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Ascent of San Jacinto Peak on 2021-05-01

Climber: Marcus Lostracco

Others in Party:Chad Bengston
Date:Saturday, May 1, 2021
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:San Jacinto Peak
    Location:USA-California
    Elevation:10839 ft / 3303 m

Ascent Trip Report

San Jacinto Peak Double Traverse Trip Report

Route summary
Idyllwild > San Jacinto Peak > Palm Springs > San Jacinto Peak > Idyllwild
Route description: pure out & back from Idyllwild, CA (5,413 ft) to San Jacinto Peak summit (10,839 ft) via Deer Springs Trail to Palm Springs, CA (479 ft) via Skyline trail.
Distance: 45+ miles
Net elevation gain: 16,000+ ft.
Net elevation loss: 16,000+ ft.
Class 1 all the way.

Trip summary
Others in party: Chad Bengston
Start time: 7:25pm on 4/30/2021
Reached first summit of San Jacinto Peak at 11:11pm
Reached Palm Springs (Skyline trail TH) at 4:47am on 5/1/2021
Reached second summit of San Jacinto Peak at 2:13pm
Reached Idyllwild (Deer Springs TH) at 5:47pm
Total time: 22 hours, 22 minutes, 22 seconds
Style: Supported
Weather at night: mild, around 65 degrees, some wind at higher elevations, but remaining mild through the night, not requiring any warm layers (jacket, gloves, hat, windbreaker all went unused)
Weather during day: warm, dry, windy at higher elevations
Gear used: Salomon S-lab 12-skin hydration pack. Salomon Speedcross 5 GTX shoes. Black Diamond headlamp. REI carbon collapsible trekking poles. Capacity for 4.5L water. Garmin Instinct GPS watch. Gaia GPS app on iPhone for maps/route finding.
Gear packed but not used: warm gloves, warm hat, semi-down jacket, windbreaker, microspikes, water purification tabs, Kogalla waist light (battery pack dead ?)



Trip Write-Up
There is a lot to say about this route, so I will preface it with some background info. The route itself was conceived by my good friend George, who had submitted it to the Fastest Known Time (FKT) site in 2017, something of a “dream run”. It combines the Idyllwild side route up the Deer Springs trail and infamous “cactus to clouds” route (which has the most elevation gain for a single trail in the contiguous United States) and turns right around and sends you back the same way you came, to finish again in Idyllwild, tagging the peak both ways. The route was approved by the FKT admins and was left untouched with no attempts until Johnnie Padilla, George and I had an attempt in 2019 that was thwarted due to huge snow levels in the spring season. This was very disheartening and left a sour taste in our mouths. We didn’t really talk much about it because of the disappointment.

Fast forward to October 2020, I’m running my second Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon. It’s starting to get dark as I prepare for the last 3 miles of the South Kaibab trail climb. I’m out there solo, in really rough shape, completely bonked, and it’s about to get dark and cold. I look up and I see a figure moving swiftly up the trail towards me. “Man, this guy must be a local and run this all the time”, I thought. As he came up closer, we made eye contact and the runner stopped. We looked at each other and realized we had met twice before. Chad Bengston was a good friend of my good friend Alex Lopez who we both crewed at the Kodiak 100 miler in 2018. Chad was living in Flagstaff and running in the canyon often and was out on a casual Sunday run. He hiked with me the rest of the way which gave me some strength to finish the route in about 14 hours.

Here we are in 2021 and Chad has moved back to San Diego and we’re getting together to do a few runs, keeping eachother accountable for training. We’re both getting in good shape and I float the idea of doing the San Jacinto double traverse, and we agree on a May 1 date. He definitely didn’t know what he was signing up for, but I know he’s a talented runner and capable of doing it. We made a good team on our training runs on Mt. Palomar and Toro Peak, so we set our sights on “the big dirty”, this untouched FKT route on our local big mountain, San Jacinto Peak.

