Sam Fink Peak
27 August 2001
By: Karen Isaacson Leverich
Leaders: Byron Prinzmetal, Mars Bonfire, Carleton Shay
Having hiked two days in the San Jacinto Wilderness near Idyllwild, it was easy (well, not super hard, anyhow) to convince myself to get up early Monday and do it again. The hike this time was to Sam Fink Peak, and Byron in e-mail had made it sound potentially pretty awful -- monsoonal moisture, a heat wave, a desert-like peak, 2000' elevation gain on the way out, etc. But I'd wimped out on doing Pilot Knob a few weekends ago, worrying about my ability to hike in the heat, so rationalized that doing this hike would give me a chance to assess how much heat bothered me. It couldn't be that I needed this peak, or had fallen in love with the area. Doing this hike would be purely in the interest of science.
There were five of us at the trailhead at 8:15AM or so -- our leaders Byron Prinzmetal, Mars Bonfire, and Carleton Shay, plus Chris Davis and myself. "A one point five to one leader to hiker ratio," observed Chris. "You'll need at least four liters of water," responded Byron. "It's going to be hot!"
I much prefer going up the Devils Slide Trail to going down. Going up, each switchback treats one to an ever more panoramic view of Strawberry Valley and eventually the low lying areas around Lake Hemet. Going down, it's all gradually taken away. "They give us the world on the way up," I observed to Mars, "then they take it back on the way back down." I paused, then added, "Whoever 'they' are!" "The evil trailbuilders," Mars responded.
Well, the evil trailbuilders have definitely outdone themselves here. The trail up to Saddle Junction is gently graded, often shaded, but with wonderful views of Lily Rock, Suicide Rock, and Marion Mountain. At Saddle Junction, there are so many choices that the temptation to come back again and again is going to prove hard to resist. This time, we headed off towards Skunk Cabbage Meadow -- George Wysup had been this way on an earlier trip and reportedly had been astonished by its loveliness. We certainly were -- Mars described the meadow of sun dappled ferns as "quite magical". It seemed almost unworldly, in the morning light. To save a bit of elevation gain and some miles, we headed cross-country along a ridge when we were more or less due west of Laws Camp -- check with Byron for the details.
Between Laws Camp and Caramba Camp, the whole world changes, probably due to all the elevation one loses (and ouch! will have to regain later in the day.) The forest becomes dryer and more open, the ferns go away. At one point, the trail forked, with a branch petering off in a campsite while the main trail headed off to the right. We were lured into the campsite, then did a brief cross country back to the trail. We probably weren't the first to have made this error -- there was a nice duck that helped us find our way back to the trail. By the time we reached Caramba, the forest was an interesting mix of fir, pine, oak, and cedar. But the heat hadn't been a problem -- we were usually in shade and often had a nice breeze.
That was about to change, but luckily we were now quite close to our destination. Leaving the trail and crossing the (dry) creek, we went steeply up the hill, rounding a ridge along a ducked, sometimes there, sometimes not there, use trail, to a bare dry hot saddle. The desert, we had found the desert. Cautioning us about snakes ("I won't be able to hear them!"), Byron headed up an open steep rocky ridge. "This is the first of about ten bumps," he added, "with maybe 200' saddles between each." I'd not done my homework (do I ever?), so of course I believed him, and was pleasantly surprised when we reached the top, and ... it was the top! Sam Fink Peak!
After showing me where Edith had done her handstand (this had been her 100th peak), and very briefly (too briefly) appreciating the view of the Desert Divide, we all kind of collapsed between the rocks. It was a regular solar oven, but other than Chris, none of us seemed to have the energy to sensibly seek shade. After awhile, Mars wondered if anyone had bothered about the register. So we bestirred ourselves, and signed it. Byron may have signed it as Chris' n+1st peak, or not, who knows? If Chris cares, he'll need to go back and check, heh.
Mars and Carleton then started back, carving a new path through the brush to avoid a steeply annoying rock. I followed along after them, feeling a bit like minor royalty. I mean, it's not every day I have two handsome men clearing the way before me in real time! I could learn to like this.
Back past the saddle, we found a pleasantly shady tree, not to mention a good breeze, and settled in for lunch. Mars started busily trimming the branches off our tree, briefly worrying me that he'd drop it on my head (so much for the minor royalty thing), before he realized we were quite aways away from the use trail. He headed down slope a bit and started trimming there.
After pondering the merits of simply staying put until evening, and hiking out when it was cooler, we eventually gathered up our gear and followed after him. It was warm, but not oppressively so, as we headed back up the hill towards Laws Camp. I commented, "Here's where we went astray!" when we passed the misleading branch at the campsite. Mars dropped back for several minutes before rejoining the group. I've no clue what he did to the trail at that junction, but am willing to bet future hikers won't make the same error.
All too soon (or so it seemed to me), we were back at Saddle Junction, and then the seemingly endless descent of the Devils Slide Trail. Where had the day gone? After nine hours on trail, we were back at the cars, another terrific day with HPS drawing to a close. The heat, no problem. Though all in all, I think I'm more than ready for summer to be over, and fall to be here.
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