Hiking Stats as of 11/12/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet
I was in Southern California for a work conference, and after hiking up Mt. Baldy on Tuesday I was excited for the end of the conference Friday morning which would give me another hiking opportunity before making the 6 1/2 hour drive back from Palm Springs to Tracy. There really was no question as to what I would hike - Palm Springs is well known for its tram which heads up to about 8,400 feet on the 10,800 foot San Jacinto Peak, the high point of Riverside County. I admit to having more than just a little guilt in taking a tram up to such heights rather than hiking it myself, however, this would be the only way I could possibly have time to get to the top after having to attend the conference in the morning and needing to be alert enough at the end to drive home afterword.

San Jacinto Peak is not only the high point of Riverside County, it is also on the HPS list and is one of the "Big 3" peaks of Southern California (along with Mt. Baldy and San Gorgonio Mountain). I was quite excited to have the chance to get my second of these big three within a few days of each other - not to mention having such fine conditions in the middle of winter (no snow is good for hiking, bad in every other respect). Much like I had done on Baldy, I brought microspikes with me just in case there were icy conditions, although once again they would never leave my pack.

I arrived at the tram station at 11 AM and was surprised by all of the cars in the lot. I hadn't really thought about it but I just assumed that crowds would be sparse around lunchtime on Friday. This was not the case, and as I made my way into the station I realized this was much more than simple ride up. There was a security station, and I was the only one who had a massive backpack which I hadn't realized would be searched. I sheepishly told the guard that I had tons of stuff in the pack, not realizing that I would cause a bit of a delay in the security line. I had 4 bottles of Powerade Zero, several sandwiches, an extra jacket, microspikes, my emergency kit, backup batteries and cables for my GPS, iPhone and camera, and probably some other odds and ends that I can't recall now. The guard halfheartedly looked through the stuff and let me pass. The line then comes to a stop where a photographer takes your picture, presumably so you can be pressured to buy the picture once you reach the top of the tram as kind of a souvenir. I was the only grumpy one of the bunch apparently, and I told the guy I didn't want my picture taken. He said that I had no obligation to buy anything and I just kept walking. Did I make a wrong turn and wind up going up Splash Mountain instead?

Despite the crowds, I still made the 11:15 tram which was packed full. The tram ride itself is quite an experience, as it slowly rotates giving you the chance to take in the views in all directions. The steepness of the mountain and the steep view back down to the desert below were quite impressive. The ride lasted about 15 minutes, and as we disembarked I made my way down and out of the visitors center and to the trails below. I could see Jean Peak, a summit a few hundred feet lower than San Jacinto but the main peak was hidden from my vantage point. I was the only one in our tram who seemed to be going for the summit, and I was by myself as I made my way over to the ranger station where I filled out the requisite forms to get a self-issued day permit to hike to San Jacinto Peak. Finally free of the red tape, I got started on the trail at 11:30.

The trail to the Peak reminded me very much of Mt. Whitney, or at least an abbreviated Mt. Whitney (Whitney is much longer obviously). The trail is very well marked, and carries an easy grade throughout. I guess this is done to appeal to the masses, but it is a bit frustrating when you continually switch back and forth while gaining elevation very slowly. In any event, the scenery was quite pleasant, with large rock falls and surprising dense forests covering much of the landscape. It is quite amazing to think that in half an hour you can go from the desert below to a wilderness area such as this. In another sign of how well maintained this trail is, I came across some sort of Ranger Hut after an hour of hiking. I hadn't realized that this area is a camping area as well - this really is an impressive oasis for the people of the desert below. I wasn't sure if I would even see any snow (I had only seen little bits on Mt. Baldy), but at around 9,300 feet I started seeing little patches. It was at this point that I began to see the the topography of the mountain - by looking back toward the tram station it was evident that after rising so sharply from the desert, I was in a giant forested bowl, seemingly floating above the arid desert below. I'm not sure if it comes across in the pictures, but I had never seen anything like this at all.

