A So-Called ‘Easy’ Hike Up San Jacinto

By Jill Theodossi

Last Sunday I was texting with Heather Krauss (HK) and she asked “do you work tomorrow, Heather Bruemmer (HB) and her dad (John) are going hiking tomorrow, do you want to go?” Well I didn’t work the next day so I messaged her back with “sure that sounds like fun, I’ll go.”

They had decided to go climb San Jacinto – which is above Palm Springs. What you do is take the tram from Palm Springs, up to about 8,500 feet in elevation. Most people hike around the trails that are just around the tram. But there is also a more challenging climb up to San Jacinto, the peak is 10,834 feet. There are a couple ways you can go,
#1 follow the marked trails,
#2 follow Heather Krauss.
The first way is longer, it’s appx 12 miles round trip, the 2nd way I could have sworn HK said was about 6 miles round trip.
We went with option #2, it’s shorter therefore it is easier (Or so I thought).

The Palm Springs Tram

The Palm Springs Tram

We discussed weather, it was forecasted to be in the 40’s up at the higher elevation, and it could possibly rain, I am a So Cal girl with not much cold weather experience, so we talked about what to bring. I borrowed hiking pants from HB, a shell (waterproof jacket) from HK, and was told to bring gloves, a beanie, wool socks, technical t-shirts or wool, not cotton etc….
HK and HB also gathered stuff for John, as he was here visiting from Pennsylvania and didn’t come prepared to (possibly) hike in the rain.

So on the morning of our adventure we all met up at HK’s house and left at 7:45. About 2 hours later we pulled into the parking lot and went to get tickets for the tram. Heather K told us it probably won’t rain, or not much, and it will maybe even clear up when we get to the top of San Jacinto so that we shall have an amazing view of Palm Springs and all the desert surrounding areas.

While we were waiting to get onto the tram a lady walks over and plops herself down next to me very closely (I wanted to say ‘personal space please’) and asks if we are hiking to the top of the mountain, when we say yes she proceeds to tell us that she is going to follow us, the short cut way. She and her companion look to be very unprepared, for 35-45 degree weather – and a possible 12 mile hike, he is just in shorts and a t-shirt and she has on pants and a scarf and maybe a windbreaker. HK who is the leader of this expedition was thinking “no you’re not following us, I’m not going to be responsible for unprepared strangers going up the mountain.” HK made sure we brought the proper gear and had a compass and map that she used more than once as we went up the mountain cross-country. This couple had a phone compass and a touristy type map that would not be helpful in going off trail in unfamiliar territory, or even to the summit via the trail. Fortunately we ditched them when we all piled into the tram.

We took the tram up and when we got to the top we put on our warmer jackets, hats and gloves, and headed towards the ranger station so HK could get us a hiking permit (free), necessary so that the Rangers can keep track of who is up on the mountain.

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And off we went, Heather K in the front, Heather B next, then me and John. We started off at a nice easy pace, following the trail for the 1st I mile or so. We got to a fork in the trail and HK said “here is where we leave the trail and start making our own way up the mountain.” By this time we had noticed that it was (very lightly) raining, we were going at a nice comfortable pace, the weather was brisk but we were dressed for it, and everyone was breathing a little heavy, because of the elevation.

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We continued on up and even though it’s not an actual trail, you can kind of see that others have gone this way before. It became steeper, and then it started with what I thought was rain, but was told that it was sleet, it was still around 37-40 degrees. That was cold, but because we were continually moving I never felt the cold. I was actually warm, so for a while I just had on my 2 technical t-shirts. It continued to lightly rain/sleet so I decided it was probably a good idea to put on my rain coat with hood that HK had brought for me.

