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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Godspeed.

Packaging Parties! The Process of Filling Out Your Resupply Packages.

As we draw ever closer to our Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) departure date it becomes increasingly important to make sure that all of our trail ducks are falling into their places in line. One of the most important ducks is the supply packages that will serve as our lifeline as we make our way from Mexico to Canada over the next few months. There are many ways to organize your packages and really there is no ‘correct way’ to do it other than to go with the method that makes sense to you (and whoever is going to be mailing your packages for you while on the trail). Jon and Gary have been doing a lot of their packaging together in the great room at Gary and Sandy’s house. We’ve been filling boxes, rolling toilet paper rolls into half rolls, filling bags of trail mix and rationing out meals to make it from stop to stop and town to town. The method that we chose to use in order to keep everything in line was to lay out all our boxes (predominantly flat rate boxes from the United States Postal Service) marked for each of our mail drops and support crew delivery spots. This allowed us to visualize the trip in a way and to then divide our meals into each box based on how many days it takes to get from one spot to the next.

Jon's Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Supply Boxes All Lined Up. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Jon’s Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Supply Boxes All Lined Up. (Click Image for Larger View.)

There are more things to pack than just food though. We also needed to divvy out toiletries such as travel sized toothpastes and toothbrushes, fuel canisters for our resupply spots that are hand deliveries (can’t ship the fuel cans), Halfmile maps, toilet paper and the like. Toilet paper provides a bit of ‘fun’ during the packing process as we ‘got to’ roll out half rolls of TP to put in each box because a whole roll would be overkill to carry at any one time and the half rolls save shipping space which becomes a premium in the spots where it is a bit longer from one city to the next.

Sandy, Marissa and Jon Rolling Out Half Rolls of TP for the PCT. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Sandy, Marissa and Jon Rolling Out Half Rolls of TP for the PCT. (Click Image for Larger View.)

We are coming down to the wire with our leave date set for April 1, 2015 but after our packaging parties we’re just about ready to get rolling (or slogging, rather)! We’ll be printing shipping labels with addresses for each spot, setting aside our sierra gear for Kennedy Meadows, and putting our last finishing touches on our boxes over the next week or so. We’re so close we can smell ourselves on the trail (ewwww)!

Jon's PCT Gear Rests Under the Packing Pool Table Used to Roll TP Half Rolls and Bag Out Trail Mix. Gary's Supply Boxes line the background. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Jon’s PCT Gear Rests Under the Packing Pool Table Used to Roll TP Half Rolls and Bag Out Trail Mix. Gary’s Supply Boxes line the background. (Click Image for Larger View.)

PCT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

When one decides to go on a journey such as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) a lot of questions tend to arise from their friends and family. We’ve gathered a few of those questions from our loved ones in this article and hope to answer them to the best of our ability.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

1. How will you get food? Will you have an opportunity to bathe or shower?

We are buying much of our food supply before leaving. Most of the food stuffs will be in the form of freeze dried meals and supplemented with energy bars (mostly ClifBars) and trail mix. This allows us to pack our supply boxes before hand so that our families can simply drop them off at the post office when they are supposed to go out. We will have opportunities to shower periodically on the trail. There are towns roughly every 5 to 7 days on the PCT and many have a hotel or mountain resort or trail angel or camp that we will be able to grab a shower at.

2. How is everybody feeling about the journey as it draws closer to your departure date?

Everyone is excited to get going, we are currently putting the finishing touches on our supply packages but other than that we are all at a point where we are ready to hit the trail and get on with the fun!

3. The team will be packing a small first aid kit. Do you have an emergency plan in case a team member needs medical care?

Yes, the team will be carrying first aid kits for each member and should a member need medical attention in the field all the members of the team have had some CPR or basic first aid training in the past so we should be able to manage a sling or other first aid technique should that unfortunate event occur.

4. With the understanding that you will have cell phones. How will you be able to charge them? Do you have concerns about communicating with each other and your support team?

