Aqueduct Camp – Hill Camp
Mile 529.3 – Mile 550.6
I got lucky last night. There were two women who had camped right on the trail and when I was passing by…
Hang on, have I got your attention? Allow me rewind a bit.
I left Hiker Town a little after 6pm. It was still hot but a breeze had kicked up and combined with a flat trail, I found the going easier than expected.
After cutting through some private farm fields, the trail joined up with the California Aqueduct which it would follow all night. Where it first joined, the impressive flow of water was open to the air. Here was more water than I’d seen in a month! With little ladders down the steep cement sides every so often, it’s understandable why some people might think it an accessible water source. Bad idea. Those ladders are the only thing that might save your life should you fall into the swift flowing channel.
With plenty of water and falling evening temperatures, I was not tempted to ignore the terse warnings about avoiding the aqueduct. I walked along it for mile after mile until eventually it became a dirt covered pipe and then a flat cement lid.
By that time the sun was long down and moonlight lit my way. It was a strange and eerie experience walking alone in the dark but I was easily able to follow the aqueduct without a headlamp. I had never seen aircraft contrails lit by moonlight and it was spectacular, like a red blinking comet streaking across the night sky leaving an eldritch plume of silver portending good fortune.
Which brings me to my good luck moment. Those two women had cowboy camped (just unroll your sleeping bag and climb in, sans tent) right at a trail sign indicating it was time to veer off the aqueduct’s path. Giving them space, I missed the sign and just kept walking along the aqueduct unwittingly leaving the PCT behind. Fortunately for me it was past 11pm and my body said enough so I didn’t go very far. I too cowboy camped right on the lid of the aqueduct near an access portal where I could hear the faint rush of water below. Only then did I realize my mistake but left fixing it until morning since I was already laid out and ready for sleep. Around 12:30 I heard a group of four duplicating my error and they were startled but grateful for the disembodied guidance from the shadows telling them to “Go back.”
So today began with an off trail bushwhack to correct my error. I went down a dry creek bed that I knew would intersect the PCT. I made good time after rejoining the trail and soon entered the sprawling Manzana Wind Farm.
The sun’s heat was umbrella worthy by 8am and I was again lucky that the wind had temporarily fled the farm so I could use it. I don’t carry a thermometer but between water bottles hot enough to steep tea and the dark tops of my shoes approaching EasyBake Oven discomfort, I knew it was plenty warm.
By about 11am I had the wind farm in my rear view and the trail rose back into the northern hills. A little elevation helped mitigate the worst of the heat from the valley floor but I still holed up beneath a juniper tree for several hours making do with the scarce shade available.
The last stretch was a hot climb back above 6000 feet. I turned the last corner and thought I was seeing a mirage. The ‘Mile 549 Café’ had been set up with camp chairs, garbage can, and water cache. I was beyond delighted to stop, cook a meal, and relax.
Tomorrow I am super excited to complete my trek into Tehachapi where I will get to meet up with a second special guest… Lucky boy!