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Shortly after I put on my jacket it started to SNOW!!!…very lightly, just enough to see it floating down. For me this was a first and it was exciting! I have been skiing in storms, just not often. But there is just something different about being in the wilderness, with snow falling, soft and lightly. For a while there was so little of it, that it didn’t build up on the ground. Later when we stopped in a nice clearing to have the first half of our lunch, It was still snowing, and I think maybe there were little tiny patches of it now. I kept thinking that any minute now the snow would stop, and I kept hoping that it would not. After lunch we continued on our way and ever so often HK would stop, look at her map and compass then say – “this way”, and on we went for some time. Of course as always, no matter what I do with these 2 girls, they somehow get farther and farther ahead and I lag farther and farther behind. This time it was John and I lagging farther and farther behind… although I feel like I had good reason… I couldn’t help but admire the snow. You can’t walk very well while gazing up into the sky watching the snow fall, otherwise you are liable to trip and fall. John kindly stayed behind me and said “stop as often as you like, I do not mind.” Eventually I had to just keep moving as HK led us up steeper and steeper territory, with squishier and squishier ground. That was good and bad, it was helpful with footing, not as slippery as say rocks or wet wood, but it was also kind of like slogging through deep sand, uphill which is hard (HK thought the footing was excellent). As we were climbing up an especially steep area, HB commented to HK that it sure was steep, HK said it wasn’t, and John and I in the back were all like “yes it is!..what’s she talking about that this isn’t steep?” Trust me when I say it was steep, it was steep! HK said we would be getting back on the trail again fairly soon, and then it would be easier. Finally I saw in front of us some quite large rocks, and I started to think…hmmmm how will we get through or around those rocks, then HK and HB came to a stop and said we are now back on the real trail. I said phew!

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HB was now looking back the way we came and wondered how difficult it was going to be hiking down all that we just came up, especially as she and John had on sneakers rather then hiking boots, I had trail runners so they have decent grip on the bottom but definitely no ankle support, so I was also a little nervous about how it would be on the way back. HK took pity on us and said we could take the regular trail back if that’s what we wanted. We unanimously agreed. Although we still had 1000 feet of climbing to do.

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So we continued on, it was still snowing, and now it was snowing harder and harder, building up on trees and in clearings. Once again I got busy looking around and taking pictures rather then walking, and slowed myself and John down. All the while the Heathers kept pushing forward at a faster and faster pace (or so it seemed to me, but HK insisted it was the altitude getting to me). Every so often they stopped and waited for us to catch up, then they set off at a blistering pace (of course Heather K would say it was not a fast pace at all, and compared to her usual hikes it’s not, but for those of us that don’t hike as often, it was fast). We eventually came to a place where there is a cabin, and low and behold I recognized it. I had been to this place before from the other side, Idyllwild, with a woman I knew long ago.  It’s this really cool cabin built of stone in the 30s, and inside has 2 bunk beds, sleeping bags, and is actually used by hikers occasionally. HK has a friend who while solo snowshoeing broke her ankle and crawled to the cabin and waited to be rescued for two days. Well we had our lunch, and while we had been moving the whole way up the mountain in the snow (that tells you it’s cold out), we were not actually cold until we stopped to eat. HK said to put warmer clothes on because it will be colder going downhill since we wouldn’t be working as hard. Ah, but we weren’t done climbing yet! We still had about 0.3 mile to get to the very tippy top of the mountain, the 10,834 feet sign was our destination. So we scrambled upwards even more, on rocks and through snow, and now there were patches of snow everywhere – it was so cool! All 4 of us got to the top! Then John’s hands started getting very cold. HB had to help him get his gloves on and I tried taking pictures of snow coming down. Sadly snow doesn’t show up very well in photographs. Or at least not mine.

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Our route up was approximately 4 miles long from the tram to the summit. After taking the ‘short cut’ up following HK, we were now taking the longer but easier way down the normal trail. I figured it would be about 5 miles. Well 5 miles, that’s easy, anyone can go 5 miles, right? It’s downhill, it’s easier than uphill…at least that’s what I thought. So off we went, HK and HB setting the pace, Jill (me) and John moseying along behind. By this time, poor John was pretty much over the hike. If we could have somehow transported down, I think he would have taken that option, but as that option is not available he said “just keep moving, I’ll make it.” He was hungry so we stopped a couple times to share snacks. And while walking we were talking, and I learned about how Heather B’s mom and dad met when they were just 14 and 16 years old, and had been together for 48 years. I also found out that John was an athlete in school, so now I know where HB gets her all around athleticism. We also did some  trash talking about HK (just a little) 😜because she had said this was going to be an easy hike, that it would be sunny at the top, and said she was going at a reasonable pace. Reasonable pace for the Heathers maybe.
At one point when HK and HB had stopped to wait, John said to HK “you know this is not an easy hike, you have to think about the fact that yes I run, but not at elevation, that does not mean that this will be easy for me, this is very difficult! It may be easy for you because you’re  used to this type of strenuous hiking, I’ve never done anything at this elevation, this is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done!” And HK replied “but you run, you’re fit and in shape, this is hiking, not running and is easier. And I’m going much slower then I usually go.”

