Thru Hiking is a Team Sport: Reflections from PCT Week 2 (Apache Peak, San Jacinto, and Fuller Ridge)


“Are you hiking alone?” others would often ask me when they heard about my pacific crest trail thru hike pursuit. “Well, yes, but I will meet people on the trail to hike with.” I always replied, wondering to myself who those people may be at different points along the trail.

The people that I have met on the PCT so far have truly enhanced my experience more than I could have imagined. My trail family and bubble have bonded through strategizing how to hike through different conditions (snow, desert heat, etc), spending time in towns together, bartering for different snacks and candies on trail, and laughing a lot.

Over the last few days, we relied on each other to make it safely through the first dangerous section of snow conditions including Apache Peak, San Jacinto, and Fuller Ridge.

Day 8 – First San Jacinto Sighting

18 Miles: Warner Springs Group Campsite (Mile 109.3) to Mike’s Place (Mile 127.3)

“Is that it? That’s gotta be it, right?” I asked Detour as we stared at the snow topped mountain on the horizon. “San Jacinto!!! Let’s gooo!” He shouted as he rounded the bend. San Jacinto is the first sizable mountain we reach on the PCT, the snowy summit laying just 3 miles from our trail off of mile 185. The snowy peak is a welcome sight during our first hot desert day.

San Jacinto looking itty bitty in the distance!

Everyone I crossed paths with was tracking their packages containing micro spikes and ice axes and talking snow strategies as we all approached the first snowy ridgeline and peak. The community of hikers felt strong as we prepared to lean on one another on the approach to San Jacinto.

Day 9 – Trail Angel Support

19.1 Miles: Mike’s Place (Mile 127.3) to Group Campsite past Mary’s Oasis (Mile 146.4)

I woke up at Mike’s Place and walked to the top of his property to the water tank to fill up for the long water carry ahead. Mike is a trail angel who allows PCT hikers to camp on his property and offers food and amenities when he is on site.

The Backyard at Mike’s Place

As I hiked from Mike’s Place to Mary’s Oasis, I thought about how incredible it is that people dedicate so much of their life to helping PCT hikers. We got to Mary’s Oasis ready for some shade and water. “Man, this water came at a great time – even on a big snow/water year.” the group agreed. Mary is a trail angel that provides essential water, shade, and even poems for hikers that pass through. The PCT trail angels are an essential part of the team.

Day 10 – Paradise Valley Cafe

16.2 Miles: Group Campsite past Mary’s Oasis (Mile 146.4) to Palm Springs Overlook Campsite (Mile 162.6)

I hiked through the fog and mist with breakfast burritos and my first resupply box on my mind as I neared Paradise Valley Cafe, off of mile marker 151.

When we got to Paradise Valley Cafe, there were hiker boxes lining the entry wall. I saw mine immediately, decorated with hot pink duct tape and my name written in huge font across the side (thank you to my buddies back in Denver for making this possible!). We left our backpacks out front as the waitress welcomed us in and handed us the “hiker menu”. We filled up on food and coffee and desserts before reorganizing our backpacks with snow gear and resupplied food.

I felt thankful for spots like Paradise Valley Cafe that put up with smelly hikers and gear as we all gathered on the restaurant’s porch having mini reunions with each other as we prepared to hike onward towards our first patches of snow.

Paradise Valley Cafe, where we gathered and prepared for the snow ahead.

Day 11 – Apache Peak

19.3 Miles: Palm Springs Overlook Campsite (Mile 162.6) to Idyllwild (Mile 179.4 + 2.5 Mile Blue Blaze)

On the ascent to Apache Peak, our group stopped in our tracks as we saw the first patch of snow. “Micro spike time!” Someone called back, and we all stopped and strapped on spikes to the bottom of our shoes. The trail ahead was sloped at a steep angle. One slip on the snow, and the steep cliff like landscape below could be deadly. I had read about this stretch of trail, but seeing it for the first time scared me.

Walking slow and steady over a patch of snow on trail

We made it through each snow patch without incident. Afterwards we enjoyed a mostly snow free hike until the late afternoon, where 5 sluggish miles of snowy trail stood between us and the junction to town.

“Who wants to practice self arresting?” Iron Will called out to us from the top of what looked like a sledding hill. After a quick demonstration, everyone took turns falling to the ground, and sliding to a stop by digging the pick of our ice axes into the snow.