Jon will be carrying a GoalZero Switch 8 and Nomad 7 charging kit that will allow the team to charge their phones as we go. Because we hope to be able to blog along the way it is important that we can use some of the sun’s energy to be able to have our phones up and running at the day’s end so we can post that day’s experience. As for the communication aspect of this question, we’ll be able contact our family and friends and support members through our regular phones when there is enough service. When this cell service is missing we’ll need to use the satellite locator beacon and communicator that Gary will be carrying. This will allow us to contact people through satellite connections when cell services aren’t available.

5. Has the team had training or experience with face-to-face encounters with bears or other wild animals?

The majority of the crew have extensive hiking experience and Lora has worked as an intern under the National Park Service and has training in animal encounters and what to do in these situations. The animals we may encounter range from Mountain Lions and Bears, but will more likely be Snakes and Bugs.

6. Have you heard of the Book/Movie Wild?

Yes, we are aware of the book and movie. It was, in no way, any inspiration for the members that are hiking the trail this year. Gary and Jon both read about half the book before we decided we couldn’t take it anymore due to all her ill preparedness and poor decision making. Lora, I believe has read the whole book. All of us have seen the movie. I think we are all in agreement that the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed and the subsequent movie with Reese Witherspoon are about a story that is a self discovery story that includes the Pacific Crest Trail and not a Pacific Crest Trail story that includes some self discovery.

7. Do you think you will see many hikers on the trail?

We will likely see a good number of hikers on the trail this year. The increased popularity of the book/movie Wild have also boosted the number of people interested in the PCT this year. At last count, we estimated from the PCTA.org permit system that they had issued over 2100 long distance northbound permits for the 2015 year. That’s a lot of long distance hikers and doesn’t even include the people that will be hiking in sections that don’t require a long distance permit. We will also be attending the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off (ADZPCTKO) where we will see many of these hikers as well as those who have hiked the trail in previous years and our friends and family.

8. How long do you think your beards and hair will get? Will you be trimming either along the way?

The answer to something like this depends on the individual hiker. Gary has expressed some interest in being able to shave periodically during the 5 month long hike while Jon has said that he’ll probably go without a hair cut or a shave for the duration unless the hair or beard becomes some sort of annoyance. Really, it just depends on the comfort and preference of the hiker.

9. Will you have some sort of health log? Will the team do a weigh-in and weigh-out?

We are not currently planning on chronicling our weight for the journey as this is more than just a workout regiment. There will likely be some discussion of noticeable health changes as the journey progresses but we aren’t making it a priority topic for discussion.

10. How do you plan to spend your time on off days? games? journal? etc.?

Many of our off days have been planned for areas where we will be able to spend time with our families so the majority of those times will be spent catching up with loved ones. When we have down time on the trail such as evenings at camp we will have a few activities to enjoy. Many of us will be carrying a book while hiking. Jon will also be carrying a travel sized version of Backgammon and we’ll probably have a deck of cards on hand as well.

That covers the most common questions we’ve been getting from our family and friends. If you have more questions you’d like us to answer feel free to post them in the comments or use our contact us page!

Training Hike: El Cajon Mountain

Anybody who lives in, or has driven through, the eastern part of San Diego County has undoubtedly seen the giant rock face that serves as one of the natural borders of the region and shares its name with the city of El Cajon. El Cajon Mountain is at 3,675 feet in elevation but what makes it one of the more difficult hikes in the area is that the elevation gain/loss of the hike ends up being about 4,500 feet. Jon has attempted this hike twice before this group attempt and on his first attempt during the summer (June) the temperatures were 90 degrees plus and he was forced to turn around at the 4 mile mark because he was more than half way out of water. As any experienced hiker will tell you, don’t push the limits of your water. This is especially true when the temperatures are hot and the trail has little shade as El Cajon Mountain’s trail does. The second attempt for Jon came in September on a much more moderate day and on this day he completed the trek and also bagged El Capitan peak which is reached using the same trail up. On today’s adventure the crew encountered ideal conditions for hiking El Cajon Mountain. The temperatures were in the mid- to high 60’s and there was some cloud cover for most of the day.

