This season in Palm Springs started out pretty slow in terms of our old routines. A lot of the old venues were either still closed or operating on a limited time frame. Large gatherings were still suspect and the virus still hadn’t gone away. But most troubling for me was the lack of any forms of real exercise.
It’s not that Sharon and I weren’t busy most of the time. Those first two months were a whirl-wind of house painting (hired out but still!), new carpeting in all the bedrooms, preparing for the kids who were coming for Thanksgiving, etc.
Saguaro still hadn’t opened up their social membership and I wasn’t interested in local gyms. I had been walking the berm five days a week but that hardly qualified as a real workout.
My own writing projects just kept expanding and there was no let-up in sight for me there. Then Better World Books came to the rescue and I found the answer in a new pile of books to read.
It started with ‘On the Loose’ by Jerry and Renny Russell and continued on with Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling book ‘Wild’. While I wasn’t quite up to doing the Pacific Crest Trail, I was motivated to get off my duff and go back to hiking on some mountain trails as I had in the past.
One of the joys of being able to spend time in the desert is the opportunity to get above it all. Palm Springs and its surrounding communities have an abundance of hiking trails for both the casual hiker and serious mountain goat. Trail access is available down the entire length of the Coachella Valley. Trails cover hundreds of miles through a variety of terrain and difficulty. For residents and visitors alike, mountain hiking is one of the perks of being in the desert.
Several years ago, I took some visiting friends up one of those trails. Paul is an old classmate of mine from high school. Both he and his wife, Joyce, are ardent hikers. We stopped frequently for photo ops and to give me a chance to catch my breath. They also taught me the fine art of walking with ‘sticks’. I’ve been a convert and almost a zealot for hiking sticks ever since.
The mother lode of hiking in the Valley is called ‘The Skyline Trail’ or for those in the know ‘C2C’ which translated means Cactus to Clouds.
It’s a ten-hour (minimum) mountain climb that travels ten miles uphill for an elevation gain of over 8000 feet. It traverses three eco-zones and can be a killer for the uninitiated, especially in the summer months.
I’ve always harbored the fantasy of climbing the C2C. But when I mentioned it to my kids several years ago, they just rolled their eyes and laughed at me. Then to add insult to injury they ended up doing it themselves in 2018 much to my sad chagrin and great pride.
Another challenging climb, though not as dangerous, is called Murray Peak. Although it’s called a ‘hill’ at 2200 feet on most maps, Murray Peak is, in fact, the highest peak in the vicinity of Palm Springs. It’s been labeled a moderate to strenuous hike with a total distance of almost seven miles and a vertical gain of over 2200 feet. It takes an average of five hours for completion with only a few rest stops along the way. For the seasoned hiker it’s a refreshing walk up the mountain. For less conditioned souls, it can be a gut-buster and taxiing on the lungs.
When I first started hiking in the Coachella Valley I found a trail closer to home and a fun Saturday morning endeavor. It’s called the South Lykken Trail and is part of the North and South Lykken Trail that stretches for nine miles. It takes about five hours of moderate hiking to traverse the entire trial. The elevation gain is only about 800 feet and it’s considered a moderate hike by local standards.
Then several seasons ago, another trail caught and captured my attention. This one is called the Garstin Trail. That old goat path climbs up over two miles that switch back and forth and practically stumble over themselves in the process. Elevation rises from roughly 700 feet to 1500 feet up Smoke Tree Mountain. The trail rises to a plateau connecting up with the Shannon, Berns, Wild Horse and Eagle Canyon Trails. Even for the most ardent, experienced hiker it can be a gut-sucking, deep breathing endeavor.
Skirting the base of that same mountain is the Henderson trail. It’s a rolling dirt path that dips and pitches with the elevation along the mountain side. Near the back end of the mountain it connects to the Shannon Trail. The Shannon Trail, in turn, winds its way up the backside of the mountain and connects with the Garstin Trail.
From any one of the switch-backs on the Shannon Trail, a hiker can enjoy a panoramic view of my neighborhood, Indian Canyon, the San Jacinto and Little San Bernardino Mountains, the depth of Palm Canyon and the broad expanse of the community of Palm Springs. There’s Bob Hope’s house and other South Ridge celebrity enclaves perched high above the valley floor.
Now a new trail route awaits me sometime this spring, once I’ve prepared for tackling it. I’ve labeled it ‘The Three Sisters’ for no reason in particular. It’s triple crown hiking loop that encompasses the Henderson Trail, the Shannon Trail and the Garstin Trail. It is a self-anointed, self-appointed trek that I’ve accomplished just once a couple of years ago. The trails are moderately challenging in the loop that gains roughly 760 feet in elevation. The top of the mountain there is at fifteen hundred feet. Your average desert rat can cover that distance at a fairly fast pace. Old goats like me take a little longer.
The ‘Three Sisters’ offer up spectacular views up and down the broad expanse of the entire eastern Coachella Valley. Something magical, almost spiritual, can happen during a mountain hike. It’s a physical as well as a mental challenge. At face value, it can be a day of hiking, climbing or finger-probing the rough crags and fissures of the mountain face. On a more spiritual level, it’s an assent into the vaulted realm of oxygen deprivation, aching muscles, sweat-drenched clothing and overall mental exhilaration…all to put your head in the right place.
Over the years, I’ve tried long distance biking, marathons and long trail runs. Collectively they can punish the body all the while soothing the soul. The Triple Crown is no different. It just takes a little longer to cover the distance and get to that storied place inside my head.