The “Cactus to Clouds” (C2C) route starts at the Desert Art Museum in Palm Springs, California (elevation 482’), follows the rugged “Skyline Trail” below the aerial tram station and the better-maintained trails within Mt. San Jacinto State Park to reach the summit of Mt. San Jacinto (elevation 10,834’).
The round trip (C2C2C) distance is about 35 miles, with approximately 11,000' elevation gain (including some small dips in the elevation profile). As far as I know, the Cactus to Clouds route up Mt. San Jacinto has the most elevation gain of any fairly runable, all-single track, >10% grade, continuously uphill trail in the United States. O.K., that's a lot of qualifiers, but climbing more than 10,000’ continuously uphill, followed by the same in decent, feels a lot tougher than the same distance and total elevation gain taken in shorter up/down segments. Another challenge for a fast round trip is finding the right day without excessive heat in the desert or too much snow and ice higher up. Also, unless you stash water or have support, you must carry all the water you need for the first 8000’+ of elevation gain.
The route is described as the #5 toughest dayhike by Backpacker Magazine:
and on Andrew Skurka’s National Geographic list of top day hikes:
However, both assume that you’ll take the aerial tram down the last 8000’ instead of running back to Palm Springs on the trail for a full C2C2C.
Trip Report: November 25, 2009:
I did my second full out-and-back Cactus to Clouds (C2C2C) in 10:33:16, again in self-supported style. (Note that it would be tough to do a completely unsupported C2C2C—I didn’t see one drop of naturally running water.) Again I carried 100 oz of water from the start, and had about 30 oz left when I reached the faucet at the Long Valley Ranger Station
I was chasing my splits from last year the whole day. Upon reaching the Long Valley Ranger Station after an 8000’+ climb, I was only one minute ahead of last year, which was a bit discouraging. However, I managed to get 41 minutes ahead of last year by the end.
The weather was perfect—nice and chilly the whole way up, but virtually no snow anywhere. It got a little warm near the bottom on the way back, but nothing serious.
Desert Museum to Long Valley Ranger Station (LVRS): 4:17
Stoppage at LVRS: 0:03
LVRS to Mt. San Jacinto summit: 1:45
Summit to LVRS: 1:22
Stoppage at LVRS: 0:04
LVRS to Desert Museum: 3:01
Some cumulative elapsed times:
0:21 Picnic tables
2:59 Flat Rock
4:17 Long Valley Ranger Station
6:05 Summit Mt. San Jacinto
8:15 Flat Rock
Trip Report: November 25, 2008:
I did a full out-and-back Cactus to Clouds (C2C2C) in 11:14:20, in self-supported style (I carried all my food from the start, but got water from the ranger station, an unnatural source).
The weather was cool and cloudy, with some snow and sleet above 9000', but only a dusting on the ground. Overall, the conditions were ideal, with no desert heat down low or significant snow/ice up high. I started with about 100 oz. of water at the base, and had about 20 oz left when I reached the next available water at the Long Valley Ranger Station after 8000' vertical.
Desert Museum to Long Valley Ranger Station (LVRS): 4:18
Stoppage at LVRS: 0:07
LVRS to Mt. San Jacinto summit: 1:56
Summit to LVRS: 1:29
Stoppage at LVRS: 0:10
LVRS to Desert Museum: 3:13
Cactus to Clouds Route Data:Some images and route data on the C2C are attached below, but don't attempt this hike without first running your hiking and hydration plan by the experienced folk on this message board:
The gist is that you can easily die of heatstoke or dehydration on this desert route. There are no water sources for an 8000' climb through the desert, and the temperature can be higher than 110 deg F.
List of attachments on this page (best viewed in Google Chrome):
1. Elevation profile of the round-trip route (note: distances are not accurate because my GPS cuts off many small switchbacks).
2. Route in a Google Earth .kmz
3. A perspective image of the route (no vertical exaggeration needed).
4. Route in a Garmin .gdb file, with the track split into 5 pieces to keep under the 750 point limit for saved tracks on my Garmin GPS