We always knew this day would be intense. We had all, especially Layers (now Princess Layer) has been worried about it. We got up at 3am at Hiker Town. None of us had slept very well. We packed up silently, surrounded by cowboy campers and snuck away within 30 minutes. I am feeling very excited about the adventure of walking at night, however this quickly wears off when I realise the length of the day ahead.
Joshua Trees at Sunrise.
The first 8km were walked in darkness. We head up a bitumen road that lead us across the desert floor until we reached the open LA aqueduct with the sounds of rushing water. We turned east and head along the aqueduct for a couple of km. The road walking is easy at night and there are large signs painted on the pavement for PCT hikers. The temperature is perfect and there is a slight breeze. We turn off our head torches and gaze at the stars. After a while, (distance and time is difficult to tell at night) we reach an intersection in the water channel. We turn north and walk on top of the aqueduct now covered in a large rust coloured mental pipe and partially submerged.
As we walk north the light begins in change. Joshua trees emerge on the horizon and we realise we are surrounded by them. We decide to stop and have breakfast where the pipe ends and our path turns east again.
The sun rises and we follow the aqueduct which now appears to be fully submerged under a paved road. There are openings every so often where you can hear the sounds of rushing water, which is very bizarre in the dry hot desert. This is the most monotonous part of the day, we break for 40 mins in some shade at 8:30 and keep trekking.
At 9:30 the path diverts from the aqueduct down a dirt road and starts to climb. The weather is heating up and we find ourselves walking in the Manzana Wind Farm Project. At 11am the warmth is nearly excruciating and we reach Cottonwood Creek 27kms, where there is a bridge we can sit under for the heat of the midday sun.
We hang out and doze under the bridge for 6 hours. There is a small Creek running to our surprise, which, according to a Canadian couple, was dry 30 minutes earlier. We think that maybe there is a dam upstream, however later on we are told that when the temperature changes in the mountains, they let out water which would otherwise be subterranean. At 1pm the stream stops flowing and at 5pm we decide it’s ok to walk again and head off for the last 7 miles.
About a mile in I realise how exhausted I am. I feel a strange sensation where I can’t feel my body, and it feels slow and weak, but it keeps walking and I take it very slowly. The slow climb out of the desert floor slowly increases to a steep trudge. We climb 600m and look down over the first ridge and I see tents pitched around a small creek. I have never been this happy to reach camp!! It’s 8pm and we set up for our first cowboy camp. We are all emotionally exhausted and mechanically make our way into bed.