We set out from the parking lot and hiked up the driveway that leads to the Blue Sky Ranch, which allows hikers to pass by on their private land to enjoy the hike up to the peaks. Once past the ranch you come to a staging area with restrooms and from here you immediately start climbing up switchbacks on a chaparral lined but well maintained trail that leads up up to what is an old service road that may or may not be still in use. It is noted in Jerry Schad’s Afoot and Afield that this was an old mining road and you can even branch off this trail at the 3.5 mile mark and take a spur trail that leads to an old mining area. Once you are on the trial you’ll follow this road all the way to the saddle between El Cajon Mountain peak and El Capitan Peak. The challenges of this trail don’t include a poorly maintained trail. The challenges here are the constant up and down of the trail (it seems that you often have to climb 500 feet, then drop 100-200 feet to get to the next 500 foot climb), and the fact that there is little to know coverage from the sun. On today’s adventure the sun was less of a factor due to the overcast weather. The trail has mile markers at every full mile, provided by A16 (an outfitter store in the Southern California area), and another at the 3.5 marker where you can branch off for the aforementioned mining site hike.

I’ll spare you the fairly boring details of climbing and falling along this trail towards the peak and take you up near the saddle between the peaks. About half a mile from the saddle you’ll see an old metal jeep frame that looks to have been there far longer than I’ve been alive (29 years at the writing of this post). This is the first indicator that you’re nearly to the payoff. Continuing up to the saddle you then have a choice once you’ve reached the sign marking the trail junctions. From this marker, you can continue straight ahead to the big rock face visible from town (known as El Cap, popular with rock climbers), or you can take the trail to your right which leads up to the El Capitan Peak, or you can take the trial to your left which is the trail for El Cajon Mountain peak. Most people that reach this point seem to go just for El Cajon Mountain. I (Jon) have yet to go to the rock face part of El Cap, but have been to both El Cajon peak and El Capitan peak and the view from El Cajon is better undoubtedly. El Capitan peak does have an old shack of some sort, perhaps an old radio tower no longer in use which is sort of interesting. The trail to El Capitan is far easier than the trail to El Cajon though. El Capitan’s peak trail is your typical trial that winds to the peak and requires little effort outside of just hiking uphill. El Cajon’s peak trail winds its way through large boulders and requires some rock scrambling at times near the peak marker. The view is well worth the climb though, it’s quite breathtaking looking out over the entire valley. On a very clear day you can see all the way to the coast, this was not one of those days.

Gary, Lora, and Jon (from left to right) at the Peak of El Cajon Mountain While Training for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). (Click Image for Larger View.)
Gary, Lora, and Jon (from left to right) at the Peak of El Cajon Mountain While Training for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). (Click Image for Larger View.)

From the peak you simply retrace your up and down (this time mostly down) steps to return to your car at the parking lot along Wildcat Canyon Road. Here are the stats for our training hike up to El Cajon Mountain peak, I apologize there are no elevation stats as my app didn’t seem to track them for whatever reason (probably because of the relative remoteness of this hike compared to the usual training hikes in Mission Trails Regional Park).

El Cajon Mountain Peak Hike Used as Training for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). (Click Image for Larger View.)
El Cajon Mountain Peak Hike Used as Training for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). (Click Image for Larger View.)

Training Hike: North and South Fortuna from Jackson Drive Lot

We’ve already talked about the importance of local hikes as training hikes when preparing for a thru-hike like the Pacific Crest Trail, and this hike is a variation of one of the hikes described within that article. The destinations for this hike are the Mission Trails Regional Park peaks of North and South Fortuna, however, instead of coming from the San Diego River Dam parking lot and climbing to the saddle to then branch out to each peak we’ll be taking a different approach.

