Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil.
Distance as hiked: 9.6 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-4,900ft., Top of trail-7,000ft.
Temps: 60-75 deg
Difficulty: moderate to strenuous.
Autumn is a great time to hike in the San Bernardino National Forest. The cool mornings and eastern winds from the Anza-Borrego make for great trekking weather. There are many trails that intersect the Pacific Crest Trail in southern California. Today, I would do a solo hike on Spitler Peak Trail, a 10 mile out-and-back near Lake Hemet.
While I prefer to hike with my wife, occasionally I venture out alone when she is working. It really is a different experience when one can get away from the hustle and bustle to soak up some nature. Hiking gives you the opportunity to use all of your senses. In my previous career, I was an airborne sonar operator in the Navy. I spent countless hours listening to the underwater sounds and tuned my hearing to pick out the manmade noise from the ambient and biologic sounds. Often, I would close my eyes to “see” what I was hearing. On this trek, I focused on the sounds on the trail.
Wind blowing through conifers is distinct sound. Comforting during the day and eerie at night. The same wind through deciduous trees like oak has a lower frequency and often sounds like rushing water. Speaking of water, it was interesting to see a trickling stream up here this late in the year. Crossing the gurgling stream several times on the trail, it would eventually disappear underground as it descended into the canyon.
This trail is a gradual ascent and is spread out over 4 miles to the top. Like so many others, the grade sharply increases for the last mile. The quail were clucking out their warning calls to each other as I passed by. The bushes rustled a few feet off the path and I stopped. After so many miles on the trail, a shuffle in the brush still makes the hair rise on the back of my neck. No snakes today, hopefully they have settled in for the season.
Nearing the summit, you begin to see blue skies through the foliage. This particular trail intersects the PCT just north of Spitler Peak. The trail signs have recently been replaced.
At the top of the trail, you are rewarded with awesome views of the Palm Desert. To the left, you can see what may be the outer limits of Palm Springs. To the right, about 40-45 miles away, the Salton Sea. But, you really notice the silence. Other than the occasional wisp of the air through the foliage, it is amazingly quiet. The serene surrounding is part of the reason I put myself through a little pain and sweat.
Sitting on the garnet colored boulders, my head began to clear. This is a snippet of the backcountry experience, one where you get away from the sounds of civilization. Even the absence of sound is welcome. Oh well, enough of this peaceful stuff. This late in the year, the days are shorter and I knew that I wanted to be back to the car by dusk.
Heading down, my thoughts turned to the sounds. In my experience, other than the shuffling of my feet, the animals on the trail make most of the noise. The chatter of the various birds, the occasional hawk and if you really listen, the rare hoot of an owl who is waking up. The ground squirrels and chipmunks who sometimes fuss as you stroll by. At the end of the day, the steady symphony of the crickets remind you of the cool night that is soon to arrive.
Next time on the trail, slow down, stop and listen. What you hear may just surprise you.