In Search of the Edge: Cactus to Clouds – Mt San Jacinto

Cactus to Clouds

“The Edge…There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others-the living-are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it. They pulled back, or slowed down or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still out there.”

Hunter S. Thompson

Impulsive Hiking Decision

Tuesday afternoon my phone lit up with a text from one of my good friends, “Can you do Cactus to Clouds tomorrow?”

My friend, Russ, and I had been casually talking about doing the strenuous 22 mile hike a few months prior, but we had never worked out the details.

I knew it was a tough hike, but I had done tough hikes before. I had the gear and the time off, so why not? I don’t have “yes” tattooed on my body for no reason (seriously, I have “YES” tattooed on my body)!

Getting to the Trailhead

Russ is a pilot, so we decided against the 5 hour drive and instead took a Cessna 172 over to Palm Springs.

We started the morning flying over the mountains at sunrise while relaxing and taking in the views the desert had to offer.

We arrived at the trailhead a little after 0700 where the usual signs greeted us: “stay on the trail,” “pack out what you pack in,” and our personal favorite “hiking beyond your ability can result in injury or death.” After all, the best hikes are the ones that warn you of death, right?


Commence Hiking – Skyline Trail

The trail started out pretty well marked considering the portion of the hike from the desert floor to the tram isn’t maintained by the state. Though as we gained in elevation, the trail began to lose clear markings of where it truly was.

We lost the trail several times and had to boulder over massive rock piles in the general direction of where we were going in hopes we’d find the trail again. Although this was actually pretty fun, we didn’t take into account how much extra energy we were expending.

We were still smiling at 5,700 feet (1,737 meters) when we stopped for lunch, patted ourselves on the back for how much we had climbed in elevation, and how good we felt.

5th hardest hike in North America? Yeah, maybe to some people we thought, but not us. We fueled up on good food and an equally good view at flat rock. Then figured we’d reach the top by sunset, take some sweet pictures, and be back to the airport by 2000. Oh man, were we wrong.


The Traverse from Hell

Shit got real, real quick: the stops for pictures thinned, the GoPro stayed in the pack, the climate quickly changed from sunny desert to snowy alpine, and the grind really began.

2,000 feet (610 meters) of elevation gain over 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) is no joke: the temperature dropped into the 40’s, the sun disappeared above the trees, and the dirt trail started accumulating more and more snow. It was when the trail started handing us 60% inclines that we started cursing at ourselves for thinking we were too good for trekking poles.

Those 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) took us two hours! But when that glorious patch of blue sky appeared in the distance, marking that the traverse from hell was finally coming to an end, we felt rejuvenated.


Tram to Summit

Only 5.5 miles (8.9 kilometers) left to the summit. 10 miles (16 kilometers) down, 11 miles (17.8 kilometers) to go. Wait, what? We had been hiking for over 7 hours and we weren’t even halfway? Thank goodness this thought didn’t sink in. We were just happy to be on a flat trail, for now.

Despite the trail being completely covered in snow, from the tram to the summit the trail was clearly marked since we were now in the state maintained portion of the hike.

As we passed the ranger station we paused to layer up, fill out our permits (these are required from the tram to the summit and they’re free), and head out into a winter wonderland.

The last stretch! I kept thinking we could still reach the summit by sunset, but 5.5 icy miles (8.9 kilometers) in 2 hours was not going to happen.

However, we did get a sunset over Wellman’s Divide, which was 2.3 miles (3.7 kilometers) from the summit. It was insane! That remarkable sunset will forever be burned into my memory – not only because of how beautiful that desert sunset was with our birds eye view, but because of how hard we worked to achieve that view.


The last little bit of light in the sky was leaving as we broke through the trees and revealed the twinkling lights of Palm Springs where we had started some 12 hours prior. 10,834 feet (3,302 meters) was so close!


The wind was brutal once we scrambled the last little bit to the top, but nothing to that point has been more satisfying than holding that San Jacinto peak sign with our barely working, frozen hands.


Summit to Tram

After slipping and sliding on the way up, we decided it was best to throw the crampons on for the decent down especially since it was pitch black now.