First, we parked our cars and set up our packs at the Jackson Drive parking lot (where Jackson Drive meets Mission Gorge Road). For this hike we took along some pack weight to keep acclimating to the weight. Each hiker was carrying around 20-25 pounds on this local training hike. After we got our packs on we started out into the park moving north through the central part of Mission Trials Regional Park. This brings us to the San Diego River Crossing, which most of the time isn’t much of a challenge, however, the water wast flowing pretty good this time out due to a recent rain that hit the week before. While this still wasn’t exactly a difficult water crossing it was enough to get our feet wet right off the bat. After crossing the river we moved up a hill moving toward the northwest side of the park. After a while we reached our turn off trail which changes our direction northeast to meet up with the trail for North Fortuna that comes up from the northern edge of the park near the 52 freeway. We follow this trail past a sign that marks what apparently is West Fortuna, more of a mound than a peak, and eventually meet up with the North Fortuna Summit trial. We climb from the junction of these trails to the peak of North Fortuna.

This is the first peak in our hike and we’ve reached it right around the 4 mile mark or so. This will also be the highest point of today’s hike as South Fortuna is a bit lower. From the North Fortuna peak, we descend toward the saddle between the two peaks heading south from North Fortuna. This part of the trail directly overlaps with the write up of the first hike’s write up linked to earlier in this post, so I’ll skip ahead to us at the peak of South Fortuna. Since we parked at the Jackson Drive parking lot and not the dam, we’ll have to go up and over the South Fortuna Summit to what is known as “The Stairs.” The Stairs are called that because they are a set of quite steep rocks and wooden inserts that form stairs climbing up the southwestern face of South Fortuna. We all agreed that it would probably be easier going up them than going down them but we’ve already sealed our fates as we have come nearly to the end of the training hike. We scramble down The Stairs and meet up with the original trail that brought us into the central part of the park at the bottom. We follow this trial back to the San Diego River Crossing area, where Gary tried out his ‘ultralite river crossing method.’ This consists of taking off his socks and shoes and removing his shoe insert in order to put the insert into his sock and then wear his socks and insert to ford the river, rather than jumping rocks as Lora and Jon did. This method, I assume would work well if you had an extra pair of socks to let the others dry out but I’ll be carrying water crossing slash camp shoes for those types of crossings that don’t allow for a completely dry crossing. After this second crossing it’s just another half mile or so back to the car.

Despite this hike reaching two peaks we’ve already done multiple times during our training hikes it was nice to mix up the direction and trails we used to reach the peaks. It’s always good to mix things up as it keeps the mind active and potentially provides a new or different challenge for your body’s muscles. Here are the stats for this training hike:

North and South Fortuna in Mission Trail Regional Park in Preparation for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
North and South Fortuna in Mission Trail Regional Park in Preparation for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

NorCal Mom Cheering From The Sidelines

Hello, from Northern California. Situated along the Siskiyou Trail, Redding was a trade and travel route connecting California’s Central Valley and the Pacific Northwest. My name is Wendy Adams and I am Jon Adams’ mother. When Jon was a young boy he loved the Ninja Turtles, basketball and playing video games. Our family weekends were filled with athletic events, juggling between softball, volleyball, and basketball tournaments. Back then if you were to tell me that this young man would grow up to be a college scholar, world traveler, and one of the founding members of the San Diego PCT Sloggers I guess my response would have been to quote one of my favorite people…

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’! ― Audrey Hepburn.

And it is with this philosophy that my husband and I embrace the SD Sloggers 2015 adventure.  The one thing that I know how to do well is to cheer on the team from the sidelines. This NorCal mom is going to be the best darn cheerleader the Sloggers have ever seen.

Am I nervous or worried about the SD PCT Sloggers going on the trip?
Of course, a little. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t. I was always nervous watching my kids playing the sports they loved. I take comfort knowing that they are traveling as a team and that Gary Funk is an experienced PCT journeyman. There is always some level of risks involved and at the end of the day the rewards far outweigh those risks.

What am I doing to prepare for their Journey?  My training starts now, beginning with a task list.

