Joys and sorrows of section e of the PCT: November 2014

Every section of the Pacific Crest Trail has its joys and sorrows, its highpoints and its lowpoints, but section e, jeez. Not a lot of highlights, unless you count the industrial:


Which I don't. Or unless you count camping by the Los Angeles Aqueduct, built back in the l920's by the famous/infamous William Mulholland/Noah Cross


Which I actually sort of do. For twenty-five hard dry desert miles the trail travels with the aqueduct, which claims to be extremely dangerous. 


Headed north through land about as barren as the PCT gets, in my experience. Does have some trash, which a wildlife manager for Tejon Ranch I encountered complained about. People use the desert as a dump, he said. Was a helpful guy named Eric who gave me great advice on where to camp. Told me to go to the base of the mountains, and hunker down low, to avoid the winds of the Tehachapis.


But that was for when I reached mile 540. The day before I camped at mile 523, after an approximately fifty-mile detour around a massive burn scar left in the region last year by the Powerhouse Fire, seen here in a picture from Reuters from June 2013. 


A fire official at a station at mile 478 told me much of the trail through this section has been completely destroyed, hence the detour, which involves a country road known as N2 north from Lake Hughes.

Take that about fourteen miles north to Highway 138, turn left for Hikertown, turn due north, and keep on until evening. I camped on the furthest edge of the city, on public land land few even know exists. 


This really was a highlight, and actually — as the desert often is at night — utterly lovely and sleep inducing. Still, perhaps the most urban campsite on the PCT.

Even compared to the super-dry Mojave that follows in section f, this 112 miles from Agua Dulce (north of Los Angeles) to Hwy 58 (north of Mojave) this section is a trial. For one, it's desert, but not wilderness, and you have to walk on the hard roads and around the huge burn and with never enough water to understand what a difference that makes. 

Eric and two other reliable sources assured me there was water to be had at a faucet at Sycamore Creek at mile 535, shortly before the trail splits off from the aqueduct and heads north towarde the mountains. I had a couple of liters, but was really counting on that, and had every expectation that it would be there — after all, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said so. 


But when I turned the lever, no water came out. Gathered what I could from a couple of old plastic bottles people had left around and headed north, hoping to find a spring alleged to exist at mile 542. Pretty barren campsite. 


That's at 540. Pushed on next morning to 542, called Tylerhorse, which also allegedly had water, Encountered some rare locals by the trail.


At mile 542, blessedly, came across a tiny spring-fed pool. Don't have a picture of the elusive denizens of this one, but did come up with a way to remember it:

invade the silence
with a whirr, flutter, cheep
birds of Tylerhorse

Loved this site, but could not stay. Had about four liters and twenty-five miles of mountain to go. 


It's not a super-hard trail, but it's about 2200 feet in about ten miles, with no water for at least sixteen miles. (In fact, with one exception, there proved to be no water for the rest of the entire section, to mile 568, or about twenty-five miles.) 

Hard traveling, as Woody Guthrie would say, through a horribly scarred landscape, but two saintly trail angels — in the midst of all this devastation — had left a tiny oasis. 


I cannot tell you the relief. I tried to depict in a selfie, thinking of my mindset before the water, and perhaps succeeded a little too well. (Sorry to post again, but seems part of the story.) 


But at that point, even though I had about a day and a half to go, I knew I would make it, and could relax a little. Life — and the wilderness — have no shortage of surprises. 


Though I had to camp amidst the burn and the windmills, which I didn't like, no matter how photogenic.


Trail had some freaky obstacles. Every hiker has encountered dead trees fallen in inconvenient ways across the path, but never have I seen one quite like this.


Here's a representative sign near a spot at mile 558, which was also said — on the map and in the official PCTA trail notes — to have water. 


Also did not. Hoo-boy. Happy to see Hwy 58 and the end of section e. 

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

3 thoughts on “Joys and sorrows of section e of the PCT: November 2014

  1. I’m appreciating this traversal of the Pacific Coast Trail, Kit, and am especially grateful that the experience is vicarious!


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