Cactus to Clouds Training Plan
C2C Training,Hiking

Cactus to Clouds Training: Getting Started

About a month ago I made the decision that I wanted to hike the Cactus to Clouds trail in Palm Springs. Making this decision was a big part of pulling myself out of the mental and physical rut I’d been stuck in for the past, let’s say six months. It’s a fairly lofty goal and the good news is, I’m still super excited about it!

But it’s not the kind of trail you can just … go do. You need to plan and you need to train. As a retired marathon runner and digital running coach, I definitely understand (and LOVE) the process of training. But training for a hike is not quite as straight forward and there don’t seem to be nearly as many resources available to help develop a plan.

My passion for hiking is fairly new, so I didn’t have a Cactus to Clouds training strategy in my back pocket. So now I’m pulling from my experience, knowledge and some research on the best way to get this 42.75 year old body up that dang mountain. Here’s a little insight into my plan, and how it’s going so far…

Tuesday Solo Hike up Black Mountain
Tuesday Solo Hike up Black Mountain

Cactus to Clouds Challenge Overview

Just to give a little perspective to this post, in case you don’t aren’t familiar with the Cactus to Clouds Trail, it’s a big one! Some call it the hardest day hike in the US, but more discerning call it the 5th hardest. It’s essentially 2 hikes you put together into one massive day hike. The Skyline Trail, which takes you from the dessert base to the tram station, about 10 miles and 8000 feet up the San Jacinto mountain.

From there, you can refill your water, check your gut and forge the summit or take the tram back down. If you choose to summit, it’s another 5-6 miles to the top, about about 2600 more feet. One thing I like the most about this hike is that you only have to hike back down to the tram station, grab a beer, buy a ticket and cruise back down to the dessert base.

Totals: Distance 19-21 miles Elevation Gain: 10,577′ Time: 14-18 hours

cactus to clouds training
Climbed to the top of South Fortuna with my BFF Hiking Buddy

Cactus to Clouds Training Strategy

So how do you even start to train for something like that? I’m pretty sure I can walk for 18 hours, but I’m not so sure I can walk up a mountain for that long. From the day I made the decision to hike it to the day we plan to, there was a total of 13 weeks. I decided to train for elevation gain vs total mileage, since the hardest part is going up, up and up.

I plan to hike 3 days a week, two shorter hikes Tuesday and Thursday and one longer hike Saturday or Sunday.

WkTuesdayThursdaySat/SunTotal
1) 1/281000100015003500
2) 2/41000100020004000
3) 2/111250125025005000
4) 2/181250125035006000
5) 2/251500150040007000
6) 3/42000200030007000
7) 3/112000150045008000
8) 3/182000250035008000
9) 3/252000150055009000
10) 4/12500250035008500
11) 4/8150010008000/250013,000
12) 4/151000150025005000
13) 4/221500100010,50013,000

The Mid-week Shorter Hikes

These will all be done on local mountains in San Diego: Cowles, Iron Mountain, Mount Woodson, The Fortunas in Mission Trails, The Way Up Trail in Elfin Forrest, Black Mountain, Double Peak and more I’m sure. They are all well maintained, clearly defined trail systems that are well trafficked and I feel safe adventuring solo if need be.

Another fun mid week solo hike: Black Mountain

The Weekend Longer Hikes

Some are local to San Diego, some are a bit farther out and all or within 2 hours. There are a lot of logistics to be worked out for the longer hikes, but here’s what’s on the list:

Note: I’ll update with review posts as I hike these larger beasts 🙂

I’m sure as I tackle those guys, I’ll fill in the links with my logistical reviews. There is LOTS to look forward to! Week 11 is actually a practice hike. We’ll head out to Palm Springs and do the Skyline trail one morning then take the tram down for a normal nights rest. Then we’ll take the tram back up the next morning and tackle the Summit and tram back down. Some might call that cheating, I just call it being smart, safe and knowing what I’m getting myself into!

Cactus to Clouds Training: Cowles to Pyles
Cowles to Pyles with this guy!

Other Mid-Week Training

In addition to testing gear out on trails and getting used to lots of time on climbing up I plan do do my standard spin, yoga and weight training. I’ll fill you in on the weight workouts I’ve designed to complement this training program as well. They are simple, fast and effective!

Cactus to Clouds Training Progress

What’s going well…

I’m starting my fourth week right now and I’ve hiked more solo and with friends over the past 3 weeks than I have in … ever! And it turns out, I REALLY love it. It doesn’t even feel like “exercise.” I also really like the weight workouts I’ve designed and I do think this while program is going to work out.

The struggles…

It’s almost funny, but apparently I decided to start this Cactus to Clouds training adventure during a time it has rained more in San Diego than in the prior 20 that I’ve lived here. I’ve been rained out of short and long runs already. With the cold/wet weather I ended up with a head cold that also took me out for a few days … maybe a week. Yuck.

cactus to clouds training
Cold & Rainy Hike with a great crew to Potato Chip Rock.

My Go Forward Plan to Make it up that Mountain!

I’m going to stick with it! It’s a time commitment for sure, but we’ve already planned out the logistics for some of the longer hikes which I’m looking forward to. I need to stay consistent with my other standard mid-week training to keep my general fitness strong. Plus, it would be nice to lose a few pounds and not have to carry them all the the way up that mountain. ha ha.

All in all, I’m stoked!

Do you have any C2C Hiking or Training Tips?

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