My wonderful mom was visiting a few weeks ago and after one relaxing day where we walked around Laguna Beach and had drinks at Hotel Laguna overlooking the ocean, we embarked on a backpacking adventure in the Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness near Palm Springs. My mom had never been on a backpacking trip and it had been many years since she’d been camping. I had always wanted to hike to the top of San Jacinto Peak, the highest peak in Riverside County. So, it was a trip of mother-daughter bonding, firsts, and bucket list completions.
After taking the Palm Springs Arial Tramway 5873′ feet up Chino Canyon, we began our trek into the wilderness.
We hiked 2 miles to the Round Valley Campground and set up our camp.
My original plan was to then push on to the peak, but we got a late start and I knew it wouldn’t be smart to continue on with nightfall only hours away. So, we walked around the campground, hiked up to Tamarack Valley, chatted with our one neighbor, ate a freeze-dried spaghetti dinner, and crawled into our tent at 7pm. It was already bitterly cold out. We were in for a loooong, coooold night. It was probably the coldest weather I’ve ever camped in. The wind shook our tent and howled through the mountains. Even with layers of clothes, gloves, hats, sleeping bags, etc., it was still just so damn cold. When we finally roused the next morning, Mom and I both had the same first thoughts: We survived. Sunrise did not really bring much warmth, though. The water in our water bottles had frozen. We were still too cold to bother changing clothes – or even brush our teeth.
The night before, while talking to our camping neighbor, he said that the trail onward to the peak was covered in snow, making it not only treacherous, but difficult to follow. He had talked with other hikers who had abandoned their peak plans and had turned around. As I laid awake, freezing, in the middle of the night, I came to terms with the fact that Mom and I might very well have to change our plans and turn around and go back down the mountain. April wasn’t the right time to be up there. I felt so bad that I had drug my Mom out there, only to hike two miles and then spend an uncomfortable evening in a freezing tent. So I asked her what she wanted to do in the morning, fully expecting (and accepting) her saying that we should just go home. But, instead, she said that we should hike on – we’d come all this way – we should see how far we can go.
So, onward we hiked. It didn’t take long before we were at the foot of the snow fields where other hikers had turned back. But we kept going forward, blazing our own trail when we could no longer see the trail due to the heavy snow. I knew that we just needed to keep heading up to the top of the ridge, which I could see due to the bright blue sky. Soon, we were at the top of the ridge – Wellman’s Divide. Whew! And the trail leading out from there was clear of snow. No need to stop yet! We continued to hike up, into the sunshine, until we got to the next snow field. We quickly lost the trail, and this time, although I had a vague idea of where we should be going, we got a little lost. After wandering around the forest for awhile, I finally found the trail. And then I lost it. But, I found it again and we were able to keep hiking without trekking through any additional snow fields.
Three miles into our hike that day, we reached the foot of San Jacinto Peak. The summit was only .3 miles away. Mom said that she was tired and that she’d wait and rest while I summitted. No way! I really wanted her to do this with me, and I knew that she could, so we rested together, refueled, and then hiked the last .3 miles, scrambled up a bunch of boulders, and then stepped onto the top of San Jacinto Peak!
It was thrilling to be at the top of the mountain – 10,834′. Mom was so glad that she continued on with me. We were the only two people up there and the view was amazing. John Muir, upon reaching the summit, said, “The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!”
The hike down the mountain to the tram was quick, but we still covered about 6.5 miles. The total mileage for our two-day adventure was about 13.5 miles. We were exhausted by the time we got back to the car. We checked into our hotel in Palm Springs, showered (oh, glorious, cleanliness!), ate dinner downtown, and then went to bed. I was sooo thankful to be sleeping in a warm, comfortable bed.
The next morning we toured the Palm Springs Art Museum and then left Palm Springs. We stopped at Hadley Fruit Orchards and the Miramonte Winery in Temecula. By the time we eventually got home, after visiting my girlfriends, Dan had an amazing dinner waiting for us! It was good to be home! And every night since this adventure, when I curl up in bed at the end of the day, I continue to be extremely grateful to be sleeping in a warm, cozy bed and not outside near the top of a mountain in bitter cold temperatures!