Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT


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"You don't have to disappear for months to enjoy the Pacific Crest Trail. Most people are out    
for less than a week. The PCT provides for a rich lifetime of day, weekend, and week-long trips."
~ official PCT website re: day and section-hiking the ~2,650-mile-long trail

Back in the summer of 2005, when I was 56, I ran and hiked the 2,200+ mile long Appalachian Trail end to end in a little less than five months. In the summers of 2006 and 2007 I also completed all 26 sections of the ~500-mile-long Colorado Trail.

After I accomplished those goals -- with a ton of crewing assistance by Jim -- I briefly had aspirations of also completing all of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail by section-hiking it over a period of several years.

That has not and most likely will not ever happen, for several reasons -- I'm older now, I can't run any more (walking is much slower!), the trailheads are farther apart and less-accessible on the PCT than those on the AT, and Jim still remembers how hard it was to crew for me with the RV and two dogs! He isn't eager to take on that role again, even after all these years.

Sign at the Walker Pass Campground

As you can see from the map diagram above, the PCT runs through predominantly mountainous terrain from the California-Mexican border to the Washington-Canadian border.

Before doing the AT, the only sections of the PCT I'd run were in southern California on or near the Leona Divide 50-miler course and a short segment in Oregon. 

One of the reasons we chose to stay at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station this week is its proximity to the PCT. The closest trailhead, at Walker Pass on CA 178, is about 25 miles from the RV park.

Historical markers at Walker Pass, named after Joseph R. Walker,
who discovered the pass over the Sierra Nevada Range in 1834.

I ended up doing two out-and-back hikes from that trailhead this week, one south and one north.

Today Cody and I hiked south from Walker Pass on the PCT in the Klavah Wilderness and back for a total of 3.1 miles.

The trail was smooth and easy to follow, the scenery and flowers were nice . . . 

Hillside full of vibrant Desert Gold sunflowers

. . . but I felt uncomfortable with two men I encountered on the trail and cut my hike short for that reason.

If there's anything I've learned about as a woman hiking solo on any trail, it's to trust my intuition. I probably should have trusted it even more and not gone back to hike north from Walker Pass the next day, but that's another story for the next entry.


The PCT crosses CA 178 about 25 miles west of Ridgecrest. The largest nearby city in Bakersfield.

I marked my driving route in yellow on the map below. Our RV park at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station is the red dot and Walker Pass is the purple dot. The PCT is the broken purple line running north to south on the west side of US 395:

The elevation at our RV park on base is about 2,300 feet. It was a gradual uphill drive the last ten miles, after I got to the part of CA 178 that is west of US 395. The elevation at Walker Pass where the PCT crosses the road is about 5,250 feet.

After I passed the 4,000-foot elevation sign on CA 178 I began seeing lots of Joshua trees, rather thick in some places. A little below the pass I pulled off onto a short dirt road so I could take better pictures of the trees and surrounding mountainsides:

Looking back down CA 178 toward the valley with the towns of Inyokern and Ridgecrest

Note the slope above that is yellow, full of Wallace's Wooly Daisies like the ones in a picture shown near the beginning of this entry.

I didn't realize when I took this photo that the PCT north of Walker Pass goes along that slope, right through those flowers. See the next entry for photos from that longer hike.

Even though there is parking on either side of the road at Walker Pass where the PCT crosses CA 178, I missed it on the way to the trail this morning. I drove about a mile farther until I saw a sign for Walker Pass Campground, run by the BLM. I was able to park there and easily access the trail.

Campsite with a great view of the surrounding mountains

My GPS track begins and ends where I parked in the campground about 1/4 mile below the trail.

I added purple dots to show about where the trail continues north toward and across CA 178, the solid gold-colored line:

I followed signs in the campground up a hill to the trailhead for the PCT and headed south.


Because much of the PCT -- including the short section I walked today -- is in wilderness areas, there are very few trail markers or other "improvements" to the trail.

I couldn't have been happier with the trail itself -- hard, smooth sand for 1.6 miles south of the campground to the point where I turned around, and gradually up and down between 5,035 feet to 5,531 feet elevation per my GPS.

There were also tons of wildflowers along the way and I was totally distracted by them. Many of the pictures I took had flowers in them. I've included some of the varieties here and have done my best to identify them correctly.

These photos are in order outbound:



Desert Sunflower AKA Desert Gold

White Daisy Tidy-Tip, blue Phacelia, yellow Devil's Lettuce (??)

Yellow Tack-Stem

Above and below:  Freckled Milkvetch, I think



Front half of a non-venomous California Striped Racer; the back half stretched 
across most of the trail to the right but Cody and I got around it OK.




Looking back at Cody

A little farther beyond this point, we turned around.

The scenery was more interesting to me going northbound, back to my car in the campground, because of the mountains in the distance:




Above and below:  Baby Blue Eyes (??)


This trail goes down to the Walker Pass CG, where I parked. The PCT continues up here, to the right.

There were nice views to the large valley ten miles to the east as I drove back down to US 395 from 5,250 feet to about 2,300 feet.

I took several more pictures of the Joshua trees as I was driving home:


This was a really short segment of the 2,650-mile PCT but I liked it enough to come back the next day and head north from Walker Pass to see what was in the next section. The trail was smooth, the views were scenic, the grade was gentle, and, in early April, there were lots of wildflowers.

Next entry:  scenic hike #2 on the PTC, going north 5+ miles from Walker Pass to Mt. Jenkins and back, with a nasty surprise when I got back to my car

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil