Mount San Jacinto
In December of 2015, Jeff and I first visited Idyllwild, the small town nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains within the San Bernardino National Forest, about 1 1/2 hours away from Lake Elsinore. At that time the most popular trail, Devil’s Slide, was accented with ice and snow, too risky for us to hike in sneakers with 2 dogs. Besides, it was cold!
We finally return a year and 4 months later on a beautiful Saturday morning.
Humber Park is our destination. Our goal is to hike the Devil’s Slide Trail to Saddle Junction and back, 2.5 miles uphill and then 2.5 miles downhill.
Tahquitz Rock looms ahead as we approach Humber Park.
The parking spaces are all taken but we find an empty row to pull into, under the view of Suicide Rock.
It’s almost 10:00 AM. Backpackers with sleeping bags and poles emerge from parked cars. Day hikers with knapsacks and poles start up the trail. Rock climbers with helmets and gear and poles head to Tahquitz or Suicide Rocks or someplace closer.
Jeff and I begin to feel out of place, wondering what’s the big deal. Where are the backpackers heading to? What’s with the hiking poles? Do we need to carry food with us? How long can a 5 mile hike take?
We know a Forest Adventure Pass is required. Does our Interagency America the Beautiful Senior Pass qualify? We think so, but then we discover that we also need a permit to hike the Devil’s Slide Trail.
Yes, that’s us reflected above! We hem and haw and haw and hem and start the trail anyway, only to encounter yet another sign instructing us to stop going any further without a day permit. So, we get back into the car and look for the ranger station. Of course, the GPS on our phones no longer works because we are not receiving any cell phone service in the mountains. So we keep heading down and, just as service kicks in, we find the station and fill out a day use permit.
A half hour later we are back at Humber Park and there is only one space left to park the car. We are so eager to begin this hiking adventure that we only take light jackets and cell phones with us. What are we thinking? No water, no hats for sun protection! Obviously the increased altitude must have affected our common sense since the round trip trek takes us almost 3 1/2 hours. After the first quarter mile we are thirsty. By the time we reach Saddle Junction our pace has slowed considerably and our muscles ache. We are craving hydration! And we still have 2.5 miles to go to return to the car and our water supply. But, we live through it and learn a valuable lesson, or at least how stupid we are.
You might want to don a hat and grab a water bottle as I take you along the Devil’s Slide Trail.
It’s about 10:30 in the morning. Hikers and backpackers have to take Devil’s Slide to reach Saddle Junction to reach the Pacific Crest Trail, Tahquitz Peak, San Jacinto Peak, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and the overnight campground in the Chinquapin Flats area.
The picture below shows a backpacker entering the trailhead. (Yes, he has poles and is wearing a hat!)
I romanticize that he is headed onto the PCT because a pickup truck dropped him off and I overheard the driver wish him a safe journey.
The trail is beautiful and well maintained. The surrounding views are breathtaking. It’s not a steep climb but a long gradual upward slope with angular switchbacks.
Here are some pictures on the way up.
What do you notice about the mountainside to the right and left of the path? It’s just one big slope. I imagine myself slipping down the slide, so I try not to look.
The trail does not disappoint. Around every bend there is something more beautiful to discover.
We cross several small streams trickling from the rocks. There’s a small pool of crystal clear water that looks inviting. We could just scoop our hands into it and take a drink. But we play the caution card. Later a tiny waterfall delivers its precious liquid like a garden hose.
Again, we overthink and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
We have lost our sense of how far we have hiked and how much further we have to go to reach Saddle Junction. Tired and oh so thirsty, Jeff suggests that at 12:00 Noon we turn back. But we both know we will feel disappointed and defeated if we don’t reach our goal.
So, as we begin to encounter day hikers coming down, we start to ask them how much further to Saddle Junction. The first group we ask is a multi-aged family group. They tell us it’s a good hour away. Silently, Jeff and I are both skeptical and we keep going. Soon, we meet a younger party of tall, thin men. They inform us that we are only about 30 minutes away. Finally, we stop here.
We consider going back.
A middle-aged man and his daughter are coming down the trail. I remember them from the first time we approached the trail without a permit. “How much further?” “Not too far,” they reply, and then his phone rings. Surprised, he answers it. We never do find out how far “not far” is. (At least he had service! An hour later my son called me and I didn’t know that until we were heading back to Lake Elsinore.)
And then a trio of young women with backpacks and poles and hats and water, whom we recognize from the trailhead parking lot, cheerfully approaches. “Are we almost there?” “Fifteen minutes,” they reply.
Jeff and I pick ourselves up, shake off the screaming leg muscles, ignore our parched throats, and continue.
Ten minutes later, we arrive! There are signs on trees all over the place.
According to dayhikingtrails.com, Tahquitz Peak is a more strenuous 1.5 mile hike beyond Saddle Junction. And according to fs.usda.gov, Chinquapin Flats is a camping area between Saddle Junction and Tahquitz Peak.
To the left is the trail leading to San Jacinto Peak, a 16 mile out and back hike from the Humber Park trailhead in Idyllwild. (idealistcafe.com)
We recognize the Long Valley Trail name from our trip on Thanksgiving Day 2016 up the mountain on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. I vaguely recall that Idyllwild was about 7 miles away.
Our trio of women arrive just ahead of us and welcome us with a chorus of, “You made it!” They settle down and have lunch.
We sit and rest.
Jeff posts his picture on Facebook.
Thirsty, tired, and with aching and rubbery muscles, we head back.
One foot in front of the other… Each step closer…
For awhile I focus on the rocks…
And beautiful views…
We pass through the waters from the streams again. Too tired to stop and scoop up a handful to quench our thirst, we convince ourselves that we should just keep walking.
At last, I hear car doors slamming and the trailhead looms into sight. We rush to our car and guzzle down water.
An hour and fifteen minutes later we are in Lake Elsinore just outside of Canyon Lake. We’re hungry so we pull into the drive-through for In-N-Out Burger. (Supposedly this is THE fast food burger joint of Southern California, with secret online menu offerings that range from loaded cholesterol to lettuce wrapped non-burgers.) We opt for a hamburger meal combo and a cheeseburger meal combo. They both include fries and a soft drink. We sit in the parking lot and stuff our faces.
Fifteen minutes later we are back at Lake Elsinore Marina. We are tired and our calves talk back to us with each aching step. Next time we will bring water and wear hats!