevation Gain: ~5500 feet
Popularity: Moderate
Best Time: Early Morning; June-October to avoid snow
Dogs: Allowed, Make sure they’re capable of this difficult hike
Bathrooms: At Trailhead
Parking: At Trailhead; Adventure Pass Required
Trailhead: Big Falls Picnic Area, Forest Falls, CA

*Note: This hike requires an advanced permit from the area ranger station. Be sure to apply and receive your permit online before setting out. Permit application and info available here:

Mount San Gorgonio is the highest mountain in Southern California rising 11,503 feet above sea level. Vivian Creek Trail is the shortest and therefore steepest route to the peak and begins at the Big Falls Picnic Area near Forest Falls, CA. It’s best to start this hike nice and early in the morning, which requires staying in the area if you aren’t from the nearby inland empire region of Southern California. We camped about 20-30 minutes away at Barton Flats Campground, which was the closest open campground in the Summer of 2016.

On the morning of our hike we, my Father-in-law and Brother-in-law and myself, woke up around 7 am in order to drive over to the picnic area and get on the trail by 8 am. This timing was pretty ideal as we finished our hike sometime around 3 pm.

The first section of the hike is quite easy as you head away from the picnic area following the dry creek bed. The trail begins as paved, looks like an old service road, but then gives way to a dirt path and eventually leads you across the creek bed. Here you’ll see a sign notifying hikers that a permit is required past a certain point. Once you’ve past by this sign the climb begins as the trail switchbacks up to the dense forest wilderness you’re about to enter. After about 1.3 miles you’ll reach the Vivian Creek Camp, where you can stay if you’ve secured an overnight permit. This is the first of the on trail camping options. There wasn’t much water at Vivian Creek Camp so if you’re planning to stay here it’s best to plan accordingly.

Continuing on along the trail, you’ll start to climb away from Vivian Creek through a mix of pine and manzanita trees. At roughly the 2.8 mile mark you’ll come to the second overnight option (permit still required), Halfway Camp. I am not entirely sure why this camp is named as such, since it is not halfway from the trailhead to the peak. It actually seems to be about halfway to nothing in particular. However, it is a lovely spot for a first break as you’ve already climbed a good bit of elevation. The climb continues past Halfway Camp starting with some long switchbacks that eventually give way to some early contours of High Creek Canyon.

At the 5 mile mark you’ll reach the best shot for water on trail, if you didn’t plan on carrying enough to go up and down. High Creek still had water when we were there in the late Summer (October) of 2016, you’d need to have a filter on hand. Here you’ll find the third and final overnight option, High Creek Camp. If I were doing an overnight trip this would be my pick for campsites since it has water readily available, permits are also required here.

Leaving High Creek starts another set of switchbacks and contours, now covered in taller pines having left the manzanitas of the initial climb behind. However, at this point the trail has risen above 9,000 feet above sea level so the tree line is quickly approaching. Eventually, you’ll reach a ridge which provides the first view of neighboring Mount San Jacinto across the valley. The ridge is right around the 10,000 foot mark, so if you aren’t used to elevation you’ll likely begin to feel its effects at this point. From here, the trail is also quite exposed having risen above the forest biome. Now you must contend with the sun above and the rocky trail beneath your feet.

This is not the steepest part of the climb by any means but the altitude doesn’t make it any easier. After what feels like a long mile or so from the ridge you’ll reach a lonely trail junction located in the saddle before the peak. It’s not far from this junction to the peak and you’ll likely get a motivating view of the peak that can put some extra energy in your legs for the final push to the top.

Be sure to locate the peak registry box and the elevation sign (most likely not attached to its post). There is something of a false peak on San Gorgonio and these markers are the indicator that you’ve reached the true peak of the mountain at elevation 11,503.

Find the elevation sign and trail registry box on the peak!

At the top you’ll have a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape, including Mount San Jacinto, Mount Baldy and beyond. After eating your lunch at the peak you’ll retrace your steps to get back to your car at the picnic area below.

This hike is no joke. It requires patience and perseverance as it is straight up at times. You’ll be surprised, as we were, at how much the switchbacks you climbed earlier in the day look very much like slides as you make your way down them on the way back. Be careful not to move too quickly that you may misstep on the way down because of this.


Mount San Jacinto Via Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Key Hike Statistics:

Distance, Trail Style: 12 miles, Out & Back
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: ~3000 feet
Popularity: High
Best Time: First Tram (Typically around 8am); June-October to avoid snow
Dogs: Not Allowed, CA State Park Rule
Bathrooms: At Trailhead
Parking: Plenty at Tram
Trailhead: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Palm Springs, CA

Mount San Jacinto State Park is one of my favorite places in Southern California. It’s a diverse forest area near the desert city of Palm Springs, CA. The main event and name sake of the park is Mount San Jacinto, which rises 10,834 feet above sea level. Famed outdoorsman John Muir said of San Jacinto, “The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth.” I’d say that Mr. Muir was hyperbolizing a bit here, if I didn’t agree with him.

