Our journey began with an epic climb up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which in a matter of minutes whisked us up almost 6,000 ft. through biomes from desert floor to alpine meadow. It also got us out of the heat. It was a blistering 116 degrees at the Valley Station; 85 degrees at Mountain Station.
The tram is not for those with aversion to heights. Its average gradient is 26 degrees, maximum 42 degrees; the gondola rotates; and it swings as it passes each of five intermediate pylons.
Upon arrival, we got our permits in order, threw on our packs, and set out on the San Jacinto Peak Trail for Round Valley. We were told that if we were very quiet coming into camp, we would likely see deer in its large open meadow. We were, and sure enough, a doe and her fawn were there to greet us.
We found Round Valley‘s campsites wonderfully secluded, and only interacted with other groups filtering water from the tap by the ranger station.
One of the wilderness aids at that station invited us to an interpretive talk on mountain lions. This no-cost talk made a nice free-time activity, and was well worth adding to our schedule.
The following morning, we made our push for the peak. We brought as much water as we could carry, and plenty of sun protection. The trail is very exposed, and the first mile is a doozy, especially if you’re used to living near sea level like us. We kept our permits handy, and saw to it that more than one adult was carrying a copy. We were asked for them several times.
Highlights en route included sweeping views of Tahquitz Peak from Wellman Divide, an overview of Round Valley, and a stone cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the ’30s. There’s a log book to sign in the cabin, as well as a sort of makeshift altar to those who did not survive in the out of doors.
Since the cabin still functions as an emergency shelter, you’re welcome to leave 10 essentials-type supplies for those who come after you.
From there, it was a short boulder hop to the 10,834-ft. peak. Every scout and scouter made it! There were a lot of Venturing crews up there with us, but the crowds didn’t diminish the feeling of accomplishment. We snapped many photos by the benchmark, and were treated to a glider fly-by.
We made the return trip a loop by taking the Willow Creek trail from Round Valley back to the tram station. This added a scant quarter mile of hiking, and treated us to great granite boulders and wildflower photo ops.
Then down the tram, into our roasting cars, and back home. Well, after a stop for lunch at the closest In-N-Out Burger. It’s in Thousand Palms, a few miles east on the 10 at the Varner Road exit. Being able to see the massive mountain we just climbed as we chowed down made those animal-style cheeseburgers taste even better.