Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hiking: Training for 20-mile Cactus-to-Clouds Hike

I've decided I am ready to set a goal for the final 20-mile trek I must accomplish to complete the requirements for the Boy Scouts Hiking Merit Badge. I realize the easy way to reach this goal would be to map out a fairly level hike that I could complete in the shortest time and with the least difficulty possible. However, I am going a different way. I'm going all out. I'm planning to do the Cactus-to-Clouds hike from Palm Springs to San Jacinto Peak and back to the upper tram terminal.

To be honest with you, it is with more than a bit of trepidation that I set such a lofty goal for myself. I am still obese - weighing 270 pounds with a BMI of 35. I'm about 80 pounds heavier than "normal" for my height, and I'm carrying around 29 percent body fat. I will have to lose some weight if I want to make this hike possible - especially considering that I must complete it in one day, no overnight.

The hike starts at just 560 feet elevation and climbs 10,600 feet over 14.5 miles to reach San Jacinto Peak. According to the guide book, 101 Hikes in Southern California, this is the "greatest elevation gain of any dayhike in the Lower 48." Fortunately, though, it's not complete wilderness. At the 9-mile point, you reach the tram terminal, an excellent place to refuel. There's a restaurant and a place to refill water bottles, but I will need to carry plenty of rations in my pack. And I will need to set off before dawn if I plan to make it back down from the peak before sunset.

Planning for this hike is of utmost important, as is training. Based on weather conditions, 101 Hikes author Jerry Schad recommends taking this trek in late spring or early fall - to avoid snow at the upper elevations and excruciating desert heat at the bottom. Also, Schad recommends taking conditioning hikes to prepare for the distance and elevation. He says you should train by including hikes of "5,000 feet or more of elevation gain, plus exposure to elevations of 9,000 feet or more."

I will be moving to Southern California in September, so I will be able to do conditioning hikes in the San Jacinto Mountains as well as in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains. While I'm still in New Mexico, however, I will practice on Sandia, which reaches an elevation of 10,678 feet. The elevation gains on Sandia are significant, but because all the trail heads start above 6,000 feet, I will not be able to experience the 5,000+ gains until I'm in SoCal.

My first conditioning hike will be next week. I plan to hike the La Luz trail, starting at the lower tram terminal and hiking to the upper terminal. This hike will be 10 miles and will have an approximate 3,700-foot elevation gain. I will do the hike alone, but since this is a heavily trafficked trail I know I will be safe.

Even as I write this, I feel nervous about the goal I am setting. I am very goal-oriented and I like to set goals that are achievable. I believe this one is, but it will take much more physical will, focus, determination and perseverance than I have demonstrated up to this point in my life. I am definitely practicing what I preach, both in the classroom to my applied psychology students and in private sessions with my life coaching clients. I often quote Tony Robbins and tell people that it is their decisions, not their conditions, that determine their destiny. I am sure that this decision is,  from this moment on, determining mine.