After completing the Three Saints Challenge last year, I knew that my next big challenge would be hiking Cactus to Clouds. Cactus to Clouds is considered the 5th hardest day hike by Backpacker Magazine. The Cactus to Clouds hike leads you to the top of Mt. San Jacinto, 10,834 feet. There are several different ways to get to the top of what we in Southern California call San J, but the hardest, most difficult route is from Cactus to Clouds, which starts in the town of Palm Springs at just 434 feet.
Besides the extremely difficult 10,400 foot climb, this hike presents other obstacles, including when to do it. Temperatures throughout the ‘Cactus’ portion of the hike can be well into 100 degrees as early as spring here in Palm Springs. There is a small window during the year with enough daylight and limited snow on the trail. Most people, like us, attempt it in the late fall or early winter. With the limited snowfall here in Southern California in January, we decided to go for it.
For a long hike like this, I wanted a light hiker with grip. I’ve always been a fan of wearing a low as opposed to a mid when putting on the miles (all 23 of them in one day), and just before my hike, the Merrell MQM Flex was released. The MQM Flex is inspired by athletes and designed by Merrell ambassadors. MQM stands for Moving Quickly in the Mountains™ and is a hybrid shoe that excels in all types of mountain terrain: technical trails, steep climbs and fast descents. With the mixed terrain, steep elevation gain and even snow (with microspikes on) this was the shoe I chose for Cactus to Clouds.
We started the trail at about 3:40AM and got to watch the sun rise and set all in one day. The fresh snow between miles 8 and 11 proved to be an obstacle, but with nearly 2300 feet of gain throughout that section, we naturally slowed down, struggling, but fighting through up to Long Valley. After a quick break and lunch at the ranger station, we then made our way to the peak getting to watch the last of the sunlight before making our way down in the dark, tired, sore but relieved, and accomplished after a long day on the trail.
The MQM Flex was impressive all the way through. Comfortable, technical and capable. Even when confronted with our first snow on the trail, I felt confident with Merrell’s Sure Traction and M Select™ GRIP outsole. Some other of my favorite features include Hyperlock™which eliminates heel slippage, M Select™ DRY impermeable membrane which seals out water and lets moisture escape and FLEXconnect™ dual-directional flex-groove EVA midsole for agility and stability.
I will surely be putting on more miles on the MQM Flex and the MQM Flex Mid Waterproof. Check them both out at merrell.com.