As training for bigger mountains, I'd been visiting San Jacinto to get better legs and lungs, only to discover that this massif has a lot going for it, with plenty of interesting places to tramp to. Tahquitz caught my attention while ascending San Jacinto Peak, and I decided to try the view from there.
I camped overnight at Stone Creek, where the ranger was friendly and the mosquitoes friendlier. After breaking camp the next morning, I drove back to Idyllwild to see about getting a permit for the Devil's Slide trail, but I was a half hour early for the station to open. The signs on the self-registration desk were confusing--one said you could self-permit if there were forms in the bin, while another said you can't self-permit for the Devil's Slide on Saturdays or Sundays, and that you had to go inside. In the bin were a few permits stamped with the date and trail I wanted, so I figured the park service had figured folks wouldn't want to wait for the station to open. I grabbed one, filled it out, and hit the trail. A ranger autographed my permit at Saddle Junction with no reprimands, so I guess I did it right. San Jacinto's governing bodies continue to confound me.
Anyway, the walk up to the saddle was cake, and the traverse along the ridge to the Tahquitz Peak was eye-opening. Some of the dropoffs are dizzying. It was neat looking down on Lily Rock. I passed one person who was coming down, and had the peak and it's watch tower to myself. After the obligitory photos and an "I made it" call to my wife, I settled down to a hot lunch cooked in the bright hot sun on the big flat rock just below the tower. My experimental soup concoction was a success. Yum.
While my lunch came to a simmer, I noticed a large column of gray-brown smoke issuing from a ridge to the south. I thought, gee, this watch tower really works. Later, on the drive home down 371, I passed signs near Warner Springs that it was a prescribed burn, and to please not report it. Fat lot of good those signs did from 30 miles away.
I had been debating how to go back down, and, hating to retrace my steps when a loop presents itself, I chose to take the South Ridge route. I still had lots of daylight and I'd drop elevation fast. During the knee-testing tromp down the trail, I passed only one couple going up, near the top, until I got near the trail head. At the trail head, I had to negotiate my way among the dust-throwing SUVs until I found the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail, which I found after descending the dirt road from the South Ridge trailhead to a paved road and turning right. A bunch of cars and a scripted sign indicated where the trail separated from the road.
The trail is uphill in this direction, back to the Humber Park trail head, and an easy, steady slope, but I soon discovered why everyone was going the other way. This steady slope turns into a trudge late in the afternoon at this lower (read: hotter) elevation, and after about the 10th mile of my hike, I was ready for the end of it. I had also run out of water about then, but just before Humber, the trail crosses a big stream, and I filled my hat with the cold water and put it on. Heaven! But "scenic"? If all you want to see are the trees surrounding you, okay, I guess Ernie's adjective fits, but the views were mostly restricted.
Still dripping from my inverted bath, I climbed into my truck and proceeded to the Bread Basket restaurant (I love Idyllwild!) where I kept the waiter coming back to refill my glass with iced tea, and he kept plying me with questions about the trail conditions (mosquitoes, not too bad; gnats, terrible). Once again hydrated, I trundled off home, wondering what part of the mountain I'd explore next.