San Jacinto - Cactus
to Clouds Trail
- Over 11,000 ft.
Max Elevation Reached
- 10,850 ft.
- Very Strenuous
Trailhead - Link
Earth KML - Link
Download GPX - Link
Jerry Schad calls the Cactus to Clouds (aka Spines to Pines)
hike "a hoot". I am going to keep it simple - it's hard!!! This is
the hardest hike to get to the summit of Mt.
San Jacinto. This, in my opinion is the hardest hike in Southern
California. It has even made it on to Backpacker Magazine's list of America's hardest dayhikes! (Note - There
are several other trails to the summit. The Devil's Slide Trail is
You start in Palm Springs at an altitude of about 450 ft.,
which is virtually at sea level, and ascend to the summit more than two
vertical miles at over 10,800 ft. in a matter of about 15 miles. En
route, you pass the Palm
Spring Aerial Tramway's Mountain Station at about 8,500 ft.
Like always, the trail stats speak for themselves. However, I
would like to point out the following. Feel free to take them as very
serious "caveat hiker"!!
1) Start before dawn. You must, in the interest of making it
all the way to the summit and beating the desert heat.
2) Carry enough water. Remember, you are hiking the east
facing slopes of a desert mountain for the most part. The first
reliable source of water is at Mountain Station.
3) Train. Don't expect to succeed if you haven't done a hike
with more than 4000 ft. of elevation gain in the last month.
Be warned that unlike on most other hikes, you have crossed
the point-of-no-return pretty much within the first few miles on the
trail. Should you get into trouble of some sort, you will be faced with
the tantalizing choice between continuing the arduous climb, or
turning back towards the desert floor which is likely a lot hotter that
when you began the saga.
The initial part of this hike is on what's called the Skyline
Trail - a loop of sorts that starts and ends in Palm Springs. This
part of the hike seems to have been used and abused. Fellow hikers have
"trailblazed" so many
false trails, wrong turns and switchback cuts that you are
to lose your way ... at least briefly. It helps to remember that the
only way you should be headed is "up", and sooner or later, you are
back on track. Starting from the parking lot of the Desert Museum,
you make your way uphill and come to a set of picnic tables. Further
on, you come accross a sign that reiterates the importance of carrying
a sufficient supply of water. This also marks the intersection with
another trail starting from Ramon Rd. in Palm Springs.
Continuing further, you negotiate your way through typical
Southern California desert vegitation to an altitude of 4,300 ft. which
is clearly marked on the ground with neatly arranged rocks.
the trail is a lot easier to follow. If it is still before dawn, you
should be able to see a bright light at Mountain Station. Climbing on,
you find a white bucket placed along the trail for water donations
obviously to aid you if you are in dire need of a drink yourself. But
don't count on it. This bucket could be empty.
Beyond this point, the trail gets significantly steeper.
Again there are several stretches where switchbacks have been cut and
the resulting "new trail" is a lot steeper than it need have been. The
soil is often loose making walking even harder. Next, you enter a thin
pine forest which seems to be growing denser as you climb. Soon, you
get to a plateau at about 8,500 ft. where Mountain Station is
located. Here you can take a well deserved break, get a decent hot
lunch and a cold drink. But don't get too comfortable yet. Your job is
only half done ... there is more mountian out there, and the trail
From the station, the trip to the summit and back is a mere
11 miles. The elevation gain is a rather trivial 2500 ft. Continue
if you are up for it. But don't be upset if you choose not to. You have
successfully made it to Mountain Station, which is a big feat in its
Collect your wilderness permit at the Long Valley Ranger
Station just outside Mountain Station and continue on to the summit via
Round Valley and Wellman's Divide. The trail is well marked. There
might be some water available at Round Valley. Again, don't count on it.
Return to Mountain Station and take the tram down to Valley
Station in palm Springs. If you still have some energy left, reflect on
what motivated you to do this hike and whether you will ever return.
You can request the staff at the Valley Station to call you a cab if
you need help getting back to the trailhead.
Started from San Diego - 10:30 pm on the 30th
Started from Trailhead - 12:45 am on the 31st
Reached Mountain Station - 10:15 am
Resumed walking - 11:10 am
Reached summit - 3:00 pm
Started walking back
- 3:30 pm
Reached Mountain Station - 6:00 pm
Track Analysis - Link
Photos - Link
Sachin. D and I set out on this hike. This was my
second attempt to summit using this trail. The earlier
(unsuccessful) attempt is
We started very early to give ourselves enough time to
summit. Being fairly slow hikers, we used up all the time we had. It
was plesant down in Palm Springs. The tempreature must have been in the
lower 60s. We took our first break at the picnic tables. We had to hike
in the dark till the water bucket, where we had breakfast. At
Mountain Station, after a quick lunch, we evaluated out situation and
decided we were good
to continue both from fatigue and time perspective.
We got to the summit and back in good time. It was just about
getting cold up there. Nothing that a sweater or a light jacket would't
handle though. However things probably did get very cold overnight, for
we saw the puddles along Long Valley Creek frozen solid.
I suffered a mild headache near the summit, possibly due to
altitude. Could even have been the sleeplessness.
:: :: :: ::
Started from San Diego - 11:00 pm on the 2nd
Started from Trailhead - 1:45 am on the 3rd
Reached Mountain Station - 12:30 pm
Resumed walking - 3:00 pm
Valley - 4:30 pm
Started walking back
- 4:45 pm
Reached Mountain Station - 5:50 pm
Track Analysis - Link
Photos - Link
Seven of us set out on this hike. Two out of the seven were
backpacking on this trail (Not recommended at all!) The rest of the
group left them behind sometime after the picnic tables. The group
further split in two groups and eventually three. I reached the tram
station at 12:30 pm. One member of our group wasn't well prepared for
this hike. This caused significant delays in regrouping at Mountain
Station as per our original plan.
When we resumed walking, it was almost clear that we wouldn't
be able to make it to the summit and back in time for the last tram
departing from the mountain. Still we decided to see how far we could
press on. The group managed to get to Round Valley. Continuing any
further seemed pointless since the summit was now certainly beyond
reach. We turned back and made it to the tram station in good time.