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PCT 2019: Day 31, Wrightwood to South Fork Campground

Time for a detour

Hike with Gravity

With only five miles of hiking, yesterday was definitely a "nero." Depending on how strictly you want to define the term, you might not say today was one. We hiked twice as many miles.

Still, we didn’t begin walking until after noon, and the main reason for a nero is to spend as much time in town as possible.

The time was needed this morning to figure out a plan.

Date
Weather Sunny with a light breeze and a high temperature in the low 60s
Trail Conditions Mostly downhill; some sections damaged by erosion
Today's Miles 10.5 miles
Trip Miles 379.8 miles

A big problem lay ahead and we needed to figure out how to handle it. The problem was Mount Baden-Powell.

The Pacific Crest Trail goes directly over the top of the 9,399-foot mountain. Without snow, going up and down would not be especially difficult.

From what we had heard, snow conditions right now were making the summit difficult to safely reach. I wanted to get as much information as possible about this section.

When I started this hike a month ago I set a goal of hiking every mile of trail. I made a commitment to stay on the trail unless conditions were unsafe, such as dangerous snow or a wildfire. Although I don’t usually like to walk on snow, I was prepared to go up the mountain unless there was a good reason for not going up.

In fact, when I mailed items home yesterday, I didn’t mail my microspikes so I could be prepared for the mountain.

When I learned Spamalot and Just Awesome were going to the hardware store, I wanted to go with them. I had heard employees there were knowledgeable about the trail ahead and I hoped they would know about current conditions.

We talked to an employee who encouraged us to take an alternate route. He pointed out that after Baden-Powell, the trail is rerouted because of a closure to protect the mountain yellow-legged frog, an endangered species. Even if we went over the mountain we would still be required to take a detour.

The alternate he showed us extended the detour a few more miles by using the Manzanita and Burkhart trails, which are part of Desert National Recreation Trail.

This information looked like a reasonable choice, especially because the other way to detour Baden-Powell and the frogs would require walking on Highway 2.

After leaving the hardware store we ran into Simple Man and filled him in on what we learned, then we returned the DVD we rented yesterday,

Back at the Airbnb, the tramily finished preparations for returning to the trail, then posed for a photo. Just Awesome and Steel Belted were now firmly embraced in the Woohoo Crew.

We discussed taking the detour but were still having trouble deciding if we should. I was a little unsure. Falls and Captain were more convinced. They lobbied to go over Baden-Powell and were thinking of doing it even if the rest of the group didn’t.

Earlier in the morning I had an idea to get first-hand information. I sent a text message to Bookworm to ask him if we should go over the mountain. He was ahead of us on the trail and would have gone that way a couple days ago.

Just at the right moment, while we were discussing the detour, he replied to my message.

“Don’t do it,” he said emphatically. “Lost trail going up twice. The established footholds aren’t bad if you’re hitting it really early, but there were still some sketchy sections. I’d say scarier than Apache for sure.”

After I shared his advice with the group, we agreed to take the detour.

When I answered back to Bookworm to let him know our decision, he responded, saying, “A wise choice for sure. I wouldn’t want to do that again.”

When it was time to check out of the Airbnb we walked back to the hardware store. That seemed like a good spot to get a hitch to the trail. On the way, we saw Mrs. Freeland standing on her porch, so we had an opportunity to wave goodbye and thank her again for doing our laundry.

We saw Jukebox at the hardware store. She had just arrived in Wrightwood.

After our happy reunion, most of us walked to a bakery next door for lunch. We then went to the post office because we had decided to mail some of our food 85 trail miles ahead to Hiker Heaven, a trail angel’s home in the town of Agua Dulce.

Getting back to the trail was fast and easy. As soon as we were ready to go we walked to the road to hitchhike. Almost immediately drivers appeared out of nowhere to take us.

I rode with a woman named Delores, who told us the community has an organization of trail angels. They are happy to help hikers and gladly pick them up whenever they can.

In a few minutes, we were walking on a well-maintained trail that climbed a knob called Inspiration Point.

Views could be seen in several directions as the trail took us up and down between 7,300 and 7,400 feet. Sometimes, Mount Baden-Powell or other snowy mountains were in view. Other times the wide, flat expanse of the Mojave Desert could be seen.

After about 3.5 miles, the trail began a steep descent of about 900 feet to Vincent Gap, which is where it met up again with Highway 2. The highway was closed beyond the gap, as it usually is this time of year.

Tramily members and a few other hikers were gathered at Vincent Gap when I arrived. They were resting on benches at a parking and picnic area just off the highway.

The time was 4 p.m. and we had already completed half of our 10-mile section for the day. We didn’t realize, though, that the remainder of the day would be more difficult.

This was the point where we were leaving the PCT to take the alternate around Baden-Powell and the endangered frogs.

We walked down the Manzanita Trail, which began with a steep descent.

The trail was going into Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area.

Down the trail were some severely washed out sections, leaving a jumble of large rocks to navigate over.

Otherwise, the trail was well-maintained and easy to walk.

During the descent, I picked up occasional views of Devil’s Punchbowl. The gorge featured a unique formation of sandstone boulders, tossed and rolled into position by three separate geologic faults.

Farther down the descent was another section of badly damaged trail. Trail maintainers had attempted to repair and mitigate the washed-out trail, but it seemed they were losing the fight against water, loose soil and rocks.

At around 6:45 p.m. I was finally able to see my destination, South Fork Campground. It was located at the bottom of the valley.

Fifteen minutes later I reached the campground.

Although I was the last to arrive, I wasn’t late for dinner. The tentsite picnic table was large enough for all of us.

While we were preparing dinner a camper from another tentsite walked up and offered us soft drinks. I immediately recognized him. He was a 2018 thru-hiker named Jay.

I knew who he was because I had watched many of the videos on his YouTube channel, Jay Wanders Out.

Jay told us he had been driving to some of his favorite spots from last year’s hike. It had been hard for him to leave the trail after his hike and now he wanted to enjoy some of it again.

I’m beginning to understand why he felt that way.

The people try but crash right down
Shoot at the sky, a craze with rage
We're all good people if you go deep down
But we gotta be in keeping with the brand new age

Time for a detour
We oughta take the curve (Detour now)
Taking the detour
Ooh it's time for a swerve (Detour now)

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