What is Cactus-to-Clouds?
Cactus-to-Clouds is a 21 mile assent from the Palm Springs valley floor, at 400 feet, up to the San Jacinto Peak at 10,834 feet. It is rated one of the hardest day hikes in the United States and the trail actually has the largest elevation gain out of any hike in the United States. It is a bucket list trail for many avid hikers from all over the world!
I only heard of Cactus-to-Clouds just a few years ago, and I’ve grown up living in the desert my entire life! When I moved back to the Coachella Valley in 2018, I had just finished up my final softball season as a collegiate athlete. I was in prime shape. Jordan and I decided on the whim one day to hike Skyline trail, starting at around 9am that morning (very stupid idea but hey, we did it). Skyline trail takes you up about 9.4 miles from behind the Palm Springs Art Museum to the top of Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, whereas the full Cactus-to-Clouds hike continues on for another 11 miles or so to the peak. Skyline was THE hardest hike we had ever done, BY FAR.
After that day, I vowed to never do that trail again. And then sure enough, just a few short weeks later I started getting the idea in my head that I wanted to complete the full Cactus-to-Clouds. Not sure why, but it became a someday goal of mine. A one day goal.
Training for Cactus-to-Clouds
Fast forward to 2022, I actually wrote down Cactus-to-Clouds in my journal in January as a 2022 goal I wanted to accomplish; making someday, a definite objective. As the year went by, I thought about moving it to the following year and started to think it wasn’t in the cards. Then come summer, my mom got this goal of her own in her head. She wanted to hike Skyline trail. And, if you know my mom, then you know if she sets her mind towards a goal, she’s going to do it and she’s going to plan it out to a tee. So, with that, she wrote out our training plans week by week. She convinced our family friend, Brad, who hikes skyline frequently (and can probably do it in 4 hours when the average is 9) to hike it with us as our guide. And along on our journey we went.
Tram to San Jacinto (Brad’s way) – September 11, 2022
Brad frequently has other people asking him to take them up Skyline. And because he knows the trail like the back of his hand, he has a pretty good idea of whether each person is capable or in the current state to actually be able to do it. So week 1, I believe he wanted to test us and see if we were capable. Granted, we hadn’t done a lot of hiking prior to that day, so we were a little worried. He took us up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway on the first tramcar up at 8am that Sunday. We hiked to the San Jacinto Peak, except, we didn’t hike the regular 11 mile route, we went up a “super secret fun way” that was about 9 miles total and STRAIGHT UP in the wilderness. It was hard. It kicked our butts. And my mom and I were both feeling a bit deflated after that day. We did it though, and that hike was an accomplishment in and of itself.
Bump & Grind Trail – September 18, 2022
The following Sunday, my parents and I hiked the easy was up and back down the Bump & Grind trail in Palm Desert. It’s about 4.0 miles total, round trip. The Bump & Grind is a popular trail that locals like do for exercise. The left way up is considered the hard side, where as the right side is considered the easier route. Brad says you should be able to do the Bump & Grind 4x, up the hard side and down the easy side to be prepared for Skyline. That’s nuts.
Bump N’ Grind – September 25, 2022
The following Sunday, my mom and I did the Bump & Grind again but we went up the hard way that time. It’s also worth noting that I went wine tasting the night before and it was HOT that morning so, as you can tell by the picture, it kicked my butt.
Indio Hills Badlands – October 1, 2022
The following Saturday we hiked the Indio Hills Badlands Trail. This trail isn’t super strenuous but it is a 6.0 mile loop, so we definitely got our steps in that day. The trial takes you through a little section of slot canyons, with beautiful views of the lower desert throughout.
Bump N’ Grind x2 – October 9, 2022
On week 5 we hiked up the hard side of the Bump & Grind twice, about 8 miles total! It was tough but I will say, it’s really beautiful stopping at the top and seeing the change in the sky about an hour later.
Tahquitz Peak Idyllwild – October 15, 2022
On week 6, we enjoyed a nice fall getaway to Idyllwild Pine-Cove. Saturday morning we got up and hiked Tahquitz Peak. Tahquitz is about 8.5-miles out-and-back, with around 2,800 ft total elevation gain. On average, it takes about 5 hours to complete. The views from the top are stunning and Idyllwild is always a favorite place of mine to go hiking.
Bump N’ Grind – October 19, 2022
Rescue Box 1 – October 22, 2022
On week 7, we stepped it up a notch. We hiked up the hard side of the Bump & Grind on Wednesday evening and then on Saturday, we hiked up Skyline trail just to Rescue Box 1. For reference, it’s about 3 miles to Rescue Box 1 with about 2,000 ft of elevation gain in just those 3 miles. Brutal. The decent down was actually the worst part though. It’s so steep hiking down and my mom unfortunately twisted the same knee she had surgery on two year ago.
Tram to San Jacinto Peak
Week 8 was our final weekend hiking until we took on Skyline/Cactus-to-Clouds. We hiked up to San Jacinto Peak, the regular 11-mile route. It took us nearly 6 hours and my moms knee was really bothering her coming down. She could barely move it the next day.
15 hours, 21 miles and 10,400 ft. elevation gain later, I FREAKING DID IT. Cactus to Clouds trail. The largest elevation gain hike in the United States. It was by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, physically, mentally, emotionally. I freaking did it.
I’d like to write a blog here soon just on the journey itself, so stay tuned!
Every week for two months, my mom and I had hiked together training to do Skyline Trail (and continuing on for another 11 miles afterwards to the peak had been a bucket list goal of mine). Ultimately it was decided that Skyline wasn’t something to go into unsure of about a knee injury, so my mom decided it was best to back out. I was so bummed for my mama and I know she was too but we honestly had such a journey together! It was so fun and rewarding training every week just the two of us.
And while after completing Cactus-to-Clouds, I once again vowed I’d never do that damn trail again, I’ve already told my mama I’d train again with her next year so she can accomplish her goal too.
As always, travel on my friends.