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And what makes this especially funny is because when we ride, HB is always going at what she considers a reasonable pace, even on recovery rides, and HK is always yelling at her to ‘go slower, this is not a recovery pace for regular people….’
So basically HK was on the receiving end of the ‘you’re  going too fast, pushing too hard, you lied and said this would be easy’ conversation.

our guide and slave driver

our guide and slave driver

The 'willing' participants

The ‘willing’ participants

Well it continued snowing almost the entire way down. By this time I kind of was wishing it would stop.
We eventually got to a sign that said 2 miles to Round Valley, and I think From Round Valley it’s about 2 more miles to the tram. I looked at my phone to see what distance we were at, so we could keep track of how much farther we had to go. The problem with iPhone GPS is that it’s not exactly super accurate. When my phone said we only had 0.3 mile left – meaning we had hiked 1.7 miles from the sign that said 2 miles to round valley, we still had more like 1/2 mile to go until Round Valley.
Oh well keep on moving, that’s what we did. By this time we were actually seeing some sunlight and blue skies. Of course that would be the case, we were almost done. We saw a few people going the way we just came, and we got to tell them, it was snowing up the mountain!

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We got back to the ranger station and HK put our pass in the box so they would know we made it back safely. Then we just had the last steep climb back up to the tram station, where there is also a bar, restaurant and gift shop. This last steep climb is a sidewalk, and it’s very steep, a difficult way of ending the hike. John had bought a magnet when we started, he definitely earned it, and we all had an alcoholic beverage of our choice and toasted our accomplishment.

The total distance was 9.7 miles according to my Strava app, with an elevation gain of approximately 2,600 feet, starting at around 8,500ft and going up to 10,834 feet!

Then we went back to the tram and back down the mountain, it was beautiful and clear, and the sun was starting to go down.
Next on the agenda was dinner, and we deserved it! We went to a restaurant that HB had been to before and said they have just about anything you could want.

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It’s called Sherman’s Delicatessen and Bakery, and as soon as you walk in you see the enormous portions of desserts you can choose from. They looked delicious, but really really huge. We were seated by this funny old man whom I don’t remember his name, but he reminded me of a character on an old time tv show maybe from the 50’s, with quite the comb over. He took us to our table and threw the menus at our plates and practically ran away.

We all ordered – and ate until we were stuffed, passed on desserts, and then the last bit of excitement for the day happened when HK went to the restroom and saw a woman who had tried to pay with a very fake looking $100 bill, standing with an officer and a server. Poor timing since there were police officers having lunch in the restaurant when she attempted to pass a counterfeit bill. When we walked out, the police had the woman in front of the restaurant and she was trying unsuccessfully to explain where she had gotten the fake bill. Apparently she didn’t do a very good job of lying because they were handcuffing her when we were driving away.

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All in all this was a really fun day. (Especially for HK who was happy to be in her element!)
It was an adventure with all the good qualities you could ask for-
Good friends
No injuries
Unexpected weather
Beautiful scenery
Challenging terrain
Off the beaten path where not many venture
A 10,834 ft summit
With good food at the end

Happy trails, and happy cycling,

Jill Theodossi

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One response to “A So-Called ‘Easy’ Hike Up San Jacinto

  1. Hohoho, what a trip! 😀 Great write up, Jill. I’m not surprised that John hung with you… you’re just about the only one not prone to torturing the rest of the gang with something! 😉

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