SANTA CRUZ -- News that Gregory Muck of Santa Cruz had died while hiking came just one week before he would have welcomed in his new classroom of third-grade students at James Leitch Elementary School in Fremont.
The 46-year-old husband and father of 5-year-old Delphina was on a one-week solo hiking trip in Kings Canyon National Park and did not return home at a prearranged time, his wife Shannon Muck said Tuesday.
Gregory Muck left for a wilderness hike to Gardiner Basin on Aug. 10, and was scheduled to return home Sunday. Monday, Shannon Muck alerted park dispatchers of her husband's failure to return or check in.
A search and rescue effort covering a 4-by-5-mile area was launched, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks public affairs specialist Dana Dierkes said.
Wednesday, his body was found at 12,000 feet elevation by a ground search team, northwest of Mount Gardiner in Kings Canyon National Park.
Dierkes said Muck appears to have fallen in rocky and steep terrain inaccessible by vehicle.
"The cause of the accident is under investigation," Dierkes said in a release.
Results from the coroner's examination are not expected for several days, officials said. Muck had been an educator at Freedom Elementary School in Watsonville before going back to UC Santa Cruz to earn a bachelor's in community studies and master's in education, UCSC spokesman Guy Lasnier said.
Muck's first assignment after graduating was a second-grade class at John Gomes Elementary School last year, Shannon Muck said. Muck had been transferred to Leitch for this coming school year.
Gomes Elementary Principal Doug Whipple said he was sad that Muck had to change schools because of space issues.
When a third-grade teacher retired over the summer, Whipple said he offered Muck a chance to come back.
"Greg said he was good," Whipple said.
He said he was going to have a new classroom and already had made new connections. He also noted that Leitch Elementary was seven minutes closer to home, Whipple said.
"I said, I get that. We both have long commutes. I thought that was interesting. It was seven minutes closer to his family," he said.
Whipple said Muck brought with him past experience teaching gardening to students, and inspired fellow teachers and students alike to look at nature, the soil and plants in a new way.
"He worked really, really well with the students," Whipple said. "He would bake bread, for instance, as part of his math class, for measuring and learning numbers and showing them the uses of math all around. Sometimes I would go into the room and it would smell so good."
Leitch Elementary School Principal Mary Liu Lee said Muck already had made an impression on her and the school's staff.
"What a beautiful man. He would have inspired the whole school," Liu Lee said. "It's very difficult to replace a teacher like this."
In fact, Liu Lee had ordered large round and hexagon-shaped tables for Muck's classroom, to facilitate his "outside the box" vision of students working together on projects.
"It's kind of a shock to me. I'm kind of unprepared," Liu Lee said of the news of Muck's death. "We met the daughter. It's very difficult. I have young kids in this school, it's kindergarten to third grade. So, when you see a little girl like that, that's lost a father, it's very difficult for us."
Family and friends of Muck created a Facebook page "Finding Greg Muck -- The Great Adventurer" to update the public on their search efforts in the early days. It has since gained more than 600 "likes" and has evolved into a place of community remembrances for the Santa Cruz man.
"Thank you so much for your thoughts, prayers and support. Sadly, Greg died doing what he loved. We will miss him dearly. We will update you on when/where we will celebrate Greg's life. Please keep Shannon, Delphina, Dave & Carol, Cindy, the Muck and Fabian families and all of his dear friends in your prayers," was posted on the page late Wednesday.
Visit the site online at on.fb.me/1ohwTRj.