2017 PCH Bonding Trip

 Six hearty souls

Six hearty souls

Another year’s PCH backpacking trip is in the bag!  This year’s trek took us to the top of Mt. San Jacinto. 

Our group of six hearty souls left the office and, after a sumptuous breakfast at Gramma’s in Banning, soon arrived at the lower station of the world-famous Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.  The Tram is a great option to explore the high country without the arduous climbing.

 Aerial Tram at bottom station

Aerial Tram at bottom station

 A view of our way up

A view of our way up

After disembarking the tram at 8516 feet elevation, the 70-degree pine-studded mountain environment cooled our faces after the 100+ temps of the desert below.  We registered our permit with the Ranger Station, shouldered our heavy backpacks, and were soon trekking through the clear air and wilderness solitude. 

 The beginning of the hike to camp, and 30º cooler

The beginning of the hike to camp, and 30º cooler

The 2-mile, well-marked trail climbs steadily along the banks of a small streambed and up several sets of switchbacks.  Soon, we were sweating profusely and huffing from the strong sunshine and the thin air.

Our initial destination was Round Valley Campground in the Mt. San Jacinto State Park.  Situated at 9100 feet in elevation, the primitive campground winds its way in and around majestic rock outcroppings and ancient stands of 100 ft tall pine trees.  Being careful to stay well away from the sensitive vegetation of Round Valley Meadow, the campsites are spread about a large area, giving the impression of being isolated from fellow campers.  Only the playful shouts of a nearby Boy Scout Troop and hollering of several disturbed Steller Jay birds pervaded the camp’s silence.

 Round Valley; Elev. 9,100

Round Valley; Elev. 9,100

 Typical wooded, rocky terrain around the campsites

Typical wooded, rocky terrain around the campsites

Once tents were erected, the relaxation that comes from being “unplugged” outdoors began to permeate our psyche.  Dinners are a good time of fellowship and, as always, Mr. Pacini’s gourmet camp meals are a sight to behold.  Afterwards, our good friend Jack Daniels, accompanied by another gentleman from Knob Creek, stopped by for dessert ensuring lively chatter long into the evening.

 Lis getting situated

Lis getting situated

 Base Camp

Base Camp

 Mr. Pacini in the midst of preparing a gourmet meal

Mr. Pacini in the midst of preparing a gourmet meal

 ...not kidding about the gourmet meals

...not kidding about the gourmet meals

Up with the Saturday morning sun, we were all eager to start the climb to the summit.  After the first strenuous mile, the trail becomes exposed on the peak’s eastern flank giving an unforgettable view of the low desert, upper tram station, and Round Valley meadow.  At 10,000 feet, the trees thin and the air thins even more.  Rocks congest the trail, punishing our knees, ankles, and feet.

 Crossroads, at the saddle; Elev. 9,700

Crossroads, at the saddle; Elev. 9,700

 A view from the saddle, looking towards Idyllwild

A view from the saddle, looking towards Idyllwild

Soon however, Summit Saddle is reached with the peak being a short 3-tenths of a mile away.  There is an emergency cabin built from local stone by the California Conservation Corps.  Bunk beds and shelter are available should Mother Nature turn nasty. 

 Stone cabin

Stone cabin

San Jacinto peak is a rugged rock-scramble to the top.  At 10, 834 feet above sea level, both the Pacific Ocean and Salton Sea can be viewed in opposite directions on clear days.  Across the Banning Pass, the imposing ridge of Mt San Gorgonio (“Old Grayback” to locals) looks to be roughly the same height although it is 665 feet higher. 

 Atop San Jacinto Peak, with a view of "Old Grayback"

Atop San Jacinto Peak, with a view of "Old Grayback"

 Everyone made it to the peak; Elev. 10,834

Everyone made it to the peak; Elev. 10,834

Ominous gray clouds started building during our short lunch at the peak.  Nicknamed “Icarus” after the doomed Greek aeronaut, we were certain to be drenched from the pending downpour.  Fortunately, we reached camp just before a gentle rain peppered the ground, trees, and rocks with large splashes of drops.  The musty odor of damp forest weighted the air and increased humidity drastically.  The rain did not last long however, the clouds scattered, and our camp dried quickly. 

 A shot of the earliest incarnation of the cloud, Icarus

A shot of the earliest incarnation of the cloud, Icarus

On a large flat rock, impromptu yoga instruction stretched tight, tired muscles in the warm sun.

 Yoga happens here

Yoga happens here

After another scrumptious dinner, Mr. Pacini regaled us with ancient stories from his youth.  The gentleman from Knob Creek and Mr. Daniels again joined us as we settled into the quiet mountain darkness for the evening.

 Aerial tram, as seen from the top station

Aerial tram, as seen from the top station

Sunday morning’s trip down the Tramway and the drive home was thankfully uneventful and everyone made it home safe and sound.  Stories and memories will last a lifetime from our wonderful adventure to the top of Mt. San Jacinto peak!