Jennifer DiFrancescoEach day I look at our beautiful San Jacinto Mountains and feel an emotional response. I feel awe, appreciation, and personal gratitude for my annual honor of climbing to the top of this grand mountain. It is noteworthy that this hike – to the tram from the base of the mountain (near the Palm Springs Museum), and then from the tram to the summit – is the greatest elevation gain of any trail in the country. Backpacker Magazine rates Skyline Trail the nation’s 3rd most difficult hike with a climb of nearly 10,000 feet over 20 miles. There are many reasons to add this hike, locally known as “Cactus to Clouds,” to your bucket list. Clearly, however, there are prerequisites, such as good baseline health and weekly hiking with elevation training, yet it is a great aspiration.

This year marks my 5th time to make this hike, and each time a different emotion and lesson surfaces. During my journey, I imagine earlier days in the Coachella Valley when desert temperatures began to spike and the native Indians journeyed from desert floor to higher elevation using this same trail. An elder tribesman I often see at the top of the tram took time one day to impart his knowledge of the route’s history. He told me of entire families who would make the trek, carrying heavy loads and taking days to complete their mission. He mentioned a plant which still exists on the trail today that was often taken internally by elders who turned ill and were unable to complete the journey. The plant would flood the body with potassium creating a deep sleep and causing the heart to fail. As I hike this monumental mountain, I think of their tribulations and the respect they had for this sacred area. With each step, I reflect on what I label ‘hardships’ and by the end of the long ascent, my worries and challenges are lessened.

The challenges of the Cahuilla Indians hold lessons we can all learn on our path to health and wellness. When considering their journey, you must remember that their great physical strength for climbing the mountain was necessary for food and shelter. Staying on the hot desert floor was not an option. Nowadays, we take our health, food sources and luxuries for granted. Every now and then it is good to work hard and physically challenge your body as those before us were required to do.

The first step towards well-being is to set a physical goal. Physical goals can transcend into spiritual epiphanies and emotional breakthroughs. Many goals might seem insurmountable, yet can always be attained. Our mental fortitude is stronger than we can imagine and will carry us through. Start with any goal that pushes you a bit beyond your comfort zone. Work towards accomplishment and then set your sights on starting at “cactus” and reaching for “clouds.”

And one day, I hope to see you on this magical trail in our very own backyard.

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