The Zen Center Hike

General Palm Springs area.

The Zen Center Hike

Postby whitebark » Wed Dec 29, 2021 11:50 am

On a recent visit to Palm Springs, I noticed that the latest version of Ferranti's 140 HIkes in and around Palm Springs guidebook still listed the Zen Center hike. I had done the hike 20 or so years ago, and recalled that it was a steep but scenic route that quickly gets one to the high country of the Desert Divide. My hiking partner and I decided to give it a go.

After an hour's drive from PS, we arrived at the Zen Center and parked next to the gate at the eerily deserted grounds. No sign either forbid or welcomed visitors at the gate, but I half expected someone to come charging out of the buildings asking what we were doing here. After we set out on the hike, I was heartened to see a sign directing us to the PCT. At a later split in the driveway, there was no sign; we took the uphill fork which turned out to be correct. The upper driveway passed some cabins on the hillside, then turned into a trail which dropped into a gully with a nice grove of cedars. Not far from here, we arrived at the final trail sign directing us up a steep slope.

It soon became clear that the trail had fallen on hard times and hasn't seen any maintenance in years. Fortunately some hero had set up numerous cairns that helped guide us along the barely visible path. Tattered old remnants of flag tape were also helpful at times in the lower part of the valley There was a particular annoying spot early on where we had to squirm our way under a huge fallen pine. The upper slopes of the valley had been burned over by a fire a few years ago and that may have helped reduce the brush. After an hour or so of scratchy hiking up the steep, brushy headwall of Apple Canyon we arrived at the saddle and enjoyed the grand vista there. It was late November when we did the hike and there was no snow. The return trip was uneventful.

Despite the brush and our scratched-up legs (we foolishly wore shorts), a good time was had by all. Still, Mr. Ferranti should perhaps update his guidebook once again and delete the hike, which is not suitable for casual hikers anymore.

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Re: The Zen Center Hike

Postby Ellen » Wed Dec 29, 2021 12:32 pm

Howdy Whitebark :)

Thanks for the update on the Zen "route" to the PCT. I haven't hiked it since the 2013 fire. I did a one night backpack on the PCT to the tram (camped below Red Tahquitz) with friends in November. We went up the Spitler trail (my first time). They had day hiked up the Zen route and noted that Spitler was a better access trail.

Speaking of the PCT -- SanJacJon was spot on when he noted that all the new dead fall from Spitler junction to Red Tahquitz would be a pain in the butt for backpackers :? My two friends are taller and faster -- they helped me maneuver over, under and around all the dead fall.

Speaking of bushwhacking -- going over Hidden Divide to the tram was challenging due to buckthorn and dead fall. I was in shorts -- won't wear them on that section again :lol:

Miles of smiles,
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Re: The Zen Center Hike

Postby Florian » Thu Dec 30, 2021 6:48 am

Hi whitebark. I came down the trail a couple of years ago and found it basically as you described. Unmaintained and difficult to follow. No one said anything to us as we walked out by the Zen cabins. We had started at Humber Park and were hiking PCT south. Original plan was to exit via Spitler trail but took Zen route as a shortcut exit.
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