| Two hikers at dawn along Skyline Trail (C2C) |
There are so many things to say about the Cactus to Clouds trail. Being a Southern California classic built early in the Depression era by the CCC, it has been a bench mark for hikers with a passion for challenges.
A short synopsis of the experience is this. The trail is roughly 22ish miles long, starting around 300ft elevation among the city of Palm Springs & rising all the way to San Jacinto Peak at 10,834ft. It is a brutally long day of hiking, often starting before dawn to beat the desert heat & early enough to catch the last aerial tram down off the mountain. Top fitness is required, for the first eleven miles the trail gains around 8,000ft elevation, grabbing the last 2,800 feet over five or so miles to the actual summit. Between 2009 & 2012 four hikers died while attempting this route.
| Night before in the parking lot |
There are lots of websites & hiking blogs out there with information on how to prepare for this hike in the appropriate way. To help you gauge if you are ready for the C2C. These are two sites that really helped in our planning: HikingGeek & HikinJim.
| Rescue Box #1 |
Our small troop decided we didn't want to drive to the trail the same morning we hiked so we opted to drive out Friday night to the Wal-Mart Palm Springs (legal overnight) & sleep in our cars until the morning start time. After a few hours tossing & turning we geared up & were at the trailhead walking at 3:30am.
True to all the advice the beginning couple miles is braided rock trail & hard to follow at times. The white painted blazes are fairly accurate in the dark, but just heading up hill proved to work. Once at the picnic tables it was easier going.
| Plam Springs - Dawn |
After passing the first Rescue Box still in the cool of the night our confidence built. The coming miles would be some of my favorite of the trip. We hiked up tight switchbacks as the sun rose over the city. Fantastic silhouettes all around unfolded while the dim headlamps could be seem finding their way up the trail.
Moving onto the Never Ending Ridge portion, we continued strong. Taking breaks in the shade when needed. Passing the 4,300 rock marker put a smile on everyone's face. From this point on our group split in two until Coffman's Crag, making our way through what seemed like some of the steepest sections after the Flat Rock bench mark, but before The Traverse.
| Heading towards the notch, middle right |
| San Gorgonio - 11,503ft |
| Flat Rock landmark clean up |
The final push up past Coffman's Crag was steep, but did not seem to fit all the warranted advice. Topping out into San Jancito National Park proper it was tourists galore. Everyone had ridden the $12 gondola up to the high meadows & cool pines. Was good to see so many people enjoying the outdoors.
| Steep manzanita section |
| Coffman's Crag |
| Post Coffman Crag before the top of Skyline |
Our troop stopped for lunch near a major area & people watched, it was noon on the dot. After this we refilled our water at the ranger station. We had just done a ton of the climbing over eleven miles, but still had 5.5 miles up to the summit & 5.5 miles back down to the tram.
| Forever switchbacks |
The trail winds around interminably, taking forever to reach mental check points. Finally reaching Wellmans Divide it only takes a longer approach to the summit with long sweeping switchbacks. Passing the summit area hut we could already see our breath, we topped out with snow around us, after climbing all the way from the desert floor. Success!
After a celebratory group photo & summit beer we packed up & got out of the cold. Starting our descent on the long switchbacks the sun was waning & revealing wonderful purple sunset hues. Before Wellman Divide it was time for head lamps & a cautious approach to all the small snow patches that had frozen in the cold night.
The last few miles were a tunnel of headlamp light, but a fitting eve to one long day hike. Reaching the tram station we bought our tickets & the desk was good help calling a cab for us which was waiting at the bottom of the tram ride. It was just over $25 to get us all back to the Museum trailhead where our cars were.
| Looking south |
Really this was a fantastic hike that can be enjoyable with the right approach. Know that you are capable & wish to hike this with confidence from the beginning, with the best possible info.
"Sure, it’s a big deal to climb Mt. Whitney-but on the highest peak in the lower 48, you begin at 8,360 feet. To conquer Cactus to Clouds, you start on the desert floor and ascend 10,700 feet-a vertical half-mile more than Whitney. 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." -Michael Lanza