Apr 14, 2010

Palm Springs Tram Road - April 8, 2010

Last Thursday, on April 8, Vince and I made our regular trek up the Palm Springs Tram Road.

I think this was my fourth time up. My goal, as in the other three times, was to do it in under an hour. As I recall, my first time took 1:05, the second time took 0:58 (pr), the third time took 1:02. This time, it took 0:59:35.

Valley Floor, on the bottom of the road. The asphalt visible here ascends 300'-350' in about 2/3s of a mile. This is the most gradual part of the run, it gets much steeper the higher you go.

So, what's so special about this road? Every October, there's a race that runs up it. We use the same starting and finish line. From the race's brochure:
You start at 500 feet elevation and climb to 2,643 feet elevation in
3.7 miles (6K). The steepest part is the last 1K to the finish.
If you think about those numbers - averaging 579' of elevation gain per mile - you realize just how steep the road is. The average steepness is comparable to the average gain of the climb up Bear Mountain in New York - Not Perkins Drive, but via the much steeper Appalachian Trail - but more than twice as long and high!

The top of what's visible in the previous photo

The start

Joey took off ahead of us, but had to drop when he got to the truck. That'll teach him for going out too fast!

Hammering my way up. I felt like I was well above redline for the entire second half.

Crappy photo, sorry. But this is the same road, from about ten miles away. You can see it underneath the COMMERCIAL AIRPLANE in the FOREGROUND.

Another aspect to the tram road is its deceptiveness. When you're on it, it doesn't look nearly as steep as it actually is - it only feels that steep. The alluvial fan you're ascending is so flat that it looks level (see the difference?). Looking up the hill you wonder why you're so tired - until you look down below to see just how much higher you are than the valley floor you were just on.

Photos don't do it justice, but here we are 1500 feet above the valley floor, and it's about 15 miles to the start of the hills opposite the valley.

You see the same signs in Death Valley

2000 ft sign

Near the top

Finally, we're in the low desert in Palm Springs. Summertime highs are rarely below 100F, routinely above 110F, sometimes 120F. It's hot, dry, and there's no shade or water. This being the spring, starting at 9AM, that wasn't a huge problem in this case; it probably got to about 80F. I did get thirsty, but the distance is short enough that it never became a problem.

Joey, who was waiting at the top, running down to meet me.

The glorious sweaty finish in 59:35! I was exhausted.

I had barely started to recover when Vince came up the road.

His time was about 1:02

Having caught our breath (and got a drink!) we get a photo at the top, having celebrated a job well done.

I try to get together with Vince and do the Tram Road about every time I go to California. But one of these days, I am going to have to Man Up and accomplish the real challenge Palm Springs has to offer: Cactus to Clouds.

Trailhead of one of the most difficult hikes in the USA.

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