By Alexis "Broken tailbone? Still running!" Soucie
Going into this I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, Cactus to Cloud (not coming back down) is rated the #5 hardest hike in the US for a reason. It lived up to its reputation in every way, and this is not for the unprepared or faint of heart. All that being said, the goal was to have to fun, spend the day together doing something we loved, in gorgeous scenery, and we did!
After a not so good nights sleep due to an elderly hotel neighbor blasting his TV until after midnight we woke at 3am, and were out the door by 4am. We were on the trail by 430am, headlamps poised and ready to go!
There’s no warm up, no progression, it’s straight up. I truly enjoy running/hiking in the dark, there’s something calming about it, so this was fun. The trail was pretty easy to follow. It is not “marked” with Trail Signs, but painted white dots, as it begins and is partially on private property. There are many spots where there are multiple ways to go, and each will get you where you want to be.
These were the places at first we stopped, checked the map, double checked, then pressed on, but we soon realized it didn’t matter which way we took. For perspective, around Oceanside, CA on the trails we gain around 100 feet per mile, we were gaining in excess of 4-500 feet per mile already. But, it was gorgeous, within 2 hours we had dawn, and early sunrise, just stunning over Palm Springs, and we began to see our scenery (desert, haha). About 4-5 miles in I needed a potty break and to eat, bad, so we stopped. At this point, I also put back on my long sleeve (I had a tank top, thin long sleeve, gloves, and shorts on, we were at 4100 feet at 4 miles, we began around 480 feet). We pressed, we had a steady pace, and the climb was technical/rocky in parts, but the grade was impressive! Then we hit 8 miles, and my life changed. This was my rough spot, where I questioned life decisions, and multiple times if I could/wanted to go on. Most of the climb thus far reminded me of our races in Korea, but this next 2.5 miles, was Korea in a nutshell, minus the ropes (which would have been helpful). It was the steepest, most intense climbs yet. For over 2 miles it was relentless, and at times you were on your hands and feet, on boulders. Mile 8 alone we climbed over 1200 feet. This section also did not have white dots, we stopped seeing those by mile 5-6, so I’m sure a few times here, we made our own path. Around 8.5 miles we would see the tram “line”, that helped, but really, at this point, nothing helped, we just kept moving!! Finally we saw light at the top, but from watching videos on C2C, they said it was another 3 miles to the ranger station. I have no clue where they got that from, and I’m glad they were wrong!! We got out of the climb at mile 10, and it was a clearing, and within a half mile we saw the ranger station.
Perspective, at this point we’ve climbed over 8,400 feet in 10.5 miles. We headed for the ranger station. It was closed! Hahaha We got up there around 9am. There was not another soul around, it was amazing, silence, just us!! Filled out our permit, went to the bathroom (they were heated!! Amazing). The temperature was below freezing now, and windy. We pressed, this section was runnable, so we did until we hit the ice, which was hmm, right away?
We continued on then stopped and put on our Yak Trax. They were huge, we still had to be careful, ice is ice, but we were much more stable. It was 5.5 miles to the peak. About a mile to mile and a half from the peak you start really climbing again, and then bouldering. It’s also windy, and cold, and snow covered. But then, just like that, we were there!! A group of boulders is the peak, amazing!!
It’s stunning and it was just us!! I couldn't believe we had done it, just over 15 miles, over 11,300 feet of climbing UP!!!
And, we still had to go back down!!
We were only half-way there. But going down would be the easy part (famous last words). We headed down, and started our way back, we began seeing other people, so to me that said the Tram was open! It wasn’t super fast going down, just because of the ice, and people, but we made it, turned out permit in, and headed to the Tram for the gift shop. We’d been on the mountain about 8-8.5 hours by now. Then we began the main descent down, knowing the first 2 miles were the steepest, but in my head, thinking the rest we could run, and it would be fine! Nope…. The first 2 miles were definitely the steepest, and after that we found it very hard to get into a rhythm, you’d start running and then almost immediately it became super technical, steep, any or all of the above, and you had to maneuver your way around, so a fast paced walk was almost better. I also fell, HARD coming down, slipped on loose gravel and landed on a pointed rock on my tailbone, the pain knocked the wind right out of me, not fun.
We were tired, hungry, and at this point wanted off this glorious mountain, but we pressed! Every step, was closer to the finish, our finish, we saw the beginning we has started in darkness, and as the final miles closed it, I began to reflect, and I just wanted to cry. I could see the parking lot and there was the Jeep. GLORIOUS!! And then just as it began, it was over. Another adventure checked!! We did it!! Over 12 hours total time on the mountain and we did it!!
This was no small feat… climbing straight up 11,000 feet to turn around and come back down, there is nothing simple or easy about that, yeah it’s pretty crazy, I knew what I was getting into when I began, and it was still challenging for me. I loved it. We did it together, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
You must respect the Mountain, or she will own you..
Ok, so the nitty gritty:
What I carried:
2 liters of water in bladder (drank 1.5)
Flask with Scratch Electrolytes (drank ¾)
Small water bottle (30 oz?) (didn’t touch)
3 paleo bars (ate)
4 stingers chews (ate 3)
3 Stingers wafers GF (ate)
4 baby food pouches (ate)
As you can see I ate a lot on this trek, and if I had packed more, I would’ve eaten it, the paleo bars, were YUMMY!! OMG I could've eaten an endless amount of them!! I should have drank A LOT more but with the cold I think I just didn’t.
Would I do it again? No, once was enough, Am I glad I did it? Hell yes!! I’d definitely do Cactus to Cloud. My few words of advice, this is not for the unprepared or faint of heart, know what you are truly getting into. We had fun, we enjoyed it, but it was difficult! Now, what’s next??