The easiest way to find yourself in the park is the take the aerial tram from Palm Springs, CA. There is plenty of parking at the tram station which sits on the northwest corner of town. Be sure not to forget anything in your car for your hike if you plan on heading to the peak of San Jacinto as you’ll not want to come back once you’re on the tram-car up. It only takes about 15 minutes to get from the bottom station to the mountain station at Long Valley. Depending on your season you’ll want to make sure you have the appropriate clothing and gear for your hike. If you’re hiking in the Summer you’ll likely be good to go in your typical day-hike attire, though even in the Summer the temperature at the mountain station can be some 30 degrees cooler than the desert floor. Any other time of year and you’ll want to be a bit more prepared for just about anything. San Jacinto can receive large amounts of snow at times; making trail spikes and ice axes essential for the cold weather adventurers.

When heading for the peak from the tram I recommend getting yourself on the first tram of the morning if you can. The tramway makes the Long Valley area quite popular because of it’s ease of access so if you don’t want to wade through crowds of people to start your hike it’s best to get up the tram early.

Once you’ve reached the mountain station you’ll follow the paved pathway a few hundred feet to the Long Valley Ranger Station. Here you’ll need to fill out your day-hike or overnight permit. All groups entering the wilderness area past Long Valley are required to have a permit. While doing your paperwork the friendly ranger will likely let you know that it’s about 12 miles from the ranger station to the peak and back. He’ll also ask you about your water situation (there is a hose for potable water around back for filling up should you need it). I carried 3 liters on my hike and it was more than enough for me.

Sign on the Long Valley Ranger Station says it all.

You’ll set off for the peak on the well-defined trail on the opposite side of the ranger station from which you came. This portion of the trail is sandy and well trod, weaving through large boulders popular with the rock climbing community. It’s quite common to see climbers roaming around in this areas with their crash pads strapped to their back looking for their next bouldering challenge. As the trail makes its way out of Long Valley and into Round Valley it becomes softer, leaving the rocks behind and getting into some lush tree cover. During the busy season you’ll find a seasonal ranger station in Round Valley roughly 2.5 miles from the ranger station at Long Valley. There is minimal climbing between Long Valley to Round Valley, so the next section of the hike is where you’ll gain a lot of your elevation as you climb up to Wellman Divide. Round Valley is posted at 9,100 feet above sea level, which means about 1,734 in gain left to the peak by my math with about 3.5 miles left to cover.


The next stop on the hike, however, is Wellman Divide. The trail is still under great tree cover and on soft ground as you climb through the forest up to the divide. You’ll gain the roughly 600 feet of elevation needed to get from Round Valley to Wellman Divide which sits at around 9,700 feet above sea level and gives you your first glimpse out into the expansive desert below. This is one of my favorite spots in all of southern California to sit and enjoy a snack, lounging on a large boulder just to gaze out as far as I can see.

As I said, rocks and views at Wellman Divide.

Once you’ve soaked up all you can at Wellman Divide it’s time for the final stretch of the hike to the peak. There is just over 2 miles left from here to the peak and a climb of the remaining 1,134 feet. As you leave the divide the tree cover opens up and you’ll start to notice the afternoon sun if you’re hiking in the Summer. Sun screen up if you haven’t already because you’ll be leaving the majority of the trees behind as you climb higher and higher and they become more spread out. The trail becomes somewhat rocky as it contours along the side of the mountain and then back again. Though there are some rock stepping here and there the trail is well graded for the climb not terribly strenuous despite not being the soft and forgiving surface it once was under the trees.

After about 2 miles from Wellman Divide there is a sign of hope, literally a sign. This sign marks the peak junction and lets weary hikers know they are a mere .3 miles from the peak. The trail to the peak continues to be well-marked as it has been all day until you come to the hut that rests just below the peak itself. If you’re within earshot of those getting their first view of the hut you’ll often hear yelps of joy as many believe this to be close enough to celebrate. In actuality the peak is maybe 100 feet from the hut. This is the only portion of the trail that is not well marked, and it’s understandable why, as the trail gives way to some giant boulders that must be scrambled upon in order to give that lovely altitude sign at the top a big ol’ hug.

A sign of hope, only .3 miles left to the peak!

