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Continuing the Cactus-to-Clouds story…

The next morning Kev and I were up around 8am.  Rationing our scarcity of water, we made a super strong cup of espresso and an oatmeal with trail mix breakfast that tasted just like an oatmeal cookie.

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Around 9:40am we were back on the trail, equipped with only a day-pack, to summit Mt. San Jacinto.  With half-a-mile out of Tamarack Valley to Round Valley, and then another 3.3 miles to the peak, this was the easiest part of our hike (after all we had endured the day before!).  By noon we made it to the top, to blue skies and absolutely no wind.  It was picture perfect.  We spent some time at the top, snacking on ciabatta, Babybel cheese and hard salami before we headed back.

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At this point our water was getting pretty sparse.  We quickly packed up camp and made our way back to Long Valley, knowing that water awaited us at the Ranger Station.  We were also not 100% sure when or how late the Palm Springs Aerial Tram ran.  

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By the time we made it back to Long Valley, our Camelbak bladders were completely dry.  We rejoiced by filling up our Nalgenes and chugging water.  Then we walked the steep ramp up to the tram.  Lucky for us, it’s scheduled to leave every 10 minutes (a one-way ticket for hikers costs $12).  Note: there is no reception at the bottom of the tram in Palm Springs so you have to call an Uber while on the tram. Unfortunately, this didn’t work for me, and we ended up calling a cab (that took forever to arrive), so one of the parking lot shuttle drivers took us to the last lot before the security gate where we were able to grab a couple bars of reception and call an Uber.

After not too long we were back at the parking lot across the street from the Palm Springs Art Museum, feeling completely worn…like we had been gone for multiple days, and not just one.

Our celebratory meal was a Double Double from In-N-Out and a fat soda. YES! Once back in SD it wasn’t too long before we climbed into bed and quickly passed out.

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SOOOO…tips for backpacking Cactus-to-Clouds:

  1. Don’t wear cotton t-shirts, tech-tee’s only.
  2. Secure a camping permit and have it in hand before you hike to the top with a  30 lb pack.  It takes 10 days to process and with the summer months it could take longer.  Plan ahead!
  3. Don’t backpack cactus-to-clouds, only take a daypack and make it a day hike. There’s a reason it’s rated the fifth hardest day hike in the US.  Trust me when I say we packed as minimally as possible.  The only excessive thing I brought was banangrams, and for Kev, a pair of jeans.  Even with this, it was TOUGH.
  4. Don’t trust everything you read on the internet
  5. Bring a first aid kit (bandaids at a minimum) and vaseline.

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This is one topic you won’t readily find on the internet…backpacking the Cactus-to-Clouds Trail. Mainly because I don’t think anyone is willingly insane to put themselves through what we did. But Kevin and I talked and talked about doing this and got it so far stuck in our heads that taking any other route (e.g. Idyllwild) seemed like a cop-out.

Cactus-to-Clouds is a trail that starts in the desert of Palm Springs (470 ft) — “Cactus” and ends up at Mt. San Jacinto (10,834 ft) — “Clouds.”  It’s ranked America’s fifth hardest dayhike on Backpacker.com, stating “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.” Now, let’s just add a 30lb pack to that…

Originally, our plan was to backpack up Cactus to Clouds, set-up camp, summit Mt San Jacinto, sleep, and hike back down the next day, completing the Cactus to Clouds to Cactus. But you’ll see how that all pans out…

On Friday night we arrived in Palm Springs around 8:30. We grabbed dinner at La Bonita…which honestly, Mexican food before a long hike probably isn’t the best thing.

We parked on the top of the parking garage located across the street from the Palm Springs Art Museum and slept in the bed of his truck with a camper overnight. Shortly after falling asleep, it was time to wake up…4:10am. We decided to bypass breakfast since we were still pretty full from dinner just a couple hours earlier. We packed up, moved the truck down to the lower level and started the hike at 4:50. Note: the trailhead is located in the north end of the north Palm Springs Art Museum parking lot.

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Within the first quarter mile I was already breaking a sweat. I was warm and already questioning my fitness level and abilities. Next time (ok, if there ever is a next time for this trail), I would start off in shorts. Because it was dark when we started, I associated this being cold. I ended up changing into shorts a couple hours later when my leggings were completely drenched with sweat. Next time I would also not wear a cotton shirt because it was wet and then cold and obviously did not absorb or wick away sweat.

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Since we opted out for breakfast, we munched on Yellow Deli Energizing Green Bars. These were perfect because they are so dense and filling with good and healthy ingredients.

