The San Jacinto Peak via Fuller Ridge hike is just over sixteen miles round trip, with a total elevation gain of between 4,100 – 4,200 feet. The scenery along the entire route is grand with views into the Coachella Valley for the first half, and San Jacinto Valley for the remaining. The trails are well maintained and for the most part easy to traverse, with only some minimal obstacles. There are a few instances where a spring may be present during certain parts of the year, here you may find a variety of wildflowers blooming well into the summer. Temperatures are much milder on the mountain than in the valleys below. If it is 110 in Coachella Valley, expect it to be the 80’s along the trail.
A few weeks ago I was contact by my friend Bushwacking Jim, he was looking for a partner for a hike to the peak of San Jacinto. My first thought was, “hell no.” You see, I’m no peak bagger, and have never had interest in being one. Part of that stems from having breathing issues at high elevations, from a combination of smoking for the better part of 24-years, and having symptoms of asthma as a child. But I quit smoking a couple of months ago, and I have dropped over 50 pounds in the last seven months. With those couple of things going for me I reluctantly accepted the invitation wanting only to prove to myself that I could do it.
We met up the evening prior and camped at the Fuller Ridge trailhead. I loved the camp spot, we had it all to ourselves on a mid-summer, Tuesday night. The temperature fell quickly when the sun faded behind the monstrous pine trees, and the “Full Buck Moon” emerged from beyond the horizon. I managed to stay warm by cozying up in a sleeping bag on an air mattress, under a perfect little rock shelter.
The next morning we woke at 6am, and prepared for a full day of hiking. The route from Fuller Ridge follows the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) for five miles, then branches off onto the Deer Springs Trail for three miles to the peak. At 7am sharp we left the trailhead to embark on the hike that I had been secretly dreading since agreeing to participate in it. By the time we reaching Castle Rocks, an aptly named granite rock formation, I was already huffing and puffing. This was only the two-mile mark, and the trail had only been gradually climbing along the ridge between 7,600 – 7,800 feet. Little to Jim’s knowledge, I was already contemplating dropping out of the hike because I expected that the breathing issue would worsen the higher that we climbed. But I kept going.
The next three miles along the PCT proved to be nothing more than a cruel joke, with the trail continuously switch-backing both up and down in elevation. Every time that the trail would drop in elevation I found myself cursing, knowing that the elevation would have to made up. What kept me going were the gorgeous views overlooking the valleys, along with the beautiful combination of Ponderosa pine, Jeffrey pine, Lodgepole pine, Incense cedar, White fir, Red fir, and deciduous oak trees that dotted the mountainside.
At about four-miles we came across a flowing spring that isn’t marked on any maps, but I that I had read about on several blogs, all which cautioned that it would likely not be flowing during the summer months. If I though that it would have been flowing I wouldn’t have carried 6 litters (just shy of 2 gallons) on my back, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. Finishing the first five-mile leg, we both agreed that it was a pretty crappy and long trek, feeling more like eight miles than the five that we had actually done. I kept it to myself, but I was shocked that I had lasted this long, and after a 10-minute break I was comfortable in my mind continuing onward and upward.
The next segment along the Deer Creek Trail climbed 700 feet in just over one mile to the Little Round Valley Campground. Switchback after switchback the trail climbed and climbed in what felt like a never-ending staircase. Along this stretch we encountered two more instances of the spring crossing the trail. After what felt more like three miles than one, we arrived at Little Round Valley Campground. I had again been trying to talk myself out of continuing because the elevation was wreaking havoc on me, but after a twenty-minute break, I had my pack back on my back, and I was ready to go.
The final leg leaves the campground and climbs over 1,000 feet to San Jacinto Peak in about 1.3 miles. There are thirty-two switchbacks in the first mile, and with each one it became more and more painful to lift my legs, and my heart felt like it was going to explode from my chest. I took baby steps a majority of that last stretch, with it taking nearly an hour to reach the peak of San Jacinto.
When I summited, I was more excited about that fact that a majority of the way off the mountain was down hill than I was to have actually reached the peak. While the views were grand, I was far more interested and occupied with the stone cabin that sits less than 300 feet below the peak. The cabin was built in the 1930’s by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and is an impressive masonry structure that holds two sets of bunk beds, and various emergency equipment. Backpackers are free to stay in the cabin, and encouraged to maintain it for future visitors.
In total in took Jim and I six hours to reach the summit. We rested for an hour before beginning our descent. The return hike took us four and a half hours, with almost continuous movement. With it all said and done, would I hike to the peak of San Jacinto again? No, I would not. While I’m glad that I committed myself to it, bagging peaks is still not for me. The views and scenery are grand, but I find that I’d rather have some petroglyphs or pictographs, or an incredible mine at the end of a hike, rather than a view from an overlook. But with that said I am in no way telling you not to go, it is damn beautiful and well worth the effort.