South Ridge San Jacinto

By Forrest Smith -

Being a parent who loves to get out on outdoor adventures can be challenging.  While we’ve successfully taken our little one on numerous hikes and backpacking trips (like this one on the Jennie Lake Loop, and this one to Blue Lake), it’s often times difficult to hit that point of physical exertion where you’re exhausted and weak, yet still marching forward. Oddly, physically exhausting myself is actually one of the things that I most enjoy about backpacking or hiking long distances. I also occassionally just need some time to goof off in the mountains on my own, to let my mind wander and do what I want. That can be difficult when you have to entertain a three year old.

See more of my hikes and backpacking trips here

Over the past year or so, my wife and I have been getting better at giving ourselves the alone time that we need. This has mostly taken the shape of a night or two off for each of us during the week. We’re now starting to play with longer amounts of time off, where we each get a full weekend day.  This past weekend, Jeannie had Saturday mostly to herself (our system is still being perfected, so she still owed some time — likely next weekend). I took off for Sunday, and I made the most of it — I headed to the San Jacinto Wilderness.

Climbing along the South Ridge Trail

In addition to not having enough time for adventure, the other issue we encounter in southern California is the lack of mountains — or at least my perception that there aren’t any real mountains. There are actually some pretty good peaks, including San Jacinto Peak, which tops out at nearly 11,000 feet (and I really need to explore San Gorgonio, which is nearly 11,500 feet, along with the rest of the San Bernardinos and San Gabriels). I’m trying to shift my mindset into more fully appreciating what we do have, and using the mountains that are close to bridge the gaps between trips to the Sierras or to the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.

Walking along the South Ridge Trail

Just below Tahquitz Peak — Even some snow left 

There were definitely parts of my loop trip where I could convince myself that I was in the Sierras.  Much of the South Ridge trail was pretty spectacular, especially climbing up towards Tahquitz Peak, and the section between there and Little Tahquitz Valley.

Dropping into Little Tahquitz Valley

I was pretty ecstatic for several miles past Tahquitz Peak — the realization that I can get to pretty good mountain territory within a couple hours of home. I of course knew this existed — we’ve visited Idyllwild several times since we moved to southern California, and we even hiked through the San Jacintos when we did the Pacific Crest Trail, but still, I seem to have brushed it all off, instead driving long hours to make it up to the Sierras (which I’ll still do of course, but having good stuff closer to home is a big deal). This is really good stuff, and the fact that I can eat my breakfast under a palm tree in San Diego in the morning, and be eating lunch in a high mountain meadow surrounded by granite peaks is pretty amazing.

Tahquitz Meadow

One of the nice things about solo trips is you can do whatever you want. I found a nice flat granite slab on the edge of Tahquitz Meadow, and took a quick nap. (I actually circled back to this meadow after encountering some fire closures so I could take a nap — I was going for more mileage anyways, and a nap in this meadow made for a good excuse).

Waking from my afternoon nap in a meadow

New growth and a burnt tree

I was hoping to do a long day — enough to fully where me out. Unfortunately many of the trails are still closed due to a fire that churned through the area a few years ago, so I became content with a milder day at around 14 miles. It wasn’t enough to exhaust myself, and I definitely had at least a few more miles in me, but hopefully with our new schedule of trying to give eachother full weekend days off, I’ll get another shot in a few weeks.

Coming down the Devil’s Slide Trail

Little Tahquitz Peak

I’m enouraged by a few things from this trip. First, this idea of giving each of us occassional full days off is brilliant, and I think it may really help me to feel like I’m still living a moderately adventurous life. I’m also encouraged that between San Jacinto, and the San Gabriels/San Bernardinos, I can find some quick, go-to trails that feel like actual mountain country, all within a few hours of home.