I want to make sure I cover my ultimate fail before we go any further. In a mad dash to get on the trail and moving, I left my cell phone in the 4Runner in the parking lot, and did not realize this until about a half mile into the trip. Normally I would double back and grab it real quick, but I didn't this time because I was with a couple friends, and the start of this hike was actually pretty brutal! I apologize in advance for not having any snaps to walk you through the hike! Just means I will have to go back and do it again so I can get a proper post.
With our Mt Whitney trip right around the corner, we decided we needed a little more challenge and to get some good training in prior to our big hike. We chose the Marion Mountain Trail to San Jacinto peak for this weekend for a few reasons; 1.) The distance was just about right for our training needs. 2.) There is a good amount of climbing 3.) It was relatively close for me and for my friends staying in Palm Springs 4.) The distance was just about perfect with a good amount of climbing. With a total distance of right around 13 miles (Garmin connect is a little off because I stopped my watch at the top a little bit) and a total elevation gain of just over 4300 feet, it made for a perfect training hike.
Prior to starting the hike, we picked up a hiking permit from the Stone Creek campground check in location. Just before the campground check in booth, there is a small covered kiosk that has permits and a teathered pen. Once you ink your permit, you slide one copy in the drop box, and keep one on you just in case. You can also stop by the ranger station a get a permit, but if you are hitting the trail early (like us) just be aware that they don't open until 8:00am.
After getting our permits, we headed to the Marion Mountain Trailhead, and shoved off from a small parking lot that is near the Marion camp ground (This is where you should NOT forget your cellphone!).
As soon as you hit the trail... You are climbing!! There is no real warm up to the climb you will have in the first two miles, so settle in, slow down, and enjoy your climb.
The first 2 miles were brutal! We stopped every mile to catch our breath, take in a little nutrition, and chat a bit to take our minds off of the work. When I checked my watch, I realized we had come out of the gate a bit hot. We were hiking at a sub 30 minute mile pace even with a considerable climb. At the first stop, I was asked to lead the charge, so I slowed us down a bit since we still had 5+ miles ahead of us.
As you start to climb, and settle into your burning legs, make sure you take a minute to look around. The views west as you climb are spectacular!!
There are a couple of spots to filter water on this hike. The first one comes around mile 3 where you can catch a little spring water coming off the mountain. We saw a few folks filtering out of this little stream. I used this as a good opportunity to soak my bandana, and cool off a bit.
As you continue you climb, you will reach a section that I found particularly unpleasant. Somewhere just after mile 3, the path starts to narrow, and you are surrounded by shrub that is trying to attack the trail. I like to hike in shorts, so this section felt much like an aggressive thorn bush exfoliation. Needless to say, this was the one section of the hike that I really wished I had worn pants.
Once you get passed this section you meet up with the Pacific Crest Trail for a short hop, and have another chance at filtering water before you press on.
There was a pleasant surprise on this hike! Around mile 4.75 you come across a great little camp site call Little Round Valley campground. Little Round Valley offers campsites that are tucked just off the trail. There is a small creek that runs through this area for water, and a outhouse for (well you know). The area is very quiet, and sits in a small mountain meadow that is surrounded by big pines. This is definitely on my list to come back to at a later date.
As we pressed on, my buddy ended up having some vicious cramps in his quads. Luckily, my triathlon days have prepared me to handle two things really well... Cramps and blisters! To this day I still carry Base Salt with me in my pack in the event I cramp, and since this weekend was hot, there was no way I'd hike without it!
In case you don't know, Base Salt is an electrolyte salt that helps you fight cramps, stay hydrated, and improve your overall performance. All too often you see folks on the trail taking in water only. Reality is, you need the electrolytes as well! Here's more on why you need your salt/electrolytes
The pic at the top was taken just before we reached the summit, and as my buddy was working out his final cramps. Yes, he did struggle for a bit, but made it to the top and was happy he stuck with the climb.
Now... the way down is definitely easier than the way up, but you should still be careful! My knees took a tremendous beating on the way down! The trail is quick and steep! At one point I had put away my poles because I felt they were slowing me down, but for the final 3 miles, I broke them back out! Perhaps its the whole "almost 40" thing knocking at me door, but my body (primarily my knees) took far more of a pounding on the way down than they did on the way up.
All in all, this hike is not for the novice hiker! It is a strenuous hike that will beat you up a bit! "Is it worth it?" I get asked this on the trail all the time! Absolutely, yes! But then again, I think any time you get to spend outside is "worth it".
Get out and hike! If you have a route you recommend, let me know and I'll hike it and provide my feedback... with pictures... maybe.