April 6, 2013
While it’s not exactly advised to make the descent back to the desert floor, we decided to grind this out anyways. Similar to our previous trip on San Jacinto, sleep wasn’t exactly an option the night before. The 5 star Motel 6 in Palm Springs was rocking with topless pool parties and spring breakers going wild throughout the night. Finally at 3:30am we decided to cut our losses and get ready for our 4:30am start.
To beat any potential heat issues, we hit the Skyline trail before sunrise. The ascent to the tram station at 8,000 feet was exactly as I remembered; steep to start but “leveling” out for a few sections of enjoyable running. As the sun cracked the horizon, we’d been able to gain enough elevation to keep the temperature ideal. Life was also in bloom along the trail.
The 3-4 mile push between Flat Rock and the tram station was intense, but we hammered the pace and made it before any traffic started building. While ingesting more solid calories, we prepped for the summit by adding another layer and inquiring about the snow conditions.
Around 8,500 feet, the snow was fairly packed but post-holing still occurred every now and then. The sky was clear and the winds were fairly calm. In other words, the perfect day for this challenge. I could see for miles around Southern California after we completed the final effort up a snowy boulder approach to the summit. On the normal Cactus to Clouds route, the decsent from the summit to the tram station would finish the day. However, this was a day of committing to the original plan of a full descent.
As the temperature rose, the journey back to the tram station consisted of slipping and sliding through melting snow. Upon arrival, the mental gear up for the descent to Palm Springs began. It was going to hurt, but it was going to be awesome at the same time.
In a nutshell, the final 11 miles were steep and technical but definitely runnable in sections. I have a tendency to slide easily so I almost ended up on my rear a handful of times. Once I would have caught a sharp rock to the butt, but I am thrilled to report that no major incidences occurred. Fatigue and left knee issues struck 5 miles from the finish, therefore continued focus was needed to get it done.
Throughout the day we eagerly discussed our ambitions for summitdeuce.org (.com?.edu?.mil?). Four deuces later (don’t worry, I buried them all), Cactus to Clouds to Cactus became a day for the books. The day concluded with 32 miles and approximately 22,000 feet of elevation change.
As we ascended San Jacinto that morning, we (literally) ran into a local runner and told him of our plans to descend the route back to Palm Springs. His response was something along the lines of “if you do that you won’t walk right for a week.” He was on to something with that statement. My quads were shot for the following 3 days, but overall recovery went smoothly.