Monday, October 27, 2014

Cactus to Clouds

I'd planned on spending this past weekend in the Grand Canyon with a group of friends, but had to cancel because of a scheduling conflict that required me to be in town Saturday.  So, I made last minute plans to run the Cactus to Clouds route solo on Sunday.  It turned out to be a beautiful day, and a great experience.

Cactus to Clouds starts in the parking lot of the Desert Museum  in Palms Springs. The trail head feels a bit like Platform 9 3/4, a portal to a magical realm hiding in plain view in a public space.  I started around 6:20 am, just before sunrise.  I saw a few sets of headlamps above me on the trail, hikers who had started before me.

The Sign Marking the Start of the Skyline Ridge Trail

The well-marked trail climbs steeply out of the parking lot, and the first two miles or so are arguably the toughest.  It does not take long to reach views like this:

Palm Springs Just Before Sunrise

The first mile or so are steep, and very difficult to run.  After the picnic benches, however, the trail starts to moderate and there are a few spots that are more runnable.  I took advantage of some of them, but did not push too hard.

Around 8am

About four miles in, the trail becomes harder to follow, with lots of intersecting shortcuts.  Fortunately, they all seem lead to the same place, and it is difficult to get lost.  

The majority Skyline Ridge Trail offers views over the desert, much like the photo above.  The trail enters the forest in the final mile or so, and becomes steep again for the final climb into Long Valley, the location of the upper tram terminal.

Near the top of the Skyline Ridge Trail
The Skyline Ridge Trail ends in Long Valley, having climbed approximately 8,000 in about nine miles.  After that, the landscape changes drastically, mostly forest.

Entry to Long Valley, Top of the Skyline Ridge Trail

I exhausted my hydration pack just as I entered Long Valley, perfect timing.  I filled up at the Ranger Station, got some advice from a friendly ranger and had a quick lunch before heading for the summit of San Jacinto.  

2.3 Miles from the Top

The five and a half miles from the Long Valley to the Summit are much more runnable, although the final approach to the actual Summit requires some bouldering.

The Summit

I ran down almost the entire way from the Summit to the tram station, grabbed a quick beer at the bar and then took the tram down back to Palm Springs.

The Bar at the Upper Tram Terminal

In all, it took me eight hours and forty minutes to run about 20 miles, with roughly 10,000 of climbing.  I felt great almost the entire way, although I am quite tired today.  All in, it was a wonderful day.