Monday, May 25, 2009

Under A Rock


Working for years in the hotel business has taught me that the best place to spend holidays is at home. Going somewhere means too many people, too much traffic, too little rest and relaxation. So what did I do today on Memorial Day? I packed the boys and a couple of their friends in our minivan and drove up to Idyllwild. Not only did I head out of town on the craziest driving day of the year, I went to one of the most popular trailheads in Southern California at Humber Park. Luckily for us, we left in the afternoon and got up to Idyllwild after the hoards had already left to return to suburbia.

Humber Park is the highest point you can drive to from Idyllwild on a paved road. It has two trails that lead from it: the Devil's Slide Trail and the Ernie Maxwell. The Devil's Slide Trail is basically your gateway to the San Jacinto Wilderness. It's 2 1/2 miles long and has about a million switchbacks. It generally also has about a million backpackers. I hiked out of the Wilderness on a Friday before Memorial Day one time and it was like walking against a parade. I'd never seen so many backpackers on one trail carrying so much stuff. Sweating, red-faced weekend warriors afraid to be without creature comforts were seen carrying lawn chairs, coolers and full size tents atop gigantic frame packs. It was a spectacle I'd never seen before or since. Ease of access brings out all kinds.

We, however, would not be taking the Devil's Slide Trail, at least not today. Our little stroll would be on the Ernie Maxwell Trail, a family friendly trail that traverses the hillside below Lily Rock. It is a wonderful trail for kids, as long as they can walk on their own.

The last time I did this hike my son, Nikolas, threw up all over me. He'd gotten car sick on the drive up and since he was just a baby at the time, he couldn't really tell us about his dizziness and discomfort. I put him straight into his baby backpack and hit the trail. The jostling from the pack brought him past the brink and I got a back full of regurgitated baby food and breast milk. It's no wonder I haven't been here since. The sound of my wife's laughter still echoes from the canyons above Idyllwild.

Humber Park is beneath the towering behemoth of Lily Rock. Climbers refer to it as Tahquitz which is the name of the peak behind it. Tahquitz was the training ground for many legendary Yosemite climbers like Royal Robbins and Yvon Chouinard. I've done a number of climbs on it myself although not recently. For non-climbers there is a non-technical route to the top but even it is still quite difficult. Most hikers just use the trail to Tahquitz Peak and leave the rock alone to the climbers.

We head down the hill toward the Ernie Maxwell Trail.

Just down the hill, we come to the creek in Fern Canyon, which is flowing quite nicely.

From the trail we get a nice view of Suicide Rock. This is another popular climbing area and may, in fact, be more popular. Most of the climbs on Suicide are shorter and don't require as much of a hike to get to them. There is also a hiker's path to get here and it's easier, too.

We come to this marker showing a climber's trail to Tahquitz. The trails to the base of the rock are steep and loose. I ask the boys if they want to hike up here but they decline.

This nice flat trail is more to their liking.

As entertainment on the trail, we occasionally stop and throw rocks. I choose this bark stripped snag as a target and show the boys that the old man can still wing a rock with the best of them. I hit it twice and no one else even hit it once.

As we made our way on the trail we noticed this trail heading downhill and wonder if it goes down to the creek. If it does, we can follow that back and make a nice loop.

Unfortunately, it just dead ends at someone's property.

So we pose for another group photo.

Then it is back up the trail to the main trail and back to the trailhead.

The hike was easy, relaxing and no one puked on me so I'd consider it a success. It also gets the kids familiar with the area so they won't give me a hard time the next time we come and try the other trail here. I just won't mention anything about the switchbacks.

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