Ten minutes into our descent Russ turns back to me and says, “We really should’ve put these on 4 hours ago.” All I could think to myself was, we also really should’ve brought trekking poles

Even though we were now heading back down in elevation, altitude and exhaustion was hitting us hard. Full blown headaches, hallucinations, tunnel vision… I think all the bravado of making it to the top had left our bodies, and we were just ready to be done.

I kept zoning out until my headlamp would catch a snow drift, and I’d think I saw something moving out in the woods. My head was on a constant swivel despite telling myself that nothing was out there. Rocks were turning into animals, trees were turning into people… I was tripping hard.

Russ was speaking complete nonsense, or my brain was incapable of understanding any meaningful conversation at that point. Likely a combination of both. The only thing I could make out besides the routine grunting were variations of the F bomb.

Hitting the 1.7 mile (2.7 kilometer) marker was almost a better feeling than reaching the summit.

As beat up as my body felt at that moment, I was ready to run to the tram. I even calculated how much time it might take us based off the trail conditions and the darkness. It could all be over in less than 20 minutes if we just ran… (Later on we both talked about how we thought about asking the other if we just wanted to run it out, but between altitude sickness, ice, and pure exhaustion neither one of us suggested it out loud).

Tram to Airport

FINALLY the ranger station!

We dropped off our permits so they would know we were alive in the morning and saw the sign for “TRAM 0.3 mi.”

It was almost over! Then the most soul crushing part of the hike hit. The last 0.3 miles (0.5 kilometers) were a zig-zagged, concrete ramp. That’s one lap around the track plus some change straight up.

At this point it was 2100 and for whatever reason I had convinced myself that the last tram was at 2115 (it’s not, it’s at 2145). I was in full panic mode.

Russ had really slowed down due to the altitude sickness, and there was no way I was letting us miss the tram. I didn’t even pause to take my crampons off my boots. I just started running up the hill from hell using my arms to pull myself up the railings. There was no way we were spending the night on top of this mountain. Side note: if you do get stuck on top, the ranger station keeps its heated bathrooms unlocked and that’s where you bunker down for the night. 

I burst through the doors to an empty room, and ran up a flight of stairs nearly colliding with a group of housekeepers. One read my mind before I even had the chance to ask. He looked at me apologetically and said, “It just left, I’m so sorry you missed it.”

My heart sunk. Just as I was about to burst into tears I heard a voice behind me say, “Don’t worry. There’s another one at 2145.” The voice behind me belonged to Jodi, the woman who was our saving grace for the night.

The problem with there being another one tram down at 2145 was that we had to be at the airport no later than 2200, otherwise we weren’t flying out that night.

It’s an 11 – 15 minute tram ride down, and another 15 minutes to the airport from the bottom of the tram parking lot. No matter what you do, 26 – 30 minutes of travel time cannot turn into less than 15 minutes.

Jodi, our tram angel, called for a special tram to come up just for us so that we could make it to the airport (potentially) in time. Shout out to Jodi! You were our MVP that night, and we’ll never forget you.

We called an Uber just before boarding the tram and kept our fingers crossed that the Uber would be waiting for us at the bottom since you lose service immediately once you start going down the mountain. Luckily another angel in disguise was waiting for us.

Our Uber driver knew service in the area was bad, and she waited for us instead of taking off when we didn’t answer our phones. As soon as we got in the car, Russ politely asked her to drive as fast as she was comfortable with since at this moment we had 12 minutes to make it to the airport on time. Her response was perfect, “Don’t worry. I used to drive an ambulance.”

Holy moly did that woman take off! We were estimated to arrive at the airport 4 minutes past closing, and she got us there 2 minutes before 2200. That woman was a road animal!

We burst through the doors at the airport, checked out, and were at the plane by 2200 exactly.

Hiking Cactus to Clouds – Not the Best Impulsive Idea Even for the Most Advanced Hikers

I would not suggest doing this hike on a whim.

Everything that needed to go right, went right for us, but we were lucky. We were reliant on factors outside our control, which can always go sideways.

