Cactus to Clouds

Latest posts by Ryan Kelley (see all)

In life you have to find the perfect balance between work, family and your own self. I struggled with this for years working 16 hour days and then rushing home to be a husband and dad. You really NEED TO MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF.

At least once a year I like to pick an extreme adventure and start training.  Last week I completed the Skyline Trail, also called “Cactus to Clouds”.

The Cactus to Clouds trail has been named the toughest one day hike in the lower 48 states. You start in Palm Desert at 500 feet and hike approximately 11 miles though several passes ending at the top at 8500 feet. People train for months before attempting this trail and at least once a week someone has to be rescued off the mountain. Did I mention that people also die?

The hike is tough for many reasons…

For starters you are hiking a very dangerous 11 mile trail that is not very well marked and it is very easy to get lost. (I was lost in the first 10 minutes!) You are also carrying a heavy backpack with all your supplies, food and A LOT of water.

Next you have to be prepared for all different types of weather conditions. You start in the desert with temps as high as 110 and when you reach the top it can be below freezing and blizzard like conditions.

Finally you need to be in the best shape of your life and ready to push yourself to the limits. There’s no turning back once you reach the 5 mile mark and that’s where it really starts to get fun.

I work out in the gym three days a week and run two days, but that’s not enough. You really need to prepare mentally and physically. It takes a lot of planning!

The Hike…

I got into Palm Springs the night before and hit up a Dicks Sporting Goods for some last minute supplies. Then I went out for a big Mexican dinner (Not recommended) and back to the hotel to finish packing my backpack. I was in bed by 10pm ready for that 4am wake up call.

I started on the trail around 5:30am behind the Palm Springs Art Museum. The sun was coming up and it was starting to get HOT. There are several different trails behind the museum and finding the right one is not an easy task for someone on their first attempt.

About 20 minutes up I realized that I was on the wrong trail and started back down. That’s when I found my SAVIOR! I came across another hiker and asked him for directions. Turns out that this guy was a retired Palm Springs Fire Fighter and was attempting his 75th summit to the top of the mountain. I asked if I could join him and he graciously said yes!

The two of us hiked the whole trail together and I will be honest… There is no way I would have made it without his help. He was a great guide and showed me all the amazing points of interest throughout the day.

The hardest part for me was the final two hours. You have already been going really hard for several hours battling your way through desert foothills, steep ravines, up, down in the heat, rain and sand storms. Then you hit the high altitude. You are officially not in Kansas anymore. The snow started coming down and the mountain gets really steep. The trail was no longer visible and you are surrounded by huge boulders and evergreens. As good of shape as I am in… There were a few times I didn’t think I could go any further. My savior got ahead of me at the end and I was on my own lost and freezing. I would take 15 steps and then have to stop to catch my breath and regroup. Not knowing where to go I just kept heading UP. After about 30 minutes I heard my name being called from somewhere above. I headed in that direction and there was my savior at the top of a huge boulder ready to congratulate me and shake my hand. I made it!

We kept a strong pace completed the hike and summited in about 7 hours. It takes most people around 10 hours.

There is a gondola station at the peak that (sane) people take up to the top and have lunch and look around. We had a beer together and took the gondola back down.

I can’t say that I am in a huge rush to make this hike again, but I’m sure when my son gets old enough I will attempt it with him.

It also has made me think, this was a great test of my endurance for Mt. Rainer. I’m not just going to do this one for myself though, I’m going to do it for the kids. I am involved with a great organization, Friends of Kids with Cancer, and I think I will do this climb for them.

My take away…

Get in the best shape of your life, do A LOT of research, pack right and bring lots of water. Also… find a savior to get you up to the top!