Caliente Creek and the Agua Caliente Wilderness

Pacific Crest Trail

Distance: 19 Miles
Elevation Gain: 2,100′
Difficulty: Strenuous
Time: 6:50
Critters: Nothing in particular

Pros:
– Beautiful riparian vegetation featuring cottonwoods, Coulter pines, live oaks, and willows
– Large patches of carpet wildflowers and great wildflower blooms all around
– Great views of the peninsular ranges (Palomar, Santa Anas, Volcans)
– Remoteness and isolation give the place a very wild feeling

Cons:
– Long stretches of rolling chaparral hillsides become tedious and boring
– Heavy sun exposure
– Takes a long time to get there
– I’m over chaparral for right now

Details:

Just west of Warner Springs, the Pacific Crest Trail begins another major segment that leads it through the Agua Caliente wilderness, up the forested slopes of San Jacinto, down the Cactus to Clouds trail into Palm Springs, until finally climbing up to the SoCal high point of San Gorgonio. This initial stretch of this segment of the PCT winds through chaparral covered slopes, past the riparian wilderness of Caliente Creek, and then up into the higher elevations, which are studded with granite boulders and Coulter pines.

I didn’t have the time and energy to make it into the very upper regions. This would have stretched the hike out to 25+ miles, and with the consideration that the hike wasn’t that beautiful or engaging to begin with, the effort expended would not have been worth it.

That’s not to say that this hike doesn’t have its merits. The stretch along Caliente Creek is lovely as the trail winds up and over a collection of low ridges and dips down into the creek at various points. There are a lot of places to camp along the creek, and, because this is one of the few places with easy access to water along this stretch of the PCT, through hikers favor this spot heavily. There’s no denying this would be a nice place to backpack in for a night.

Another lovely portion occurs at the initial stretch by Warner Springs. The PCT crosses through some private property along a broad wash populated by cottonwoods, sycamores, and live oaks. This stretch of the trail featured some gorgeous “blankets” of yellow widlflowers. Interespersed throughout these carpets were grasses, blue, pink, purple, red, and yellow blooms. All of the wildflowers provide evidence that spring is in the high form in the desert, which means that the local mountains, and then the higher peaks, will not be too far behind.

I enjoyed this burst of spring knowing that the real adventures are soon to come. Furthermore, this hike roughly marks one quarter of the year, and looking back on the hikes I’ve done, I realize I’ve spent a lot of effort in stretching out my endurance and exploring my new locale. However, with the weather growing warmer, it’s time for the major adventures. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect “encapsulation” with a three month period and a distinct phase of hiking. A recap is soon to come.

But as for the hike, I enjoyed it somewhat. Good, but not great. Like anything you’ve explored thoroughly, a feeling emerges that it’s time for something different. I long for sharp peaks, rolling meadows, vast coniferous forests, bear sightings, and alpine wilderness. It’s almost here with a trip into Big Basin Redwoods State Park next week and San Jacinto State Park planned for the end of this month.

Finally, this trail got me thinking about how I’d like to handle the PCT. I’ve already been on some good stretches down here, specifically the stretch that views Anza-Borrego from Laguna Mountain. However, I think that, when I do the PCT (and I will), I would rather start at Idlewild, taking the trail from the town up and over San Jacinto, up and over San Gorgonio, along the crest of the San Bernadinos and San Gabriels, and, of course, north through the Sierras, most likely stopping at the California border. More and more I realize that I love mountains and forests above all else. Deserts and chaparral have their place in my heart, but I want my nose full of pine aroma and cold, clean air in my lungs. 

I can almost smell the decaying fir needles on the moist forest floor. Heaven.

March: 109.6 Miles
Year-to-Date: 356.3 Miles

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