Wednesday, September 28, 2011

San Jacinto

In the vein of the Cactus to Clouds spine (and without feeling too vain about hiking 80% of the climb) KD and I found ourselves falling for the organic charm of one of the most arduous and rewarding climbs we've done this year. Most trails have one or two distinct ecosystems to them. Out here in Southern California, it's mostly sage brush and pine trees. However Cactus to clouds really has four distinct sections that the journeyman gets to experience up close and personal: prehistoric sea bed, low Sonoran desert, high Sonoran desert, and the painfully scenic Alpine terrain.

The numbers on the climb jump right out at you: 8,200ft of gain in 9 miles. The average grade was around 20% (not counting the flat and downhills sections), with some scrambles pushing you to all fours which usually means a 30-40% grade. Additionally, there was plenty of large misplaced rocks, yucca, desert sage, and various shrubbery growing over the trail making it tough to hike up, and a challenge to run downhill without breaking kneecaps or getting a yucca stab wound. Yet as un-runnable as it was, it was one of the most satisfying journeys of the year.

The start of the trail is the prehistoric sea bed that features steep, uneven footing setting the tone early that this isn't a very runnable trail. Next, the lower Sonoran section had Yucca's around every turn testing KD's agility and sanity. The grade eased up a few times, but it was the longest sections with many ridges and saddles that looked like each other and went on for many false summits. Finally the high Sonoran started around 5,000 ft as we climbed up past "the white bucket" and pushed up at the steepest incline to the treeline (the start of pine trees that is) at 6,800 feet off the desert floor. Finally, the alpine was extraordinarily beautiful visually, but still physically demanding with some rough trail and steep switchbacks into Long Valley.

-One of KD's many tests on the day

-Into the face of the mountain for the final push

-The start of pine trees and cool temperatures

-No easy lines, right to the end

For those at home wondering, this trail does not show up on any map because it's not maintained by any government entity. The full route does go up to the summit with an additional 5.5 miles/2000ft in San Jacinto state park. It exists really because of the ambitious hikers that keep attacking it every weekend trying to better mentally grasp the epic size of the mountain that rises 10,000 ft off the desert floor. Shyamal's site gave the best info for taking on the climb.

My favorite aspect of this was how raw the trail was. Sometimes when I run smooth well maintained trails for awhile, I forget about some of the more purist nature of the sport. For me, I run to connect to nature, not tour it like a tram ride through a zoo. This trail is so raw that loosing and regaining the trail sometimes happens without you noticing until you turn around and see where the trail intended you to go. When you run the cactus to clouds spine, your are in the spine, encapsulated by the rocks, the elevation and vegetation change, and the hard earned challenge of summiting something so rewarding, it's painfully beautiful.

-Hard earned view from the tram station of the C2C spine to the right

Overall the week went well, and though the weekend was shorter than normal mile-wise, it was a solid 14 hours/13,000ft of rough trail.
Sept 19-25
66 miles, 18,350ft

Metronomy - She Wants