Day 17 (April 24): PCT Mile 179.4 – 186.6

The Summiting of San Jacinto

Beginning Elevation (at trailhead) = 6,480
Peak Elevation (Top of San Jacinto) = 10,834
Ending Elevation = 8,650
Weather: Sunny with a high of 70

Joy, triumph, pain, heartbreak, awe…is it possible to fit that all into one day? After day 17 on the trail, I submit that it is indeed.

Yesterday, I had talked to a hiker named Nicole (Trail Name – Grinder) who let me know she’d arranged a ride back to the trailhead for this morning at 8:00am and that there was room for me. I was a bit anxious for some reason that I’d miss it (first thing I had to be on-time for in a while), so I got my tent down and everything into my pack and walked into town early. My pack felt the heaviest its been yet.

I arrived at Higher Grounds Coffee House (right next door to where we planned to meet) around 7:00am, ordered a small coffee, bagel with cream cheese, banana, and a blueberry muffin.I really liked this place and things were reasonably priced. I sat for about a half hour by myself and then a hiker named Goose walked in, so I sat with him for a bit. He was hoping to get on the trail again too, so we both went out just before 8:00am and timed it perfectly seeming as our trail angel driver had just pulled up. The problem, or so I thought, was that there were 6 of us hikers and he had just a small pickup truck, like a Ford Ranger or similar. Somehow, four of us squeezed into the back with our packs and two fit up front!We made it the 1.5-2ish mile drive up to Humber Park Trailhead in joyous spirits and then piled out.  We all thanked our man Kirk for the ride and  stuck around for a brief moment before jumping on the trail again. Folks were stretching, getting packs in order, chit-chatting, and such.I personally was enjoying my blueberry muffin that I saved for some last minute power fuel. I also did a bit of complaining about my pack weight and didn’t get the empathetic response I’d hoped for. Instead, one of my fellow hikers (Matt) put me in my place by saying how lucky we are to get going again and go out into this snowy madness of a trail. He was right of course, and I did appreciate the positive outlook. It really did help just to change my attitude a bit.  Deep down I was still hoping my pack was lighter though. To help myself out a bit, I did dump some water, which makes a surprisingly big difference. I started with only .5 liters.I was the last to leave the parking area, which I was fine with. There was actually another group of 6 hikers that came and went before I set out at 8:30am. What a difference a day of rest can make! I was motivated and feeling so much better than the day I came off the trail.

Before today, I hadn’t listened to music while hiking on the trail. I thought this would be a very appropriate time to give it a go seeming as I already hiked this section and it’s a pretty steep up hill climb. I found that rather than take away from the experience, the tunes complimented it!  I’m still thinking I’ll enjoy the natural sounds of my surroundings most of the time, but it’s great to have that option available.

I ended up catching Goose and hiked with him the rest of the way up to the PCT. I think I’d been psyching myself out about this side trail, imagining it to be worse than it was. It was actually a very beautiful trail and I could see why so many day hikers were around. We got to the junction around 10:00am. The side trail had been around 2.5 miles. We then turned north and hiked together for another 2 miles or so. The trail started going up right away and soon we were back in snow…

At one point, we made an attempt to try and practice self arresting with Goose’s ice axe. It was kind of a fail since the snow was soft and wet and there wasn’t a high enough slope, but it was fun and maybe we got something out it. At some point, I’ll need to buy one and actually do some serious practicing.

Around mile 181, we parted ways. I decided I was going to take an alternate route that reaches the top of Mount San Jacinto and then returns to the PCT. A lot of folks, Goose included, planned to stay on the PCT, which essentially circles around the mountain. The two routes are similar in mileage, I think going to the peak adds another mile or two.

At 11:45am, I took off starting in lots of snow. Soon though, it was snow free and I filled/filtered some water from a melt water spring near the trail. As expected when climbing mountains, the trail was going up the whole way.My snow-free zone lasted for about an hour.  Before starting back into it, I stopped at a trail junction for lunch…Yes, that’s a tuna wrap with mustard, mayo, and relish. It was an odd combination, no doubt. The other photo was an attempted timed shot…I wasn’t quite quick enough.

Just about as I was ready to start hiking again, a day hiker came cruising up. He’d already hiked 13 miles! We talked briefly then he started tromping through the snow up ahead. I followed after him at a slower pace. And I followed his lead in putting on my micro-spikes at this point. The trail was not really present anymore seeing as it was all snow. We just followed the footprints and occasionally I would check my mapping app to see that we were still on track. Toward the top, we were basically just going straight up, which you can imagine was quite the workout.

