San Jacinto: The Trail Gives – Apache Peak

After a rest day in Idyllwild, the group was fairly split on what to do with the vague snow conditions on San Jacinto. There were concerns about the snow quantity and travel after Spitler Peak. Going through Apache Peak, around San Jacinto Peak and into Fuller Ridge (Mile 168 – 190) was almost untouched as far as we knew. Checking the San Jacinto report didn’t help us much as it hadn’t been updated since the last storm. FarOut comments ranged from “go for it!” to “don’t even think about it.” So it was a go at your own risk situation. 

Screenshot from the report that we were looking at prior to attempting Apache Peak. 1/2.


Screenshot from the report that we were looking at prior to attempting Apache Peak. 2/2  

The morning we left Idyllwild, the group split. The first group of 4 wanted to push and get as close to Apache Peak as they could (I think). The second group – the one I stayed with – wanted to slow down a bit, give the snow some time to melt and check out conditions before deciding whether to proceed or not. I was with Bacon, Shadow, Salty Chef, and Hatchet. We took an easy 10 mile day from Highway 74 (mile 151) and camped at mile 161, where we had beautiful views of the sunset and the city below. The following day, we arrived at the Spitler Trail Junction (mile 168), and Bacon, Salty Chef, and Hatchet decided to investigate the conditions around Apache Peak. Bacon was first to arrive with information, and his decision was firm – to exit via Spitler Trail and back into Idyllwild. After listening to what he had seen, I agreed, assuming Salty Chef and Hatchet would be back with the same information.

Our campsite for the first night back on trail after Idyllwild.

Salty Chef and Hatchet came back after a bit and did not, in fact, have the same idea that Bacon did of what was seen. They were both confident it was doable. Or, at the least, it was worth giving it a shot. This made me excited on the inside. Shadow and Bacon would be returning to Idyllwild. Chef and Hatchet wanted to attempt Apache Peak. The question  that was then left was… what did I want to do?

What Did I Want To Do??

Part of me wanted to head back into town and take another easy day. I mean, Idyllwild is an adorable town, super hiker friendly, and letting my body and feet relax sounded much better than trudging through the snow. Cold, wet, slow moving with a heavy pack didn’t sound appealing. But…would I regret not even trying? I was a little scared of the unknown but, realistically that’s everything lying ahead of me on this trail. I could make the excuse of snow and the cold, but not really because I’ve dug and slept in shelters in the snow and loved it. I could handle the cold and the snow easy, so that excuse went out the window. I had no excuse not to try. But I had a good reason to try. And that WAS regret. If I didn’t try, I would regret it. I knew my limits, and this was not even close to them. I knew I could handle what was ahead or at least would be willing to keep pushing as far as we could. I was here for the trail and what challenges come with it – at least to the best of my abilities and comfort levels. So, in the end, Salty Chef, Hatchet, and myself said goodbye to Bacon and Shadow,  with the promise of catching up in Cabazon/Banning in a few days.

Campsite the second night, when we said goodbye to Bacon and Shadow

That night, Salty Chef, Hatchet, and I set up camp at mile 168. We sat quietly for a while, watching the sun set over dinner. My mind was racing, and I was nervous as heck. Salty Chef and Hatchet are strong and tough as heck but didn’t have experience with snow travel that included the use of microspikes and an ice ax. In theory, they knew what to do (thanks YouTube!). I have some experience and am comfortable with snow travel, but I am nowhere near an expert or teacher. How would I be able to lead, teach, and keep these two safe while we went through this? What would I do if we got in a dicey situation? I know Chef and Hatchet are grown men and are capable of so much, but if something happened… 

And then, the trail provided. 

Stefan leading the way, kicking in steps for us to follow.

Stefan. Stefan walked into our campsite, and we all chatted – getting to know a bit about each other and our plan for the following day. Stefan was (hopefully) thankful he would not have to do this section alone. We were thankful he walked into our campsite with a silly but relaxing personality. He came from the east coast, had completed the AT, and seemed very comfortable and confident with snow travel. And so we agreed to leave together in the morning and see how far we could get the following day.

Stefan chilling in a particularly long snow field where he created a platform for us if we needed to rest on the way across.

Hatchet crossing one of the many snow fields we came across that day.

The following day was a long, tough slog. While we managed to remain on the PCT around Apache Peak and arrive at mile 175, it was exhausting. There were a lot of snow crossings that took time to get through. There were also a ton of blow downs – trees that had broken, fallen, slid – on the trail that essentially created an obstacle course and slowed travel down even more. Water became scarce, and we were all on the verge of running out until Stefan found a steady trickle and showed us how to use our trowels to maximize the water flow.

