The San Jacinto Mountains are one of the principal mountain ranges in Southern California. Multiple summits rise more than 10,000’/3050m above sea level. The beautiful but popular northern section of the range offers some of the most best hiking and backpacking in Southern California. But I had something else in mind this past Memorial Day weekend: The Desert Divide, the lesser known and less frequently visited southern section of the range.
The Desert Divide is a major ridge system that stretches south of the main summit region of the San Jacinto Mountains. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) ascends this major ridge like a highway on it’s journey north. Twelve peaks lie along or very near this section of the PCT — the Desert Divide Dozen. In order from south to north, they are:
- Butterfly Peak (6240’+/1900m+)
- Ken Point (6423’/1958m)
- Lion Peak (6868’/2093m)
- Pine Mountain (7054’/2150m)
- Pyramid Peak (7035’/2144m)
- Palm View Peak (7160’/2182m)
- Cone Peak (6800’+/2073m+)
- Spitler Peak (7440’+/2268m+)
- Apache Peak (7567’+/2306m+)
- Antsell Rock (7679’+/2341m+)
- South (Southwell) Peak (7840’+/2390m+)
- Red Tahquitz (8720’+/2658m+)
Note: Peak elevations shown with a plus sign after the elevation are peaks whose exact height has not been determined by the US Geological Survey (USGS). The height listed is the height of the highest contour shown on the USGS topo map.
On this trip, I and my companions set out to climb these twelve. We knew that it would be a bit of a stretch to fit in all twelve in just 3 1/2 days. None of the peaks are on trail, many have no clear route, several involve class two and class three travel, many are guarded by dense chaparral and, most challenging of all, water would be scarce on the Desert Divide. Water, or lack thereof, would make or break us on this trip. We would travel as light as possible, but unfortunately, there is little one can do to reduce the 2.2 lbs/1 kg per liter that water weighs, and with the warm weather, we’d probably need six or seven liters each — per day. Routes, distances, peaks, and camp sites would have to be carefully coordinated with water sources. Each water source was meticulously researched as to its exact whereabouts and reliability. Since there might be as much as a day and a half’s travel to the next water source, any failure to find water at a given source would be serious.