  • Educational training, learn at least one fact a day. I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but I honestly did not know about the Pacific Crest Trail until Jon started talking about his dream to slog it.
  • Ask questions! This task has already been underway as Jon can attest to. I know the team has done their research and the more I know about their plan the more assurance I have that they are well prepared.
  • Study the itinerary and create a map so that I can visually see their progress.
  • On a personal note, I am committing to a healthier lifestyle. My husband and I have plans to camp with the group when they are in our region. It just makes sense to me that choosing to eat a healthy diet and commit to being more physically active is a great way to show my support from the sidelines.
    Create a master calendar and try to stay organized. While the team is traveling there will be a lot of activities here at home. We have a family wedding the first of May, for example. Prepare to be flexible and ready to switch gears or plans at moments notice.
  • Cheer them on!  Using Facebook and Twitter will be a great use of social media to share with family, friends and fans.
  • And lastly I will be there with my pompoms and noise makers when we gather to celebrate their successful journey home!

Why Are You Called Sloggers? What is a Slogger, Anyway?!

We sometimes get asked, “What is a Slogger, anyway?” or “How did you come by that name?”

Let’s answer each of those questions one at a time, starting with the definition of a “Slogger.” Depending on the dictionary you are checking you may or may not find “Slogger” within the text, though many list it as a derivative of the root word, “slog.” So to better understand what we as “Sloggers” are we must define the root word, “slog.” Here is our definition of “Slog” in both verb and noun forms as defined by Google:

Slog definition

The verb form is the actual physical act of “slogging,” or working hard over a period of time or walking with effort and/or perseverance. These physical actions could not be more in line with the physical demands of a thru-hike such as the Pacific Crest Trail that will take us roughly 5 months to complete. In noun form, the term can refer to a period of time that was both difficult and tiresome during travel, which most thru-hikers of any trail might well define their experience on a day-to-day level as.

So we have defined the root word, “slog” but what is a “Slogger” anyway?! well, as with many nouns ending in a suffix “-er” a “Slogger” is one who exhibits or participates in the ideals or acts of “slogging.” Simply put, Sloggers will slog. We will work hard for long periods of time with effort and perseverance through a spell of difficult and/or tiring travel.

The definition, now that we’ve defined it, is also directly related to how we came to call ourselves the San Diego Sloggers. Firstly, we all reside in San Diego currently (though Jon is originally from the Northern California city of Redding). That being the case, the first part of our moniker essentially made itself. We then made a list of possible names that exemplified not only the journey we would be undertaking but the personalities of our group members and if it had a decent ring to it with “San Diego” that wasn’t going to hurt either. Out of other possibilities such as “Trekkers,” “Packers,” and the like we decided on our name to be through a vote of the members (and support staff).

When you see us in the midst of our slog this year hopefully we are proudly embodying the hard work and perseverance of a San Diego Slogger…now all we need are some individual trail names!

TRAINING HIKE: Barrel Springs to Warner Springs

Those of you who have been reading this blog from the beginning or have looked through our backlog, you may have noticed that Jon and Marissa did a similar hike as an overnight back in November. The main differences of this hike to that earlier one are that Marissa was off at work so this hike included the group of Gary, Lora and Jon; the time of year was much different making the terrain and weather different as well. The other difference was that the group wasn’t going north of Warner Springs to camp as we were being picked up in Warner Springs from Sandy (Gary’s wife and part of our future support team). We also detoured (very slightly) from the Pacific Crest Trail to take a break on the back side of Eagle Rock and you can definitely see why this rock formation gets its name from the back side.

The View of Eagle Rock from the Side Opposite the Pacific Crest Trail Where You Can See Why it Gets its Name. (Click for Larger View.)
The View of Eagle Rock from the Side Opposite the Pacific Crest Trail Where You Can See Why it Gets its Name. (Click for Larger View.)

The group parked a car along the S22, also known as Montezuma Grade, and picked up the Pacific Crest Trail heading north. I won’t rehash the details of the hike as you can skip back to that previous post for Marissa and Jon’s overnight hike. I mainly wanted to discuss the differences in the time of year in this section as that was what struck me. I had someone mention to me about that earlier post that it was nice to see what the trail looked like in a certain section but with changes of the season so to come changes on the trail. The terrain in this area was far greener than it was for that earlier hike. The trail was no longer surrounded by brown and yellow rolling hills with spots of Coyote Gourds and replaced with the greenest of pastures dotted with cows (and frequented with cow pies).

