Hiking the Aqueduct (May 22)
On this day, I hiked a unique stretch of the PCT.
There is a section of PCT that hikers refer to as the “aqueduct walk” because it passes along the Los Angeles Aqueduct in the Mojave Desert. I had heard the aqueduct walk mentioned quite a few times, as we approached it, because of some of its challenges.
This stretch is 18 miles of desert hiking with no water source and can be quite hot and exposed, on dirt roads. After 18 miles, the trail crosses over a bridge that spans a dry creek bed. Many hikers either take a break or stop to camp here under the bridge, for the shade and/or shelter from the wind that it provides. There was also a known water cache there on the day that I hiked, so it was a good stopping point.
I started this part of the hike mid-day. I had hiked with a few friends the last few days, but they were going into a nearby town to pick up some supplies, and I wanted to keep going. I told them, “I think I’m going to keep going”, and one friend seemed a little taken aback, and said, “It looks pretty exposed ahead, and it might be 18 miles to the next camping area”. I said, “Yeah, I think I’m just gonna go for it!” I started filling up my water bottles, and waved goodbye when my friends got on a shuttle to take them to town.
I put on my pack and felt a little anxious, hoping I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, and that I wasn’t being impulsive by going on alone, but also feeling so spontaneous and adventurous. I was excited by the spontaneity of starting this long Mojave walk mid-day, just trusting and hoping that I’d make it to a campsite 18 miles away, or find a good alternate. Truth be told, I kind of liked that my friend thought it was wild, too.
I started my way along the open aqueduct (California aqueduct), admiring the visible blue color of the water flowing along it. I noticed two other hikers a ways behind me, also starting this hike late in the day, and that reassured me. I wasn’t completely alone out there. It was somewhat windy, which I was so thankful for. No blazing heat or gale-force gusts for us, as some hikers have since described to me.
The hike followed the CA aqueduct for a bit, then turned along a covered pipeline (the LA aqueduct) branching off of that open water. Then there was a lot of flat hiking on the desert floor, with other dirt roads crossing the PCT. This is a section on private land. We walked by ranch houses, RVs, random junk items in the desert, Joshua trees, creosote bush, chaparral, and were passed a few times by trucks, dirt bikes, ATVs. Some drivers waved. There were beautiful open views of mountain ranges on either side, stretching so far.
I know a lot of hikers probably suffer under the sun here and hate this section, but I loved it. You could see your progress by the road ahead and the mountains around, plus it was easy walking, and in hard sand, so not as terrible as road walking. I listened to music for many miles and could see there was no one around, so felt free to sing loud and freely.
Towards evening the shadows lengthened, and the shadows gave the mountains on either side that added hue and detail, extra beauty. I could see footprints in the sand of hikers gone ahead of me, and felt a camaraderie with them for treading this same path. Sometimes they used their trekking poles at road crossings to offer helpful hints for those who followed, like me.
I saw a coyote on a desert hill, among the chaparral! Though the coyote was small and running away, seeing it made me want to push to reach others camping for the night.
I approached an area of many wind turbines! Neat to see, I thought. Also, a reassuring marker that I was making progress.
As the evening wore on, I felt a little more urgency to hike fast before the sunset. I tried not to calculate how many miles I was at, though I knew to get to the site ahead would be a long day. Sometimes I took a break to sit and stretch, but always that sense of urgency and daylight running out kept me moving again before too long. Even though I was getting sore, I loved the excitement of the push.
Finally, I reached the campsite listed on my map, and felt relieved to see at least 15 other hikers camping there! Such a colorful scene. They were all down in the dry desert creek bed, chatting, setting up tents, relaxing. I camped part way down but arrived too late and tired to want to set up right beside anyone. A hiker I had met before did come over and chat with me as I made my dinner. I told him about the long day, and he fist-bumped me, and said, “How do you feel?” I said, “Great, I can’t believe it!” and he laughed and said, “Is that the runner’s high talking?”
There is so much beauty around this site tonight. Bright half-moon and pretty, open desert dunes. Many other hikers sleeping nearby, so no need to fear coyotes or other wildlife. A good way to end a long day.
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