C2C: Cactus to Clouds Hike
Two days later and I still cannot believe I completed the infamous "Cactus to Clouds" hike in Palm Springs. Rated the "Fifth Most Difficult Day Hike in the United States" by Backpacker Magazine, the hike starts on the desert floor of Palm Springs (near the cactus) and gains thousands of feet of elevation leading to San Jacinto Peak (up in the clouds).
I woke up at 1:00am Sunday morning (10/15) to meet at my carpool spot by 2:00am. Kiyomi, Jessy, and I headed to Palm Springs and arrived in time for our 4:15am start. Sure it may have been pitch dark but with the desert sun, it heats up quickly and we had to climb as much as possible before the sun would start scorching us. One of my fellow WTC students, Charles, arranged the hike and although I had been incredibly hesitant I decided to give it a go. After all, I thought I was going to stop once we arrived at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
So at 4:15am we started the ascent and there was no turning back. Literally, no turning back... Once you start on the Skyline Trail portion of C2C, you are committed to climbing 8,000+ feet in ~9 miles. Turning around is simply not an option as you would descend into an inferno otherwise known as the desert heat.
The Skyline portion was not terrible until the sun started heating up the exposed trail. I was carrying three liters of water and a 32 ounce Gatorade and reached the tram with about half a liter of water to spare. Water is not available until you complete the Skyline Trail (arrive at the tram). I was thankful for all the snacks I brought - especially the bananas which I am certain helped avoid cramping.
Our group of seven reached the tram around noon (we took a lot of breaks) and enjoyed a break while eating lunch. I felt like I could make the push for the peak - another 5 miles and ~2,500 feet of gain + 5 miles back - so myself and five others departed the tram and headed for the peak. My body started feeling it about two miles from the peak. But, with great determination I continued on. After all, I hadn't hiked ~12/13 miles just to turn around two miles from the destination. Four of us reached the peak. I was overcome with joy as I scrambled up the rocks and caught sight of the "Mt. San Jacinto Peak" sign at about 4:30pm.
“Set your goals high and don’t stop till you get there.” Well, I followed this quote and reached the summit. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. The trek back to the tram was exhausting - both mentally and physically. My feet were aching, my muscles were sore, and the sun was setting faster than we were descending. It was time to put the headlamp back on; we started the hike with it and we finished with it as well. Reaching the tram around 7:00pm, I had never been so happy to end a hike (and that's saying something!!) We waited for the rest of the group, took the tram down, hopped in an Uber, and returned to the Palm Springs Art Museum where we had left the car 14+ hours before.
My Fitbit said I walked/hiked more than 68,900 steps/28.4 miles on Sunday - more than most people walk in an entire week. It was exhausting and I seriously contemplated calling in sick to work yesterday as my body felt like it was ran over by a semi truck but I did it. I completed the "Fifth Most Difficult Hike" in the entire United States. I had hiked from the Cactus to the Clouds. I completed the trek to San Jacinto's boulder-strewn crown in such a way that is only 800 vertical feet shorter than the climb from Everest basecamp to the summit and comparable to doing more than a thousand flights of stairs. This hike was no joke and everyone even thinking about attempting it should do their homework and check it twice. Thank you Charles for organizing the hike and for all of the encouragement along the way.