I made myself fall and self arrested, sliding to a stop. I immediately realized what a powerful tool my ice axe really was if I learned how to use it correctly.

Day 12 – Team Meeting

2.5 Miles: Idyllwild Cabin (Hitch from 179.4) to Devil Slide Junction Campsite (Mile 179.4)

We spent a productive 20 hours in town sleeping, eating, showering, doing laundry, and stretching before hiking back up to our home – the pacific crest trail. “Team meeting! Someone is getting voted out of the trail family tonight!” Erwan joked, as we gathered for what felt like a tribal council meeting. We grabbed our dinners and huddled up to discuss what we knew about the conditions ahead at San Jacinto Peak and Fuller Ridge, a section of trail that had become more dangerous due to the snow pack this year.

Team meeting after hiking back to the PCT from Idyllwild, CA to discuss our snow plan for the next 2 days

“We heard in town that 3 people have fallen on Fuller Ridge in the last few days. All we can do is plan for the conditions with the information that we know.” Iron Will began.

“We will use the buddy system AT LEAST. For Fuller Ridge, we will hike as a group of 9 with designated people in front and rear to assess the conditions and make sure everyone gets through safely. We will wake up at 2AM for a 2:30 start for the next 2 days. Sleep with your water filters and electronics tonight – make sure your headlamp is ready.” We all said goodnight and got organized for our early morning expedition.

“Good night guys” I said as I walked back to my tent with thoughts racing through my mind. Part of me was excited for a challenge and part of me was asking myself why… “Why am I here, about to hike through snowy ridges for 2 days, with strangers I met 1 week ago, who I now call family…” Was this crazy?”.

Day 13 – San Jacinto

12.7 Miles (6.3 PCT Miles + 6.4 Miles to Summit San Jacinto): Devil Slide Junction Campsite (Mile 179.4) to San Jacinto Campsite (Mile 185.7)

The stars were bright overhead as we navigated through the dark morning and snow 6 miles to the San Jacinto Peak Junction. Iron Will and Quick Beam traded off carrying a mysterious bag in one hand, as if hiking up a mountain in the dark with spikes and ice axes wasn’t hard enough.

We arrived at the San Jacinto Peak junction just after sunrise and found a camp spot to leave the heavy innards of our backpacks behind as we took a detour from the PCT to bag the summit of San Jacinto. Due to the unprecedented snow year, parts of this trail were closed in March due to hazardous conditions. Summiting this peak felt special.

My Trail Family at the summit of San Jacinto, May 13 2023

We returned to camp and all dried out on a small patch of snowless dirt and rocks. Iron Will and Quick Beam walked up with the mystery bag – a cherry pie, Irish cream, and skittles to celebrate our San Jacinto summit (note: Iron Will was an early March start and restarted the trail from Mile 0 in May, so this summit was a long time coming). We grabbed our sporks and dug into the cherry pie all at once (best pie I’ve ever tasted).

“3:30 PM dinner and 6 PM bedtime?” Someone asked. The group zombied through evening chores before our 1:30AM wake up call and our final long day in the snow (for now).

Day 14 – Fuller Ridge

15.4 Miles: San Jacinto Campsite (Mile 185.7) to Desert Campsite with View of San Jacinto (Mile 201.1)

Small pieces of ice fell from above as Iron Will and Quick Beam used their crampons and ice axes to cut footsteps into the icy slope for the rest of the group. Every single step was a conscious decision that morning. After one hour, around 3AM, we had moved just 0.6 miles, BUT we had crossed 2 snow bridges, a small river crossing, and the beginning of the snowy traverse safely.

We reached the top of the first climb and were treated to a glowy predawn while the stars and moon still shined bright in the sky. We paused to take in the view, knowing that we still had another half of our snow expedition to go, continuing on to Fuller Ridge.

We used our micro spikes and ice axes in sync on the steep traverse as the sun broke over the horizon and lit the snow up pink. Sharing this sunrise with my new friends as we conquered Fuller Ridge is a moment that I will never forget.

Pausing to take in the sunrise while traversing Fuller Ridge

After making it safely through the last few days of snow, we hit the 200 mile marker as we hiked back down to the desert floor. Everyone in our trail family reevaluated their priorities – whether it was to make it to the next town before their food ran out or to speed up in order to reach a certain mile by a certain date. That afternoon, half of the trail family hiked onward. I said awkward goodbyes to each of them, not knowing if I would see them tomorrow or never again on the trail.

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