Thursday, May 24, 2007

cactus to clouds

Kiron, Pierre, Eric, Kirk, Verdi, Claire, Miki, Naro, Annie, Richard (photo courtesy of Verdi)

On the weekend of May 12, I didn't join the OCTR on our regular Saturday long run. Instead I was out in the desert hoofing it up a very tall and steep mountain with the Outdoors Club.

The hike is called to Cactus to Clouds. Cactus because you start on the desert floor in Palm Springs, and Clouds because you ascend all the way to the summit of San Jacinto Peak at 10,800 feet above sea level.

Backpacker Magazine rated it as the 5th toughest day hike in the continental U.S. According to BM, "Two fun ways to put your pain in perspective as you churn up the unmaintained trail: The trek to San Jacinto's 10,804-foot, boulder-strewn crown is only 800 vertical feet shorter than the climb from Everest basecamp to summit-and comparable to doing more than a thousand flights of stairs."

Our adventure began at the Palm Springs Museum at 4:15am. Everyone had their headlamps on and it's quite a sight to see little firefly-like lights heading up the switchbacks in single file. I was still feeling the effects of our previous night's bit of revelry and the approximately 2 hours of sleep (I'm being generous here) so I stayed in the back. The sun came up a couple of hours later and by 7am it was starting to get pretty warm, especially since most of the trail was exposed. Pretty soon, each hiker was going at their own pace and the group had opened up. I passed several people and was in the middle of the pack where I'll be through the end of the trek.

I was keeping an eye on my Garmin and it looked like we were going at about 2 miles an hour--decent for a trail this steep. We arrived at "Lunch Rock" which is at mile 8 after about 4 hours of hiking. Two more miles and we'll be at Long Valley. After that, the rest of the hike should be a "piece of cake." Well, that cake was not about to be easily had. I call this part of the hike, the 2-2-2. 2 miles with 2,000 feet of climbing which took me 2 hours to travel. No sh!t--2 hours to walk 2 miles!!! This was brutal. Everything seemed vertical. I was literally dragging my feet up the trail, that is if we could find it. I would take 3 or 4 steps up, pause, take a quick breather, then repeat. When I finally made it out of the trail up to Long Valley, I was so exhausted and just ready to call it the day. I stopped for lunch with Iyad, with whom I was walking the 2-2-2. We deserved one after slogging through 10 miles and climbing to 8,000 feet.

The next 6 miles to the peak was relatively "easy." The climb was gentle, the trails were well-maintained, and Juniper Trees provided plenty of shade from the sun. Still after the agonizing first 10 miles which sapped most of my legs' energy, I wouldn't quite call this section a "piece of cake." With just about 2 miles to go to the summit, I felt myself bonking. Eventually I made it to the top with Claire who caught up with me shortly before the last mile.

About 13 and a half hours after we left the cactii on the desert floor, we were off the peak and at the tram station at Long Valley sharing the day's adventures while enjoying well-deserved beers.

What a great feeling it was to have done this hike. It was challenging but definitely doable. I think that my legs were still tired from the speed runs I did 2 days prior. I could've sworn that I kept saying that I was not doing this hike EVER again. I am, however, now looking forward to the next time I trek from the Cactus to the Clouds.

Click here for more photos.


angie's pink fuzzy said...


Jaymie said...

Nice photos! Hiking isn't my thing so it's great that you're sharing views i'll never be able to see (except from an airplane) haha :)