Suicide Rock Hike

May 2016

Something is wrong with me. I really enjoy shows like “I Shouldn’t Be Alive,” which document real life stories of people getting into really bad situations and somehow making it out alive. I am not the only one who enjoys these types os shows, but I do think I’m the only one who watches an episode and becomes inspired to try the featured activity.

One episode that has stuck with me is called “Date From Hell.” I’m going to ruin that episode right now, so if you plan on watching it, skip this paragraph. A city couple takes the aerial tramway up to Mount San Jacinto State Park and wanders off trail in search of a waterfall. They get hopelessly lost and wander around for 3 days, the whole time able to see the city of Palm Springs below them, just unable to reach it. On day 2, feeling completely trapped, they stumble across someone’s camp. At first they think they’ve found help, but quickly realize this camp is old. Going through the backpack, they find a map of the area, in which somebody has written many notes, including “Down is gorge. No way out.” They realize somebody else has been trapped here. Somebody with a sleeping bag, a map, all sorts of provisions. This couple only had light windbreakers. The prepared person couldn’t make it out. The couple begins to lose hope that they will. They find the gorge the person wrote about. The episode shows a clip of Yosemite Falls to drive home the point that travel downstream was no longer possible. The next morning, they find the guy’s body. That was the last straw for the boy, who then used the matches he’d found in the guy’s backpack to set the mountain on fire. It worked, and they were saved.

I had never heard of San Jacinto, or the aerial tramway, but I needed both. So this random California State Park wormed itself onto my bucket list.

Then I pretty much forgot about it, until the company I work for won this project in Perris, California, near Riverside. Every two weeks from the beginning of the construction project (May) to the end of the migratory bird nesting season (August), I would make the 4.5 hour drive from Vegas to Perris, conduct a survey that took an hour, at most, to look for burrowing owls, and then drive back home. The first time I made the drive to do the preliminary, pre-construction survey, I passed signs for San Jacinto. Apparently that was a town. Looking at maps, I figured out the relative location of Mount San Jacinto State Park. I strained to see it through the dense smog of Southern California, but I could not. I knew it was there, though. Just a little too far away for a quick excursion after my survey.

Two weeks later, I was camping in Barstow on my #CaliforniaRVWorkRelatedAdventure, and I drove to Perris to do the first “monitoring” survey. Once I got close to the job, I called the foreman. Maybe I should have called before leaving Vegas, because he informed me that they had not actually started construction yet, so I didn’t need to do the survey. So there I was, in Riverside, California, for no good reason. I guess I could just go back to the RV in Barstow. But instead, my attention turned to the mountain I could not see but knew was there. I was not prepared for a hike, but I figured that would be ok and keep me in the spirit of what actually inspired me to explore this park anyways. I stopped at a gas station and bought some Gatorade and snacks, texted Amanda my very vague plans, and started the drive.

I would end up on the wrong side of the park. One can get to Mount San Jacinto by going to Palm Springs and taking the tramway up the park, which is what I really wanted to do, but that was too far out of the way. Instead I took a very scenic drive up the mountain from the other side, ending in the small mountain town Idyllwild, CA. I thought I’d be able to still get to the tram and the visitor’s center, but it turns out to be completely separate. I could reach Mountain Station from this side only by hiking a lot more than I wanted to hike.

But I did still want to hike. I just didn’t know what. Typically, before I go somewhere, I exhaustively research it because I want to make sure that I don’t waste my time with lackluster activities. I want to do the best of the best. But I was flying blind up here. I stopped by the Ranger’s station and tried my best to look adventurously and responsibly spontaneous in my questions. I asked the Ranger what my options were if I wanted to do a short (2-3 hour), moderate hike to a viewpoint. She hemmed and hawed, naming a few hikes and then taking them back, instead recommending I walk the trails at the nature center. I reminded her that I wanted to see a viewpoint, or climb a mountain. And that moderate was ok. She insisted on the nature trails. This is where I felt like she looked at me, overweight and wearing sandals (Chacos, so totally ok), dropping by with no idea what I wanted to do. I felt a little judged, but it could have completely been my imagination. In the end, I picked my own hike. I picked the 3 mile hike to Suicide Rock, which sounded a little scary and right up my alley. It also had rave reviews on the internet, which was important to me. Can’t be wasting my time up here, you know.

I was about 10 minutes into the hike when I began wishing for a nature trail.

I set a turn-around time for myself. Then I modified the original turn-around point to be “if I felt like turning around,” and created a later turn-around time. That time was then modified to be called “if I’m nowhere close to the top.” Then I created a definite turn-around time, maybe. At this point I realized I would die if I ever tried to climb Mount Everest, because sticking to your turn-around time, even if you’re 300 feet from the summit, is one of the most important things you can do. I huffed and puffed and sweat like crazy and took a break every 25 steps but goddammit, I made it!

6 miles round trip and a little over 2000’ feet of elevation gain. Bam!

2/3 of the way up the trail


First Chacos adventure of the season!


A friend asked how the hike was going. This was my response.


The view. Idyllwild below.

A couple days later I was emptying out my backpack and found the yellow piece of paper with all the hikes and descriptions listed. Every hike was listed as Moderate or Strenuous, except the hike to Suicide Rock. That was listed as EXTREME DAY HIKE. How do I overlook these things?!?


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