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  • Writer's pictureDale Hill

Mount San Jacinto

Updated: May 3, 2021

Date: April 24, 2021

Distance: 12.29 miles

Total Elapsed Time: 10h 06m

Total Moving Time: 7h 43m

Summit Elevation: 10,788 feet

Elevation Gain: 4,374 feet

Trailhead: Marion Mountain Trail

Previous Ascents:

  1. June 15, 2020


  • Peakbagger Peaks - 1

  • Survey Marks - 4 (3 previously observed)

Looking back...Stuff Happens

From a hiking perspective, March had been a low production month for me. I fell short on my (self-imposed) mileage goal and didn't make any progress on my two open hiking challenges. My schedule in early March was really wonky which made long, or out-of-town trips harder to plan. As a result, I shifted my hiking focus back towards specific local trips to look for survey marks when I could fit them in.

Additionally, with the easing of pandemic-related restrictions toward the end of March and the return to training clients in person, my weekday hiking window vaporized. Heading into April I felt the need to refocus and make adjustments for the changes to my schedule.

SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks 2021 #8 of 9...oops, 11

This month was my time to get back on track with my SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. I had completed the San Diego Six in January and I finished six peaks on the SoCal list two months ago with my ascent of Cucamonga Peak on February 25th. With a total of nine peaks on the list, my remaining three going into April were Mt. Baldy, Mt. Baden-Powell, and Mount San Jacinto.

My plan was to knock off one peak each weekend to wrap up this year's challenge by the end of the month. Family commitments early in the month side-tracked my schedule a little, but last Saturday I checked Mt. Baldy off the list, of course, today was San Jacinto and on May 1st my plan was to head back to the Angeles National Forest to bag Baden-Powell. Not too bad, I'd just miss my targeted April finish by a day.

Well, that WAS the plan until I learned yesterday that Mount Wilson and San Gorgonio (previously on hold due to fire-related closures) were back on the list! YAY 👏🏻 for that, but I was back to needing three peaks again! 🤣 Since my current schedule only permits 'weekend' hiking, it looks like I won't complete all eleven peaks until the middle of May at the earliest.

Alpine Start

In the mountaineering world, an Alpine Start is anything before dawn, which could range from midnight to the hour prior to sunrise. In the military, we simply referred to this as an "Oh-Dark-30" wake-up. That (and a little bravado) likely inspired the phrase "I've done more before 0500 than most people will do in a day". Depending on the location, timing, and nature of your hike, an Alpine Start can provide a variety of benefits (not all snow-related despite the name):

  • Avoid snowmelt that could negatively impact route conditions and pose safety concerns such as avalanches

  • Avoid rockfall that can occur as rock formations warm and expand in the sun

  • Avoid high temperatures in desert areas

  • Avoid afternoon lightning storms

  • Timing summit opportunities at optimal or safe times

While we technically didn't have a true Alpine Start today (we started in daylight), when my alarm went off at 0400, my body was pretty sure this qualified as one. While I love hiking in the San Bernardino and Angeles National Forests, it ALWAYS involves a two-hour drive (minimum) to get to the trailhead, so the early a.m. "get-up" is just part of the process.

My hiking buddy Alberto arranged to meet me in town where we'd carpool to Idyllwild in my truck, after taking care of loading his gear and filling up with petrol, we were finally on the road. We had to make a brief stop at the Ranger Station in Idyllwild to fill out our Wilderness Permit, then it was onto the Marion Mountain Campground parking area.

Hitting the Trail

Just a few minutes after we parked, a car pulled in and parked across from us, I recognized the two little heads in the back seat, it was Matthew and Arabella, the Super-Hiking Twins! Last week when I met them at Mt. Baldy it was just Dad and the kids, today it was a pleasure to meet Mom. They started out a little ahead of us on the trail and I knew we'd see them again somewhere along the way.

Once we were geared up and made a final check to ensure we didn't forget anything, we hit the trail. This was my second time summiting San Jacinto and I took this trail last year, I do like to take different routes, but I knew that being a Saturday with good weather conditions, and my anticipated start time, parking at some of the other trailhead would fill up quickly.

There were obviously sections of the trail that I recognized right away and seemed very familiar, even though I'd only been on it once before, but a good deal of the trail felt "new" to me, which made for an enjoyable trip. As we climbed, we caught up with the Twins who were taking a snack break and playing on the side hill above the trail, it was an opportunity to chat with mom and dad and get a quick photo before continuing on.