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At 9:20 we reached Rescue Box 2 (one of two boxes on the trail stocked with some supplies and whatever leftovers people leave) and took our first break, 7 miles and 4 hours into the hike. We split a PB&J on ciabatta bread and hopped back on the trail.

At this point we were loosely following a timeline we found online:

• Start at the museum’s trailhead
• Picnic tables (20′)
• Rescue Box 1 (1h20′)
• First plateau (1h45′)
• Flat trail coasting the valley from south to north (2h 50′)
• Rescue Box 2 (3h45’) — around here things go awry.
• First pine tree (4h35′)
• First view of the tramway (4h50′)
• Plateau of the tramway (5h15′)
• Ranger station (5h30′)
• San Jacinto Peak (7h45’)

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We were pretty much hitting everything on schedule, despite the fact we were both packing exorbitant amounts of weight. So we basically expected to reach the top of Long Valley around 5 hours 15 minutes (or ~9 miles based on the rock we saw 1 mile into the hike).

I mean, we didn’t really experience any detours except for once or twice because of my inability to identify trails. First I led us (and another couple) up a path that continued to climb before we realized it was way too steep to be the trail. And then I ran the two of us into a grove of Manzanita trees before I realized when I could barely slip by and that no other human being could have walked through that way.

So based on the timeline we thought we were getting close. Fortunately (because it ended up being at least another 90 more minutes) but my hunger insisted took another break (thankfully) and split another PB&J sandwich.

The last section was more than either of us expected. It was steep, with soft dirt and very few rocks or traction. And it literally went on FOREVER. FINALLY. FINALLY. FINALLY. We reached Grubb’s Notch (the beginning of Long Valley) at 12:15pm.

At this point, we both agreed…we would take the tram back down the next day. Knowing how I already approach downhill’s (very cautiously) coupled with a pack that threw our center of balance way off and made us extremely top-heavy. Even as we depleted our water supplies, due to the elevation, our backpacks seemed to get heavier, not lighter.

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We were SO excited to be on flat land. So excited that we didn’t even mind accidentally touring on the Discovery Trail as we searched for the Ranger Station. As we approached the Ranger Station we noticed a sign stating: “ALL CAMPING FULL.” Although I didn’t physically have a camping permit in hand, I did have a copy of the permit application I mailed in 11 days prior and a copy of the money order. The ranger on-site made a call to the station in Idyllwild to check and see if my permit was there. As we waited to hear the verdict, we were able to fill up our Camelbaks and Nalgenes with water from a spigot on the back porch (which added another 6lbs back to our packs). Unfortunately, there was no record of my application…and since all campsites were full, we were essentially being turned away. We went to talk to another ranger about alternative camping options outside of San Jacinto (and off the mountain). However, with a spot left at Tamarack Valley, WE LUCKED OUT! Lugging these packs around wasn’t all for nothing.

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It was now 1:20, so very hungry and very tired, we drudgingly started the 2-mile trek to our campsite. But at least we had a campsite! We snagged the first site we came across and immediately sat down for “lunch.” Trail mix, ciabatta bread, Babybel cheese and hard salami. We set up camp, and immediately climbed in our sleeping bags for a 3-hour nap. I easily could have slept for the rest of the night, but woke up just enough to have a “housewarming party,” (aka make dinner in our tent). And sure enough, shortly thereafter, we were back to sleep.

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Hellloooo from currently below freezing temps in Colorado! I just arrived yesterday and am hanging with Marissa (Barefoot Colorado) before I meet up with Kendall for NYE in the mountains. Last week I was in the warm desert of Palm Springs, and now I’ve switched those 70 degree temps for 15-30 degree weather.  On Christmas I went for an epic solo 12 mile run/hike in Palm Springs, and this morning we went for a chilly 4 mile run in White Ranch Open Space Park.  Quite a juxtaposition!  As 2015 comes to a close, I’ll have some posts looking back at the year, a race recap from my last half marathon, and a couple more trail running/adventure posts.  Hope you all are having an amazing holiday season!

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Weekly Workout Recap (12/20-12/26):
Sun – Rest
Mon – 4 mi + Deep Stretch Yoga
Tues – 8.5 mi
Wed – 6 mi
Thurs – Rest
Fri – 12 mi Garstin Trail to Murray Peak
Sat – Rest
Total Weekly Mileage: 30.5 mi
2015 miles: 1,468.05 mi

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