View of Cows Taken from the Pacific Crest Trail (Left) and the Rolling Green Hills of February on the PCT (Right). (Click Image for Larger View.)
View of Cows Taken from the Pacific Crest Trail (Left) and the Rolling Green Hills of February on the PCT (Right). (Click Image for Larger View.)

The crew for this hike also brought their packs along with them as they did for the previous hike from Burnt Rancheria Campground to Kwaaymii Point and Jon even increased his pack weight from about twenty pounds up to thirty pounds. The weather was perfect for this hike also, the first hike in this section from Jon and Marissa was a very windy day in which they stopped at Eagle Rock merely to hide behind some rocks for a while to get a break from the gusts. This hike was far calmer and easier for it.

Map, Distance, and Time Stats for Barrel Springs to Warner Springs Hike.
Map, Distance, and Time Stats for Barrel Springs to Warner Springs Hike.
Elevation Stats for Barrel Springs to Warner Springs Hike.
Elevation Stats for Barrel Springs to Warner Springs Hike.

TRAINING HIKE: Burnt Rancheria Campground to Kwaaymii Point

We are just under two months from our departure date and as we draw closer and closer it becomes more and more important for us to start introducing the weight of a thru-hiker’s pack into our training hikes. It is for this reason that when Gary, Lora and Jon hiked the nearly 13 miles from Burnt Rancheria Campground in the community of Mount Laguna, CA to Kwaaymii Point just off the Sunrise Highway to the north. Along the trail, this section would be the first half of day three which would likely end somewhere around the Mason Valley Truck Trail before the Pacific Crest Trail winds its way around Granite Mountain and to Scissors Crossing on Highway 78.

The conditions for this training hike ended up being a nice test for some new rain gear that some members of the team either had already acquired or were thinking about skipping. Gary had yet to test his new rain jacket and pants from Montbell that he got for Christmas and Jon was hoping to make it through most of the trail without traditional rain pants. The first half of the hike was just on the edge of needing this type of gear as it was mostly just a lite mist in parts. However, that mist eventually gave way to actual rain showers as the day and our hike pushed onward. Jon and Gary also got to test their new pack covers from ULA which worked great and are the lightest things we could find for such use (and much more durable than a hefty bag). As for the other gear tests, Gary’s Montbell rain gear is the lightest we’ve seen and performed very well in the grey misty and rainy conditions. As for Jon not having rain paints, that has actually changed as a result of this hike (as I write this entry about two weeks late). The issue became not really the rain itself but that Jon was wearing regular hiking pants for the day and found that as the day’s weather accumulated on the plants on the trail that the most effected area became below the knees due to dismissing brush on the side of the trail. This is normally an unnoticed occurrence on a dry day but kept depositing the plant’s water onto Jon’s pants which became quite wet and heavy by the end of the hike. This could be avoided by wearing shorts (as Lora did) but that is less comfortable for most or wearing rain pants (Which Jon has since purchased and will carry on the trail).

Gary, Lora, and Jon in the grey conditions on the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Gary, Lora, and Jon in the grey conditions on the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)

As for the hike itself, the trail in this section is a breeze! Because the hike starts at Burnt Rancheria Campground in Mount Laguna, CA you’re at the highest part of this section. The trail is relatively flat for the first few miles as you make your way north of town before dropping a couple hundred feet at a very steady pace. There is a slight climb as the trail winds along some chaparral lined and rocky ridge lines. After this mild and short climb the trail descends again down to the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area just off the Sunrise Highway. The last .7 or so takes you from the picnic area up to Kwaaymii Point which is a little bit of a climb but is less than a mile and has some memorial plaques and nice views off into the desert on a clear day.

Map, Distance, and Time Stats for Burnt Rancheria to Kwaaymii Point Hike.
Map, Distance, and Time Stats for Burnt Rancheria to Kwaaymii Point Hike.
Elevation Stats for Burnt Rancheria to Kwaaymii Point Hike.
Elevation Stats for Burnt Rancheria to Kwaaymii Point Hike.