As we intersected the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and followed it to Deer Springs Camp, I started noticing more patches of snow along the way, the trail itself was still pretty good, but as we headed toward Little Round Valley on the Deer Springs Trail, the icy patches increased. Not enough to justify stopping to put on my microspikes, but enough to make me pay a little closer attention to my footing.

Little Round Valley was one of those cool spots I remembered from last year and it was fun to hike through there with a little bit of snow on the ground, there were folks set up to camp there so I didn't take any pictures passing through. Little Round Valley is also a milestone on the trail as it is 1.3 miles to the intersection of the Peak Trail, and an additional 0.3 miles up to the summit.

There is a stone cabin just before you reach the summit that is a great place to stop for pictures. I found the register from last year, looked up my previous entry, and signed in right next to it. Next up: it was photo time for George. I always have someone ask me "what's the deal with the monkey?" 🤣 Curious George is my Trail Buddy, many hikers will have a Trail Buddy (or some token) that factors into their pictures at the summit or along the trail.

I've always loved Curious George and was excited when Alma over at @trail_threads made this little guy for me last year (she also has a shop on Etsy where you can browse through her various creations), I think I was the first person to request a Curious George, but I notice he's now in the Etsy shop! As I was wrapping up George's photoshoot 🙄 Sue and Kevin, new friends that I'd met earlier on the trail, arrived at the cabin. When Sue saw that I had George she was super excited to show me her Trail Buddy...Smitten. George and Smitten HAD to have a photo together! 🥰

After pictures and some time spent visiting, I needed to head up to the summit. Alberto had gone ahead of me when we had hit Little Round Valley. Given my slower pace and the time I spent at the cabin, he's probably been on the summit for a while.

Today, the final approach to the summit was covered in snow and ice so it was slow going. While the hiker traffic coming up on the Marion Mountain was moderate, there are lots of trail options that lead to the summit and consequently, the summit was BUSY! (it was difficult taking pictures that DIDN'T have other people in them!)

We got our summit picture and I took a quick look around, photographing all of the survey marks on the outside chance that today's pictures might be better than the ones I took last year, thankfully I got a better shot of Reference Mark 2 today!

Today, the "Station" is marked by a standard 3" brass Triangulation Station disc mounted in a boulder at the summit that is stamped 1898 and 1923. This indicates the original station that was designated in 1898 and this particular station disc was set in 1923. Reference Mark 1 was also set in 1923 while Reference Mark 2 was added in 1936, both reference marks are also 3" brass discs mounted in boulders at the summit.

According to the station description from the datasheet for San Jacinto, in 1898 a cairn of rocks about 5 feet in diameter and 8 feet high built on top of the boulder forming the highest point on the mountain. The original station consisted of a 1-inch hole drilled 1 inch deep in a large flat boulder which was 13 feet from the boulder with the cairn in true azimuth 63 degrees 42 minutes (ENE). In 1899 the station was re-marked by a 1-¼-inch drill hole 5 inches deep. Reference Marks consisting of drill holes 1-¼-inches in diameter and 3 inches deep were established in nearby boulders.

In 1923 all of the original reference drill holes were located and their distance and direction from the station were verified. The standard station disc itself (which had been placed sometime between 1910 and 1923) was found out of place and a new station disc was set in the drill hole (the station disc in the photo above) Reference Mark 1 (above) was placed in an old Reference Hole. During the 1920s, the National Geodetic Survey mandated that all stations required at least two Reference Marks that were within line-of-sight of the station, Reference Mark 2 (above) was added in 1936.

Based on the original coordinates and distances provided in the datasheet, I was able to positively confirm the location of the original"Reference Point Drill Hole 2" shown below. Sure, it's just a hole in the rock, but it's a piece of the surveying history of the mountain that dates back to 1899. Imagine the equipment they used in 1899 to drill these holes, not to mention the fact that they had to pack it to the summit. My guess is they probably use pack mules to tote all their gear and supplies up there, but that's just a guess.

It was windy, cold, and busy at the summit so we headed back down to the cabin where I took my lunch break. As I was eating lunch I saw Matthew and Arabella coming up to the summit with Dad, they made it! I thought this was cool because it was their second summit of San Jacinto as well. It was nice to sit in the sun and chat with other hikers as they came and went from the summit, but after I finished eating it was time to start down as we still had a 6-mile descent and a 2-plus hour drive back home.

Relive® 3D Video of Today's Hike

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