Each day I look at the San Jacinto Mountains where the tram station resides and I have an emotional response to the view. I feel awe, appreciation and personal gratitude for being able to honor this grand mountain by hiking to the top yearly. It is a noteworthy acknowledgement to the Coachella Valley that the hike to the tram and then from the tram to the summit, which is an approx. 10,000 feet and 20 miles, is the greatest elevation gain of any trail in the United States. Backpacker Magazine noted Skyline Trail, or what locals coin as “Cactus to Clouds”, the 3rd most difficult hike in the country. This hike starts at the base of Palm Springs Museum. In order to trek in favorable weather conditions one is advised to start at approx. 3:00am with a headlamp in the months of October or early May. These are the two times of the year when additional items such as an “ice pick” and “cramp on’s” for the feet would not be needed minimizing many additional hiking challenges.
There are meaningful reasons to add a hike such as this to ones “bucket list”. Clearly there are prerequisites to setting goals such as; good baseline health and weekly hiking with elevation training, yet it is a great aspiration.
This year it will be my 5th time to accomplish this hike, and each time a different emotion and lesson surfaces. During my journey I imagine a time in the Coachella Valley in May or June when desert temperatures spiked, and the Native Indians journeyed from desert floor to higher elevation taking the same trail. The entire family, from youth to elderly, with much to carry took days climbing. An elder tribesman I see at the top of the tram many times after finishing my trek took some time one day to impart his knowledge of this historic route. His retelling to me was that many times if an elder family member turned ill or was unable to make the journey, there was a plant (that still exists on the trail today) that was taken internally. This plant flooded the body with potassium which caused the heart to seize. This would cause one to quietly sleep while their heart stopped. As I hike this monumental mountain I think of these tribulations and the history of those who had such respect for this sacred desert. I feel honored to work so hard on their behalf. I also, with each step of effort reflect on what I label in life as hardships and somehow, by the end of this day’s-long ascent worries and challenges are lessened. When one is able to view the immensity of a task in retrospect and know that all the steps and achievement were manageable, it challenges us to handle life’s hardships.
Both the lesson of the Cahuilla Indians, and my own personal experiences hold analogies and lessons on how we view wellness and our path to health. When looking at the journey of the Cahuilla one must remember that their great physical strength of climbing the mountain had to be done in order to have sufficient food and shelter. Staying on the hot desert floor was not an option. Nowadays we take for granted relative to our health, food sources and luxuries. Every now and then it is a good lesson to work hard and physically challenge the body as it was used this way in history for sustenance.
As for meeting challenges in life such as “Cactus to Clouds”, we must look at the importance of the first step. The first step towards well-being is to set a physical goal. Physical goals can transcend into spiritual epiphanies and emotional breakthroughs. Many goals might seem insurmountable, yet can always be attained. Our mental fortitude is stronger than we can imagine and will carry us through. Start with any goal that pushes you a bit beyond your comfort zone. Work towards accomplishment and then set your sights on starting at “cactus” and reaching for “clouds.” You won’t regret this great adventure right in your own backyard.