Our tracks in the snow.

That day, we began our hike at 8am and arrived at camp at 6 pm, having traveled only 7 miles during those hours. Our longest yet shortest day on the trail. We were sure we were the only stupid crazy hikers who came through and attempted these miles that day.  We set up camp and began prepping for dinner. Hatchet started collecting wood as there was a fire pit in the campsite, and conditions were perfect for one (no wind, controlled area, attentive fire master, campfire permit at the ready). Stefan provided music and string lights for the night. As we sat around camp, we were surprised to see hikers begin to arrive as we had seen no other hikers all day. By 8pm, there were about a dozen hikers sitting around the fire that Hatchet started –  keeping warm, drying shoes and socks, and talking about the day. The exhaustion, the snow, the blow downs, etc., etc. At the end of the night, though, every hiker agreed – it had been a good day.

It was a good day.

Having given Apache Peak a try and checking out the conditions up to our campsite, Salty Chef, Hatchet and myself decided to exit at mile 179 – Saddle Junction/Devil’s Slide Trail that would reconnect us to the town of Idyllwild. We would continue the next morning via the detour of entering through Black Mountain Road and re-connecting with the PCT at mile 190. The decision to skip 11 miles and exit was not an easy one. But looking at the amount of time we spent trying to get through 7 miles and the energy it took didn’t seem worth it for where we were on the trail. We were happy with the fact that we gave it a try, got as far as we did, and felt good. From our campsite at mile 175 to Saddle Junction/Devil’s Slide Trail at mile 179, there was so much snow that we slipped and slid and postholed our way through. It was all snow on the way to the junction, and when we finally made it, we said our thanks and goodbye to Stefan, who would continue and summit San Jacinto. Being able to return to Idyllwild for the remainder of the day did have its perk…. we got to meet Mayor Max, Vice Mayor Meadow, and enjoy delicious crepes!

Myself, Stefan, Salty Chef, and Hatchet the morning we said our thanks and goodbyes to Stefan.

Mayor Max and Vice President Meadow of Idyllwild

The next two days were spent getting back into San Jacinto and over into  Cabazon/Banning,  where we would reconnect with Shadow,  Bacon, and Phillipp. The climb from Black Mountain Road was long, but we were rewarded with great views of San Gorgonio. We began the climb down to Cabazon and stayed the night at mile 201. Oh yea. We hit 200 miles that day late in the afternoon. The following day, we reached Cabazon (mile 209) and called for a ride to Banning KOA where we would take a nero, meet with the 3 other hikers, and talk about our plans for the next stretch. We would resupply, shower, and do laundry before heading back out on trail the next morning.

200 mile marker!

Dinner, catching up, and planning our next section. Left to right – Phillipp, myself, Hatchet, Salty Chef, Shadow, and Bacon

San Jacinto

Came to an end for us and was finally put in our rear view mirror. While not every mile was walked, I felt accomplished and proud. Salty Chef, Hatchet, and I were able to remain along the PCT while traveling around Apache Peak – huge, huge thanks to Stefan. Apache Peak is known for being the first point where traction devices may be needed and can be very dangerous. It has previously claimed lives (R.I.P. Trevor Laher PCT 2020) and many decide to skip and move ahead. Some come back after the snow has melted, and others decide once it’s passed, it’s passed. After our attempt, I felt exhausted but great. Part of me did want to continue pushing with Stefan to the summit. But all factors involved, I knew it would be wiser for me to spend time building up my legs and strength before continuing in those conditions. My decision was also fairly easy, seeing as I was able to summit San Jacinto during Christmas time in 2023. I was thankful for the experience and practice we had in San Jacinto, for the time with Salty Chef, Hatchet, and Stefan and thankful to be off that snow… for now. 

Making our way to the junction the day after Apache Peak

Trail – Hiking Statistics

Everybody tracks their progress differently while on trail. For the purpose of sharing with any readers out there, I use a system that is based on mileage points provided by FarOut. This means that I do not subtract miles missed when updating my hiking statistics here. It keeps it pretty easy and straightforward to say I traveled from point A to point B.

On a more personal level, I carry the NatGeo Map for whatever section I am in and track my progress via notes. I circle where we camp each night and write a note or two about the day. If there was a detour, I mark the route on my map. 

As far as total days on trail – for a day to count as a “PCT Camp Day __” – I must have walked mileage for the day and set up my tent. This isn’t limited to just tent setups, though. If we hiked X-number of miles to get to town, I count it as a day on trail. A rest day – a day where absolutely no miles on the trail were completed – does not count – as if it never happened. 

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

What Do You Think?