Leaving San Diego on Friday, April 30th was a bit of a traffic fiasco, making for a long day to reach Idyllwild (about a 3-hour stop-and-go drive for something that can take less than 2 hours). We prepped for the run at the rental place in Idyllwild and met our send-off crew at the Deer Springs trailhead at 7:15pm. It was so awesome and special to have the whole crew there (guys: George, Johnnie, Alex, Riley, and girls: Angela, Ruby, & Alex) to send us off on our way. We left on our merry way at 7:25pm on the dot for our jaunt into the San Jacinto wilderness.

Firstly, I was carrying a ton of food. It had to be around 10,000 calories. I had 2 huge Italian subs from Pronto’s in Carlsbad village, 1 Jamaican beef patty from One Love Island Cuisine in Oceanside, 4 huge slices of banana bread I made, a pack of salt and vinegar Lays chips, 2 promeal bars, 1 Cliff bar, 3 packs of Cliff shot blocks, a sleeve of Nuun tabs, and about 15 Gu gels. I was NOT going to go hungry on this thing. Chad and I were both carrying 2L of water to start the day (I had an extra 2.5L bladder I was carrying for the Skyline trail section).

We made steady progress on our way up Deer Springs, and it wasn’t long until darkness came down upon us and we were turning on our headlamps. About 5 miles in I started recognizing the trail and having flashbacks to postholing almost waist-deep off-trail to get up the mountain from that previous attempt in 2019. Today, the trail was virtually clear of snow. Some passing hikers had concerned looks on their faces of the two of us climbing up at 9pm. We were warned the route gets hard to follow due to snow at Little Round Valley. It’s true there were some long patches of snow, but it was never too challenging to stay on the right route. Having the route loaded to the Gaia GPS app helped a lot as we made our ascent. Before long, we were standing on the summit of San Jacinto Peak at 10,839 ft. at 11:11pm, with the whole place to ourselves. Wow. So peaceful on top. Virtually no wind. Mild temperatures. The city of Palm Springs shimmering in the distance down below as if smiling back at us, in a welcoming, but taunting way.

After about 10 minutes of enjoying the peak (Chad’s first summit of San Jacinto!), we hustled down the peak trail to reach Wellman’s divide. The trail was clear of any snow all the way to Wellman’s. From here, the navigation got a little tricky to reach Round Valley. In the pitch black and with footprints going in all directions, we managed to make our way slowly down the large snow patches towards where we needed to go. The run down to Long Valley felt long and slow. We were sort of faked-out by the Round Valley ranger station, thinking we were already at Long Valley, but when we came to that realization it was another 30 minutes or so to reach Long Valley. When we got our first glimpse of the moon peeking through the clouds, we were revitalized, and made it to our water source at the Long Valley ranger station around 1:00 am, about 15 miles into our run.

This was a key moment, as we filled our water up. The idea was that we might stash water halfway down the Skyline trail so we would be carrying less weight along the way. I filled my additional bladder and all my flasks to my full 4.5L capacity. I believe Chad’s total capacity was only 3L. We found our way to Grubb’s notch (8,400 ft) at about 1:40am to begin our descent into the desert.

The top section of the Skyline trail is (one of) the worst part(s) of the whole thing. It’s just steep and loose and completely falling apart with a general path to follow dropping about 800 ft until reaching the traverse section where the trail gets a little better. I took the lead on the traverse, as I had remembered it being a little hard to navigate when I did C2C in October 2020. In fact, the trail was nice (in comparison) and we were moving right along. We turned a corned and all of a sudden, my heart sank and I audibly gasped – I asked Chad, “do you see that?? What is that??” I could swear I was looking at a motionless body on just off the side of the trail. It looked like someone with their face down and arm across their chest wearing a backpack who had fallen from above. “Is that a body??” I was almost too scared to get closer… we tip-toed a bit closer and realized it was a burnt piece of wood. My god. Terrifying. We laughed it off and felt the reality of all this sink in – people do die in the mountains quite often…

