Companion blog: Adventures In Stoving

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Newton Drury Peak -- Last of the 10K's

There are only 25 peaks in Southern California whose elevation exceeds 10,000 feet/3048 meters.  Over the years, I had climbed most of the more accessible peaks, leaving unclimbed only some of the more remote peaks.  A couple of years ago, I started more or less methodically climbing the remaining peaks.  In one of my September posts, I detailed my climb of Bighorn Mountain and the Dragon's Head.

As of November, 2012, only one 10,000'+ peak remained unclimbed:  Newton Drury Peak (10,160+ feet/3097+ meters) which is in the San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California.

The best route to Newton Drury Peak utilizes a combination of the Marion Mountain Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Deer Springs Trail, and some cross country travel.  The trailhead for Newton Drury Peak is some two hours drive from my home.  To climb the peak, I'd have to ascend some 4000 vertical feet (1219 m) over about 4.5 miles/7.25 km.  The first 2.5 miles/4 km climbs an average of about 950' per mile (305m/km), which is quite steep.  The upper portion of the route is cross country (i.e. there is no trail).  Given the steepness and the cross country nature of the trip, I knew that this would be no quick ascent.  This time of year, there are only 11 hours of daylight.  Wanting to take full advantage all available daylight, I got up at 0310, got on the road at 0400, and arrived at the trailhead before dawn at about 0555.  I wasted no time in getting on the trail.

The day was cold and gray with intermittent rain and hail.
Fuller Ridge early in the morning as seen from the Marion Mountain Trail
A little more than a mile into the hike, one passes from the San Bernardino National Forest into Mount* San Jacinto State Park.  A wilderness permit is required for all travel in the wilderness portion of Mount San Jacinto State Park.
Sign marking the wilderness boundary
Notice in the photo above that there's a spot where a list regulations is meant to be posted.  The missing regulations are more or less indicative of the condition of the trail:  The trail doesn't receive much in the way of regular maintenance.  The trail does however receive a lot of use, so it's generally easy to follow.

As I ascended the Marion Mountain Trail, I began to encounter a few patches of old snow left over from a small storm that hit a week prior.  The fact that there was any snow left at all from such a small storm tells me that the nights have been pretty cold up on the mountain.
An old patch of snow near the trail
Now, I've said that the Marion Mountain Trail doesn't receive a lot of regular maintenance, and that's true, but in places one can see pieces of the original construction which show that a lot of time and effort were devoted to the making of this trail.
Stone work on the Marion Mountain Trail
Labor intensive stone work of this quality is undoubtedly a product of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, to whom all American hikers owe a debt of thanks.

Ascending further, we come to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail which runs all the way from Mexico to Canada.
The junction of the Pacific Crest and Marion Mountain Trails
I was a little surprised that there was no indication of any kind that this was the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  The PCT is a major, national trail.  One would think that such a major trail would have some kind of sign, but apparently not.

The only indication that this was the PCT was a fallen over wooden post near the junction where there once had been a PCT symbol.
A wooden post that once had a PCT symbol on it.
Unfortunately PCT symbols are sought after as sort of a collectors item, and people pry them off the posts marking the route.   Because someone has stolen the marker off this post there's no indication that this is the PCT unless you happen to recognize that the indentation on the post is the same shape as a PCT symbol.

Shortly after joining the PCT, we encounter the junction with the Seven Pines Trail.
The signed junction of the PCT and the Seven Pines Trail
Once again there's nothing designating the main trail as the PCT although there is a PCT marker post set in the ground nearby.  Unfortunately, once again, someone has stolen the PCT symbol off the post.
Marker post on the PCT near the junction with the Seven Pines Trail
Next, we cross the one of the branches of the North Fork of the San Jacinto River in the area commonly known as Deer Springs.  There is typically water flowing in the creek, although in late summer/early fall, sometimes the creek does go dry.  There was water on the day I visited.
Water flowing at Deer Springs
Not only was there water, but also ice, again indicating cold nights.
Ice in the creek bed at Deer Springs
Just past the creek at Deer Springs, we come to the last trail junction on our route, the junction with the Fuller Ridge Trail.
Junction with the Fuller Ridge Trail
Again, there is no indication which trail is the PCT (The route of the PCT goes left here), and there is no indication as to what the trail to the right is (the trail to the right is the Deer Springs Trail).  There is however another marker post nearby, inscribed with a PCT symbol.  Unfortunately, the symbol is a little hard to read.
The very hard to read PCT symbol on a trail marker post.
The trails here aren't terribly confusing, so anyone with a decent map should have no trouble, still I was surprised that there were no signs indicating which trail was the PCT at all three junctions on my route.

Once past the junction with the Fuller Ridge Trail, we come to another branch of the north fork of the San Jacinto River.  This branch was also flowing on Friday, November 16, the day I passed by.  This is actually a fairly reliable source of water.  I've seen this branch have water when the branch by Deer Springs has been Dry.