From the top you’ll get an even more breath-taking view than that at Wellman Divide of the seemingly endless desert scape surrounding Mount San Jacinto is almost all directions. This is also another fantastic place to lounge on a boulder enjoying your meal, your accomplishment and the view.

My Brother-in-law (Erik, right) and I at the top.

Once you’ve gathered yourself to begin the descent back to the tram you’ll simply retrace the steps that brought you up, only much faster (careful) because, well, gravity.


Mount San Antonio (Mt. Baldy) Via Baldy Bowl Trail

Key Hike Statistics:

Distance: 9 miles
Trail Style: Out & Back
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: ~3,900 ft
Popularity: Very High
Best Time: Early Morning
Dogs: Allowed
Bathrooms: At Trailhead
Parking: Ample, Adventure Pass Required
Trailhead: Manker Campground, Mt. Baldy, CA

For hikers in Southern California there are a few peaks that make it onto a regional ‘must hike’ list. Mount Baldy (also known as Mount San Antonio) is certainly one of those peaks. Mt. Baldy sits northeast of Los Angeles, towering over the community of Rancho Cucamonga directly south of the mountain. The peak of Mt. Baldy reaches 10,069 feet above sea level making it the tallest peak in the San Gabriel mountain range and the third tallest peak in Southern California.

The hike to the top of Mt. Baldy starts from Manker Campground just north of the small community of Mt. Baldy. I drove up from San Diego with my brother-in-law after work on a Friday so we could camp at Manker Campground and get up and hike in the morning. Unfortunately, we didn’t factor in the holiday weekend (we accidentally planned our hike for Labor Day weekend). So naturally, when we arrived at Manker there were no campsites open. We did a quick drive through the campground anyway in the hopes of a miracle before we drove down the mountain road a little ways to find a quiet turnout to park and sleep in the car. We weren’t the only ones in said quiet turnout either, which should have been our first sign about the trail population for tomorrow.

After a night of choppy sleep in my Subaru we awoke (for the final time) around 7am and headed back up the road towards the trailhead. When we reached the trailhead we were surprised (although, in hindsight, probably shouldn’t have been) to find a fleet of cars lining the roadway. We squeezed the Subaru into a tight spot off the road a fair ways down the hill from the begin of the trail. After gearing up we hit the trail right about 8am.

The trail up Mt. Baldy from Manker Campground is an easy one to follow, it’s actually more of a dirt road to start. After maybe a quarter mile on the dirt road you’ll reach San Antonio Falls which must be year round because it was still running when we were there on September 5, 2016. From here the dirt road trail continues behind you (presuming you’ve stopped to look at the falls for a second). At this point you’ll want to keep a watchful eye to the left as you hike if you plan on taking the Baldy Bowl Trail (shortest but steepest route to the peak). About a third of a mile after the falls a trail will break up the slope to the left of the dirt road, this is the Baldy Bowl Trail. If you want to take the Ski Lift Trail to Devil’s Backbone to the peak you’ll want to continue down the dirt road to the right. We veered left at the fork.

From the fork in the trails, the climb begins. You’ll wind up and up from around 6,500 feet where the split is to the Sierra Club Ski Hut which is nestled just below the actual bowl of Mt. Baldy around elevation 8,000 feet. Here is a good spot to take a breather, eat a snack and prepare for the next half of the climb to the top. From the Ski Hut you’ll have about 2 miles to the peak and another 2,000 feet elevation gain to contend with as you contour your way across the bowl along the now aptly named Baldy Bowl Trail. The trees become a bit more sparse as you draw closer to your goal and finally you’ll emerge from the trees all together as the peak becomes visible. Enjoy the panoramic views from this point on. With clear weather you’ll be able to see out to the Pacific to the west and the Mojave to the east.


Once the time has come to leave the top of Mt. Baldy you have the choice of returning the way you came or taking the Devil’s Backbone to the Ski Hut Trail which will also get you back to your car at Manker Flats. I typically recommend going back down the way you came unless you are familiar with the other trail to get you back or are with someone who is.

Another note about this peak hike, plan on foot traffic. As I mentioned, we inadvertently planned our hike for a holiday weekend which no doubt increased the amount of hikers. Once we reached the Ski Hut there were people having picnics, evidently many of which not really planning on going further than that. Leaving the Ski Hut we had to navigate a line of hikers of varying paces. My brother-in-law and I are pretty experienced hikers and were pacing quicker than a good number of these hikers who started their climb earlier in the morning. I would advise trying to avoid these heavy traffic weekends if you are a hiker that likes to move at your own pace instead of the pace of the 5 person hiker group you’ve just caught up to until there is ample room for them to step out and let you by.


