From the desert floor of Palm Springs, to San Jacinto Peak
Aaron Flynn, pretending to run down a trail for a sweet photo capture.
On Thursday November 2nd 2017, I had reached out to Ultra Runners Aaron Flynn and Vincent Lopez about sharing a few miles that weekend. Southern California's late October heat wave was followed with cooler weather and some heavy anticipation. We spent a few days watching weather forecasts and leaning toward one trail or another before deciding on the infamous Cactus to Clouds trail. The route consisted of climbing from the desert floor of Palm Springs to the top of San Jacinto Peak and back down to the Aerial Tramway, where most people purchase a lift ticket to descend via the tram and shuttle back to their car. The Cactus 2 Clouds trail includes roughly 18 miles with 10,800 feet of vertical gain. Our plan was to complete the route and bypass the tram/shuttle entirely. A route called called "Cactus to Clouds to Cactus" (more commonly abbreviated as C2C2C) As the day approached, four other runners would join our collective and a party would be had.
Palm Springs Art Museum Trailhead (500 ft)
Sawna Guadarrama & Lani Elise, climbing the Skyline trail.
Jeff Allen, climbing a thumb.
Sunday November 5th 2017 -- We had arrived at the Palm Springs Art Museum at 6:00 AM and said or good mornings as we prepared for a long day. At 6:30, we made way for the Skyline trail, right behind the museum. The predictions of heavy cloud cover and 35 mph winds were a bit of an exaggeration and the only clothes I had brought were a long sleeve and leggings in all black. I would sweat for the entirety of the first 10 miles and go through 2 liters of water. The first 5 miles of the Skyline trail included many veins and off shoots, but most of us had done parts of the trail before, and navigation was of no concern.
Long Valley Ranger Station (8,500 ft)
Lani Elise is all smiles...she must be faking it.
Reaching Long Valley was a blessing. The winds had finally picked up due to the elevation change while the clouds had begun to come in. We regrouped at the top of the Skyline trail and quickly made moves for the Ranger Station (mile 10 or so) to refill on water. An additional 4 miles and 2,500 ft of vertical gain would await us to the peak. I noticed that some of the group was still moving pretty quickly and I had no intention to keep any sort of pace. I trailed off toward the back mostly focusing on adjusting to the elevation and conversing with Lani Elise about her recent Pacific Crest Trail finish, an accomplishment I had only dreamed about.
San Jacinto Peak (10,836 ft)
Icy pines made for some incredible views atop San Jacinto Peak.
We had reached Mount San Jacinto at 1:15 PM after moving for about 6.5 hours. The trees near the peak were covered in ice and and fast moving clouds surrounded us for the majority of the climb. We regrouped again for a celebratory summit photo and made for the famous hut to get out of the cold air. After loading up on calories, we made some estimates on completion time and hoped to finish before sunset. Everything was going smoothly until we reached the Skyline trail. The steep descent combined with large oddly placed boulders and cactus made catching a groove impossible. Besides running, I constantly needed to move around obstacles, and focus on each awkward leap toward another granite surface.
Back to the desert floor.
Vincent Lopez cruisin' down the Skyline Trail.
Vince and I had pushed hard to get to the bottom before sunset, but our plans would be foiled by the terrain and our jello like legs. We had reached the Museum at 6:30 PM after running 28 miles with 11,100 feet of vertical gain. Knowing that we had made enough space between ourselves and the rest of the group, we made moves for Bevmo to pick up a bottle of coke and two large bags of chips since we had no intention of sharing. We made it back just in time to meet the rest of our group as they rolled down the mountain with different stories of hurt. One of which was Jeff Allen, who missed a trail junction in the dark, and exited the mountain through a neighbors back yard instilling some 1.5 bonus miles. We said our goodbyes and congratulated each other on accomplishing something we were all excited to never do again.
Crew from left to right: Vincent Lopez, Ricardo Soria Jr, Jeff Allen, Aaron Flynn, Sawna Guadarrama, Lani Elise, & Andreas Attai.
Total Distance (out-and-back) : 28 miles
Total Elevation (feet): 11,100 ft
Completion Time: 11 hours
Trail Difficulty: Hard.
- Steep class 1 trail (with option for scrambling) from desert floor to Long Valley.
- Many veins and off shoots from main trail which could cause navigation issues especially since most people will start (or finish) in the dark.
- Class 1 maintained trail from Long Valley to the Peak.
***If you are planning to complete this hike, please be aware of your own abilities and needs. There is no water source for the entirety of the Skyline trail. Fatalities occur on that section during the summer months due to extreme heat exhaustion or dehydration.
Cactus 2 Clouds 2 Cactus (out-and-back) - GPX FILE
Please be aware that distance, route and overall elevation gain may vary. We kinda just went for it. A few small scrambles took place within the first few miles that could definitely be avoided.