TRAINING HIKES: Local Trails Used for Training for the Pacific Crest Trail

When preparing for a long distance hike, such as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), it’s important to make sure you are in the best possible shape prior to setting out. This will decrease the risk of injury as you start making your way through the trail and increase the mileage you can do right from the get go. It is for that reason the Sloggers have a list of hikes that we like to do during the week that don’t even require leaving the city. San Diego, like many great large metropolitan areas, has saved some land for the city dwellers to be able to get outside and on a trail and get a good workout with just a short drive within the city limits.

This is, by no means, a full list of the hikes that our group likes to hike in town but this post will cover two of the longer local hikes that have some elevation gain/loss and are a great way for us to keep our butts in gear. Both of these hikes are within an area in San Diego known as Mission Trail Regional Park which is an invaluable space in the city that many people come to to get outside and move around.

The first hike we’ll talk about is what we call the Fortuna Double. There are two peaks within Mission Trail Regional Park called North Fortuna and South Fortuna. There are multiple ways to get to each peak but our usual way of reaching the peaks is to traverse the saddle between them and then go up to one peak and double back to the other and then head back down the saddle. The saddle is what makes these peaks a good workout as the first mile and a half from the parking lot is mostly flat and skirts the Mission Dam and San Diego River that flows through the area. Then you come to the saddle where you’ll climb upward on a service road for about half a mile. Once you’ve made it up to the top of the saddle you’ll catch your breath and pick a peak, either North Fortuna (to your right) or South Fortuna (to your left). Personally, I prefer to do North Fortuna first but it really doesn’t matter which order you tackle them in.

View West From North Fortuna, a Favorite Training Hike for the PCT. (Click Image for Larger View.)
View West From North Fortuna, a Favorite Training Hike for the PCT. (Click Image for Larger View.)

Once you’ve bagged both peaks you’ll head back down the saddle in the direction you came and retrace your steps back past the dam and to the parking lot. Here are the stats for this hike:

Stats for North and South Fortuna Hike from the Parking Lot on Father Junipero Serra Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Stats for North and South Fortuna Hike from the Parking Lot on Father Junipero Serra Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)

The other hike I’ll describe in this post is on the other side of Mission Trail Regional Park and includes the highest peak within the park, Cowles Mountain, which is a great training hike on its own. However, this hike continues on from the peak of Cowles Mountain to a second peak known as Pyles Peak. There are multiple trails to the top of Cowles Mountain but only one trail from the peak there over to Pyles Peak. My preferred route up Cowles is to park on the street at the intersection of Prostpect Avenue and Mesa Road. There is a park, just on the other side of a fence, known as Big Rock Park which is what most people would know this area as. From Big Rock Park you’ll follow the trail as it climbs and dips at times making its way up to the Cowles Mountain service road after about a mile and a half from the park. Once you reach the service road, you’ll follow that to the peak of Cowles Mountain, which becomes fairly steep towards the top where you’ll get the most challege in this workout.

View of Cowles Mountain (the Peak with the Radio Tower) from South Fortuna. (Click Image for Larger View.)
View of Cowles Mountain (the Peak with the Radio Tower) from South Fortuna. (Click Image for Larger View.)

Once at the peak of Cowles Mountain, you’ll continue straight ahead where you will find the trail sign marking the trail over to Pyles Peak. From here, the trail descends down a bit skirting the ride line of a couple smaller mounds and then begins the ascent towards your next destination. You’ll come to a bit of a fork in the trail after maybe two-thirds of a mile. At this fork you can either go off to the right and scramble up the back side of Pyles Peak where some small trails give way to some light rock scrambling (this is the less traveled but sometimes more fun and probably more challenging path) or you can continue on the main trail to the left which descends slightly and takes you around to the ‘front’ side of Pyles Peak where the trail leads you up to the top. To get back to your car you’ll retrace your steps back to Cowles Mountain and eventually back to Big Rock Park. Here are the stats for my last hike of Pyles Peak from Big Rock Park:

Pyles Peak Via Cowles Mountain from Big Rock Park is a Favorite Local Hike to Train for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Pyles Peak Via Cowles Mountain from Big Rock Park is a Favorite Local Hike to Train for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)