Mount San Jacinto

Read more about my hike up Mount San Jacinto.

According to, the Cactus to Clouds trail is the fifth hardest day hike in America. After completing it, I can see why. Two of my friends and I set out to Palm Springs, California one evening to scope out the trailhead and hopefully catch a couple hours of sleep. Arriving at Palm Springs at about 10:30 pm we found the trail head at about 11 pm. Around 11:30 we had finally tried to sleep but that was not going to happen as it was 91 degrees outside and we we’re three dudes sleeping in a car. Not exactly optimal conditions for getting any rest.

Our original plan was to start the hike at 5 am but, the more we thought about it, we decided it would be a much wiser decision to start at 2:30 am. If we had started at 5 am, chances are, we wouldn’t have been able to complete this hike as we would have got caught in the blazing sun at too low of an elevation. On this hike, especially in the summer, you must gain enough elevation before the sun rises so you are out of the heat of Palm Springs which I believe was around 108 the day we hiked.

The first shot I took is the first one in the set near the picnic tables, which is where most hikers hiking for exercise stop at. Absolutely beautiful to be up at this time of the day slowly watching the city burn in the full moon’s light.

One thing I like to do with my photography when I create a series is to give the viewer an idea of what my day was like by using light. With this set I wanted to give the viewer an idea of how long my day was. This entire hike took roughly 17 hours to complete. Why 17 hours? Just to the top alone is about 12 hours and coming back down is an additional 4-5 depending how fast you’re going (I’m sure others do it faster). I also had to stop to capture photos so that slowed us up a little bit. The trail starts at 450 feet above sea level and ends at 10,834. That’s a 10,300 foot elevation gain. The Cactus to Clouds trail boasts the most elevation gain out of any trail in America. If I remember correctly, we hiked about 24 miles. From the first shot to the last shot you can just about guess what time of day the pictures we’re taken.

The vast desert shots above we’re shot at about 10 am if I remember correctly. All I have to say about these is that from our viewpoint, we were very happy with our decision to start at 2:30 am because the desert floor did not look very welcoming.

The top! Not a very dramatic view from the top but that’s what you see at the top. A nice, little, wooden sign. High fives ensued.

The last shots are of the tram ride coming back down. We had no intentions on hiking what would be called Cactus to Clouds to Cactus. We had a long enough day already and we’re thirsty for margaritas in Palm Springs. I coined a new type of adventuring I like to call “Marganeering”. Marganeering is hiking to near complete physical exhaustion all for the glory of drinking margaritas at the end. The Cactus to Clouds trail is an excellent Marganeering route if you ever need a hike to Marganeer on.

Absolutely beautiful hike. If you’re in excellent physical condition – do this hike. Bring about 1.5 gallons of water and some snacks. From my readings, this hike is gnarly in the winter and requires crampons and ice axes. Obviously summer is not the best time to go but it adds another element of “yeah, I just did that” to the whole experience.