The Epic Hike = Cactus to Clouds
Cactus to Clouds is a combination of two trails – The Museum Trailhead trail, and the San Jacinto Peak Trail. It totals 22 miles and 10,400 ft of climbing. They approximate that the whole hike takes 13hrs. The first trail, Museum Trailhead is a total of 11 miles and 8,100 ft of climbing. So pretty much the first bit is the absolute toughest, and takes the absolute longest.
This past Friday, my alarm goes off at 3:15am. I had been tossing and turning all night, probably due to feeling pretty anxious about doing this hike. I had no idea what was in store, but most of all, I HATE waking up that early. I’m a morning person, but anything before 6am sucks. I also had no idea if I would have enough water, as it clearly states that there is no water available anywhere on the hike. Also, was it going to be hot? Cold? Would we run into any rattlesnakes?
I hopped in the shower, still sleepy-eyed, as I always do before a race, as this was going to be just as long if not longer than most races I’ve done. And for some reason, I like being clean before I get dirty. Don’t ask. But, it makes me feel prepped and ready to go. I made sure I had my gatorade, my Camelbak filled with water, my warm clothes for when it’s cold at the top, my GoPro, and I was set.
Kelly, who’s idea this was, and you can read about that here, pulled in the driveaway at 4am, and we hit the road to Palm Springs, which is a 2hr 15min drive from Cardiff. We got there at 6:15, and started hiking at 6:30am. Unfortunately, neither one of us really ate breakfast, and 1hr into the hike we decided to stop and eat. We ran into a guy who was hiking while carrying his newborn baby boy. WHAT?!?! He looked at us, like we were in trouble, because we were already sitting down to eat. I’m sure he looked at us two girl’s with bouncy ponytails, and thought these girls have no idea what they are in for. He started giving us advice, which we appreciated, but practically started telling us that this was not a good idea for us to do. I usually never drop the “Ironman” card, but I had to, this guy was looking at us like we just attend yoga class, and were out for a walk in the park. But then again from his perspective, he’s a dude carrying his newborn baby boy, and about to trudge up the mountain with him. He opted against it, as he decided it would be too hot for him and the baby. Good call, Dad. He was the last person we saw that day before we got to the top of museum trailhead.
So, there we were eating our bananas, eating a sandwich, and the total time we were stopped was 10min. We hopped back on our feet and kept on hiking. About 5min after that stop, we found ourselves at the famous rock that says…
Up, up, up, we went. I told, Kelly, early on that she should lead the whole thing, this is her day, and her bucket list item, and I wanted it to be all about her. I was just there for moral support, and to make sure we didn’t get lost ;) A few times, the trail seems to go in different directions, where people had made their own paths, only to find out it doesn’t go that way, come back down, and then hop on the real path. We got fooled a few times too. But fortunately, figured it out. The trail has no markings, just a somewhat clearly defined path, that you have to just trust is taking you in the right direction.
We both sipped on water every 15min or so, just like I would during a race. And then every 2hrs we decided to stop and eat. So, 2hrs later, 3hrs total into the hike, we made our first “picnic” stop. I ate a Peter Rabbit fruit squeeze thing, and drank half a bottle of Powerade (Strawberry Lemonade flavor – the absolute best). It was just what I needed because the dry desert air was making my throat very dry. After our 5min pit stop, we continued on our way.
I thought Kelly and I would do a lot of talking on this hike, discuss life, sing songs, ya know, the usual of what I would do when I’m hiking, camping, etc. But this hike had so much climbing, that we were both speechless most of the way. About 90min after the last pit stop, Kelly stopped to reapply sunscreen, and we took a little bit of a break, and took in the scenery. We knew the next 3 miles were going to be the toughest. Only 3 miles left, but each mile had about 1,000ft of climbing in it.
Prior to the hike, I had no idea, that Kelly hadn’t hiked all that much, and that this was a new hobby of hers. She had been talking to a guy at REI one day, and he mentioned this hike, and she decided that she just had to do it. What I love about Kelly, is she’s a lot like me, she loves a good challenge. So, when she said she wanted to do this, without having much hiking experience, I didn’t question it, because I do similar things. I love being spontaneous, and just making up my mind to do something, and jumping right in. Go Big or Go Home.
So, there we were, the toughest part of the hike, and 4 1/2 hrs into hiking, and Kelly starts dragging her feet. Literally. I got nervous. But, I admire that even with the breaks that we took every 5-10min for the next 2 1/2 hrs, she never complained, and she never gave up, or thought she couldn’t do it. She kept asking me how I was feeling, and it pained me to tell her I was feeling fine, and then I would always say, this isn’t about me, this is about you. I was soooo proud of her. I mean the suggested total time it takes to finish the museum trailhead portion is 10hrs, according to that rock, and she got us there in 7. Rockstar! Unfortunately, because it took 7hrs to the top, we stopped at the picnic tables, fueled up, and discussed about doing the San Jacinto Peak trail, which completes the Cactus to Clouds hike. The second portion takes 2hrs there and 2hrs back for a seasoned hiker, which means in this state, the whole thing could take 6hrs. Which would be the total 13hrs, that it says in the book. But, unfortunately this would put us hiking in the dark, and we thought it was best to call it a successful day and tackle the whole thing again, in the near future.
7hrs and 8,100ft of climbing is something to be proud of, and we did the hardest part of the trail anyway. It wasn’t on my bucket list before, but I’m now inspired to do the whole thing sometime soon. It was beautiful, challenging, and fun! I forgot how much I love hiking. Thanks Kelly for including me in your hiking venture!
When you reach the top of The Museum Trailhead, it is touristy, and people can ride a tram up to go on short hikes, and enjoy the view and nature. So, after our picnic, we hopped the tram back down to the bottom. We failed to think about how we would get from where the tram drops us off, back to our car, but fortunately a very nice couple in their late 40′s, early 50′s offered to drive us back to our car. WOW. There seriously are still really nice people in this world. They were wonderful, and gave some pretty powerful advice to us young girls. The world is beautiful and full of beautiful souls and beautiful people. I am so thankful to be a part of it.