Me, wearing the usual garb--on the peak of Mt San Jacinto 5/5/2013
Hi there. I'm David Stewart, born in 1957 and have lived in Palm Springs, CA since February 2011. Before moving there from South Florida, I've never hiked in my life. About a month after my move to Palm Springs, I hiked a few times and thought it was too much for me as my stamina did not agree with the mixture of physical activity hiking requires. Such as--hours of walking outdoors (mostly on defined trails) frequently with inclines and declines including areas of high altitude. However, I do love the outdoors and tried it for another month. I got hooked, caught the hiking bug and currently, the majority of my hikes are mostly strenuous or very challenging. I now love to hike and it is my primary source of cardio fitness. Perhaps I sound like a mountain goat!
Below are the progression photos of my first and fortunately, successful (on 5/28/2013) hike up the very challenging, Skyline Trail on Mt San Jacinto. The total elevation is over 8000 ft. and about 9 miles to the Tram's Mountain Station--consisting of primarily, continuous upward hiking.
Before the photos, this is my personal account of what happened during a day I shall never forget!:
Actually, my inital plan was to go up of no more than 5000ft (I've been up to 5000ft a few times--about 7 hours round trip and a nice workout, too). This amazing hike started about 5:30am from where I live (the Skyline Trail so happens to be near my residence). That morning, the weather was at 70 degrees with a few clouds--nice. It was probably the last day of decent weather for the Skyline trail this time of year, until Fall.
As usual, I started off at a good pace with a water break at the picnic tables. When I ascended to around 2700ft (not far from passing the 1st Rescue sign/post), I met some experienced hikers (brother & sister & her young son--who were on their way up to the Tram. However, neither one of them had ever been on the Skyline trail. They were pleased to meet me especially when I indicated my familiarity of the lower half of the trail. We hiked comfortably (with brief water breaks) and became acquainted with each other towards the '4300' ft. elevation marker. I usually wear my hearing aids when with someone/people (my 30% hearing loss was at birth along with being born with a mild case of Cerebral Palsy), but I did not expect company. As a matter of fact, I frequently wear earphones connected to a small MP3 player (I enjoy primarily 60s, 70s & 80s rock & roll as well as easy listening, too) when hiking alone for hours.
Their start was at about 4:30am, leaving their car in the Palm Springs Museum parking lot. They proceeded up the Museum/Skyline trail with headlights until realizing having taken a wrong turn (headed south on the N. Lykken trail). Neither one of them had been on the trail before, and it can be risky in the dark. Losing time with this type of endurance hike can be dangerous--the sun/temperatures can get very hot quickly this time of year. But after turning around, they found the obvious writing on a big boulder--which indicated the Skyline trail.
While getting close to the '4300' ft. marker, a hiker walked briskly by us and said "Hi and have a good hike." (I think I've seen him before). When resting at the '4300' ft. marker, I had decided to take a calculated risk to go to the Tram with them. My decision was indeed risky as I have never completed a hike of this magnitude and/or beyond 5000 ft. of total elevation. Also, I had about 2.5 liters of water left--not enough to go all the way. On all of my challenging hikes, I generally drink water often and eat appropriately (I personally bake low-fat sugarless, energy bars. They are yummy and certainly serves its purpose).
They had an additional 10 liters to share. Speaking about being prepared! I agreed to carry in my backpack one of their 4 liter container. The young guy appreciated this as his back was bothering him. They were particularly pleased to know that I had with me, a Garmin eTrex30 GPS device. This device is with me most of the time--sort of my hiking companion, and quite reliable, too.
As previously stated, I've never hiked anywhere with an elevation of more than 5000 ft. in a day. That was on my mind often as we proceeded past that point (I was wondering how my swift pace for over 2000 ft. before meeting them was going to affect me beyond 5000 ft.). The brother and sister moved primarily at a slow pace as the son and I went ahead of them and rested for some time at the Rescue Box #2--until they caught up with us. At this point, we all agreed that we had plenty of water and left the 4 liter unopened container inside the Rescue box (carrying an extra 4 liters certainly was something I was not used to and glad to get the load off my back!). It was a good deed, indeed!