That being said, Cactus to Clouds is an epic adventure! If you’re in good shape and you have your gear in check, go for it. It may not be enjoyable the entire time, but you’ll be stoked you did it.

What was in my Pack, and What did I Wear?

Always, always be prepared for long hikes!

Seriously, you cannot be over-prepared. We went through all of our water and food, and put on all of our layers before the end of the hike. If we hadn’t packed the way we did, we might’ve not made it – sometimes being lucky just isn’t enough.

Cactus to Clouds Packing List:

I couldn’t find my trekking poles that morning (again, impulsive decision) of the hike otherwise I definitely would’ve packed them. So, below is the list of items I should’ve packed:

  • Trekking Poles
  • Thicker Gloves (My hands were barely working at the summit)
  • Salt Tabs (shout out to Russ for bringing some, however I would bring more next time)
  • GU’s or some other quick carbs

Reminder to Just Say Yes!

And, more importantly as always, say yes to experiences that present themselves to you! Life is full of fun and wonder – don’t be stuck at home wondering what life could be like, should be like, would be like… drop that nonsense! Get out there, say yes, and never look back!

Follow ME 🙂

Click on the links below to follow me on my social media accounts, and definitely subscribe to my blog for more of my exciting Yescapades!

As a disclaimer, I was not paid by any of the above linked sites. This review is solely mine without any monetary compensation.

However, I will receive a small kickback from Amazon if you purchase any of the items linked to Amazon. As always, I only link to items I believe in! I would never lead you astray.

Dark Night Skies! Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park

Avoid the Golf Courses and Spa!

A group of friends and I were recently in Palm Desert, California, for a work function (overview article to be published soon).

Now, being in Palm Desert you may think, so I guess I’ll golf and enjoy the spa… but there are so many other fun activities to take part in besides the most obvious and cliché!

One such activity is stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park!

How to Prep for Stargazing

My amazing friend, Julia, looked heavily into what we needed in order to have the best stargazing experience. From her research, here are my top 6 steps to follow:

  • Choose a location that has minimal light pollution. There are numerous locations within the park you can pull over to stargaze – just ensure you are in a designated pull out, and your car is no more than 20 feet (6 meters) away from you.
  • Pack all of the comfort and stargazing necessities. It’s always good to have a comfortable chair to sit in which naturally allows your head to crane up towards the sky. It’s also awesome to come prepared with binoculars and telescopes so that you can truly admire the wonders of space. And, super important, it gets quite cold at night so having multiple layers will aid you greatly once the sun has gone down.
  • Pick a place to meet well in advance. Joshua Tree National Park has very limited (if any) cell phone reception. Ensure that you’ve picked a location so that everyone can plug the address into their GPS before they leave a data friendly area. We had zero service at our final destination, and didn’t caravan out together. If you caravan out, I highly recommend ensuring each vehicle has a walkie talkie.
  • Ensure that the meetup location legally accommodates your party size. We chose to meet at the Cottonwood Visitor Center because we expected to have a group of around 30 people. When we called to discuss this with the Park Ranger, just to confirm we were complying with all of the park rules, he informed us that the only place we could have that large of a party without permits, etc. was at a visitor center within the park. Although this visitor center was awesome (bathrooms, parking lot, clear spaces to setup our gear, legally allowed to be here), I recommend stargazing from a different location – we had multiple issues with car headlights.
  • Setup your stargazing items before the sun sets. Chairs, tripod, telescopes, etc. should all be setup before the sun sets. No one likes stumbling around in the dark trying to setup their equipment – so set it up well in advance so you can enjoy the experience.
  • Have appropriate light sources so you don’t stumble into a cactus. It takes roughly 30 minutes for your eyes to chemically adjust to get maximum night vision (source). If you experience any form of light (other than specific red light), you have to start all over! This mean no cell phones, car headlights, portable flashlights, headlamps, or other forms of light should be used once the sun has set.

For more information, visit Joshua Tree National Park’s page about Stargazing.

And scroll to the bottom of this post to see a full list of what we packed in with us to enhance our stargazing experience.

Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park

Before Sunset – Desert Views

We chose to leave our resort in Palm Desert and head to the Cottonwood Visitor Center in Joshua Tree National Park around 1600 since sunset was predicted for 1722.

