Idyllwild to Agua Dulce, a PCT section hike with lots of peak bagging opportunities along the way

The 275-mile section of the PCT from Idyllwild to Agua Dulce takes you over Mount San Jacinto, down into the desert, and then up and across the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountain ranges just north of Los Angeles. If you're planning to hike this section, you may also want to explore some of the many nearby mountain peaks along the way.

This post describes the locations of eight mountain peaks and seven resupply towns as you'll encounter them hiking northbound along this section of the PCT. If you plan to summit all eight peaks, add 42 miles of hiking to your 275-mile section hike.

Before your hike, you should also check out Halfmile's PCT maps, trail notes, water report, and smartphone GPS app at www.pctmap.net. It's all free! (Note: When I refer to "PCT miles," I am referring to Halfmile's 2013 GPS miles.)

PCT mile 179.4. Idyllwild is a laid-back little mountain town that can be fun to hang out in, but you'll eventually need a 2.6 mile ride to the Humber Park trailhead. From the trailhead, hike another 2.6 miles up Devil's Slide Trail to Saddle Junction (PCT mile 179.4). Here's where you start hiking the PCT.

[Before venturing north from Saddle Junction, you can hike south along the PCT for 1.4 miles to PCT mile 178 and then go right (west) on South Ridge/ Tahquitz Peak Trail for 0.4 miles up Tahquitz Peak to the fire lookout. Peak elevation: 8,828 ft. The round trip back to Saddle Junction would total about 3.6 miles. Well worth the brief southbound, I think.]

PCT mile 185.7. North of Saddle Junction, at PCT mile 185.7, you can bag San Jacinto Peak with a 4.6 mile round trip off the PCT. Go right (northeast) on Deer Springs Trail and hike for 2 miles, past Little Round Valley Campground, to the San Jacinto Summit Trail. Go left and hike 0.3 miles to the summit. Peak elevation: 10,834 ft.

PCT mile 209.5. At Highway 10, you can resupply with a 4.5 mile hitch to the Cabazon PO (if you mailed ahead a food box) or an additional 6 miles into Banning for a market. If you're hiking in the spring, you could mail yourself a food box to Trail Angels Ziggy and the Bear (PCT mile 210.8), who live in a house just off the trail.

PCT mile 241.4. Here the trail crosses forest road 1N05. If you want to hike up San Gorgonio Mountain for a 20 mile round trip, go left (west) on this road for about a half mile, following the fork to the right to find Fish Creek Trailhead. Hike west along Fish Creek Trail for 6 miles, then take a sharp left onto Sky High Trail and hike 4 miles up San Gorgonio. In the spring, you should be able to find water within the first mile or two of Fish Creek Trail. Peak elevation: 11,503 ft.
PCT mile 271 (Approximate). To hike Gold Mountain, go left on the dirt road located about 3 trail miles west of Holcomb Valley Road (3N16). Walk about 1.5 miles to the summit. Do not follow the road down the mountain. At the ridge, walk left from the road toward a big pile of rocks, which is the summit. Round trip is about 3 miles. Peak elevation: 8,235 ft.

PCT mile 275. Van Dusen Canyon Road provides access to Big Bear City and Big Bear Lake, both of which are excellent resupply towns. Walk or hitch the 2.8 miles southeast down Van Dusen to Route 38. On Route 38, go right (west) toward Big Bear Lake or left (east) toward Big Bear City.

PCT mile 277.26. To hike Bertha Peak, continue west past Van Dusen Canyon Road for about 2.26 miles. (If you reach Cougar Crest Junction, you've gone almost a half mile too far.) At the Bertha Peak sign, go left (south) along the dirt road for about 0.75 miles up to the summit, where the radio towers are located. Round trip is 1.5 miles. Peak elevation: 8,201 ft.

PCT mile 280.79. Hike up the disused, two-track dirt road to your left (south), and veer left when you find yourself on a footpath. The footpath directs you up Delamar Mountain. There's a little bushwhacking involved, but the rocky summit is only about a half mile up from the PCT. Round trip is 1 mile. Peak elevation: 8,398 ft.

PCT mile 307.8. Just off the trail to the right is Deep Creek Hot Springs. Ok, this isn't a mountain peak or resupply town, but I had to mention it.

PCT mile 342. At Cajon Pass, you can top off your food at the convenience store, munch on McDonald's or Subway, and rent a room at the Best Western. Up the trail, Wrightwood is much better for resupply.

PCT mile 362.6. A trail to Mount Baldy (Mount San Antonio) is located 200 feet southwest. Mount Baldy is 3.9 miles south of the PCT. Round trip back to the PCT is about 8 miles. Peak elevation: 10,063 ft.

