Thursday, 5 May 2022

Crossing the Mohave Desert on the Pacific Crest Trail Forty Years Ago


In early May 1982 I crossed the Mohave Desert on my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike with three companions I'd met along the way. In just a few weeks the walk would change completely and we would be hiking through the deep snow of the High Sierra. But first we had to cross the hot Mohave Desert, complete with snowshoes, ice axes and crampons!

The desert was beautiful and fascinating but as much of the walking was on flat dirt roads, and sometimes even paved, roads it wasn't the most exciting part of the walk, despite the rattlesnakes. Back then there was no official trail through the region so hikers strung together a mix of roads, tracks, trails and bits of cross-country (beware the spiky vegetation!). 

Sometimes, on seeing a road stretching out dead straight into the far distance I would take out my natural history guide to the High Sierra and read this as I walked, much to the amusement of my companions, who borrowed my camera to take a picture.

I knew a great deal about the High Sierra by the time I got there!

As well as no trail in 1982 there were no trail angels putting out water caches so for many miles we followed the Los Angeles Aqueduct that brings water from Owens Valley below the High Sierra to the dry city. Every mile there was an inspection shaft and we could remove the cap and lower water bottles weighted with pebbles on a length of cord into the cold rushing water. You can see Scott doing this in the picture above. In the heat of the day we often had long stops by these water sources, finding it easier to walk early in the morning and then in the cool of the evening.

With ample water we were able to use it to cool down! 

Soon keeping cool would not be a problem.


  1. The trail sure was a lot different in the early days. David Odell AT71 PCT72 CDT77

  2. Thanks for sharing. Great photos

  3. Cool to see how it was in ancient times. It is very different now (I hiked it in 2018). I cannot recall a lot of road walking, so that has changed. I quite liked the Mojave, except some parts around Tehachapi which is full of wind turbines now. Loved the Joshua Trees and the many flowers, birds and lizards.

    I wasn't aware of the inspection shafts along the aqueduct. Perhaps they aren't there anymore. I just carried a ton of water. That stretch is infamous for often being extremely hot, but I was lucky that it wasn't so bad at the time.

    I shared your excitement approaching the Sierra! Change of scenery and no more large water carries! (at least until Northern California).

    1. Back in 1982 there was a large area, the Tejon Ranch, where access rights for the trail were still being negotiated. Hikers were asked to go round this area so as not to upset the negotiations. The then suggested route didn't go near Tehachapi. And of course there were no windfarms. I've heard the caps on the inspection shafts were locked some time ago.

      The only other big water carry I had was across the 25 miles of the 'Oregon Desert' around Mount Thielsen. There was still enough snow left in Northern California to ensure plenty of water.

    2. Northern?