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Desert Divide Dozen: PCT Peak Bagging

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

The Desert Divide

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:

  1. Butterfly Peak (6240’+/1900m+)
  2. Ken Point (6423’/1958m)
  3. Lion Peak (6868’/2093m)
  4. Pine Mountain (7054’/2150m)
  5. Pyramid Peak (7035’/2144m)
  6. Palm View Peak (7160’/2182m)
  7. Cone Peak (6800’+/2073m+)
  8. Spitler Peak (7440’+/2268m+)
  9. Apache Peak (7567’+/2306m+)
  10. Antsell Rock (7679’+/2341m+)
  11. South (Southwell) Peak (7840’+/2390m+)
  12. 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.

Interesting? Be sure to check out part 2 of this report

6 Responses to Desert Divide Dozen: PCT Peak Bagging

  1. Jim Barbour August 14, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

    It’s a super area, Dave. I really like that it’s got kind of a wild feel to it and that you don’t see that many people on the trail (unless it’s through hiker “season”).


  2. DaveC August 14, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    Looks like a cool trip through neat country.

  3. Georgette Theotig August 25, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

    Jim – Many thanks for writing and sending such a great report of your backpack! I grew up in Banning, and Mt. San Jacinto was my daily dose of mountain dreaming. Best wishes for future adventures!

  4. Hikin' Jim October 15, 2013 at 9:02 pm #


    I’m glad you liked the write up. It’s a super area to hike in. I always love the drive up from Banning as well with it’s amazing views on that old Banning Highway.


  5. Kevin Ramon May 29, 2014 at 12:35 am #

    Perhaps, the best backpacking trip to date. This highlights the best of SoCal’s biodiversity, from the arid desert to the lush mountain meadows. The aromas of wildflowers combine with the warm, scented air of the desert on the high mountain trails. Nothing better.

  6. HH8 November 18, 2015 at 10:07 am #

    Did you figure out what wildlife the ticks were spawning from?

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