|Hiking||22.12 Miles|| 14 Hrs 23 Mns ||1.98 mph|
|10,667 ft AEG|| 3 Hrs 12 Mns Break|
|Our adventure began on Friday afternoon, as we left the East Valley around 2 pm and made the 4-5 hour drive to Palm Springs to a VRBO home we had rented for Friday and Saturday nights.|
I wasn't generally worried about my overall fitness, BUT, unavoidable work commitments had me working 15-20 hour days, with very little sleep the entire week leading up to the trip. So, I was pretty sleep-depleted going into the weekend. After finishing work on Thursday, I was hoping for a good night's sleep, but somewhat surprisingly, I didn't actually sleep all that well.
Back to the drive, it ended up taking a little longer because we had to fight rush-hour traffic to get out of Phoenix.
We arrived in Palm Springs around 7-ish. We didn't actually stay in Palm Springs, but rather "across the freeway" in Desert Hot Springs, where the rental prices were a little better.
We stopped for dinner and then picked up some last-minute supplies from the grocery store and admired the substantial homeless population in the area :-/
We had originally planned to be on the trail at 4 a.m., but with the temperature in Palm Springs scheduled to spike to 106 degrees on Saturday, we decided to move our start time to 3 am instead. That meant getting up at 1:45 a.m. to get our packs ready, etc. so we could leave by 2:30 am, as it was a 20-30 minute drive from our rental to the trailhead.
We arrived at the TH just before 3 am and were a little surprised to see so many cars filling the roadside parking area. Luckily, we were able to squeeze into a spot just outside the no parking zone.
There was a solid moon in the sky and but for the fact that it was setting behind the western side of the mountain, it likely would have dispensed with the need for headlamps.
We got on the trail right about our planned 3 am start time, and with headlamps on, we started the climb. And climb we did--right out of the shoot, the first mile gained close to 900 feet. We were keeping a pretty good pace, and despite it being 3 am, it was already warm. While I'm not a fan of white dots on the rocks, they did help us avoid taking the plentiful spider paths over the first section of the trail in the dark.
At the mile mark, my brother almost decided to turn back, saying that he was not prepared to keep that kind of a pace going. I was just feeling the adrenaline rush and told him we could dial back the pace. With a little encouragement, he decided to soldier on, and we did slow down our pace.
We made good progress and were about 4,000 feet up before the sun broke the horizon around 5:45 a.m. Prior to that, we enjoyed the views of the city lights below, as well as watching the dawn come on and the sun finally announce the arrival of the day.
Shortly after that though, my brother began having trouble with his nutrition and was struggling to keep any food or liquids down. At about the 4,500 mark, he began throwing up. We were little concerned but just took it even more slowly with more breaks, including a stint where we took a 20 minute break in the shade and he just rested.
Passing the two emergency rescue boxes, we found both full of water and related nutrition to help under-prepared hikers.
At about the 6,000 mark, we came across a hiker doing even worse than my brother. The guy was laying face down in the middle of the trail in the shade of a manzanita bush, with his shoes and socks off, dealing with severe dehydration/heat exhaustion. His hiking group of 4-5 people were there with him and had already called for an emergency rescue. We offered to help, but they indicated they had what they needed to care for him as best they could until the rescue team arrived. So, we carried on, and my brother could at least console himself that he wasn't anywhere near that stage!
As we continued up to the 7,000 foot level, we saw the helicopter hovering down below and eventually extracting the hiker (we learned later from one of the people in his group that he was taken to a hospital and, hopefully, will be okay).
Meanwhile, we had reached the most difficult part of the climb up to Grub's Notch, consisting of a narrow chute next to the prominent rock outcropping named Coffman's Crag, and which climbs Flatiron-like up 1100+ feet in a mile before reaching Long Valley--the first "flat" section of the hike and the location of the upper landing for the Palm Spring Tramway. Taking several breaks and relying on willpower, my brother made it up to Long Valley--despite not being able to keep any fuel down.
At the top of Grub's Notch, there is a group of rocks named "Hallelujah Rocks," as they mark the end of the intense 8,000 feet of climbing from the TH. We joined in the hallelujah chorus as we enjoyed the new sensation of walking on nearly level ground for the first time since setting foot on the trail.
It was a short .4 of a mile to the base of the tram station, where we left my brother to recover and either wait for us to summit/return, or take the tram down and coordinate a pick up by my wife and another friend who were on shuttle duty.
From there, the remaining three of us stopped at the ranger station to fill up on water, get a permit, and fuel up for part two of the hike--an 11 mile round trip to the top of San Jacinto Peak at 10,834 feet.
From the tram station/ranger station at 8,300, we still had another 2,500 feet of elevation to gain. Thankfully, the trail from this point was not quite as steep, with the elevation gain a little more spread out. Plus, by that time, we were up in the shade of the pine trees and the temperatures were much nicer.
There was still snow on the climb, but the trail was mostly clear (just a few patches to hike over--no need for microspikes). The climbing went fine until about a mile before the summit when I, unexpectedly, bonked. I hit the wall and struggled to have the energy to keep going. But there was no way I was NOT going to make the summit, and with a little mental engagement and a few more breaks, we eventually got there. Being that close, I didn't really consider NOT summiting, but it was more taxing than I imagined. This may have been my weeklong sleep deprivation kicking in, but I also think I may have not paid close enough attention to my hydration strategy after leaving the ranger station. I also think the extra hours on the trail due to my brother's struggles may have also played a part.
Over the last mile, we visited with several hikers descending from the summit, including a guy form Sweden (living in San Diego) who was pushing for a fast time, but came up short of expectations--though still a solid time, and a guy from England who was hiking solo at that point but with his wife and a few friends another half mile or so back. He was so full of energy and excitement that he apparently really ticked his pregnant wife off and he decided he needed to "create a little space" on the return hike. We promised to put in a good word for him when we passed her later on. We tried, but I don't think it worked--she still seemed rather mad at him
In any event, we finally did make it to the summit--YAY--at about 3 pm, 12 hours after starting our hike. The summit was relatively crowded (mostly with folks who were making the climb from the tram station or from the Round Valley campground--including a group of 30 girl scouts).
We took summit photos and tried to enjoy the moment, but I still was not feeling good at all, so I rested and tried to get a few more calories and liquid in for the descent.
Although I wasn't feeling well, going downhill proved much more doable, and I managed to keep a good 20-minute mile pace on the way back to the tram station.
At the tram station, there is a long set of paved switchback ramps that were agonizing to go up after all of that climbing. Then, after you enter the tram station building, you have climb another set of stairs to purchase your tickets!
It felt good to be done, but I was ready to get back to a hot shower and start recovering with some Sprite and Pringles--my go to options for settling my stomach after an exhausting hike.
The tram ride down was cool. The sheer steepness of that ravine is impressive. Also, they blared "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang from the speakers, which was an appropriate conclusion to this epic adventure.