Day 17: Devils Slide, Tahquitz Peak, and South Ridge
Friday, April 6, 2018 8:42 pm
Location: Saddle Junction / Idyllwild (179.4 miles)

Today got off to a slightly earlier start than usual, thanks to an annoying wake-up call from a telemarketer, but I was feeling a lot better than I was yesterday, and felt some hiking was in order.

I went over to the Red Kettle for breakfast (French toast, eggs, and sausage, yum!), and then went back to the Idyllwild Inn office at 8:30 (when it opened) to take a look at the sheet of paper I recalled seeing there about rides to the trailhead. As I vaguely recalled (since I didn’t really read the notice before), the inn offered guests free rides to the Humber Park trailhead for the Devils Slide trail that connects to the PCT. The bad news was that I was supposed to have signed up yesterday, and the shuttle leaves at 8:15. Luckily for me, the driver hadn’t left yet — he was actually standing right there about to leave — and I got him to wait for five minutes so I could grab my pack.

It took slightly longer than I intended (I needed to put water into my water bladder), and I got out the door just as I heard him pull away. Bummer.

But, the lady at the front desk said she thought he was going to do a second run, so I waited in front of the office for him to come back. While waiting, I noticed a pair of trekking poles leaning against the side of the building, near where the truck had been. Someone probably forgot their poles.

After a short wait, the driver returned, with a couple, one of whom had forgotten their poles. The driver said he thought he told me he was going to do another run; I don’t recall hearing that, but I may have missed it as I was running back to my room to get my pack. I any case, I got my otherwise unplanned and unscheduled ride to the trailhead.

Today was be a relatively short day of hiking: about 2.5 miles up the Devils Slide trail to Saddle Junction and the PCT; 1.5 miles of the PCT south to Tahquitz Peak, and then another four miles down the South Ridge trail and then some roadwalk back into Idyllwild.

Given the name “Devils Slide”, I expected a very steep, potentially slippery trail. It was neither of those, for which I am very much relieved, since I get to hike that trail again tomorrow with a full pack. What the Devils Slide Trail has, though, is no shortage of great views of different features in the San Jacinto range.

View from the Devils Slide Trail
View from the Devils Slide Trail

On the way, I met Chris, who works with his wife as volunteers to man the fire tower atop Tahquitz Peak. From behind, it was a bit of an odd sight; he had something that looked vaguely like Thor’s Hammer sticking out of his pack. As I got closer, though, I realized it was a square log, and some attached tools. We hiked a short while together, though I eventually left him behind — I had a light pack, and he had a heavy piece of wood.

Once I reached Saddle Junction and turned south on the PCT, it was the oddest sensation. I was in a pine forest, warm, but only just, with a calm breeze blowing through, wafting pine scent through the air. It briefly felt like Maine. (Never mind, of course, that I was a good 3000 feet higher than the highest point in Maine.)

This was a beautiful stretch of trail (even without a ton of views, though there were some), and the trail was often wide and easy to hike. From Saddle Junction to the South Ridge Trail, there were occasional patches of snow on the ground, including a very small amount directly on the trail.

View west. Tahquitz Peak is on the left.

Upon reaching the South Ridge Trail, I turned off the PCT, still a bit north of the north end of the fire closure. (I could have gone further to the closure if I felt the need to be completionist about it, but it didn’t seem necessary, what with the extra miles I have to do because of the closure).

Although there had been occasional gusts of wind on the trail, and you could definitely hear the wind blowing overhead, it didn’t really become windy on the ground until I got onto the South Ridge Trail. There were, however, some sections with a significant amount of snow on the ground. Fortunately, not so much that it was anything more than a nuisance, but I did have my microspikes just in case. (My poles, though, are another matter, and I’m really going to want to get new baskets for them before I have to go through any significant amount of snow.)

After just about two and a half hours of hiking, I reached the fire tower at Tahquitz Peak. At 8846 ft, Tahquitz is the highest peak I’ve summited, being about 2200 ft higher than Clingman’s Dome, the high point on the Appalachian Trail. The height, and fire tower, afforded a great panorama of the landscape below. To the east was the desert and the Salton Sea. To the north, in the distance, was Mt. Baldy, which the trail will pass near in about 150 miles. San Gorgonio was slightly obscured by the perspective available. The controlled burn on Thomas Mountain continued, though with somewhat less smoke than earlier in the week. And outside of the desert, the lower elevations were all encased in a sea of haze.

Not long after I arrived, so did Chris, with the last piece of wood needed to start renovations on the fire tower’s staircase. He mentioned that on a clear day, from the fire tower, you could easily see Mexico and the ocean.

After chatting with Chris, and hiker Uphill, for a good 40 minutes, it was time to head back to town. At its higher elevations, the South Ridge Trail had great views which gradually diminished as it elevation decreased and the tree cover increased.

San Jacinto
San JacintoView northeast to San Jacinto (on left).

I made it back to my room shortly before 3 (after having missed a turn on the way into Idyllwild and having to take a slightly longer route). After a shower, I returned to Gastrognome restaurant across the street.

I wasn’t originally planning on going back to Gastrognome; after the sub-par service (and frankly, somewhat mediocre lunch I had), I had no intention of getting another meal there. However, the poor service in what otherwise seemed a nice restaurant bothered me, so I decided to talk to a manager there in the hopes that the experience could serve as an education experience for the waitstaff (beyond what simply a poor tip and no feedback would provide). Although I was upfront with not actually wanting anything (my dinner plans for tonight were Pizza), the manager insisted on covering my meal, and so I had a very tasty peppercorn steak (and much better service, to boot) on the house.

After dinner, I returned one final time to the Idyllwild Brew Pub for one last flight of beers.

As nice of a town Idyllwild is, after three days here, it’s time to move on. Tomorrow will repeat the Devils Slide Trail back up to the PCT, only this time, I’ll turn northward, and via a side trail, visit San Jacinto peak, before beginning the epic descent to the desert floor below.