As I made my way up, the trail actually became somewhat icy in some spots, although not enough to warrant getting out the microspikes. I tried to avoid the ice wherever I could, and walked carefully when I had to go on it. As the trail switched back and forth I had some nice views of Jean Peak, where quite a bit of snow could be seen. It may be useful to lay out my plan for the day - I intended to first summit Miller Peak (not on any Peak Lists) since the trail passes less than a quarter mile away from that summit. After Miller Peak I would retrace back to the trail, and then continue on to San Jacinto Peak (HPS Peak/Riverside County Highpoint). From there I would traverse the ridgeline over to Jean Peak (HPS Peak), and descend through that snowy area in the previous picture back down until I regained the main trail lower on the mountain which would take me back to the tram. I was on the lookout for the turnoff to Miller Peak, which it turned out was quite easy to identify as the main trail makes a sharp turn at this location and heads off towards San Jacinto. I made my way across the rocks and within a few minutes was staring up at a bit of a tricky climb to the top of Miller Peak. There was one move that was a tough class 3, but I made it and was soon on top of the peak. There is a large plaque commemorating the "Boy Scout Oath" on top of the peak - I was impressed that Boy Scouts would come up these rocks - the class 3 move I had to make to get up required me to get my leg onto a rock that was over waist high, I couldn't see how a Boy Scout could do this without being lifted. Also present was a plaque dedicating the peak to its namesake, Frank Miller. The views from Miller Peak are quite nice, especially those towards Palm Springs and back to the tram station. I also snapped shots of San Jacinto Peak and Jean Peak , my next two objectives.

I started down the class 3 rock and was having a bit of trouble with move which required me to drop down without being able to see where to put my feet. I pulled myself back up and thought that there had to be an easier way than this. Of course, there was, and I felt silly descending this easy rock. Obviously this would be the preferred way for any Boy Scouts who came up here. I rejoined the main trail, and within a matter of minutes the view back to Miller Peak shows it as nothing more than a few large boulders. I'd have to agree that it isn't worthy of being on the HPS list after all. I followed the well marked trail all the way to the summit blocks of San Jacinto, where the trail disappears and it is a free-for all to the top. It only took a few minutes to make the final ascent, and I was soon on top of San Jacinto Peak, at 2:20. I located the benchmark and asked the only other party on top if they would take a summit shot for me, which they did. The views from the top are quite spectacular, from San Gorgonio Mountain, the desert over 10,000 feet below, Palm Springs, over to Jean Peak, a view to Mt. Baldy way off in the hazy distance and to the Salton Sea. I got a really nice zoom shot of Palm Springs and then began my descent down in search of a way over to Jean Peak.

The large boulders made optimal route finding a bit difficult, but I made my way to the saddle and then started up some more large boulders on my way to Jean Peak. For some reason Jean Peak seems to hold its snow a bit better than San Jacinto, and I was doing my best to try to stick to dry land. But with a relatively short ascent it wasn't really a big deal. I crested over the last series of boulders, and found myself on top of Jean Peak. The summit was littered with large boulders and trees, and it really wasn't clear which boulder was the highest. I spent several minutes walking around and going up all potential boulders (there were about 4) before I was satisfied that I had in fact reached the high point. The summit views were pretty tame, with so many trees around cutting into the view. I could make out San Jacinto but not much else. Oh well, with my peak bagging done for the day, I started down the north face of Jean, through the snow that I had seen a couple of hours ago. This was quite an enjoyable descent, as it wasn't too steep and the snow was fairly shallow. It was also quite picturesque. I enjoyed this off-trail descent, hopping boulders and going around snow and easily found and rejoined the main trail down around 9,500 feet.

Once I had found the trail it was quite easy and somewhat boring to follow the gently sloping trail down, but follow it I did. A bit before 5 I was back at the Ranger Station and turned in my self issued permit. I went back to the tram station, and now being an expert on the workings of the tram, made sure I was the last person to board (meaning I would be right up against the window rather than stuck in the middle) and got some nice shots of the tram descent down. We descended back down to the desert floor, and once back at the car I immediately got started on my long drive home. I made it back to my house a few minutes after midnight. I really enjoyed my two hikes in Southern California, and am looking forward to the next time I can come back for more. San Gorgonio Mountain is high on my to-do list.

Add Comment


1 Comment


(5 years ago) Great write up said:

My girlfriend and I will be attempting this on Sunday. May skip Miller Peak though.