PCT mile 363.5 or 369.5. You can get to Wrightwood from mile 363.5 by hiking 3.6 miles along Acorn Trail or from mile 369.5 by hitching 5.5 miles east on Highway 2. Wrightwood has a PO, grocery store, restaurants, and motels.

PCT mile 378.2. Hiking along the PCT, you've practically summited Mount Baden-Powell anyway. Why not hike the 0.1 mile up the signed Summit Trail? Round trip 0.2 miles. Peak elevation: 9,399 ft.

PCT mile 444.3. You can top off your food in the very small campground shop, do laundry, shower, and camp at the Acton KOA.

PCT mile 454.5. There's a mid-sized grocery and a few restaurants in Agua Dulce. If you're hiking in the spring or early summer, you could mail yourself a food box to the Saufley's Hiker Heaven, trail angels who accept hiker packages and provide a beautiful place to spend the night.  

There you go. Hike 275 of the 2,668 miles of the PCT and experience eight nearby peaks along the way.

And if you reach Agua Dulce wishing that your hike wasn't over, simply turn this plan upside down and yoyo your way back to Idyllwild.


3-season day hike gear list

marmot kompressor summit pack (chopped and stripped)
19.7 oz
sol emergency bivy
3.8 oz
golite poncho tarp w/o sack
7.3 oz
6 j-stakes, short guyline, and sack
2.9 oz
mountain hardwear windstopper hat
1.6 oz
mountain hardwear glove liners
1.7 oz
rei revelcloud vest
8.6 oz
water kit (bleach, nylon, scoop, sack)
0.8 oz
3L platypus bladder with hose
3.8 oz
1L dasani bottle (backup container)
0.9 oz
first aid kit (same as in overnight pack)
3.0 oz
petzl tikka 2 plus headlamp
2.3 oz
sunscreen and lip balm
2.3 oz
smartphone and case
6.3 oz
65 oz / 4.1 lb

Lighter, knife, map, compass, wallet, sunglasses, and bandana in pants pockets. 


Doodling an idea for a hike around California

This hike includes all but 37 miles of the California section of the Pacific Crest Trail, 1/3 of the 400-mile Bigfoot Trail, and all but 21 miles of the California Coastal Trail.

Here's the idea: Follow the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Seiad Valley for 1,662 miles (late April to early August), the Bigfoot Trail from Seiad Valley to Crescent City for 134 miles (mid-August), and the California Coastal Trail from Crescent City to Mexico for 1,173 miles (late August to late October).

I'm not totally sold on hiking the California Coastal Trail; there's a lot of beach and road walking, and I don't see much opportunity for free, stealth camping.

Just a thought . . .

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Doodling an idea for a hike around California


PCT thru-hike gear reviews (2013)

In this post I review of some of the gear I used on my 2013 PCT thru-hike. If you're interested in what I'm using now, here's my current gear list.

Field Use: I used this pack for my entire thru-hike, even though it didn't quite last the entire thru-hike.

Likes: Lightweight, comfortable, nice design, durable fabrics. There was only one thing that I didn't like about this pack, and it's a deal breaker. . .

Dislikes: Weak stitching (see photos). At mile 2506, my left shoulder strap broke from the stitching at the bottom of the pack. I did a quick field repair to keep going. About 100 miles after that, my right load lifter strap broke from the stitching on the pack. Even before these two critical seam failures, the shoulder straps had begun slipping even under the lightest loads.

Would I buy this product/brand again? I don't abuse my gear, and I was comfortably below the weight recommendations for this pack during my thru-hike. That wasn't enough to prevent pack strap slippage and seam failure before the end of my thru-hike. Perhaps the 2014 packs that Brian Frankle is designing for SMD will have more durable stitching than their current line. Brian Frankle's first company, ULA, sells backpacks that had no durability issues on the PCT, so I ordered a Circuit pack for my future hikes. SMD has offered to repair my Starlite under the year warranty.

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Broken Starlite shoulder strap
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Broken Starlite load lifter

Field Use: Except for a few nights of cowboy camping, I used this tarp every night during my thru-hike.

Likes: Lightweight (13 oz.), 360 degree rain protection, bug netting skirt around perimeter, pitches with one trekking pole.

Dislikes: I replaced the door toggle with a mitten hook, making it easier to strap the door open. Condensation, but all single-wall shelters have condensation in high humidity. Zipper failure (SMD has offered to send me new zipper pulls).

Would I buy this product/brand again? While I've lost interest in SMD backpacks, I do still like their tarps. I'm a big fan of one-pole pitch pyramid tarps that don't require the pole to be in the center of the floor plan. The ZPacks Hexamid has a similar structure; however, for now, the Wild Oasis is still my tarp of choice.