Usually, they wanted to rest before continuing. We rested often and therefore did not reach Long Valley/Tram area until around 2:30pm. With this type of hike, why rush (fortunately, the temperature cooled down above 6000 ft.)? Also, and probably due to never hiking continuously uphill beyond 5000ft or more than for 7 hours, my staminia/cardiovascular system was beginning to take its toll (perhaps if I started my hike at a slower pace, it could have made a difference). I was actually going quite slowly and behind the group, up from the 6500ft area. Plus, my breathing was quite rapid (was it the altitude, or the body simply wearing down, or a bit of both?) therefore my heart and cardio system was on constant overdrive, even going a short distance after water breaks. I started to use 'Clif Shot Bloks' when I felt really pressured and it seem to help (never used them before). However, my legs and feet felt just fine. I simply had to stop periodically to catch my breath! However, when we got to the 7500ft area we all knew it was less than 1000 feet to go. This certainly was a psychological booster for me and them too. This also induced a rare moment of extreme adrenaline rush. Despite the very steep ascension at the end and consuming another 'shot block', we moved literally at a snail's pace but continuously to the plateau of Long Valley.
WE MADE IT !!!! YEAH !!!! What a massive relief that was! Even through the bit of struggle near the top, my mental toughness would not let the fatigue get the best of me. When I read the sign 'Grubb's Notch' (just beyond the end of the climb), complete jubilation had set in. I felt like I was on top of the world! A most amazing feeling--to accomplish this type of incredible and extremely challenging event.
During breaks on this trip, I made a point to look around and enjoy the raw beauty of the wilderness. It is stunning! Especially going through three life zones in one day!
Would I pursue this type of extreme hiking again: YES! I guess I'm just a glutton for punishment.
This unusual hike would not have been possible without the support of special people: My Mom & Dad who tirelessly allowed me to experience a terrific and loving beginning (childhood) by way of adequate physical and speech therapies. Since I could not walk without braces very early on, I was determined to get rid of them ASAP (which finally happened within three years). Equally as important, I've developed personal methodologies dealing with the constant, unique situations due to my normal being. Furthermore, the challenges I would encounter in life were always dealt with a healthy degree of optimism, self-confidence and openness. Therefore, if I put my mind onto something--I go all out (within reason, of course). Being realistic with my goals has always been a focal point. I certainly do not wish go off the deep end! However, I confess that when some folks heard of me accomplishing this hike, they were completely beside themselves. Also, some of the words and phrases they used to express their feelings were hardly conservative! Some thought I had gone off the deep end!
A very special thanks to my dear friend and delightful companion, Don Adams.
We live together, peacefully and meaningfully. He enjoys my cooking, too. Don has been quite understanding and kind with my strong desire for hiking.
There are others who have personally encouraged and shared their hiking experiences with me. In the beginning of hiking around the scenic San Jacinto wilderness, I met a nice, fun/jovial (sometimes he acts like a court jester) gentleman and an incredible hiker. Actually, Jym McCormick is the one who through an engaging conversation, convinced me that I CAN do the Skyline Trail--through a specific training regimen. I also, have to thank the local hiking organizations: Coachella Valley Hiking Club, Desert Trails, Great Outdoors-Palm Springs Chapter and two, online meetup.com groups--Mt San Jacinto Hiking Club & Unique Hikes. There are two individuals from the Mt. San Jacinto Hiking Club who personally helped me as well: Jack Pansegrau & Kathryn Burrows (they are excellent hikers). And Walt Anderson from the Great Outdoors. It was Walt who inspired me to be a hike leader. Once again, thank you all.
