While Cactus-to-Clouds (C2C) remains the most famous hike up San Jacinto, there are any number of variations that take advantage of Skyline Trail and its precipitous climb up the eastern flank of these mountains. This is one such variation, and the easiest one that incorporates going down Skyline trail — though easiest here is very, very relative.
Cactus to Tram (C2T), which is described separately, takes you from the desert floor in Palm Springs up to Long Valley and top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tram via Skyline Trail. You then ride the tram down, which is a wonderful experience and quite a relief for your knees. Cactus to Tram to Cactus (C2T2C) foregoes these niceties and sends you back down Skyline Trail to the desert in Palm Springs.
Depending on how the trails are down, this means ascending 8,500′ in 8.5 – 11 miles and then descending that same 8,500′. This is exponentially harder than just going up, if only because the descent is not nearly as pleasant as one might think (it is steep, hard on the knees, and seemingly endless). It has also has to be timed so as to avoid descending into lethal desert heat without sufficient water or preparation.
If you’re wondering why anyone would do this, you’re not alone. Most people to C2T or C2C and take full advantage of the air conditioned return to the valley in a rotating tram car. But if you’re training for C2C2C, just a bit masochistic, or really like staring down at Palm Springs for long periods of time, this is the hike for you.