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Tahquitz Peak, Red Tahquitz

24 August 2001

By: Karen Isaacson Leverich

Leaders: Byron Prinzmetal, Mars Bonfire

Not that this will come as news to anyone at this point, but I am really enjoying participating in HPS Outings. It seems like every week, I discover some wonderful new place to hike in Southern California. A place all of you already knew about, most likely.

Last Friday was my first trip to Idyllwild and Humber Park. The destinations: Tahquitz Peak and Red Tahquitz. The leaders: Byron Prinzmetal and Mars Bonfire. The led: Chris Davis, Doris Duval, Karen Leverich, and Ingeborg Prochazka. Doris and Chris are not going steady. Yet. (It's an in joke. Don't worry about it.)

On my earlier trips this year to the San Jacinto Wilderness, I'd taken the tram out of Palm Springs. A wonderful way to go up, but it always felt vaguely like cheating. On one trip (I think the one to Cornell Peak), Dave Comerzan had joined us in Round Valley, after hiking up from Humber Park. Now I have a notion of what he did, though of course we didn't hike all the way to Round Valley. He would have gone one way after switchbacking up to Saddle Junction, we went another. But the views on the way up! Lily Rock, Suicide Rock, Marion looking like a mountain, wow!

There were a few other small parties of hikers milling around Saddle Junction when we arrived. We all said hello, how are you doing, isn't it a grand day, insipid stuff like that, and sat down to take a brief break. Byron went into Marketing Mode, and may have netted HPS a few new recruits. One or two couples looked especially intrigued. Byron: "I always try to talk people into hiking with us!" Mars: "But they look so happy the way they are, what do they need us for?" Karen: "You know, there are so many hikers passing through here, maybe you should just set up a card table?"

Eventually we untangled ourselves from the promising new prospects and headed off along the PCT towards Tahquitz Peak. We talked about Lily Rock along the way -- it had loomed so impressively over our heads at the start of the hike, yet looked deceptively simple as we passed above it. Some other day, we all agreed. (I'd read the "Lily Rock from On High" piece in the recent Lookout, and wasn't at all sure I wanted to personally retrace the route described there, nuh uh!)

The lookout at Tahquitz Peak was wonderful, although not open that day. We wandered around it, admiring the views, while Byron tried to recruit the solo hiker we encountered there. Then back to the saddle, where Byron slipped into Pedagogue Mode (not clear this is an improvement on Marketing Mode, but it is a change), drafting Chris, Doris, and I to do navigation. (Dunno how Ingeborg escaped this treat, she had sense enough to hang back at the right time?) Where were we on the map, how would we recognize the turn off to Red Tahquitz from the various terrain features (me, I wouldn't recognize a terrain feature if it bit me on the ankle, but the others seemed to show promise), what were the way points, how long would it take us to get there, yada yada yada.

Eventually we found a well ducked use trail about where one would expect it. But of course we couldn't simply turn right and head up to the peak, someone had to go survey terrain features, compare them to the map, make sure we were indeed in the Right Place. Volunteers were singularly lacking. Chris' compass was buried at the bottom of his pack, but I had a goofy little combination thermometer/compass/whistle hanging off my pack. So Chris and I wandered off to the nearby ridge, and tried to compare the map to the terrain, using my econo-compass. It didn't help that the really significant terrain features we could see were too far away to be on the little snippet of map we were holding. After pointing hither and thither for what we hoped was a long enough interval that it looked like we'd made a good faith attempt, we headed back and assured them we were all in the right place.

Well, of course we were. Mars had been there the day before, when he'd finished the List for the fourth time. We were a day late for the great occasion, but decided to celebrate it anyhow, and followed him up the well-graded use trail (this has to be the most improved and easiest to follow use trail I've ever been on) up to the summit. What a lovely peak for a List finish!

Then it was back to school for the novice navigators. Could we find a cross-country route on the map that would somehow shortcut the corner between where we were and Tahquitz Meadow? Well, there was a gully, here, and a ridge, there -- what if we went west down the ridge, cut across the stream, and found the trail just beyond it? Would that work? Byron and Mars thought it would, so with Byron in the lead, off we went. And really, it was a very nice ridge, and the stream crossing (water! we found water!) was easy, with nicely placed boulders. Just past the stream, was a trail, but it looked a bit faint and unused, so we headed a bit further up the hill, and voila! the real trail, almost a super highway. Our brief cross-country adventure was at an end.

The hike back to Saddle Junction was lovely, a gently rolling jaunt through shady forest, passing through a lovely ferny meadow along the way. Though the students were tiring of tutelage -- at one point, when Byron waved the map our way, clearly intending to ask some question about where we were, or had been, or were going, we all stepped back and cowered behind Mars. Class dismissed?

The only part of this hike that seemed at all long to me was the trip back down from Saddle Junction, though again there were some astonishing views of the mountains as we switchbacked our way down.

We'd hoped to celebrate Mars' list finish with a nice meal, but Friday night is not a good time for scruffy hikers to dine out. Mars gave up on us and went home, the rest of us eventually made do at Carls Jr. Oh well, you can't win them all! And we had had an absolutely wonderful hike, who cared about dinner anyhow?

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