Another branch of the N Fork of the San Jacinto River
Again, I encountered ice.
Ice at a branch of the N Fork of the San Jacinto River
There are a couple of other small water sources between this branch of the N Fork and Little Round Valley, and they were both flowing, albeit with low volume.

However, the creek that flows down out of Little Round Valley was completely dry at the trail crossing...
Dry creek bed below Little Round Valley
...and the creek was also completely dry in the meadow in Little Round Valley.
Dry creek bed in Little Round Valley
As poor as the signs were on the way in, I was surprised to see nice, new signs at all the campsites and marking the trail at Little Round Valley.
A new sign at Little Round Valley
I also noticed that the old rickety outhouse at Little Round Valley (which frankly seemed quite precarious) has been replaced by a modern plastic outhouse.
New outhouse in Little Round Valley
I'm not sad at all to see the old outhouse go (it made me nervous to use the old one; it was so dilapidated), but I think this new plastic one is an eyesore.  Would that they had used an outhouse constructed of natural materials when they replaced the old outhouse.

Fires have long been banned in Mount San Jacinto State Park, but the fact is that people are still having them.
A campfire site in Little Round Valley
I have mixed feelings about wood fires, both pro and con, but one thing I will say for sure:  Please leave no trace.  If you're going to have a fire, you should do it in such a way that the next person to visit can't tell that you were ever there.
Another campfire site in Little Round Valley
Ringing your fire with rocks, although traditional, is simply not a good Leave No Trace practice.

Thus far, from the trailhead to Little Round Valley, the route has been fairly routine, on-trail travel.  From the camp sites in Little Round Valley, the route gets a little more interesting.  I needed to leave the trail, make my way to the south eastern head of Little Round Valley, proceed along an azimuth of about 120° true, and then angle southward, ascending to a saddle east of the peak at just over 10,000'/3048 m elevation.  The visibility on the day I went was fairly limited.  I would have to trust my map and compass.
A gray day on the flanks of Drury Peak
The terrain was somewhat steep and quite rocky, but I was able to thread my way through the rocks without undue difficulty.

Apparently, my route finding was fairly good that day, for I soon reached the summit block of Newton Drury Peak.
The summit block of Newton Drury Peak
The rocks looked intimidating, but by first going west and then cutting east, I was able to find a class one (no use of hands required) route.

Passing through the rocks, I marveled at the tenacity of the plant life that holds on in the extreme conditions found here on the mountain top.  What a remarkable little tree!
A very tough little Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), high on Newton Drury Peak
After threading the rock maze, I went directly up a few final slabs and attained the summit.
Final slabs en route to the summit of Newton Drury Peak
On the summit, there were some really beautiful examples of krummholz ("bent wood"), trees gnarled by the extreme elements.
A krummholz tree atop Newton Drury Peak
Having attained the summit, I decided to take care of another matter on my agenda:  Lunch.  I pulled out my Bobcat stove system and boiled up a little water for a nice chicken and noodles lunch.
Lunch spot, summit of Newton Drury Peak
The wind was blowing so hard that I had to weight down the carbon felt insulation on the pot lid to keep it from flapping.
Weighting down things against the wind atop Newton Drury Peak
It was a cold day atop the peak.  Frost was forming on my mittens.
Frost on my mittens.
There may well be a good view from Newton Drury Peak, but I had no idea that day.  I had to content myself with the wind swept trees and gray clouds.
Gnarled trees atop Newton Drury Peak
Having attained the peak, the last of the 10K peaks in Southern California for me to climb, I turned for home.   My goal was to reach my car before full dark, but unfortunately, night fell while I was still on the trail.

I did, however, get some nice sunset shots from the Marion Mountain Trail.
The Sun setting above Diamond Valley Lake
Sunset and Diamond Valley Lake
Fortunately, there was a little bit of a moon out that night, and I was able to complete the hike without even using my head lamp.  I completed my hike without further ado, and drove home.
The moon as seen from the Marion Mountain Trail
I thank you for joining me on another hiking adventure,


*The correct name for the highest point in the San Jacinto Mountains San Jacinto Peak, but some genius named the state park Mount San Jacinto, and there's been nothing but confusion ever since.  Indeed, the sign atop the peak reads "Mount San Jacinto Peak" a bastardization combining both the mistake and the proper name.  Bureaucracy at it's finest.


  1. Good stuff. Was up there Sunday 16.Apr.17, as well as Jean Peak and San Jacinto peak, all cross country as the trails are still under snow & ice. Alone except for SJ peak; encountered (5) others on top.

  2. Hi, Stan,

    Really good stuff up there. I'm looking forward to getting either over there or in the Gorgonio Wilderness next month.

    Take care,