Cactus to Clouds (C2C) is a very challenging hike near Palm Spring, which can, for those who trained properly, result in summiting San Jacinto, a 10,834 foot peak known as one of the Three Saints of Southern California. The C2C trail is roughly 11 miles of grueling uphill hiking from the base in Palm Springs to the Tram Station at roughly 8500 feet for a gain of roughly 7500 feet.
We left Orange County at 3 AM and made the best time we could to get to the trail head and get as many miles behind us as possible before the sun started coming up. The original plan was to wake up at 1 am and be on the road by 2 (my plan) or 2:30 (her plan). Unfortunately, both of us were wrong as we didn’t even wake up until 2 am.
An unfortunate side effect of this was that we also didn’t eat much in the way of a breakfast (I always eat breakfast, it is the most important meal of the day).
The original plan for this hike was to begin around 3 AM, unfortunately, that didn’t happen and we weren’t on the trail until nearly 4:45 AM. I had never done this particular hike before, so we ended up parking across the street in a parking structure which offered free parking, although I believe we could have parked in the museum’s parking lot without issue. With the car parked, and the mandatory picture at the trail head taken, it was time to start proceeding up the trail.
Follow the Dots
The maintainer’s of the Skyline trail (the official name of the C2C trail) were nice enough to paint bright white dots on many of the rocks along the trail in order to help people navigate the trail (especially useful in the dark). Unfortunately, it is somewhat easy to lose the trail (and the dots), which is exactly what happened to me. We ended up meandering cross country, scrambling up some fairly step rocks until we happened to spot some picnic tables and the trail (and the very beautiful by that point white marks on the rocks). The big issue with this was not so much the cross country scramble, but more the fact that it took a very long time to get back to the trail. By this point the sun was already starting to poke up from behind the mountains.
Up with the Sun
We attempted to hike as quickly as possible up in order to get as much elevation as possible before the sun really started beating on us.
It was on this section of trail that it really started to sink in that we packed for the wrong hike. I brought with cold weather gear, microspikes, survival equipment and so on, as originally we wanted to try and summit San Jacinto. All of that weight was holding us back, and forcing us to only hiking slightly better than a mile an hour.
At this point in the hike we were both cool enough and awake enough to really appreciate how beautiful the desert landscape can be. One thing I though was really cool was actually seeing a flowering cactus (I’m a native Minnesotan, I’m used to my plants not leaving needles in my skin)
And On And On And On
This trail is a long one. By this point it was starting to warm up, and we weren’t anywhere near where I had wanted to be when the sun came up. One highlight that is worth pointing out at this point on the trail is the presence of the emergency box: It appears that due to the dangerous conditions that can occur on this trail, a series of three (I think, maybe it was two) emergency boxes are in place.
As we kept on walking (and we did a lot of that), we glimpsed something that I just wasn’t expecting for some reason: San Gregornio, one of the other Saints of Southern California. It was beautiful and snow capped and looked oh-so-much cooler than the mountain we were presently standing on (translation: I really wished I was hiking there instead of where I was, although maybe I was just getting tired and cranky?).
Keep On A’walking
I kind of quit taking pictures for a few hours, mostly because I was warm, tired, and probably getting a bit cranky from not getting a whole lot of sleep, and missing my favorite meal of the day in the morning. I will also have to admit that C2C isn’t exactly the most scenic hike I’ve ever been on. There is a lot of time when you are walking and quite literally all you can see are rocks (which isn’t always bad, but it doesn’t exactly inspire my inner photographer either). After we reached some elevation (I have no idea exactly what elevation it was), the scenery all changed.
To the Top
While the tram station is where many people start their adventure at San Jacinto, it is where this particular journey was going to finish. By the time we got to the tram station, we had hiked for nearly 11.5 hours, but were already hatching a plan to attempt the Cactus to Clouds hike again, but differently.
For those interested, here are some graphics of the GPS and Hike Summary:
This hike beat me up. A lot. It was a little bit embarrassing, which might be one of the reasons why I was dragging my feet on writing this. I hate the feeling of setting out to do something and then failing to do it, but I have learned a lot from this hike. Next time I attempt C2C, I will start much earlier, I will carry significantly less weight, and I will attempt to keep the trail better in the dark. The next time I do C2C I think there is significantly higher chance of me being able to summit San Jacinto. This mountain has taught me a lesson in humility, but while it is good to stay humble, it is also essential to persevere, even in the midst of difficult struggles.