I wonder how many minutes of my life I have spent starring up at the tip top of Mount San Jacinto. As a kid I used to pretend that the little furry pine trees on the ridge-line were actually a troop of khaki clad adventure seekers looking down at me. I have even shared that idea with my kids, wanting them to carry on the silly make-believe thought. I typically say, “Oh can you see them waving at us? Maybe we should just walk up the side of the mountain and meet them up there”. I would get a courtesy ha ha from the kids, but all joking aside, I probably would have ditched whatever errand we were currently on to meet those ridge-line hikers (trees). After all, you only live once…right?
That above is precisely the reason this story even happened. I’m not much of a thrill-seeker but I do love hiking, and climbing to the peak of Mount San Jacinto was one of the few thrills that I’ve always wanted to seek. So we loaded up on supplies, (everything including the kitchen sink seemingly) from backpacks to camping gear, to enough snacks to fuel a football team. FYI, I’ve never been much of a camper and I have never backpacked before. I do exercise regularly so I feel like I’m somewhat conditioned…ha! And just like that, along with my film crew of three, we headed into the wild for a 33 hour adventure off the grid.
It’s always about the path you choose. Some are straight and narrow. Some are curvy. Some make your heart drop but of all the paths you take, make sure some of them are dirt. This is my new favorite thing to say or saying…however you say it, it’s SO true. There is something so satisfying about the sound of dirt poofing out from under your shoes.
So there we were jumping on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to head 8,500 feet into the clouds. That was just the first leg of the leg workout. It’s always a wild ride no matter how many times you have been on that tramcar. I’m impressed every time.
Once we got to the top, we glanced at the amazing vista and hurriedly got on our way as we were carrying our homes and all our water on our backs, two miles to camp. Not going to lie, adjusting to the new altitude was not easy with such loads.
Some people look at the mountains and see a two dimensional backdrop to Greater Palm Springs. San Jacinto’s giant stature appears almost artificial but don’t be fooled…with a couple twists & turns, the urban world is left behind and the wilderness is the only way forward.
Mount San Jacinto National Monument is truly a land of extremes, with its weathered granite spires, unbelievable vistas and unending carpet of pines. You can’t be here without finally understanding why so many artists and writers have been inspired by this landscape. You’re almost living the words written by naturalist John Muir.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves…Camp out among the grasses… in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings.”
So we camped…it was a beautiful clear night with more twinkling stars than freckles on faces on earth. The tent was a tight squeeze and a good lesson to those people (me) who choose not to open the vents due to chilly air…you will wake up at 2:30am with cold condensation dripping on you. Not perfect! It was a good thing for the damp roll of toilet paper next to my head. It was used to wipe the drippy ceiling that had buckled from the dampness. Note…not my favorite moment of the adventure.
Up before sunrise, it’s a wild feeling being so isolated in the piney forest. There’s a peaceful silence here beyond quiet that can’t be explained, it should only be experienced.
With plenty of layers and a slight bone chill, I was beyond ready to watch the warm rays fall onto the damp forest floor. After capturing a few AM shots on video, we were off to the summit. San Jacinto Peak is the 2nd highest in Southern California and the climb…breathless. It’s actually the largest elevation gain over such a small horizontal distance in the contiguous US.
Looking out to where we’ve come from and seeing where we’re going was pretty inspiring. Along the way I also became enamored by the notion that this same trail system pioneered by Native Americans has been shared by prospectors, cattlemen, bohemians and adventurers.
Just before the summit, there is a really cool little rustic rock emergency shelter. It also doubles as an inspiration spot with thousands of messages left on note cards, in notebooks and carved into the wood ceiling. Perhaps it was there more to inspire those making the trek to press on just a few minutes more to the summit.
So we pressed on and used our last bit of football team snack fuel to crest the peak & then fully absorb the 360 degree view, all 10,834 feet and beyond of it.
John Muir is quoted as saying, “The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!” I would like to now quote myself as saying, “Hello Greater Palm Springs…you’re looking good from up here”…oh and “WE DID IT!” Not quite as eloquent but whatever.
So I’ll never really know how many minutes I spent pondering, planning, and pretending to be at the summit of Mount San Jacinto. Since I grew up in Palm Springs and have lived here most of my life, I would say it’s probably a lot of minutes and even more seconds. But what I can answer for myself, for my kids, and for my imagination right now, is what it looks like to be on the top, what it feels like to conquer one of my desires, and what breathtaking, gasp-worthy scenery those cute khaki-clad climbers (trees) on the ridge-line have been experiencing all these years.
To learn more about the countless amazing adventures in Greater Palm Springs click HERE!