Mount San Jacinto!! Live in the SoCal area? Looking for a great warmup hike for Mt Whitney? Look no further!
We are planning on hiking Mt. Whitney in August, and were looking for something at elevation in the area, where we didn't completely kill our legs. After a short google search, I decided to hike a route that would take use from the Palm Springs aerial tram, up a good portion of the mountain by tram, then has a hike that climbs a couple thousand feet to the summit. So, we packed the car up at 5:30am and headed to our launching point, Palm Springs.
Once you get to the aerial tram you are met by a number of fellow hikers, who are all equally as anxious to get on the trail and summit. The tram itself is actually a really nice ride! While you are ascending you pass a number of support poles that are used to support the cables of the aerial tram. Once you pass these poles, the tram dips and bit and starts to swing back and forth. All the while, the floor of the tram is rotating! If you are prone to motion sickness, the ride up might be a little rough, but don't worry! It only takes about 8 minutes to make it to the top.
After you get off the tram, you have to stop by the ranger station to get your permit for the day. There is no charge for the permit, you just need to sign you (Or your group) in before you head off on the trail.
The trail is really well marked, and has a good amount of tree coverage for the first half of the hike. The second half, on the way to the summit, is pretty exposed with limited shade.
The halfway mark is also your last chance to use these fine facilities before you summit. Seriously... total shit holes! ;) Once you crack the door of one of these guys, your life will be forever changed. Think; Big steel drum with both end cut off, and what looks like 100,000 worth of bowels exploded on the inside. Fantastic right!?
Shortly after this, you also come across your last chance to grab water. There is a spigot that comes out of the ground, and typically has a number of people just hanging out around it, but you should plan on filtering this water prior to drinking. Now get ready to summit!
As you climb the mountain, you can certainly feel the temperature cooling as you ascend. I started in long sleeves and was a little hot to start, but was happy I chose long sleeves as I reached the summit. The summit was a little cold and pretty windy, but take a moment to rest and enjoy the view from the top before you pound your knees on the way down!
With all of the stops we made waiting for our group to catch up, it ended up taking us 3 hours and 20 minutes to get to the summit. We could have made it to the top in 3 hours or less had we not stopped, but this one was a team effort for those of us hiking Mt Whitney, so we took it slow and waited a bit :)
On our way down the mountain we decided to stop by the hut, sign the book, and leave a little something for other hikers in need.
The trek down was fast and furious! I was hiking with a couple of buddies, and we flew down the mountain. It took us 3 hours and 20 minutes to summit, and 2 hours and 30 minutes to get back to the tram station. The most difficult part of the descent was definitely watching out for rolled ankles, and the last 500 yard climb to get back into the tram station. By this time, you really wish they had an elevator to help you finish the final stretch.
Once back at the tram station, we waited for the rest of our crew at the bar, and bellied up for a couple of cold Stella Artois before we took our tram ride back to Palm Springs.
All in all, I highly recommend this hike, especially if you are in So Cal and are gearing up for a Mt Whitney hike. Don't be detoured by the heat in Palm Springs, as the climb up the mountain will start to cool you down really quick!