Farewell to the Pacific Crest Trail

Now that the trail has ended I feel compelled to put some sort of finishing cap on it. How does one put to rest a thing they have worked on everyday for 6 months? Maybe “worked on” is an understatement here, I have lived this journey for a significant period of time. Did this experience change me in some profound way? It’s possible. Did I learn things about myself or life? Perhaps. I find myself wondering how to quantify these findings and am somewhat unable to, in any definitive way. I suppose to try to put these findings in some sort of order I should start with where I was when I began this adventure. So where was I? I was a guy that worked 10-12 hours a day, Monday through Friday (sometimes Saturday and/or Sunday). I identified myself by my job. I saw myself as a hard worker, trying to climb a corporate ladder. After a period of time at this job it became clear I had reached the highest rung I could at my current company. The people who were at higher levels in my department weren’t capable of giving up any more control than they had already. This realization is a bit of a death sentence. I could feel myself at the dead-end of this upward trajectory I had worked so hard to keep myself on. Long story short, things eventually came to a head and I was technically let go from this company. I feel that few situations like this end up feeling as mutual an end as this did, however. I wasn’t sad about leaving, with the exception of not getting to see those friends I had in the office any longer. I knew, though, that I wasn’t being let go because I did bad work. I would have risen to the level I was at in 5 years if I was bad at my job. I knew I was being let go because we had mutually given up on each other, this company and I. Towards the end, I would voice an opinion to a superior that fell on deaf ears, which is a troubling scenario professionally when your ideas are not only ignored but blatantly unwanted. But again, this didn’t feel like commentary on me, or my co-workers in the same position, or our collective work. I wasn’t the only person feeling like this at the time or having issues with some of the managers, I wasn’t even the only person let go on the last day I worked for this company. I wasn’t alone in my professional abusive relationship.

So what is a person to do when they finally get out of an abusive relationship? I think in almost all cases, the answer is to “heal.” Healing is a different process for each individual though. So how could I heal? After some long conversations with my wife, best friend, and biggest supporter, Marissa (She’s been mentioned on the blog numerous times throughout the journey), I (we) came to the conclusion I needed something challenging again. Something creative and vastly different from the last 5 years of my life. Her father, Gary (Pie), had done the Pacific Crest Trail in 1975 and I had heard many fond memories from his trail experience. 2,650 miles certainly seemed challenging as the wheels began to turn in my head about this as a possibility. I again sat down with Marissa and we looked at our finances to determine if we could afford the endeavor. It turned out we could get by and that was the final hurdle. So that’s the story of how I was drawn to the trail in 2015 and how I got to where I am now.

After all that, and after 2,650 miles, what has changed? I still consider myself a hard worker. You can’t complete a thing as long and taxing as the PCT without being such. I believe I can accomplish any goal I set for myself. I have definitely altered my priorities as this journey progressed. No longer does more time working mean a job better done. If you are the kind of person that works all night in the office you either love what you do, or you’re doing it incredibly wrong. I know now there has to be a healthier balance between work life and life. I can’t thank my wife enough for enduring those long nights and weekends that I was away at the office. Putting up with those long 80-hour work weeks that would occasionally keep me from participating in plans with family or friends. I hope my next professional opportunity is more conducive to a balanced way of living and I plan to do my part to make it so.

Speaking of thanking people, I must say that I thought daily about those that helped me achieve this goal. That list is obviously topped by my wife Marissa. There are many others that helped me along the way, however, and that list includes my in-laws (both hiking with Gary and support from Sandy), Gary’s brother Steve and his wife Ann (Ice Cream’s parents), my parents (Brian and Wendy), my aunt and uncle (Veronica and Rob) and the countless trail angels who put us up, fed us, gave us rides in and around town and got us safely back to the trail along the way. I’ve mentioned to a few people who along with being the coolest and craziest thing I’ve ever done, this is also the most selfish thing I’ve ever done. I honestly couldn’t have completed this without the help of all those people.

So, where do I go from here? With no more maps to guide me day in and day out, how do I find my way? The answer to the latter is truthfully, “who knows?” There is no blue print for life, you just live it. That is possibly something I didn’t understand before the trail. I used to think that if I worked hard I would climb some imaginary ladder and be a big “success”. Maybe that’s how it works for some. Then again, maybe I want to focus on truly making a difference in the lives of others. Surely there  is success in a fulfilling and enriching career as opposed to one that fills your bank account as much as possible. Whether that is working for a non-profit or a school or just being the best husband, son, brother, friend and someday father that I can be everyday then I think that is the ladder I should be climbing. For now, the answer to the question, “Where do I go from here?” is just “home.”

From here I go home, where I belong.