We wanted to ensure we had plenty of time to find the visitor center in the daylight, setup camp, and of course take pictures of the scenery!

Final Sunlight Shining on the Distant Mountains in Joshua Tree National Park Just Behind the Visitor’s Center.
Admiring the Last Rays of Sunlight Dipping Below the Mountains.

Pentax HDR Landscape Photos

And because you all know I nerd out with my camera, I had to shoot some photos in HDR Landscape mode! So pumped on how they turned out!



Nerding out Hard – Our Stargazing Equipment

I cannot recommend legitimate stargazing equipment more! My friend, Henk, brought two telescopes and a set of binoculars.

Seeing the stars with your eyes is still a wonderful experience, and one that shouldn’t be passed up whenever you have the opportunity. But having a telescope is a game changer.

Stargazing Equipment.

Astrophotography and Constellations!

Watching the sky become progressively darker and darker was unreal.

This was my first time using the astrophotography mode on my Pentax, so bear with me as the photos are of decent quality.

My main falter was with my tripod. I am obsessed with my Gorillapod, but it’s only a little more than a foot (0.3 meters) tall.

Basically, I had no idea what my camera could see because my camera was on the ground, and I didn’t have a table to set it up on so that I could see what the camera could see. There’s definitely room for improvement.

However, you can get an idea of how gorgeous the sky was from the photos I did take!

And, even though I can’t prove it with photos, we could clearly make out Orion, Betelgeuse, Cassiopeia, Big Dipper, and Polaris.

We even found the Andromeda Galaxy, closest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way, with the telescope! It was stunning!

Photo Taken when the Sky was Almost at its Darkest – Mountain from Photos Before Sunset is in the Background.
Hello Beautiful, Dark Skies!

What We Packed In

Comfort & Equipment Setup

If you’re going to be out stargazing you have to have the right equipment to make sure you’re both comfortable and able to capture the moment!

Below are affiliate links to some of my favorite car camping products:

  • Zero gravity lounge chairs are a game changer! Sitting under the stars while craning your neck up is no way to go. You need, seriously need, zero gravity chairs so that you can lounge, see the stars, and not get cramps in your neck or elsewhere.

  • A bitchin camera for astrophotography is a total must. The photos in this blog post were shot with my Pentax K-70 body mounted with an 18-135mm lens because I’m still a beginner. However, I recommend upping your camera game if you’re progressing to intermediate or advance photography levels with the Sony Alpha.


  • The last thing you want to be is cold when you’re out in the desert at night trying to enjoy the stars. My go-to is always a comfortable and cozy Mexican blanket. When I’m looking to sport for fancy I always think of Pendleton (this brand is expensive but oh so worth it). And know your weather – if it’s going to be misty a weatherproof blanket may be the way to go.


  • I encourage everyone in your party to have one walkie talkie in their vehicle in the event someone gets lost on the way to the meetup location. When you drive out into the middle of nowhere to get away from light pollution you tend to lose cell service and you’re seriously in the dark. So let’s not lose your party on the way to the meetup spot. (the walkie talkies linked below are reasonably priced and carry a signal over 5 miles – while they aren’t crazy fancy, they certainly provide the necessary safety-communication factor)


  • And maybe the most important of all the gear are red lights. Your eyes are super sensitive to light and take roughly 30 minutes to adjust to the dark in order to properly see the constellations and solar systems. These lights provide enough light for you to move around your camp to reach for your beer without disrupting the adjustment your eyes have made.

Reminder to Just Say Yes and Follow Me!

As always, say yes to experiences that present themselves to you! Life is full of fun and wonder – don’t be stuck at home wondering what life could be like, should be like, would be like… drop that nonsense! Get out there, say yes, and never look back!

Click on the links below to follow me on my social media accounts, and definitely subscribe to the blog for more exciting Yescapades!

As a disclaimer, I was not paid by any of the above linked sites. This review is solely mine without any monetary compensation. I will however receive a kickback from the affiliate links if you choose to make a purchase.