We were descending at a solid pace down the technical Skyline trail. We had not seen anyone else (besides the decoy dead body) in over 5 hours. We cruised past Flat Rock (don’t even know where that is) and the 2nd rescue box, checking it for supplies as we passed (I took a mental note – it had a several bottles of water stashed in it. Often, these boxes are raided and completely empty). There are two rescue boxes on the Skyline trail – the first is at around 3,000 ft and the second around 5,600 ft. People sometimes leave water and/or snacks in these boxes for those who might need it. It can get incredibly hot on this trail in the summer. We opted not to stash any water since I felt more confident carrying it with me in case I ran out. So, downward we went, just cruising down the mountain at a solid pace. It felt good.

Soon, we were climbing up one of the rare undulating sections and I could see what looked like a yellow reflector up ahead. I thought to myself “this is too soon to be reaching the first rescue box”, and then, I noticed two little yellow eyes were looking at me, not a reflector. I shouted “MOUNTAIN LION”, and I then noticed its bushy tail behind it as it leaped into the brush. With two of us moving at a brisk pace, I wasn’t too concerned with this animal, but we didn’t want to mess around much so we pushed the pace a bit more, adrenaline pumping now. When we encounter the predatorial animals out in the wild we are reminded this is their comfort zone and we are the ones who are out of our element.

I was thinking to myself also “I wonder when we’ll see our first hikers coming up the Skyline trail” and sure enough, we finally got within view of some of the many headlamps creeping up the trail. As we passed a few of the hikers we asked when they had started. “Midnight”, they responded. That’s almost 3 hours to reach about 3,000 ft (it was around 3am). We passed the first rescue box and a big crowd of hikers. A lot of confused reactions like “are we going the right way?” or “did you guys finish already?” – we tried explaining that we started in Idyllwild at 7pm, but it only seemed to click for a few people. We were getting some cheers as we came running down – Chad was leading at this point and really moving fast. We hit the picnic tables around 4am and stopped to take a break and have some nutrition (the Jamaican beef patty for me – soooo good). We made great time coming down and I was fully ready to tag the trailhead sign and turn around and start climbing. However, Chad was low on water (I still had a little more than 2.5L). I had done some advance research of the surrounding area near the Skyline TH and found out there was a water fountain a quarter mile from the trailhead. It is located on the right-hand side of Belardo Road as you are heading north towards Alejo Road. We enjoyed the easy jogging through the cool streets of Palm springs to get to the water fountain. To our dismay, the water fountain was turned off. I was pissed. How does Palm Springs, a city that hits 100 degrees regularly in May, have these public water fountains turned off? It’s seriously wrong. Anyhow, I had also made note of a nearby Shell gas station we could try for water as well. When we got there, the convenience store was closed and there were no bathrooms in sight. A store clerk asked us through the window what we needed and I asked to use the bathroom to fill water and he said it was closed. I suppose had he let us in to use the restroom this would have counted as support. Instead, he pointed us to a nearby garden pipe that had a faucet on it for landscaping. So, we went over to check that out, and it too, was turned off. Running out of options now, we crossed the street and saw the glistening swanky Hyatt hotel. To my surprise, the sliding doors opened right up for us and the front desk staff didn’t even look up from their computer, so we walked right over to the bathrooms where there was a water fountain on the outside. We filled our bottles to max capacity. Now, I want to stop here and ask – is this support? Who knows. The sensor opened the door for us and we pushed a button to give us water... I guess that counts as some form of automated/mechanical support? In my mind, we were still “unsupported” at this point.

