By Apple Canyon Trail
We (Tom Hill, Dorothy Danziger & myself) stopped at Idyllwild to pick up the required wilderness permit. Then off to Apple Canyon Road where we stopped briefly to get our gear together. Next we drove past Pine Springs Ranch onto the dirt road for 1.2 miles to the Zen Mountain Center parking area. We disembarked quickly and made our way quietly through the settlement. We left the road after 1/2 mile immediately after passing a sheet metal water tank on the left. The Apple Canyon Trail starts at that point and goes for about 1 1/2 miles with an elevation gain of 1500' until it intersects the PCT atop the Desert Divide. We went left (north) for about 1/2 mile on the PCT until we saw a ducked slope. We went up the steep slope for approximately 1/3 mile gaining 700'. This brought us to a saddle between two prominences with the right hand one being the summit block. This surprised me as on my three previous summit trips I ended up just north of the summit block. It turned out we should have gone several hundred feet farther on the trail to reach the saddle that ends just north of the summit block. At that point there is a crack coming down from the summit block which has less exposure than the route we took. The same crack is reached by taking the Sam Fink Ridgewalk.
In any event it was now necessary to work our way up the rocky face n/w to the summit. Tom had rope which we used as a 'psychological belay'. There was no register but again Tom was prepared with a new register can and notebook. He had been on the summit the year before and noted the absence of a register. On my last trip two years before there was still a register.
It's always an adventure no matter how many times you go up Antsell. There is no way you can avoid some class 3. In my opinion it may be the most exciting peak on our list.
We returned to the Desert Divide the way we came up. Tom and Dorothy went up the trail to do Southwell Peak which Dorothy needed while I returned to the car. Although the Antsell Peak Guide states Southwell Peak is only 1 mile from Antsell, Tom feels the Guide is in error and that it is closer to 2 1/2 miles from the saddle to Southwell Peak. Tom states the trail to Southwell Peak shown on the topo is in error and that a very long switchback traversing the east face of Southwell Peak is omitted. In any event, they stated Southwell Peak was a stroll in the park after Antsell.
The current Antsell Rock Peak Guide (Nov. 1997) does not mention the Apple Canyon Trail. Instead it gives as the primary route the Spitler Peak Trail which is 14 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 3600'. A secondary route from Humber Park and Red Tahquitz to Southwell Peak is even longer. The Apple Canyon Route was omitted because it crosses private property. However, officials at the Zen Mountain Center advised me they have no objections to hikers passing through the settlement or using the parking area so long as they are reasonably quiet.
If a party has more than three vehicles, they should consider carpooling either at the Spitler Peak Trailhead or at Pine Springs Ranch. A current trail guide for the area (75 Great Hikes in and near Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley) states on P84 that the Zen Master allows hiking with the following cautions:
1. Bring as few vehicles as possible
2. Hike quietly for the first 1/2 mile to avoid disturbing the meditation of those staying at the center
3. Keep groups small
4. No dogs are allowed
This trail also provides the shortest route with less elevation gain for Southwell Peak, Apache, and Spitler.