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Wild Oasis tarp front

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Wild Oasis tarp side

Field Use: During my PCT hike, it rained a few days in California, about a week in Oregon, and more than a week in Washington. These are the days I busted out the Frogg Toggs. By Stehekin, WA, they were pretty well shredded. I'd wished I'd sent a new set to Cascade Locks for the Washington section.

Likes: Lightweight, inexpensive.

Dislikes: Not durable, especially the pants.

Would I buy this product/brand again? I don't regularly hike in rainy places. If I did, I wouldn't buy Frogg Toggs; they're not durable enough. Since I live in the southwest, I still carry a Frogg Toggs jacket. I don't bother with the pants anymore, as the act of hiking wears out the inseam within a week. If it's rainy enough to wear rain pants, I pack my Mountain Equipment DriLite Plus pants.

Field Use: One pair of these pants lasted my entire thru-hike. Aside from the cuffs fraying, there was no noticeable wear. 

Likes: Durable, lightweight, quick drying, 50 UPF, large cargo pockets. They offer convertible or solid pant leg versions.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, these are my favorite hiking pants.

Field Use: I wore these gaiters about 80% of the time, over 2,000 miles. They were especially useful during the first 700 miles of desert before Kennedy Meadows and in Northern California. I didn't wear them in the rain or after the rain had settled the dirt on the trail. As you can see from the photo, I only wore a few holes.

Likes: Comfortable, lightweight, simple design, fun patterns, surprisingly durable. These are excellent sand and scree gaiters. They're not made for rain, snow, or river fording. 

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? My thru-hike pair still has some life in them, but I'll get a new pair fairly soon. See my initial review: dirty girl gaiters vs. simblissity levagaiters.

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Dirty Girls after 2,000 miles

Field Use: The longest stretch I hiked with these socks, alternating between two pairs, was the 1,000 miles between South Lake Tahoe and Cascade Locks. That amounts to 500 miles per pair. By Cascade Locks, I'd worn substantial holes under the balls of my feet in both pairs. A pair of these socks can go 250-300 miles without significant wear.

Likes: Comfortable, durable, lifetime warranty.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, these are my favorite hiking socks. I recently mailed those two holey pairs to Darn Tough to be replaced under their lifetime warranty.

Montrail Mountain Masochist Trail Runners (Now Mountain Masochist II)

Field Use: I hiked 500 miles across desert terrain, from Cabazon to Kennedy Meadows, in one pair and only changed them out because I had a new pair of shoes waiting for me at Kennedy Meadows. I changed the insoles at 350 miles, but the shoes themselves could have gone at least 700 miles. 

Likes: Durable, breathable, lightweight, unique outsole tread pattern.

Dislikes: Sizes run narrow.

Would I buy this product/brand again? The Montrail Masochist has become the Masochist II, which adds their FluidPost pronation technology. I don't think much else has changed. I'm not sure that these shoes would fit the width of my foot now, but I'd buy them if they did.

Field Use: I hiked 800 miles across rocky terrain, from Kennedy Meadows to Mt. Shasta, and 650 miles from Mt. Shasta to Cascade Locks. I changed the insoles at 400 miles. The photos show my Moabs after 800 miles compared with my new pair.
Likes: Durable, breathable, lightweight, offers wide sizes.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, these are my favorite hiking shoes.

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Moabs front: new vs. 800 miles
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Moabs bottom: new vs. 800 miles
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Moabs side: new vs. 800 miles

Field Use: I used a generic plastic spork for 160 miles until it snapped in half while I was eating peanut butter. In Idyllwild, I bought a Light My Fire Spork. It lasted even fewer miles, snapping in half while I was mixing instant mashed potatoes. A generous camper then gave me a spare Sea-to-Summit Delta Spork that he had. The Delta Spork lasted the rest of my thru-hike.   

Likes: I much prefer the Delta Spork for its flexible, durable plastic and for its design. There's a spork on one end and a long handle with a knife edge on the end of it. The knife is sharp enough to cut sausage and cheese but not sharp enough to cut your hand.

Dislikes: The Light My Fire Spork is made of cheap plastic and has a poor design. The full fork and full spoon at opposite ends of this utensil might appear to be an advantage, but neither end makes a good handle. The worst design decision, though, was putting the serrated knife edge on the side of the fork.

Would I buy this product/brand again? I now use a Snow Peak Titanium Short Spork. It's lightweight and stows neatly in my 0.6 liter mug.

Field Use: I used this sack for 1,662 miles and got rid of it in Seiad Valley, CA.

Likes: Lightweight.

Dislikes: The .51 oz/sqyd cuben weight lacks durability. The drawstring design (as opposed to roll top) appears to shred the fabric with use (see photo).

Would I buy this product/brand again?  Other hikers had the 1.00 or 1.43 oz/sqyd cuben roll-top stuff sacks offered by ZPacks, and they held up much better than my .51 oz/sqyd sack. I might consider trying the heavier duty cuben roll-top sacks sometime in the future. I won't buy the .51 cuben sacks again.

