It was 95 in the shade when I started up the cactus to clouds trail from Palm Springs, elevation 465'. As I climbed up the 15% grade trail through a maze of desert rocks and sand the trail was nearly impossible to follow. Heat from a scorching sun reflected off the land and encircled me while the grid lined streets quickly shrunk on the desert floor below.
My body rebelled against every step up, lactic acid coursing through my legs. My back was tense with the 2 liters of water strapped to it. My whole body soaked in sweat despite the dry air.
Vegetation slowly became less sparse as I climbed through the 5 zones this trail encompasses. It appears on a map to be a relatively straight shot up the steep slopes but in reality there are countless switchbacks the entire way.
I caught glimpses of the ariel tram wires to the north and the mountain station where tourists caught rides up the mountain. Once reaching the rocky edge of the escarpment and refilling my water at the ranger station I could carry on to San Jacinto peak 6 miles further up.
I was certainly running out of daylight by this time and could have turned around but the lure of completing the entire trail from desert floor up to 10,800 was unavoidable even if it meant possibly descending the last stretch in the dark.
I past clean pleasant smelling tourists as they meandered through the alpine valley with cameras slung around their necks. I felt like a ghost wisping by their controlled environment through the forest. I probably looked more like a homeless person.The peak was absolutely worth it (www.dermandar.com/p/dDAYvw). One of the best views in the world from the pacific to san gorgonio to salton sea.
The minuscule size of the neighborhoods where my car was parked in palm springs 11000 ft below was intimidating. I was lucky to find a little signal on my phone and texted Steve realizing that I hadn't told anyone where I was. I could have stayed there on the cool mountain top a long time but had too start down quickly chasing the mountains shadow as it stretched east towards Joshua Tree.
I hooted and hollered all the way down to scare away evening wildlife, being the only person on this part of the mountain all day. I past three deer just twenty feet from the trail and as twilight began to fade a loud sudden hiss revealed a rattlesnake beneath a poky cactus coiling up to strike at my legs. It was at least 4' long and tan as the sand. The city lights began to sparkle and stars were now visible. After delaying the use of my tiny emergency led light till the last possible minute I began using it to navigate the rockier terrain. The trail was difficult to follow winding around the rocky mountainside in the dark. At one point I went off the edge towards a valley with several tracks that turned out to be nothing. Instead of forging ahead I backtracked to the shoulder and relocated the main route.
The city lights reflected off the rocks as I began to see cars moving along the grid. Soon enough I was able to hear them and I realized I was sweating again profusely. A warm breeze brought the thick air of a 97 degree desert evening up towards me. By the time I could hear the town I was getting close. It took me an hour more of steady descending to reach the bottom after 10hours on the trail.