We got up at the crack of dawn this morning to drive to Idyllwild so that I could begin to fill in the first of the three mountain section--San Jacinto, Big Bear, and Baden-Powell near Wrightwood--that I had to skip earlier due to snow. I know that the idea of jumping around and doing some parts out of order is not some people's "ideal" view of how to travel on the PCT; frankly, it's not my ideal either. But it's a choice I feel I have to make out of necessity, at least in terms of my own available schedule and the whims of Mother Nature. My mother had a spring break vacation when she was available for 10 days to help me with support on the trail, especially with water, which causes problems for the horses just because there are long stretches in Southern California where water is not easily or reliably available on the trail, and I didn't want to take the chance of endangering or stressing my horses by riding or camping if I couldn't count on having water for them. So I had to start at the first of April, which is too early a beginning date to ride in sequence over some of the Southern California mountain sections, even during this low snowfall year (El Nino didn't bring the predicted precipitation to Southern California, even though it did create a healthy snowpack further north this year). However, if I started later, not only would it have been impossible for my mother to help with trail support, but I also would face major time crunches in trying to get all the way to Canada before the potential beginning of winter again up north. So in order to address both concerns--time and water, plus the necessity of having someone's help in this section), I made the choice to begin early and hopscotch back and forth over some sections, riding where I could when it was possible, and coming back later to travel other sections when the snowpack receded sufficiently.
So, with all that in mind, I had come back now to Hurkey Creek campground, to where I earlier left off after riding part of the fire closure detour near Idyllwild, in order to begin the section that would take me over San Jacinto and on to Whitewater Preserve (where unfortunately another fire closure has put part of the trail up to Big Bear off limits). It was a cold, drizzly morning as I tacked up the horses and set off up the hill. I had heard that there was still some snow in the higher elevations, but I was hoping it would be passable enough for us to get through.
I took a couple of alternate trails up the hill past the town of Idyllwild to Humber Park, where I got on the Devils Slide trail that would ultimately re-connect me to the PCT. I was truly amazed by the huge number of dayhikers on these trails around Idyllwild; I easily passed at least 100 people on my way to the PCT. Once I got on the PCT, the number of hikers dropped considerably, but it was great to see so many people out enjoying the forest, despite the threatening weather.
The higher we went, the colder and cloudier and snowier it got. The trail hit its highest altitude of about 9000 feet twice, and each time I experienced some significant snowfields that we had to cross, made even more difficult by downed trees and other obstacles. But due to the many hikers who had already passed through this section, the snow was hard-packed on the trail surface itself, and since I recently put borium tipped shoes and borium headed nails on the horses' feet, that helped with traction when I had to cross icy areas (in fact, I got off and walked in many of those places, and the horses had a lot easier time of it than I did in my boots!). We got a few snow flurries during the course of the day as well.
Eventually we made it through the snow and could begin to see the other side, looking down at the desert over Palm Springs. My mom had cached food and water for the horses at the Fuller Ridge trail head, where there is also a campsite, leaving the trailer behind and driving the truck up Black Mountain road (a long, narrow, rutted, but passable dirt road) to Fuller Ridge. There I camped with several other hikers, as well as a couple who were car camping and had brought wood and a fire permit--so I got to enjoy my first campfire ever on the PCT! Since it was very cold that night, the fire was a welcome refuge before I bundled into my sleeping bag in my tent.