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The 21-Mile Cactus to Clouds via Skyline Trail - by Emilio De Soto

On Friday, November 4, 2022 I completed an ascent of San Jacinto Peak via the Skyline Trail.  The famed name of this is Cactus to Clouds.  It is a point-to-point hike of about 21 miles with an elevation gain of 10,819 vertical feet.  It starts at a trailhead in downtown Palm Springs, California and summits the peak at 10,834 feet, then descends to the top of the Palm Springs Tramway.

I committed about 10 weeks prior, and I trained for it in the same manner I did for many triathlons and other endurance events.  The training involved getting in climbing shape, planning my ascent, and utilizing the proper gear correctly.

Solo ascent
Total Time: 11hr 31min
Moving Time: 9hr 51min
Temps dipped into the low 20°’s at Flat Rock(5900) and I saw first snow on ground at about 6700 feet. It had snowed 20 hours before my ascent. The freeze line stayed below this altitude, so the snow was dry, and grippy, and did not need to dawn micro spikes. I was not out to race this thing, so moving time is much less than start-to-finish time.
I used the new Apple Watch Ultra and navigation through Strava and Alltrails apps linked to the watch. This is the single best piece of equipment I brought.  I used Black Diamond trekking poles, and carried a 26 lb pack with food, water, and gloves, first aid kit, solar charger, extra headlamp, extra clothing layers, Yak-trax micro spikes.  I stopped every hour to hydrate/refuel/assess clothing etc. I carried 4 liters of water, drank 500ml at a time each hour, and refueled 1 liter at the Ranger Station on way up to the peak. The summit was 34°F, no breeze, absolute perfection.
I did not see a single person until about 12:15 on my return trip down. This ascent is not difficult if you plan properly and take it in segments as I did. It was one of the best days I have ever spent alone, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
2:21 AM: Trailhead: 459ft 44° F
The view of the Coachella Valley was amazing in the first 200 feet
An hour later even more beautiful:
3:36 AM: Rescue Box 1: 2340ft
4:50 AM: Stack of Rocks: 4300ft

5:57 AM: Rescue Box 2: 5400ft
6:26 AM: Flat Rock: 5900ft 20°F (red sky at dawn)
Dawn's light on the granite that is Flat Rock
First snow at 6700ft
7:27 AM: Start of Traverse: 7400ft
Coffman's Craig is the sign to turn and start up the steepest pitch of the day through the boulder field
As you scramble up the boulder field, the blue sky through the trees is a welcomed indication you are reaching the first summit at 8400 feet.
8:22 AM: Grubb’s Notch and the entrance to Long Valley: 8400ft
8:29 AM: Ranger Station: 8400ft (water, made lunch, permit)
turkey bacon and cheese on fresh baguette
10:19 AM: Wellman Divide: 9700ft
11:27 AM: Emergency Hut: 10,700ft
11:34 AM: Summit: 10,834ft 34°F
Official proof:
snow capped trees 34°F at the summit
1:42 PM: Tram Station in time for lunch: 8516ft
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