October 8th, 2016 ~ Day 197
Cactus to Clouds ~ Mount San Jacinto….
My weekend began Friday night, meeting my cousin Greg at the Mission Creek Preserve in Hot Springs California to camp and go hiking for the weekend. As we pulled up to the gate the Rangers were there and we got to speak to them for a short while. They were really nice and seemed like great people. I was looking forward to this adventure and had no idea what was ahead of me.
We arrived at the Stonehouse on the Mission Creek Preserve, this is the area where we are camping, and no one was here. I was expecting it to be full, a nice surprise to find it so peaceful. It was dark and quiet. Using the headlights from our vehicles, we began to set up camp. In talking to the Rangers, they said there was a bear in the area, so I set up my backpacking tent to use for the very first time, leaving all of my food in my car.
As we were setting up camp, a truck pulled up and a man by the name of Jordan arrived. We spoke to him for a short while and learned a little more about the area. He was heading back into the wilderness to go hunting for deer and bear. Shortly after he left for his trek, we headed off to bed for our early morning hike.
At two a.m. the alarm went off. Tired and exhausted I rolled out of the tent. I didn’t sleep as well as I would have liked. Coyotes were howling and barking a good part of the night and that kept me awake. Once out of the tent, coffee was my first priority before packing up. Making good time, we were on the road by 2:20 a.m. Meeting our Meetup group at the museum by three to begin our journey. It was so dark outside, you couldn’t see anything. Luckily street lights were lit in the parking lot.
After meeting our group at 3 a.m., we began our daring adventure! This hike is a Meetup with HHH, Brenda our leader is doing the second portion of the hike and wasn’t going to meet up at the trailhead. The second portion consisting of taking a tram to the 8500 foot elevation and hiking the 12 mile in/out hike. We would meet up with her and the other half of our group somewhere along the top of Mount San Jacinto.
At the trailhead everyone took off as I was still taking pictures. I knew I would be hiking this alone. I am not as fast as I’d like to be. This being one of the things I’ve come to learn about myself on this journey of hiking 365 days. I’m good with taking my time and enjoying each moment along the way, no matter how long it takes me.
A couple times the darkness played tricks on me, I couldn’t see the trail and I would get lost. I even got another group of four guys lost and off trail. It was so dark out all you could see were the city lights below. As I took pictures I would turn the headlamp off and for hours it seemed, the darkness surrounded me.
The entire horizon was an array of colors. The city lights below still lit up like a million fireflies. The sunrise, it seemed, was in slow motion. The blue-gray sky was different than I’ve seen before and even as the sun began it’s ascent above the earth, I still needed to use my headlamp.
I met an awesome group of people from California, who in the beginning kept crossing paths with me, until my breaks became so long, they were long gone! I enjoyed the moments where I was able to speak with others, but I also enjoyed my moments of silence.
I ran into many more people along the trail and would ask them as they passed me what time they started. Three, four, five and even six. It was great to meet so many wonderful people. At a certain point I decided to stop and enjoy as many moments as I could. I was only going to be on this mountain for today and I wanted to soak up as much of the beauty that surrounded me.
Finally the sun began to rise. This has been by far one of the greatest sunrises I have ever seen. Nothing like Phoenix! High above the city on a mountain. The entire horizon was an array of colors. I stopped to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
The plant life here is so strange. So many different varieties to see. I would stop to take a picture and there would be four or five different plants. Some so different and some I have never seen before.
As I climbed higher up the mountain, I was in awe of the beauty surrounding me. Mountains all around! Amazed at how far I had come!
As I climbed even higher, I wondered to myself why I chose to do this portion of the trail? 8000 feet of elevation gain in ten miles. Always going for the hardest longest hikes. I’m definitely insane! Yet I’m still smiling! Grateful to be here!
Manzanita trees, my favorite! Shortly after this, I ran into two guys, which I hadn’t passed, Jeremy and Steve. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone else on the trail. I was at about 6000 feet up the mountain. They were taking a break and I joined them. I was able to hike with them for a short while, until I became too slow for them too.
High above the clouds, I stopped for longer breaks and heard the bees buzzing all around. I saw a couple squirrels too. I knew I wasn’t going to make it the to the next section of the trail, so I wanted to enjoy as much of this I hike as I could.
As I arrived at the top of the mountain, nine hours and fifteen minutes later, there was a group of people there to welcome me! I was trying to find out if I knew them or not I didn’t. I may have been a little delirious at this point. I, of course, was the last person up the mountain that day.
It was a great relief to have completed this portion of the Skyline Trail. I was so exhausted. My legs have never hurt this much. I found out later this is the fifth hardest hike in the United States.
Smelling the amazing smell of vanilla on the Jeffery Pine Tree. Royce, the Ranger told me to take a whiff. He’s one of the people who told me the difficulty of this hike, along with a couple members of the group. He also explained the difference between a route and a trail, stating the Skyline Trail is a Route because it isn’t maintained. So I asked him why it was called the Skyline Trail? He couldn’t answer.
A portion group who made it to the top. They were the lucky ones who took the Tram to the 8500 foot elevation and continued on the 12 mile trek from there. While hiking, I wished I had chosen this route, but now that it’s over, I’m grateful for every single grueling step I took.
I’ll be back to finish the 12 miles, and before this 365 day journey is up, so I can say I’ve completed the entire Cactus to Clouds.