Since that epic hike, I continue to hike 2 to 3 days a week (usually with significant elevation). Also, I've gone up the Skyline Trail 74 times (the latest one: 04/13/2022). One of them with Jim Hall, which was a C2C--going all the way to the peak of San Jacinto and then back to the Tram--22 miles in over 16 hours!) since the first time. The shortest/longest time to date: 6 hours and 22 minutes with Mike Ulicky / 10 hours and 57 minutes with a another friend who does not normally take on a trek of this magnitude. However, he is a summertime Ranger at Yellowstone National Park. He will never do it again!
My wonderful and unique life goes on...
Below are the photos from the story above:
Climbing up via switchbacks from near where I live.
Looking down to where I live--facing north from Alejo Rd.
Looking up just right of the marked big boulder, and over the ridge are the picnic tables.
Leaving the picnic tables and moving upward at the start of the Skyline Trail.
According to my GPS and the graph (below), it was about 8.5 miles! Certainly a warning for anyone!
Another, serious warning! Many have perished on this infamous trail. I HIGHLY advise anyone NOT to attempt this very difficult adventure unless one is specifically trained for it.
A southern view from the warning boulder.
A west view beyond the warning boulder--at the start of Skyline Trail.
This was near Rescue Box/Post #1
This is Rescue Box/Post #1, at about 2450 ft. It is one of two boxes/posts on the trail.
A view looking north from around 3000 ft.
A view looking west from around 3000ft. The plants and landscape had begun to show a new life form, going forward. Near the top left of photo is Long Valley--many hours of tough hiking to go!
Made it to the 4300 ft. marker! Sort of the halfway mark/point.
Me, Christian & Denny (Christina is behind the camera) are feeling good at the 4300 ft. mark!
Wonderful view facing north from the trail (close to the ridge) near the 4300 ft. marker.
Facing west on the trail at around 4300 ft. Still, a long way to go (where the pine trees are barely seen along the last ridge above)!
We made it to the Rescue Box #2, at 5400 ft. This is my first time on this trail, beyond 5000 ft. I actually felt fine at this point. And speaking of feeling good, we all thought it was a great idea to leave a 4 liter container of water in the box. We had plenty of water for the rest of the trip. A special deed, indeed!
Here's Christina with me, next to the Rescue Box #2.
It was a relaxing break at Rescue Box #2.
At around 5800 ft. we took an adequate break at Florian's Cache (white water bucket). We did not leave any water behind.
Fabulous views at 5800 ft. -- looking at a good part of the Coachella Valley.
Christian & I are ready to head off to the 7400 ft. mark and wait for Christina & Denny at that elevation.
At about 7000 ft. we come to this steep terrain. I confess that my breathing was becoming more rapid at this point going forward while climbing--'catching my breath' was necessary about every 200-300 ft. I'm not sure if all that climbing from the start or the altitude or both was beginning to wear me down. However and fortunately, early on in my life I have developed a tenacious mindset when it comes to dealing with unusual challenges. A fine friend of mine always says 'Press on regardless.' My journey continues.
More uphill! At this point, it seems never-ending!
Another needed rest at 7500 ft. Waiting for Christina and Denny. The third life form shows at this area, with the evidence of pine trees.
Wonderful and scenic wilderness with Coffman's Crag in the distance.
A brief stop for a nice view of Coffman's Crag, at 7800 ft. Getting close!
One more break around 8000ft and before the last, very steep ascension to Long Valley. The views are fantastic. In the horizon is Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs and part of the Coachella Valley. Meanwhile, I'm getting ready for the final, very steep section of this trail.
Another brief break, beyond Coffman's Crag.
Amazing! I had to stop and shoot this photo. A few more steps to go!
Looking at Grubbs Notch sign and straight ahead in the wilderness is where we all came through--feeling exuberant!
We walked a short distance to take the Tram down to catch a ride home.
This is what my GPS produced, in graph form.
If you want to view more graphical details of the hike CLICK HERE