Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT


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"You're currently at Walker Pass, which marks the boundary between the Southern and Central   
California regions of the trail. North from here, the trail enters the Owens Peak Wilderness
and climbs through its pinyon pine forests and craggy peaks. The Owens Peak segment
extends ~41 miles north to Sequoia National Forest . . . Elevations range from
5,245 feet at Walker Pass to 7,900 feet on Bear Mountain . . . "
~ from a Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) sign at the Walker Pass Campground

Although I went farther north of Walker Pass today on the PCT than I did yesterday, when I hiked south, I didn't get as far as Bear Mountain or as high as 7,900 feet. I topped out at about 6,625 feet on the broad eastern slope of Mt. Jenkins.

I hiked solo from Walker Pass at CA 178 north for 5.63 miles before turning around, for a total distance of 11.26 miles and more than 3,800 feet of elevation gain and loss. Outbound (north) was mostly a gradual uphill, so I got to hike mostly downhill on the way back to my car.

Here's my GPS track:

CA 178 is the solid gold-colored line at the lower left corner. The Walker Pass Campground, where I parked yesterday, is below that. There is a short section of trail, perhaps a half mile long, south of the road connecting yesterday's and today's hikes that I haven't done.

Yesterday I parked in a very small parking area for hikers at the campground. This time I decided to park in a long, wide, paved parking area on the shoulder of the road, which turned out to be a poor decision even though there was plenty of room to park on either side of the pass. I thought it would be a safer and more convenient option than the more remote parking area at the campground.

Apparently not, as you'll see at the end of this entry.

I got to Walker Pass and began hiking at 9:30 AM.

About 30 cyclists from the Ridgecrest bike group were doing a ride from Ridgecrest to Kernville, a distance of 62 miles/100K. I passed some of them on my way to the pass, where an aid station was set up. I parked well enough before it so I didn't block the cyclists' view of the aid station. (I took the picture above from my car, zooming in on the cyclist and truck; the aid table is behind the sign.)

I talked with the older fella running the aid station, and four of the cyclists who stopped for fluids and food, then began my hike. I originally planned to turn around at four miles but the men all encouraged me to go to at least five miles. They're locals and have hiked the trail.

After I got past four miles, I understood why they recommended going a little farther -- the views were awesome when the trail morphed from the west side of Morris Peak to the east side of Mt. Jenkins. I could see about forever to the east, across the valley where Ridgecrest and China Lake are located. I also noticed lots of dirt roads in the canyons below me:

The rocks were also suddenly very colorful along the trail and I got some samples for my rock collection. I'll show pictures of them later in this entry.


The photos in this section are in order going northbound, although I took some of them looking back. I do that for various reasons even when I'm going out and back on a trail.

That's not Owens Peak, just the first mountain slope the trail traverses.

Above and next two photos:  There were only a few Joshua trees by the trail but quite a 
lot on the slopes along CA 178 for a couple miles before reaching Walker Pass.


Joshua trees below the trail, looking east down the valley

Soon the trail passed through a large area of bright Desert Gold (AKA Desert Sunflowers) that stretched up from the trail and down into the valley. This is one of the hillsides that does look gold in the distance from the road as you drive up to Walker Pass from the east:



There are other wildflowers like Yellow Tack-Stem, yellow Devil's Lettuce, Whitedaisy Tidytips, white Forget-Me-Nots, and blue Phacelia (most are shown below) that are growing with the Desert Gold in the first couple miles of the PCT north of Walker Pass, but it's the Desert Gold that dominates and shows best from a distance:



The trail continues to curve around the first mountain and switchbacks farther up its north side, then crosses below a pass to the southeastern slope of another mountain as it gradually gains elevation:


There are more junipers and conifers at the higher elevations in this section.

Looking back at the switchbacks

As the PCT gradually climbs higher in the second, third, and fourth miles it skirts the western sides of two or three mountain slopes, with some excellent views -- where the trail is exposed -- down to different valleys, more mountains, and CA 178 on the other side of Walker Pass:


Arrow marks trail on western side of Morris Peak (I think), to the north.

A few Joshua trees are in bloom up here.




Desert Paintbrush

I really liked this part of the trail but acrophobics might not like the steep drop-offs in some places.

The trail continues high on the western and northern sides of Morris Peak (7,215 feet elevation) in the fourth and fifth miles, with some views of pointy Mt. Jenkins (7,921') up ahead:

Pass before Morris Peak

Above and below:  Mt. Jenkins' peak is in the distance.


Another scenic view to the west

At approximately 4.8 miles from Walker Pass, the PCT rounds the northern slope of Morris Peak and gradually climbs the southeastern and eastern flank of Mt. Jenkins:



And then I knew why the cyclists told me to keep going at least five miles before turning around.

Continued on the next pagegreat views, colorful rocks, and a nasty surprise when I got back to my car at the trailhead

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