I caught up to another hiker near the top too, who I found out was a section hiker (meaning he does different sections of the PCT whenever able, so not all the way through in one go). He didn’t have micro-spikes and seemed to be having a slow time going. I stayed near enough to him to keep an eye on him. Soon later, around 3:00pm-ish, we made it to the top!!!

The day hiker guy turned out to be Jay, a weather forecaster from somewhere on the coast. He took off pretty quickly though since he had about 15 miles to go back down…yikes. I felt he could do it though, he seemed experienced and fit. The other guy, section hiker Ted (got his name at the top too) I was more worried about.

Ted only had paper maps, which are quite difficult to use when the trails covered. We were both headed the same way to the PCT, a different way than we’d come up, so we stuck together. But first, we found our way to the emergency shelter and found two thru-hikers I know from Denmark, Hannibal and Adam. They planned to stay the night up there.The way down was a long, brutal struggle for Ted and I. The problem was us going down late in the day, so the snow was becoming soft and at times we would break through up to our knees or thighs even. Post-holing is the term folks use for this. The sporadic, irregular way in which this occurred made it quite frustrating and for my new friend, dangerous. He took a few tumbles and scraped up his shins and arm pretty good on the ice. It really was not a good idea to be up there without the spikes.At one point we reached a designated campground…there was a bit of snow.We made it down to the PCT safely around 6:30pm. Ted camped right there, whereas I continued down the trail for a bit longer. Before taking off though, I came to realize a sad truth…Sumi, my ferocious and wise guide, had stayed behind on the top of the mountain 😢. This was a mighty blow to my soul, a hurt that cut much deeper than my scraped shin. I still don’t how I’ll deal with this tragedy.  I may see if I can recruit tomorrow’s summiters to rescue him and if not, he will watch over the mountain for all eternity.

Onward I trudged. I got some water at a picturesque melt water stream and made camp about a mile from where we had re-joined the PCT.

My tent site was awesome, definitely top 15 of the trip so far. It was later and the sun was going down as I set up my tent. Then as I cooked and ate dinner I kept finding myself getting up to try and get different sunset pics.

An incredible day!

8 thoughts on “Day 17 (April 24): PCT Mile 179.4 – 186.6

  1. Steven “the mountain man” Hoekinthewater!!! Congrats on the summit that is awesome. So sad about Sumi though, a great strength lost there. Also that picture of the sunset with your tent is incredible!! You should put that one on the PCT Instagram (which I am now following along with other solo hiker posts). Getting more jealous ever day. Keep it up brother.

  2. Brian Beach

    Nice job! Congrats on bagging your first peak. I see many more in your future. I find a sense of peace knowing Sumi is watching over the San Jacinto valley. Much luck shall come to Palm Springs.

  3. Ruth Prins

    Your sunset pictures just feel good to see……even if only a photo. Your kindness in watching out for hikers less prepared for the elements is touching. 🙂 I believe that Sumi is going to reunite with you again…….that somehow you are going to manage to inspire a day hiker to look for him and that hiker will find him. Then I am quite sure that hiker will set Sumi somewhere obvious for the through hikers to retrieve him and carry him onward. One day you will be happily surprised that one of your through hiker friends will say, “you’ll never believe who I found!” 🙂

  4. Brian Beach

    Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul – John Muir

  5. Luke Medema

    Steve, your comment about this being the first time you had to be ‘on-time’ for something was kind of mind boggling to me. Seems like half of my day is spent looking at my watch to make sure I’m on time for school, class changes, soccer practice or whatever. That release from a clock is a special thing about your journey. What a world changing concept that is to not be held to a clock. Makes me think that maybe I need to find ways to not be concerned with needing to always have things to be on-time for in my life when possible.

    That snow seems very dangerous, continue to take your time and take precautions on that stuff. I love your story of watching out for others on your way, what a selfless and compassionate person you are…classic Steve move. And your camping spot looks like something out of an REI catalog, beautiful spot!

    1. Yes indeed Lucas, it is strange not having time constraints. And being a teacher and coach (and most jobs in the real world) definitely is a scheduled-out lifestyle. It doesn’t seem like it can be removed either, that’s just the way it is in our society i suppose…that being said, I guess maybe some release out in the smokies or anything really is whats needed 😊.

      Great to hear from you good sir!

  6. Pat Pettinga

    Im just loving the blog of the unexpected journey!!!i look forward every morning to see what the day before adventures you had. Beautiful pictures!!!! I just love hearing about all the people, trail angels, you meet along the way. Keep on hiking!!! God bless & keep you along this amazing journey!!!🎒🥾🤗🤗🤗

  7. rewastev

    Hey Cap. It looks like everybody else covered all the important stuff, so I’ll just add that I always put mustard in my tuna salad.

Leave a Reply