Cactus to Clouds Hike to San Jacinto Peak Trip Report

Trip details are given here.
Meetup Link here
My photos here

GPS track here

KML Google Earth file

Cactus to Clouds – Palm Springs to San Jacinto at EveryTrail

It’s a great feeling to be at a point where you can take 9 people up on such a hike like this knowing they are all ready for it. Given the previous hard hikes we’ve done and the plethora of information on the internet, it’s not too hard to make sure everyone is prepared to know what to bring and what this hike would be like. Some may have questioned the early start, but as soon as the feet hit the trail at ~ 4:30 am and there was some sweating, those doubts were put to rest.

Actually the most important obstacle was on me – maintaining the right pace. On shorter hikes, I like to push the pace at least in sections to get a little interval training for everyone. However, this isn’t a training hike, but a performance one. Knowing some physiological background of burning energy while hiking, we needed to make sure to keep steady to not burn off all our glycogen too quickly! So I carried a 75 L backpack filled with stuff (including 8 L of liquids) that I’d guessed weighed about 30lbs to help me keep a good pace.

We started off from the museum parking lot, and as expected the trail started steeply. Although I knew this section was steep and not much of a trail, I supposed I didn’t expect so many rocks! While somewhat annoying, it was really cool dealing with this section so early. With a 3/4 moon, we didn’t need to use our lights as the eyes adjusted well. The darkness and our quietness pretty much persisted over the first hour up.

My goal for the group for this hike was to get to finish the Skyline portion of this hike in 7 hours. We finished a bit over 1000 ft in the first hour which wasn’t too bad given the terrain and some breaks for people to strip down b/c they were heating up!

I’ve started hiking this early maybe once or twice before, but never with such clear views of the sunrise. It was really satisfying to see the changes in terrain and changes in light at the same time. I would take a few switchbacks, and when making the next turn, feeling like a dimmer switch had turned up the lighting just a little bit from a few minutes before. Very cool.

Of course this hike has gotten more popular, so we weren’t suprised to see other groups on the way up, though ours was the largest we’d seen. The point below maybe 2,000 ft up was a nice break spot for multiple groups.

Finally the sun came out fully and we were up ~ 4000 – 4500 ft and got some new views, including San Gorgonio in the distance.

We took a bigger eating break at about 4500 ft up on the west side of a small bump to get some shade. We were making good time and the pace wasn’t too bad but surely a rest was warranted. I mean, we just climbed about 4000 ft which in itself is a hike!

Actually it’s kinda sick when you start breaking down this hike. At one point, it was ‘well finished Baldy from Manker Flats, now time to hike up Iron Mt.’ That’s always fun to think.

I almost step on this guy on the way up.

We knew this ‘peak’ in the background was not our final destination, but still ended up being a mental goal. Does it have a name?

As we went up, we realized that most of the trail was pretty darn steep! Makes sense of course, especially have traversing some bumps and flat trail around 5,000 ft for a while, meaning the gain/mile of the rest of the hike up to Long Valley is around 1000 ft/mile.

We finally got some views of the tram as well as that big rock you need to make sure you stay left of! But honestly, I don’t see at this point, with the usage of the ‘trail’, how one would continue past it instead of head up. But I guess it happens.

And then, it was up the that steep 700 ft or so to complete the first 8000 ft of gain. It was certainly steep, but nothing unfamiliar. Not as bad as some stuff up Iron or Twin Peaks.

We made it up to the Long Valley Ranger Station at about 11:15, under the 7 hr estimate I had started with. Great job! Just the Skyline portion of this hike was a great workout. I’d rate it a bit less challenging than Iron Mt., but a big challenge nonetheless. Luckily we did not have to go back down this!

We had lunch at Long Valley, got our permit, then headed out toward San Jacinto. There were some staff out on the trail checking permits, actually. I’d say they didn’t check enough given the number of people on that trail. Almost a circus. More on that later.

We went up with a brisk pace, chomping out the first 3 or so miles relatively quickly. However, at this point I everything started to slow down, as in, ‘really we only did 800 ft for that?’

It’s funny because I practially didn’t give much thought to the final 2500 ft ascent given I knew we would make all the way once we made Long Valley, but I certainly did not expect to get as much altitude effect as I (and others) did. With probably a 1000 ft left, we definitely slowed down. The trail was not steep, like Mt Whitney’s main trail, but I was starting to get dizzy. But we weren’t even at 10k ft yet! I felt like I was on the switchback at Whitney in terms of my dizziness.

Before the hike I had the itch to possibly go over to Cornell Peak on the way down from San Jacinto if time permited. Closer to the hike, I realized that wouldn’t be reasonable. At this point, it would have been downright stupid to deal with that bouldering!

Approaching the summit, we had this (damn lense cover). Gets the point across. There were a lot of freaking people.

I looked at the final scramble and just hoped it wouldn’t take too long because I was probably going to go too dizzy.

