Sunday, October 24, 2010
Cactus to Clouds (The Return) 10/23/10
Mt San Jacinto Peak Hike
Palm Springs, California
After failing to reach the actual summit in May of this year due to 5 feet of snow cover on the mountain, we decided to give it another try. Timing on this particular hike is crucial because of the small window of opportunity that it can be attempted. Since the hike starts at 450ft of elevation in the California desert and faces east with total exposure to the sun, hiking in the summer is out of the question. The peak tops out at 10,800ft, so climbing it in the winter is impossible without technical gear. And if those logistics weren't enough, it's rated the toughest hike in the country gaining over 10,000 feet of elevation in only 15 miles to reach the summit. Hence the name "Cactus to Clouds."
My local hiking group AHOTE (Arizona Hiking and Off-Trail Explorers), organized this event and limited the sign up to 12. I typically prefer hiking with fewer people or even solo, this time I was looking forward to the dynamic of a larger group and meeting some of the new guys. We departed Phoenix at 11:00pm and made the 4 hour drive to Palm Springs, CA. We began hiking at 4:00am and spent the next three hours navigating our way through the desert by the light of a full moon. Daybreak came and we caught our first glimpse of the massive granite rock formations that makes this mountain appear so prominent (and intimidating).
Over the next few hours the group grew silent as we focused mainly on escaping the most difficult and relentless segment of our climb out of the desert and into the the tall pines. Ten miles in and five hours later, we had already ascended over 8,000 feet. Now that is some serious elevation gain! We took an extended break to rest and refuel, picked up our hiking permit at the ranger's station, and headed out to finish the last 5 grueling (yet incredibly scenic), miles to reach the peak. The landscape appeared dramatically different this time around without a blanket of snow over it. Not only that, there was an actual trail to follow! How nice. In just under 8 hours the summit was ours, and my unfinished business with this mountain was finally settled.
I was so impressed with how well the entire group handled what will undoubtedly be the most difficult hike of their lives. We hung together and made a great team effort in order to reach summit in tact. Well done guys! We went out for dinner, recapped the hike and shared our personal experience on the mountain. Before it became too late, we packed up and headed home.