Rouse Hill 02/20/2021

Rouse Hill is a small prominence located on a long ridge northwest of Thomas Mountain in San Bernardino National Forest. Its 5168 foot summit is found on the Sierra Club HPS list. One can reach the top by driving on forest roads to within 100 yards of the summit. I chose instead to hike on the South Fork Trail from Highway 74. The weather forecast looked to be nice and cool, so Stella decided to come along for this hike. It was about a 1 hour 50 minute drive from San Diego to the trailhead. Unfortunately, when we arrived, the parking area was blocked off and there seemed to be some kind of construction project going on. I drove a bit further up the highway and parked at a turnout. We started hiking at 6:31am from 3942 feet above sea level.

We walked on the side of the highway for a few tenths of a mile and then crossed the road to the parking area. There was actually a gap in the cones blocking access from the highway so it seems I could have parked here, but the gap could have been for trucks entering/leaving. There were a few construction vehicles parked on the far side of the lot and a huge mound of sand. It was Saturday so I doubted any work would be going on today. We walked through the parking area and found the trail heading south away from the highway. There wasn’t any signage for the trail so you wouldn’t know it was there unless you were looking for it. The trail started out nice and wide as it meandered into the South Fork San Jacinto Wilderness.

It was about 40 degrees when we started so it was a bit chilly. In the below picture, the South Fork San Jacinto River is at the bottom of the large valley in the middle, and Rouse Hill is one of the bumps on the far side. The route would take us to the bottom of the valley, across the river, and then up the other side.

Stella led the way as the trail headed south. We gained a little elevation in the first mile of the hike and then started descending to the river.

There were a few rockslides that we had to cross.

At 2.5 miles we rounded a corner and saw the sun for the first time.

At 3 miles we reached the South Fork San Jacinto River. This was the low point of the hike at 3660 feet.

The river was flowing pretty good this time of year. It was 15-20 feet wide in places.

We spent a long time looking for a good place to cross. I wanted to avoid getting Stella wet since I didn’t want to deal with a muddy dog. We walked downstream a little ways but we didn’t find a spot that was narrow enough to hop across. There also weren’t any good logs or rocks that spanned the length of the river to walk on. Eventually I just said screw it and removed my shoes and socks and went for it. The water was shockingly cold, but thankfully only went up to my shins so it was an easy crossing. Stella isn’t averse to water, so she gladly followed me. She is a good swimmer, but she was able to keep her head above water and still walk across the bottom. I put my shoes and socks back on and we proceeded to a small clearing. There was some evidence that people had camped here previously. The water crossing had excited Stella so much that she got a case of the zoomies and started running around in circles at top speed. I was glad that we found a good open space for her to get her energy out!

The next part of the hike was the most difficult. The trail made about 15 switchbacks as it ascended steeply up the ridge towards Rouse Hill.

The trail was still easy to follow here, except there were multiple downed trees that we had to maneuver around. I was able to hop over most of them while Stella was able to crawl underneath. There were one or two we had to hike around completely.

Stella led the way as we neared the top of the switchbacks. The steep ascent really warmed me up, so I took off my jacket.

At the top of the switchbacks, the trail headed southwest towards the top of the ridge, which we reached at 4.3 miles. We then left the trail and started hiking directly west along the ridgeline. We were able to follow a decent use trail.

This was the first time we were really exposed to the sun all day, so it felt very warm (even though it probably wasn’t even 60 degrees). We ascended a slight rise on the ridgeline and then descended the other side. We could finally see Rouse Hill in the distance.

At 4.8 miles we reached Rouse Hill Road. This dirt road can be accessed from Highway 74 and basically follows the entire ridgeline all the way to Thomas Mountain.

We left the road at 5.3 miles to make the final ascent to Rouse Hill. We were very close now.

We reached the summit at 9:05am at 5.5 miles! Stella climbed up on the highest rock and posed for some photos.

I located the register and we both signed it. The previous ascent was from February 5. I found the Rouse Benchmark as well as both reference markers.

It was a clear day, so the views were pretty good. We could see all the usual peaks including San Jacinto and Tahquitz to the northeast.

San Gorgonio to the north:

Mount Baldy to the northwest, with the city of Hemet in the foreground:

Santiago and Modjeska to the west, with Diamond Valley Lake in the foreground:

Cahuilla and Little Cahuilla to the southwest, with Palomar Mountain in the background:

And Thomas Mountain along the ridge to the southeast. Stella and I actually climbed 6825 foot Thomas Mountain together almost 2 years ago.

Before we continued, I checked us both for ticks and found 2 on Stella and 1 on myself. Thankfully, they were relatively easy to remove. I hate ticks so much. We began the descent at 9:43am. We hiked back to the road and then on the use trail over the ridge.

We heard 3 dirt bikers on the road below us and saw them zip by. We found the South Fork Trail once again and descended down towards the river. The switchbacks were much easier going down.

We made it down to the river and had no problem crossing this time.

Shortly after crossing the river, we saw 2 Cal Fire planes flying up the canyon. After a minute they turned around and flew back down the canyon very close to the ground. They were barely above where I was standing! I assumed it was a practice maneuver.

The rest of the hike was uneventful. We made it back to the car at 12pm exactly. This hike totaled 11 miles, 2884 feet elevation gain, and 5:29:17 total time.

Stella and I packed up and made the 2 hour drive back home. It was another great day of hiking with my favorite dog in the world!

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