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Hiking Santiago Peak

I woke up on Sunday morning at 5:30am, and went back to sleep for a half hour. At 6, I got up, showered, and left the house. As I was leaving, Lan woke up and I told him there was a good chance that I would turn around not too far into the hike and come home, so if he wanted to go biking later, I'd probably be up for it. This was not a good start. At about 15 miles with 4000' of elevation gain, I was in for quite a hike, especially in the shape I was in... I figured that if I was this negative about the trip that it really wasn't going to happen. I drove into the main Holy Jim parking area and was pretty surprised to see that at 7am I was the only one around. I was hoping that someone would have gone right before me, so they could be the ones to feed the mountain lions that had been hungry all night searching for food and finding nothing but roots and berries. I stretched out, strapped on my Camelbak, and got on the trail at 7:15am. It was rather cool so I wore my TNF Bi-Layer and cursed myself for not bringing my gloves. The cold didn't last too long, after just a few minutes of moving I was warming up quick. I stopped at one of the little stone water gate thingys to take a few pics, then continued along.

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Seeing the peak so early on was really detrimental to my hike in ways, because it seemed so close. "Wow, that's not that far" I thought, as I made my way back and forth up the mountainside. I was quite a bit wrong. Along the trail I saw lots of animal droppings, but strangely enough, seeing as how I'm supposed to be 1/32nd or so Native American, I saw no tracks besides the boot and bike tire prints strewn about the path. It didn't take me long to realize that a group had come through very recently, possibly even the day before, and done a bunch of trail maintenance. The brush was cut back, the trail itself was reshaped in some spots, and there were shovel marks all over the place. Good for me... especially since it increased the chance that the mountain lions had already fed on some of the more tired trailworkers and would be too full to go after me. Some of the trailwork looked a little harsh, but I guess it was necessary to keep people from being poked in the leg or something. I also took a couple of pics of some as yet undestroyed spikey tree things (I need to start learning the names of some of this nature stuff).

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Along the path as I crossed underneath the peak which was still pretty damn far above me (though it had seemed so close!) I realized how very alone I was up there. It was just after that, though, that I heard dirt bikes in the distance... which were annoyingly loud. I didn't hear them for long, though, and I continued on. I stopped at about 8:43am for some beef jerky and a trail mix bar, then continued on. It took seemingly forever, but I finally made it to Main Divide Road.

Here I made the mistake of happily thinking that I was almost there. At only 9:35am, it would be another hour and a half of straight hiking up a rather boring fire road to the peak. Up here, out of the tree cover and cool canyon air, it was actually hot. So I trekked on... and on... and on... until my legs started to give out... and still I walked... knowing that if I stopped to rest I would probably convince myself to turn around and try again later... until finally I thought I was there... but I wasn't... and so I walked... and walked... and I came around a bend... and I was there. It was a triumphant moment, because out of four previous peak attempts (2 biking to White Mountain Peak, 2 hiking to San Jacinto Peak) I hadn't made it once... until now. Also, I had set out in the morning thinking that I would probably turn around, but somehoe I endured the cold then the pain and the heat and actually got there. So, I took some pics, ate some beef jerky, talked to the first people that I had seen on the trail (they were coming up in a Jeep, just before I saw mountain biker coming down from the peak) and at noon, I took off back down the mountain.

The people in the Jeep were the first ones I saw that day, then there was the mountain biker coming down, and then a few dirt bikers. I was wondering if I was the only one hiking the peak that day... until I came down. About a mile down Main Divide I met 4 hikers going up, one of which asked if I had any moleskin for her husband's blisters. Luckily for him I did, those were the worst blisters I have ever seen... each was about the size of a quarter, on his heels, and the skin had already come off and they were bleeding. So, I cut off a couple of large squares of moleskin, gave him a small roll of duct tape, refused to take the $5 he offered me, said goodbye and continued down the road. I then ran into a younger guy resting in the shade eating some bread that he had brought in a loaf (Wonder Bread I think) and drinking out of the Platypus bottle he had with him. He said he had ditched his pack down the road because it was too heavy, and he asked how much further the peak was. I told him, offered him a Cliff bar, which he refused, then wished him luck and took off. After that I ran into a couple more people headed to the peak, including an older gentleman who really wanted to get me to join the Sierra Club, and then I was back on Holy Jim Trail.

This is where I really started to feel fatigued. My legs and back were aching, I had developed a severe pain below my right hip, and my feet were screaming with each step. I didn't have much choice but to trek on, though, and as painful as it was, the trip back to the Trooper was uneventful. As disappointed as my heart was when I got back to the truck, my feet were filled with joy and relief as soon as they heard from my brain that my eyes had actually seen the end of the trail.

It is now a week and a half since the hike, and my leg hasn't healed yet (some pain that seems to come from the joint just below my right hip) but that doesn't surprise me. Injury is part of my active life.