But actually it wasn’t bad at all, and really quick. And with that, we had made it from cactus to clouds!

When I proceeding to plop down to rest, a group of 15 teenagers asked people to move so they could take a picture around the summit. I obliged, but admittedly with some elitist hiking feelings. 15 people?!!! And the other 30-40 people at the summit? Of course they didn’t hike C2C (there’s the snobbery). But it went away quickly, any 12 mile rt hike isn’t easy.

We headed back down eventually. A few miles down, the feet started getting annoyed, as they normally do around 20 miles of walking. How great it felt to know we only had so little to hike down!

We were so happy to get back to the tram. I didn’t mind the little hike up at the end, though others were not as indifferent. But one person even decided to run up it, and it wasn’t me (Ofir)! Ate some grub inside and took the tram down. Best part of the tram ride was the feeling, we hiked up all that?

Can you say caloric deficit? Based on some previous experimentation, I can reasonably estimate that I burned 5000 calories from this exertion. Then include the normal metabolic needs of 2500 – 3000 kcal during the day! Similar for everyone else scaled to their weight. Obviously there was not way to recuperate most of this, you just have to try to make a good dent. I’m sure this had something to do with the lightheadedness and slowing down toward the top. At least I actually ate a little bit on this hike. I did have 2 Cliff bars during the first 8000 ft, then a big sandwich in Long Valley.

Overall, this was a biggie. Everyone did great at it. We all made it up in good time, and everyone seemed to enjoy it (sans food poisoning for Michael at the end). It was too bad some other of the regulars in our hiking group could not make it, but they’ll sure be a part of some future big ones.

What’s next? All sorts of ideas flying around. Gotta try some desert peaks during the winter. I’d say next year we’ll have to do Grand Canyon rim to rim. Back to the Sierras as well. There’s just too much to do round these parts.

Elevation Profile. Just about 11,000 ft gain!

Related posts:

San Jacinto 7 Peak Grand Tour
Hawkins 5 Peak Loop
Baldy Bowl 1-8-11

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This entry was posted on Sunday, October 19th, 2008 at 7:06 pm and is filed under Trip Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

12 Responses to “Cactus to Clouds Hike to San Jacinto Peak Trip Report”

SocalHikes Hiker

SocalHikes Hiker March 6th, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Damn, wishing I didn’t miss this. Will have to do it this fall. - Southern California Hike Reports and Trail Information » Blog Archive » Zé’s Most Cursable Hikes - Southern California Hike Reports and Trail Information » Blog Archive » Zé’s Most Cursable Hikes April 9th, 2009 at 9:22 am

[...] Cactus to Clouds. The only hike I’ve “hit the wall”. The 9,000′ of elevation gain was fine. [...] – Southern California Hike Reports and Trail Information » Blog Archive » Skyline – Palm Springs to Tram – Southern California Hike Reports and Trail Information » Blog Archive » Skyline – Palm Springs to Tram October 10th, 2009 at 8:14 pm

[...] had done Skyline once before as part of a C2C hike, but that started in the dark so I was glad to be able to see more this [...]


Chenendez November 18th, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Good hike. Want to do this someday. + going back down on Skyline. REI & Walmart took all my hiking budget money. Ain’t got the scratch for the tram.


DayEarly December 2nd, 2011 at 5:25 pm

If you guys plan on repeating the hike in full in 2012, I’d like to join you now that you have scouted the way.

I know there are others hiking, but other groups might not make the full ascent and you guys have proved yourselves.

What part of the State do you live in and HQ at ?


December 5th, 2011 at 9:44 pm


Well I did live in Los Angeles, but now reside in the Bay Area. However, I do head back down a few times a year and hike, and there’s a good chance that I’ll do this guy again either late spring to next fall, as its a great one.

Dave West

Dave West May 2nd, 2012 at 2:10 pm

This info is great. We are doing Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in two weeks and although not looking past it, we are looking for the next hike to do and we think this is it.

Logan Palanisamy

Logan Palanisamy May 13th, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Thanks for the details.

I have done Yosemite Half-Dome, and Grand Canyon Rim-To-River-To-Rim (South Kaibab down, Bright Angel Up) as day trips. I am doing Mt. Whitney as an one-dayer on May 26th, 2012.

C2C is the one I am targetting next.

For what it is worth, I live in Bay Area and am 50-years old.

Paul Parker

Paul Parker August 2nd, 2012 at 4:00 pm

I was on this hike, this really brings back memories. I remember Ze actually breathing on this hike a bit, and then seeing him unload big rocks from his pack when we got to the ranger station above the tram!


October 27th, 2012 at 9:00 am

hey Paul! been a long time.

I’m actually organizing a group up this on Nov 10th.


FIGHT ON November 11th, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I’m certain, BIG BAD MOUNTAIN MAN IRON MIKE, was humming, “Oh, sometimes I get a good feeling, yeah
I get a feeling that I never never never knew I had before, no no”
I get a good feeling, yeah”, at the summit! :)

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