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ZPacks .51 oz/sqyd cuben stuff sack after 1,662 miles

Halfmile's GPS App, Trail Notes, & Water Report

Field Use: I carried printed copies of the water report and trail notes. I downloaded the app to my smartphone and used it a few times a day for the entire thru-hike. You can also print out Halfmile's maps; however, having the app and notes, I didn't find maps necessary.

Likes: All free, but Halfmile does accept donations. The trail notes guide you along the PCT with pretty detailed information. The app locates you along the PCT and guides you back to the trail if you stray.

Dislikes: Trail notes are less detailed for Oregon and Washington (e.g., many established campsites and water sources are not mentioned).

Would I buy this product/brand again? Well, Halfmile's stuff is all free, and it's all you really need to thru-hike. As a side note, the popular pay app on the trail this year was Guthook's Guide.

Field Use: I used the BV500 from Kennedy Meadows to Echo Lake (392 miles).

Likes: Good balance between weight and cost. PCT thru-hikers get a price discount and free delivery.

Dislikes: Very difficult to open in cold weather. The only reason I can think of why this happens is because the lid, which is made with a different type of plastic than the can, might contract more in the cold and tighten around the can. This was common among other BV500 users, some of whom warmed the lid over a campfire or put off breakfast until the day warmed up.

Would I buy this gear/brand again? Yes, though I hesitate to use it in cold weather.


my three-season gear list

big 3: pack / shelter / sleep system
ula circuit backpack w/o options
34 oz
gossamer gear pack liner
1.3 oz
six moon designs wild oasis tarp
13.0 oz
gossamer gear polycryo ground cloth
1.6 oz
1 rei snow stake (also used as trowel)
1.0 oz
5 j-stakes
2.0 oz
stake sack
0.2 oz
golite 3-season quilt w/o sack or straps
24.0 oz
ridgerest sleeping pad 48"
9.0 oz

86.1 oz / 5.4 lb

clothing packed
mountain hardware windstopper hat
1.6 oz
mountain hardware polartec glove liners
1.7 oz
1 pair darn tough 1/4 cushion socks
2.2 oz
lightweight baselayer bottoms
6.2 oz
longsleeve merino baselayer shirt
7.0 oz
stuff sack to make pillow with clothes
0.6 oz
rei revelcloud vest large
8.6 oz
frogg toggs ultralite2 rain jacket medium
5.5 oz

33.4 oz / 2.1 lb

gear for food / water / fuel
13L sea-to-summit ultra sil sack for food
1.4 oz
50' litetrail h-line and minibiner
1.3 oz
fancy feast cat food can stove
0.2 oz
aluminum foil pot lid
0.1 oz
aluminum stove base plate
0.2 oz
aluminum stove wind screen
0.9 oz
gsi 0.6 liter pot
3.4 oz
snow peak titanium short spork
0.5 oz
packtowel nano small
0.6 oz
plastic mesh produce sack for water kit
0.1 oz
aqua mira a and b
3.0 oz
short nylon for filter
0.1 oz
plastic water scoop cup
0.2 oz
1 platypus 1L bottle
0.8 oz
1 dasani 1L bottle
0.9 oz
1 small nalgene bottle for fuel 4 oz
            0.8 oz

14.5 oz / 0.9 lb

first aid / hygiene / miscellaneous
fak: moleskin, bandaids, first aid tape, antiseptic wipes, hand sanitizer, ibuprofen, imodium, mirror, sew kit

3.0 oz
cut toothbrush and floss
0.3 oz
1.0 oz
mesh stuff sack for toiletries
0.2 oz
toilet paper
1.0 oz
petzl tikka 2 plus head lamp
2.8 oz
2.0 oz
lip balm
0.3 oz
sit pad
1.0 oz
5.1 oz
phone case
1.2 oz

17.9 oz / 1.1 lb

TOTAL BASE WEIGHT: 151.9 oz / 9.5 lb.

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What I carry in my pants pockets: map, compass, knife, bic lighter, sunglasses, bandana, wallet, and mosquito head net if needed (5-6 oz total).

If heavy rain is expected, I add mountain equipment drilite plus rain pants (10 oz), pack cover (3.3 oz), and plastic gas pump mitts (0.1 oz). This brings my base weight up 13.4 oz to 165.3 oz / 10.3 lb.

If cold temperatures (approaching or below freezing) are expected, I replace the rei revelcloud vest with a golite bitterroot down jacket (14.2 oz), replace the mountain hardware windstopper hat with a fleece balaclava (2.2 oz), and add a silk sleeping bag liner (5.1 oz). This brings my base weight up 11.3 oz to 163.2 oz / 10.2 lb.