19 February 2018 – Live Your Dream

“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

Dr. Seuss

Have you ever experienced a vibrant, almost life-like dream? Where you’ve woken up only to realize that it wasn’t a reality, but just a figment of your imagination. And upon realizing that it wasn’t real, you felt a bit empty, sad, or maybe even lonely.

That is a horrid feeling! The feeling of waking up alive and bright only to have the feeling wane, fade, and disappear.

We can’t feel wholesome and fulfilled if we aren’t living up to our potential.

Going through life, participating in the same mundane cycle on repeat that doesn’t make you your best you, won’t make your reality better than your dreams.

So stop for a moment on this new Monday morning and think to yourself, what can I do today to make my reality better than my dreams?

Does this mean getting up a bit earlier to start that workout you’ve been meaning to make part of your routine?

Does this mean writing down your thoughts, dreams, hopes, wishes, goals, etc. in a journal so that you can reflect on them and push forward towards actually accomplishing them?

Does this mean rekindling important relationships that need mending, but you haven’t taken the time to do so?

Does this mean changing your perception of what your every day is?

Does this mean letting go of something bitter that’s been holding you back from reaching your true potential or no longer aligns with what you need?

Whatever it may be – CHANGE IT!

You have all the power in the world to say yes to what will benefit you!

You have all the power in the world to stop the harmful cycle that makes you want to sleep versus live!

You have all the power in the world to be the change you need to be your best you!

As Dr. Seuss said, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is better than your dreams.”

So go find love – love isn’t necessarily a material object or a person. Love is a feeling. It’s a feeling that drives you forward every single day.

I challenge you to make the change that’s preventing you from loving your reality and preventing your reality from being better than your dreams.

And it may be multiple changes that need to be made. That’s okay! As long as you don’t lose sight of what will turn your dreams into a reality.

You can do it! I know you can say yes to the changes that need to be made no matter how daunting they may seem. The question is, will you?


Must Love Dogs – Mission Bay Morning Walks

Oh, to Own a Dog

Having a dog is both a pain and a blessing.

There are times in the morning when you may want to lie in bed, wake up gradually, do nothing, watch tv, fall back asleep… but that cute little furry creature, who pops his or her head up on the foot of the bed, stares at you with eyes wide open and tail wagging, just won’t let it happen.

This may sound like a pain, and I assure you sometimes it feels exactly like that! Though truly it’s a blessing – we just need coffee in our systems to sometimes realize it.

We work really hard, exert ourselves every single day, and come home exhausted. Only to fall asleep, wake up, and start the process all over again.

Because of this vicious cycle, sometimes all we want is to be lazy and sleep for a little longer. Rid your mind of this mentality!

Sleep is a waste of time, and I know you’ve heard people say that over and over again, but it’s totally true!

How many great memories did you make while you were sleeping? Seriously, how many?

Dr. Seuss once said, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” (Inspiration for this coming Monday’s Yes Quote of the Week! <hint hint>)

“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

Dr. Seuss

No way can reality be better than your dreams if you’re choosing to lie in bed over the life awaiting you just outside your bedroom door!

So get up, and embrace the adorable ball of fluff that is now on the bed, crazily licking your face in his or her final attempt to get you out of bed and outside for a W-A-L-K.

Our Furry Best Friends!

Nikki and I are both dog moms!

Nikki has an 8-year-old Australian Shepherd, “Auzzy”, and I share a 12-year-old German Shepherd / Husky mix, “Peyton”, with my boyfriend, Ryan.

These two are our little furry blessings!

Every weekend, when Nikki isn’t working the night shift at the hospital, we get up early, caffeinate (it’s a must), and take our boys for a walk. Our favorite walk is along the Mission Bay Boardwalk in San Diego, California.

Auzzy (Left) and Peyton (Right) on the Grass at Mission Bay.

Mission Bay Morning Walks

Mission Bay Boardwalk never fails – it could be dead of winter and the boardwalk is still absolutely stunning! Shoot, yesterday was a high of 70°F (21°C), and I mistakenly chose to wear my Patagonia Better Sweater – thankfully I had a t-shirt on underneath.

