Over the mountain we go!
So Thursday was another interesting day on the PCT. It started early, when I drove out to Paradise Cafe in order to give a ride to four hikers who--like me--were having to skip the closed section between Highway 74 and Idyllwild, where a recent fire had made the trail unsafe. I had passed them--my three Russian friends and the young woman I'd hiked with the first day out of Warner Springs--on the trail on Wednesday and promised to give them a ride if I could before I headed out on Thursday. They all camped along the trail Wednesday night, when it proved too difficult to cover the whole distance to Highway 74, but they rose early and booked it to Paradise Cafe to catch the shuttle bus (which was me). It felt good to give back a little bit after all the kindness that so many people have shown to me just in the little time I've been on the trail so far. Between the volunteers at Warner Springs Community Center, other hikers on the trail, Dawn at Paradise Valley Ranch, and Lawrence showing my mom the back roads of Anza, we've been overwhelmed by the warm and selfless generosity of so many people.
And we encountered more of that later on Thursday. One of the things that Lawrence had warned us about and which Ziggy and the Bear, the trail angels in Whitewater, later confirmed, was that the Black Mountain road, the access road I needed to take to get up to the PCT from Idyllwild, was closed by a locked gate. It had previously been open this year, but was not mysteriously locked. That was going to add another 6 miles to my trek over San Jacinto. Lawrence had given my mom a number for the San Bernardino National Forestry office, and on Thursday morning a supervisor there that she spoke with several times on Wednesday told her that a ranger would call her, but he never did. So as we drove along 243 to Black Mountain Road, we did a little legwork of our own. We stopped at Idyllwild Park, hoping to find a ranger there, but it turned out to be a county park, so not the right agency. But the friendly ranger there directed us to the national forest ranger station in town . . which turned out to be closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays! Then we went across the street to the fire department, thinking they would have connections, and they made some phone calls for us, but their information was even more discouraging, as they were told the entire trail down the hill was closed (which was the reason for the gate being locked). The fire chief who was helping us actually said he didn't believe that was true (and we were sure it wasn't either) but he couldn't do anything else to help. But luck was on our side, for as we continued up the road we crossed another ranger driving the other way, and we managed to flag him down. It turned out that he wasn't part of the national service either, but he did have a key that he was willing to use, and he unlocked the gate for us and let us through!
Getting past the gate turned out to be only part of it, however; we had another six miles of very washed out, rough and rocky dirt road to cover (while pulling a horse trailer). We did get stuck once, when the tires spun out and we started sliding backwards, which was scary with the trailer behind us on a narrow, steep hill. But after backing up and trying again, we then off-loaded Takoda and managed to get through. I don't know if Takoda really thought getting back in the trailer was a good idea, but he did it, and I think in the end he appreciated the lift, because he had a long day's ride ahead.
Once we finally got to the end of the road, we saddled up and began our ride, cresting the mountain and getting a good view of the little bit of snow remaining at the top of San Jacinto. After that, it was a long, rugged descent to the valley floor 6000 feet below.