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Getting High, Barefoot: Hiking Shoeless Up San Jacinto Peak, Elev. 10,831 (3302m)

July 28, 2012

I didn’t even know this was on my bucket list, but life’s circumstances found me in Palm Springs yesterday morning, my week’s worth of work done, and itching to get out and hike.

Since it’s a little too warm to trot around barefoot in the desert at the end of July, I took the famous Palm Springs rotating tram up (room for 80! Can you say “claustrophobia”?) to 8,516 feet: instant temperature relief by 30+ degrees–from over 100 to below 70.

Sure I “cheated” on the first 8,000 feet in elevation gain, but the next five miles, climbing up to the summit of San. Jacinto Peak (10,831, 10,834, or 10,835 feet in elevation, depending on your source) weren’t exactly a stroll in the park–unless the park is nuthin’ but granite boulders, granite chunks, granite rocks-stones-pebbles-powder . .  you get the picture. With a few trees mixed in. And don’t forget the bloomin’ lupine!

An altogether lovely day, except for the nasty altitude headache that hit half-way up. Easy to ignore when you’re meandering up to “The most sublime spectacle to be found, anywhere on this earth.” John Muir wrote that, and I hate to disagree with the guru of sublime spectacles, but the  “clear” day only emphasized the nasty layer of smog we live with in So Cal–and San Jacinto allows a 360-degree view of not only that, but the ridiculous green patches in the desert where we are wasting water on . . . wait a minute. This wasn’t supposed to be a rant. Just a barefoot hike report with a few photos.

Barefoot report: only drew blood once, minimally, when I caught a rock (did I mention the granite?) with a toe. The soles of my feet (finally! yay!) are now so well accustomed to this sort of stuff that they felt fine the whole 10+ miles (I had a hard time finding the trail at the beginning, but that’s another story…), even at the end, when I was running (slowly, but still…I was running!) back the last couple of miles.

Barefoot bonus: the nice people on the trail who wanted to chat about my shoeless state. Good job taking your little boys backpacking, Luna-sandal-guy. Thanks for the hug and discussion of Rumi and Whitman, Mehdi. Taylor Wayne and Jose: I hope you made it to the peak. And to my two new friends who had hiked ALL THE WAY FROM THE PALMS SPRINGS MUSEUM: you rock!

Here’s some photo-documentation:

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Self-portrait at San Jacinto Peak: 10,831 elevation

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This is how you get there: the last hundred yards is a rock crawl.

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The two guys in the foreground had started at 2 a.m. and hiked all the way up from the desert floor. It’s called the Cactus to the Clouds trail, and not recommended in the summer. 15 hours later (with a long break for lunch at the tram station) here they are at the peak. And they weren’t even tired.

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Lots o’ rocks on the way to Mt. San Jacinto. Go go granite!

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Lots o’ bloomin’ lupine, too. Not too many other wildflowers, though. But the lupine were enough to provide some cheerful trail company.

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I think the Salton Sea is down there somewhere, though the desert smog . . .

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This is the Cactus to the Clouds trailhead, at the Museum parking lot in downtown Palm Springs. It’s about 22 miles, with 10,000 of elevation gain, to the summit of San Jacinto Peak. Yikes.

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Just a few hundred yards up the (steep, rough, rocky!) trail gives great views. Go early; as soon the the sun cleared the horizon: It. Was. Hot.

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Someone you might meet along the trail, early in the morning.

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