We hiked up the Deer Springs trail but took our time, doing 4.3 miles on Saturday and 3.8 more on Sunday. That way we finished hiking each day at lunchtime, so we set up camp, had lunch and then had the afternoon to just look around, take a siesta and relax until it was time for the sunset show.
Saturday night we camped at Strawberry Junction, about 4.3 miles from the Deer Springs Trailhead (5800') on Highway 243. There are three campsites available there by permit (State Park). The outhouse is closed, and there is no water between the trailhead and the campground (except water can be found about 1/2 mile down the side trail to Suicide Rock, as of 30Aug03). After lunch and a siesta on Saturday we took a walk down the PCT heading SE and found a trickle of water about 1.5 miles down the trail.
Sunday we hiked from Strawberry Junction to Little Round Valley (9700'), about 3.8 miles. Lots of water along this section of the trail. Starting about 1/2 mile above Strawberry Junction there was a trickle crossing the trail, again past the junction with the Marion Mt. Trail, and 3 stream crossings in the last mile below Little Round Valley.
Little Round Valley has lots of water in the stream (the North Fork of the San Jacinto River) and a working outhouse (bring your own TP). There are five campsites at Little Round Valley. We camped in the one across the stream, which was our favorite. It's in open forest and not far from the meadow and water. The other sites were rockier and had less shade but still very nice, it was hard to decide which site. The sites are very well separated so it is very quiet there.
Monday, I got up at 4:00 am and thanks to the miniature espresso maker, I was able to get my wife up a little while later (she's not a morning person). We started hiking at 4:30, in the total darkness, using headlamps to follow the trail. We had 1.6 miles and 1,100 feet elevation to climb to reach the summit. There was no moon, so the stars were incredible, you could see the Milky Way, and we could see Mars as bright as you can imagine. We got to the summit of San Jacinto about 10 minutes before sunrise (6:12) as the sky was just starting to get light. The view was amazing. The pictures don't do it justice but they are better than any words I could weave.
The hardest part was coming back down, as we got down near Idyllwild the temperature climbed up into the 90's! Luckily we had lots of water with us from the streams up higher and poured it over our heads to keep cool while we hiked. To make up for the heat we stopped in Idyllwild and had a couple of great milkshakes, Gabi had date and I had peach, yum.
All in all, we hiked about 23 miles with an elevation gain/loss of 5,000 feet.
Mileage Note: The trailhead to Little Round Valley is 8.1, then 1.6 more to the summit (RT: 19.4), but we also added 3 miles for a walk on the PCT and 1 mile to get water on the Suicide Rock trail. The mileage on the signs doesn't quite add up the same depending on which signs you look at so these are approximate.