Hiking San Jacinto

On June 21, 2008 – the day of summer solstice – Devin and I went on a hike from the top of the Palm Springs Tram to San Jacinto Peak.

It was a brutally hot day in the desert (guessing around 115 degrees), so we tried to get there early. We caught the tram at 8:40 and were on the mountain by 9:00.

I have been on San Jacinto Peak many times. I have come up from Idyllwild, and along the ridge from the west. I have also hiked the peak from the tram a number of times. Once, I remember it specifically, it was so icy that I kept falling, despite my hiking poles. I didn’t have crampons. I went out and bought an emergency set after that hike, but I have never since had a chance to use them.

San Jacinto is one of the highest peaks in Southern California. The desert floor in Palm Springs is at an elevation of between 400 and 500 feet. The peak is 10,804 feet. The tram starts at 2,600 feet and carries you to 8,600 feet in about 10 minutes. There is a 30 degree difference in temperature between the valley station of the tram and the mountain station.

When you sit atop of the peak on look down into the valley, it looks like you can reach out and  touch it. It is directly below you. There are not many places in the country (probably the world) where there is a 10,000 foot difference in elevation in such a dramatically short distance. Most places in the Rockies and the High Sierras are higher, but you drive up much higher in the first place, so you can never look down so far. Looking down from the peak of San Jacinto is like looking out of the airplane just before a free-fall jump.

Devin on the peak



Father and son on the peak, but who is woman in the picture?



San Jacinto Peak – 10,803 feet



The hike is always much tougher than I remember from one time to the next. Good thing, otherwise you’d never go back. It’s been a while that I was there. This time was tough. Devin is a young buck of 20, and he can leave me in the dust. But he stuck with me, thank you very much. I now get quite winded going up and my knees give me lot of trouble going down. So I take my time.

The hike actually started at the end of the tram line. I didn’t realize that I had my GPS on on the walk from the parking lot to the tram station in the valley. It pays to take a minute to clear the tracks and save them properly, so the documentation is clean afterwards.

The long way back through the valley seems endless.

When flying in and out of Ontario Airport, you often get a great look at the top of this mountain from the window. The distance from the mountain station of the tram to the peak looks like a stone’s throw. It’s a 5.5 mile hike with a 2,200 foot elevation difference, with most of the elevation compressed into the last 2 miles of the hike. The south-east flank of the mountain, where the switchbacks are, is also the one most exposed to the morning sun, so no matter what the actual temperature, it is hot.

We got back to the tram station around 5:00pm, completely exhausted. Everything hurt. The burrito in Palm Springs tasted heavenly, and the hour and a half ride home, Devin drove it all, seemed interminable.

And somehow I am so glad we did it, and I was there one more time. I can’t get enough of San Jacinto.


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