Aly and Nikki Walking Along the Boardwalk with Their Furry Friends.

There are vast fields of green, occasional trees to provide shade, a perfectly paved path to walk along, and gorgeous views of downtown and the bay.

Not to mention there’s a perfect beach you can hangout on and play Kubb should you choose to not opt for the traditional method on the lawn. Summer Olympic sport? I’m game! Checkout my article about playing Kubb: On Sundays, We Kubb.

And you don’t have to walk the whole time. Nikki and I prefer to take a break, catch up on life, and admire the views. There’s so much happening all the time that you need to take a moment for yourself.

Aly and Nikki Catching up on Life.
Gorgeous View of Downtown San Diego From Mission Bay.

Times + Dates Dogs are NOT Allowed on Mission Bay

So, when can you be on Mission Bay Boardwalk with your dog – this is serious because you can receive a hefty ticket…

Dogs are not allowed during the following times and dates:

April 1 – October 31: 0900 – 1800

November 1 – March 31: 0900 – 1600

North Mission Bay Park, Early Morning in January.

Recommended Dog Walking Accessory

Nikki, my boyfriend Ryan, and I cannot recommend the hands free dog leash made by TaoTronics enough! From easy day walks to hardcore hiking excursions, these leashes have been a game changer.

Nikki is using the leash in the photos for this article if you’re unsure. I forgot mine at home and had to use a normal 6 foot leash… Trust me when I say attempting to setup a camera while controlling a dog is not easy when you only have two hands.

And… hands free leashes do make great sense. The same concept became applied to cars when they installed Bluetooth. Just sayin’ 😉

Reminder to Just Say Yes!

And, more importantly as always, say yes to experiences that present themselves to you! Life is full of fun and wonder – don’t be stuck at home wondering what life could be like, should be like, would be like… drop that nonsense! Get out there, say yes, and never look back!

Aly’s Camera Choice

All of the pictures were shot with my Pentax K-70, 18-135mm Lens and edited by me using Adobe Creative Cloud.

I’m in the market for the Prime 15-30mm Pentax Lens so be on the lookout for when I post photos using that bad boy! Landscape and portrait photography are my passion.

Follow ME 🙂

Click on the links below to follow me on my social media accounts, and definitely subscribe to my blog for more of my exciting Yescapades!

As a disclaimer, I was not paid by any of the above linked sites. This review is solely mine without any monetary compensation.

However, I will receive a small kickback from Amazon if you decide you want to become a Pentaxian like me! I can’t recommend the Pentax K-70 and Adobe Creative Cloud more – look at all my pictures if you don’t believe me.

I will also receive a small kickback for any of the other items linked to Amazon. As always, I only link to items I believe in! I would never lead you astray.

12 February 2018 – Surrender to What Is

“Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment… Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life – and see how life starts suddenly to start working for you rather than against you.”

Eckhart Tolle

Too often we get wrapped up in what was or could be instead of enjoying what is.

We run so fast and work so hard that sometimes we don’t even stop think about the present.

We’re  constantly thinking about what we need to do in order to succeed… what we could’ve done better… where we would be if

Let those thoughts and fears leave your mind if for no longer than at least 5 minutes. Take time to yourself to just feel you in the present moment.

Are you outside? Can you hear the birds chirping? Can you smell the fresh air? Can you feel the warmth of the sunshine?

Are you at home? Can you hear the dishwasher running? Can you smell the fresh cut flowers in the vase on the counter? Can you feel the soft beating of the water from the shower head?

Are you in the car? Can you hear the radio playing your favorite song? Can you smell that new car smell after having your car detailed? Can you feel the car accelerate each time you lower your foot on the pedal?

Are you at the office? Can you hear the footsteps of coworkers running around? Can you smell the freshly made coffee in the kitchen? Can you feel the smooth texture of the desk surface?

Take the next 5 minutes or so to think about yourself, and where you’re at right now in this moment. Don’t let your mind wander to what happened yesterday, or what you need to accomplish in the next hour. Simply stop, take a deep meditative breath, and reflect on this moment.

Surrender to what is so that you can enjoy what will come.

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