After storming the Hyatt Hotel we jogged back to the start of the Skyline trail. It was 5:13am when we stepped on the trail, and dawn was breaking. I turned my headlamp off as I could clearly see the trail. I knew this was a bit of bad news as the forecast was calling for Palm Springs to be a high of 105 that day. We needed to climb and gain elevation to get clear of the heat and we needed to do it as fast as possible. When we got to the picnic tables again, we took a quick break to have some more food. I told Chad – “we need to do a 3-hour push. It’s going to be 90 at 8am in Palm Springs so we need to be at high elevation”. So, we did just that, pushing up the trail, power-hiking non-stop until 8:15am. That got us to 5,300ft elevation and we were both absolutely exhausted. We took a seat on the trail and realized we were going through our water fast. Chad was essentially out of water. I gave him some of mine. We were close to the second rescue box now and I knew we (Chad) was going to need to take some of that water if we were going to make it to the tram station. Things were not looking great for us.

We got to the rescue box around 9am and this is where we threw in the “unsupported” towel. Chad took about 300ml of water and the can of coconut water – thank you to whoever put that there. You saved us today. However, we could still complete the route as a “supported’ effort, so we carried on with that objective in mind, and with the intention of getting all the support $30 could buy in refreshments at the tram station when we got there. We started fantasizing about soft drinks – coke, sprite, root beer, mountain dew, ginger ale… now we were motivated. It was sort of a relief to know we had an aid station, essentially, coming up soon.

The last mile or so of the Skyline trail is very challenging, especially after being on your feet for 14 hours. We could hear people reaching Grubb’s Notch above us, cheering on their friends as they made it up. We were so close. The group at the top was in very good spirits and when we got up to meet them, they were surprised and asked “are you doing hill repeats? We saw you guys going down!” When we told them our route they immediately started offering things like food and water – it’s amazing how willing people are to help. We politely declined knowing we would get plenty of refreshments at the tram station in a few minutes. But, before getting to the tram, there’s about a 0.2 mile concrete ramp to slog up to get to the actual building. This was maybe the worst climb of the day for me. So exhausted at this point.

Walking into the building, we went straight to the restaurant area on the 2nd floor and picked up 2 brisk ice teas, 1 coconut water, and 1 chocolate milk…. $14. We sat down and rested and enjoyed our beverages. We spent the rest of the money on a turkey sandwich for Chad, and an ice cream sandwich for me :)

It was now about 11:30 am after taking about a 50-minute break at the tram and we were ready to get this thing done, but still had a long way to go. Hour 15 and counting. We filled our water all the way back up and kept on trekking. We had to fill out the mandatory day-use permit (free) at the Long Valley ranger station. There were probably 8 park rangers there just hanging out yelling at people to fill out permits. As we started climbing we quickly came and went past the Round Valley campground and cruised up to Wellman’s Divide for our first break. I was surprised, it seemed like the elevation was not affecting me as much this time up. I guess we were acclimatizing. I also noticed a Gu gel had exploded due to altitude/loss of air pressure and my base layer was literally glued stuck to my skin, which was super annoying but I tolerated it all the way up to the summit. I tried washing it a few times with water but it would just glue right back to my skin so I had to basically put up with it the whole rest of the day.

We were leap-frogging a big group of hikers who had also seen us at the bottom and were surprised we caught back up and were passing them now. We arrived at the summit for the second time at 2:13pm. This was an awesome feeling. We were both super happy at this moment and took a good 15 minutes on the summit block to take it all in. It had been a huge day so far. We texted our friends that it would be about 3 hours until we would be able to descend the 9 miles back to the bottom of the trail. This was a really, really long 9 miles.

At first, we were running along pretty well down the trail, Chad taking the lead as he is the better downhill runner of the two of us. I was annoyed again by the Gu glue so I decided to take my shirt off entirely and avoid this tearing/ripping feeling. Right after I had done this, we kept on running and I was sort of in the zone cruising along with tunnel vision and the brim of my hat pulled down pretty low. And all of a sudden, WHAM! I smashed my head into a tree that was hanging low on the trail. Owwwww. Thankfully, it wasn’t too bad and I didn’t feel any concerning symptoms. I popped my hat brim back up and we kept plugging along. Chad was moving quickly and I was trying to keep up. Eventually I was able to get a rhythm going and we found ourselves moving at a blistering 8 minute/mile pace (fastest all day!). This was short-lived however, as I quickly ran out of energy and the downhill was much longer than we thought it was.

