Palm Springs to San Jacinto Peak and Back (Cactus to Clouds to Cactus)
This is a Trip Report originally posted on the San Jacinto Message Board on Oct 24th, 2013
I am one of those avid and impatient solo hikers who always meant to write about a memorable trip but never got around to it. Well, here’s my first try at a trip report. This is for an unsupported C2C2C attempt. Fastest time, not bloody likely, but until I hear otherwise I can dream.
I had heard and read about the Cactus to Clouds hike for years and really wanted to try it. Having recently completed a couple of difficult desert runs with a lot of elevation gain I was looking for a new challenge when I came across this message board describing C2C. My first thought was that this is some sort of bucket list thing I don’t have time for. Then I map quested the Palm Springs Art Museum and got an estimated travel time of two hours and six minutes. My beloved Borrego is almost two hours plus more hours of off-roading to get to some trailheads. I was sold, I was gonna do this! That night I read descriptions of the route by Jeff List, Brett Maune, and Nickademus Hollon. Brett and Nick were pushing to hit around 2:30 for Skyline ascent FKT so I felt that a sub 4 hour time was attainable given my current fitness level. I have hiked San Jacinto from Idyllwild and from Apache Spring but had no experience from the Palm Springs side. All research suggested a strong possibility of losing the Skyline trail but I studied the topos and am comfortable route finding in rough desert terrain. My plan was to push the Skyline trail but leave enough left over to summit San Jacinto and make the return trip to my car in well under ten hours.
So two days later (10/20/13) I awoke at 3am in San Diego, put some Perpetuem in a couple of ½ liter recyclable water bottles, filled my kids 1 ½ liter camelbak, gathered some gels, bars, ibuprofen, safety pinned an emergency blanket to the pack, and left town at 4:10. I arrived at the art museum at about 6:20 with the temperature in the mid 60’s. I put on sunscreen while waiting for enough light to wear my prescription sunglasses and looked, without success, for a restroom. I stopped to talk to a couple of guys in the parking lot about the trail and was strongly discouraged by them when they found out I was a first-timer.
At 6:40 I was off, thinking that I would do my business along the way (I didn’t but saw multiple instances where people who were shovel-challenged had). I hit the picnic tables at 16 minutes and felt comfortable with my pace. As I neared the first rescue station, I passed a group that was off trail and was able to redirect them. At this time I noticed one of the hikers eating something and realized that my breakfast bowl of cereal and milk was still sitting untouched in my car. This lack of key fuel and the fact that I had eaten a lot of food at a “Taste of Africa” event (read “SPICY”) the night before without the use of facilities in the morning suddenly shocked me into a re-evaluation of the day ahead. I had more than enough water and calories as I passed the 1st rescue station at 40:44. My pace felt right and everybody I passed (about 45 total) was so friendly that it really made me smile and push on. Being unfamiliar with the trail, I only marked a couple of splits and hit the 2nd rescue station at 1:56:20. The trail so far had been pretty obvious (except for a lot of poorly placed orange paint that seemed to purposely take cut-offs) and when I did find myself off trail, it didn’t take long to regain it. I take pride in not cutting established trails but my GPS tracks show that I did indeed cut several times. Seeing the great grey massif’s and trees for the first time was both an inspiration and a blow as the remaining difficulty became obvious. I began to increase my effort as I felt my pace slow due to altitude near the traverse but being in the trees, granite, and sporadic snow patches made it enjoyable. Tip-toed across some ice on the trail and really pushed hard past Coffman’s Crag as I neared the 3 hour mark. I had read Hiker Jim write that when you see sky through Grubbs Notch, you’re almost there. When I did, I surged and cranked it past all the bodies strewn about at the notch (many of whom were still in the same spot as I made my descent). True to it’s reputation, the simple walkway to the tram was tough as I ran through molasses to touch the tram door at 3:07:02 and hurriedly made my way to the restroom (TMI?)
The jog to the ranger station was surreal due to all the people getting ready for their own hiking adventures after the blaring remoteness of the Skyline trail. At this point, I had used my two half liter bottles of perpetuem and still had over a liter of water left so I did not refill at this time. Filling out the permit was a nice break and the rangers were quite cheerful. I headed out at 3:26 for the ‘easy’ part of the day and struggled through to Wellman’s Divide where it was a little icy. The altitude was beating me up, I really picked a bad day to stop sniffing glue! I started thinking as I neared San Jacinto peak, that if my problem was low pressure in my lungs (and therefore low density of O2), than I could maybe counteract that by pursing my lips on the exhale and increase my lung pressure. It actually worked to some extent and from then on I was running again. Summited at 4:57:15 with a fellow who had started from the museum around 3:30 or 4:00am. The guy looked great but said he had pulled a hamstring early on and kept saying “This is the worst idea I’ve ever had!” I had to laugh considering the view he had earned and the tram ride he would get to take back. My first order of business was to put my feet and my knees in the snow and not to run. Two gels, one salt tablet, two ibuprofens, and a mouthful of snow later I was off. What a difference a break (37 minutes) makes! I floated down to the ranger station stopping briefly to talk to hikers several times. Turned in my permit at one hour, 35 seconds from the top, refilled both my ½ liter bottles and dove down the dreaded 8k drop.
The beginning of the descent was tough as snow melt had obscured the steeper chutes towards the traverse. Stopped to chat with a dude who had some unbelievable stories on Skyline (until I checked him out, bluerail). I continued at a fun but measured pace knowing that I was dropping so fast, I had to be making progress. I watched the buildings on the desert floor grow slightly larger and the surrounding ridgelines rise above me, reassuring me that I would be at my car soon. I finally treated myself to a look back at the far away peaks only to be slapped with a view of mountains still in my face. With newfound resolve, I turned and ran evermore downward as the temperature climbed to the mid to high 80’s. At this point I was concerned with routing as I didn’t pay too much attention on the early climb and I knew the Ramon trail linked up nearby so taking a wrong turn would entail some uphill! I stuck to the predominant trail on the main ridge and soon caught sight of my car. Hit the parking lot at 9:10:03 and jogged the couple of blocks to my cooler, I mean car, and made it home by 6:35.
I really appreciate the great info by Brett Maune, Jeff List, Nickademus Hollon, and Hiker Jim. I also appreciate all the people that let me sidestep them along the way.
Carried: Visor, short sleeve shirt, shorts, Injinji mid-weight toe socks, Xodus 2.0 shoes, sunglasses
1.5 liter camelbak (used 4 liters total), emergency blanket, TP, ID, cell phone, $40, car key, 1oz Vaseline
2xhalf liter bottles w/200 mg Na & 200 cal each
7 salt pills 200mg Na (used 2)
3 bars (didn’t use)
6 Ibuprofen (used 4)
10 powergels 200mg Na & 110 cals (used 5)
3 Tums (used 1)
Splits: picnic tables–16:00
1st rescue box——-40:44
2nd rescue box——1:56
Leave ranger station-3:26
Leave ranger station-6:44
2nd rescue box——-7:27
Total Distance—28.3 Miles
Total Elevation Gain-11,062 Feet