Cactus to Clouds to Cactus

Cactus to clouds to cactus is a ridiculous Southern California day hike. Starting by the Palm Springs Art Museum, and climbing some 11,000 feet over 16 miles to the summit of San Jacinto, and then back down. (These numbers are somewhat approximate. The net elevation gain is around 10,400 feet, but many of those feet have to be earned more than once due to unfortunate geographic formations called hills. Also, my own GPS told me the total round trip was about 27 miles. But the downhill portion was also somehow a half mile longer than the uphill so I wouldn’t put too much stock into that.)

Going downhill is somewhat optional as there is a convenient tram willing to take you down to the desert floor from 8500 feet, saving some 11 miles and 8000 feet of knee withering descent. Naturally, many people opt for the sensible option of taking the relaxing ride down and thus preserving their humanity.

On December 27, 2017, in vain an attempt to shed some stress-eating induced weight gain from the last quarter (and because I’m retarded), I attempted the full value trip. I began at the 4:43 a.m. (early start to avoid the desert heat, which actually isn’t too bad this time of year), with 3 liters of water, a vast arsenal of snacks, and a kick-ass hat. About 45 minutes into the climb, I passed a group of three hikers with a miniature schnauzer headed for the tram. That dog is a trooper!

The 8000 foot climb to Long Valley (that’s where the tram dumps its hordes of wilderness spectators - leading this hike to be nicknamed cactus-to-crowds) was uneventful. I climbed well, stopping only to replenish my pocket-snack from time to time. I reached the valley 4 hours 21 minutes after I began and quickly scarfed one of my aunt’s decadent mint brownies amid men and women sipping lattes from the tramway cafe. (side note: a coffee would have been awesome then)

After a quick water refill, I charged for the summit, wheezing up the final boulder with leaden feet 6 hours and 18 minutes after leaving the car. I was pretty wrecked at this point and spent the next hour feasting from my dwindling supply of sustenance and chatting with fellow friendly hikers on the summit.

At 12:22 pm, I began the descent from the summit, getting back to Long Valley less than 2 hours later. The next four and a half hours from Long Valley back to the car are kind of a blur. Lots of lonely and endless descending in the approaching twilight. At 4300 feet, with darkness approaching and several hours of steep descent left ahead, I caved and took some ibuprofen to numb my aching feet and quads.

Six hours and 41 minutes after leaving the summit (yes, somehow longer than it took me to get up) I limped back to the car and collapsed in the trunk. After seriously debating making the half mile walk to a coffee shop to fuel up for the drive to my parents house, the ache in my legs, feet, back, arm, and neck won out.

Round trip time from car to summit to car was 14 hours 24 minutes. The hike up was an absolute blast and I’d do it again in a heartbeat (and I’d really like to try to better my time). I could live without the hike down from Long Valley again as it was pretty much sheer misery. But, although my ability to walk the next day was greatly compromised, I’m glad I did it this time. Hopefully my body will be better prepared for the next time. :)