Soon, we were crossing a stream and there was another duo of runners who were filling up water there. We stopped and did the usual “how’s it going?” and the response was along the lines of “big day”… In my head I was thinking, “oh yeah? What’s your big day? I guarantee you ours is bigger!” but we asked the question and discovered they were doing the reverse direction of the route we were doing. What are the odds?? So surprising to cross paths with these guys. They were at the 11-hour mark and were about 1.5 hours from the summit (from what I’d estimate). They would go on to finish in Palm Springs in about 17 hours – super solid time. I would later learn these two guys (Rob Manley & Jason Hardrath) are very active in the FKT word and are stellar runners. It was awesome to have this “clash of the titans” moment on the trail!

After this provided a brief boost of energy, we got going following the trail but soon lost it and were running down a gully leading to nowhere. Hiking back up to where we lost the trail took a lot of effort and the the bonking would shortly follow for me. Chad was flying down the trail and I was slowly fading more and more. I was starting to get clumsy, stubbing my toe a few times, which was painful. The Gu glue tearing skin feeling also irritating as hell. Dead legs. Everything. I was shattered. All I could manage was a 15 min/mile downhill shuffle. I can’t emphasize how this last part dragged on and on. I was feeling beautiful positive emotions, but I was also overwhelmed with frustration as I normally can muster up a strong finish at the end of a long effort. Not this time. We knew our friends would be at the bottom waiting for us. Finally, we hit the dirt road crossing and down the last quarter mile to the main road. We were done! But nobody was around… we realized we finished about 200 feet up the road. We walked down to where everyone was at and caught them all off guard. So nice to be done, surrounded by friends. And with a cold beer in hand. I let my watch run a few extra seconds so it would hit 22:22:22, easy to remember :) (Strava has it posted at 22:22:25 for some reason)

This was by far the hardest single-day activity I’ve done, probably on par with the Ute 100-miler. Really proud of Chad for being positive all day and running strong. It takes a lot of determination and willpower to get through this type of thing and I was happy to have Chad as my teammate in this adventure. We’ll definitely be teaming up for some more of this stuff soon, but not too soon. It’s important to live in the moment and reflect on what you do. This run was humbling in every aspect. The mountain always wins, and in this case, it dominates.

Life has no limits - the only way to test this, is to push them.

Note: there is a whole list of "lessons learned" I will be adding at a later time.

Click on photo for original larger-size version.
View of Palm Springs from the summit of San Jacinto Peak at 11pm (2021-04-30). Photo by Marcus Lostracco.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:10000 ft / 3048 m
    Total Elevation Loss:6000 ft / 1828 m
    Round-Trip Distance:24.5 mi / 39.4 km
    Grade/Class:Class 1
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Headlamp, Ski Poles
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ideal spring weather for San Jacinto
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:10000 ft / 3048 m
    Distance:15 mi / 24.1 km
    Route:Skyline Trail
    Start Trailhead:Palm Springs  839 ft / 255 m
    Time:10 Hours 20 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:6000 ft / 1828 m
    Distance:9.5 mi / 15.3 km
    Route:Deer Springs Trail
    End Trailhead:Idyllwild  4839 ft / 1474 m
    Time:3 Hours 40 Minutes
Ascent Part of Trip: San Jacinto Peak Double Traverse (1 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
OrderPeak/PointDateGain
1San Jacinto Peak2021-04-306000 ft / 1829 m
2San Jacinto Peak2021-05-0110000 ft / 3048 m
Total Trip Gain: 16000 ft / 4877 m    Total Trip Loss: 16000 ft / 4877 m



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