Roland Gaebert, retired State Park Ranger, is busy assisting Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers as an unofficial “trail angel.” He also volunteers widely throughout Idyllwild – as a Forest Service fire lookout, Mountain Disaster Preparedness Disaster Assistance Station supervisor, Idyllwild Rotary, Mile High Radio Club and for WNKI, Idyllwild’s emergency radio station.
Gaebert is an avid hiker, having completed portions of the Appalachian and Continental Divide trails, and having spent 15 years hiking in and exploring the Grand Canyon. The hiking community is close to his heart.
His fitness comes from years of taking on challenging outdoor situations that required quick thinking, physical agility and strength, including years with the San Diego Mountain Rescue Unit.
Idyllwild is establishing itself as a much-appreciated “trail town” for PCT hikers – appreciated for the kindness of locals who provide rides, food, showers, lodging and equipment; helping these hikers, young and old, in their quests to complete the 2,650-mile trek.
The Pacific Crest Trail Association has an honor system for reporting completion of the full hike. According to the PCTA, 6,639 people have completed the trail over the years the association has kept records. Ninety-one have completed the trail more than once.
According to the PCTA website, trail angels, such as Gaebert, provide “trail magic” to hikers, planned acts of kindness offered to hikers and horseback riders. “This organized type of ‘magic’ includes gifts of time and attention,” notes the website www.pcta.org. “This positive outreach builds community and connects people. The Pacific Crest Trail is not just a path through the mountains – it’s an experience that connects people to nature, trail towns and each other.”
There are many types of organized trail magic – rides, hosting, feeding hungry hikers (and they’re always hungry), and offering professional services for free – such as the foot doctor who treats serious blisters or the local dentist who waives their fees.
As the PCTA advises, “To be a trail angel, simply start by doing nice things.” But, as the site notes, be advised that the purpose of the hike for those who undertake it is to escape from the city into the natural world. Trail angels are welcomed but cautioned to respect the solitude the hikers are seeking.
Gaebert, whose family emigrated from Germany when he was nine, plans to hike some of the PCT next year in order to have an even deeper connection with the travelers. When asked the ages of those he has seen this year, he said they range from 22 to 67, many of them single hikers. “I’m finding people who are really experienced and many who are not,” said Gaebert. And even with the heavy snowfall here and in the Sierras, and the consequent heavy snowmelt that will swell and complicate stream and river crossings, this is a banner year for hikers coming through Idyllwild.
Gaebert is an engaging conversationalist with a warm and friendly personality. His service, in the military and with mountain rescue organizations, has shaped his ability to handle emergencies.
His life story offers inspiration to any who are continuing to learn and grow, no matter at what age. After serving in the U.S. military and completing college on the G.I. Bill, Gaebert used his accounting degree to enter banking and finance. But at age 51, drawn to the outdoors and a different set of career values, he became a California State Park Ranger. His career with the State Park system was distinguished. He retired as director of the Mt. Diablo State Park near San Francisco and served in multiple locations.
Now, as a trail angel, Gaebert is using his life experience to support and assist PCT hikers passing through Idyllwild. “I love hearing their stories, having the dialogue and sharing those passions,” said Gaebert.