Day 29: Dirtbagging

29 April 2021
Bouquet Canyon Road to LA Aqueduct North of Lake Hughes
PCT Mile 465.6 to 485.8

Wow. Today was maybe my most stressful day.

I started out with a grand plan to get around the Lake Fire closure. Instead of doing one road walk to get to Hikertown, and then a second “official” PCT road walk from there on the Los Angeles aqueduct, I would do just one road walk north from Lake Hughes to the end of the official road walk at Cottonwood Creek bridge. Two for one! I like it.

But plans can go awry.

The day started out really well, actually. I slept great at the water cache last night and had great energy for the 1,000 foot climb this morning. One concern was a warning on Guthook about poison oak overrunning the trail, but I think that person got confused. There was some poison oak, but the plant on the trail itself was actually fragrant sumac. I put my wind pants on anyway for a couple of miles and it was fine.

Glowy morning
This climb is not bad!
Poison oak?
No, fragrant sumac
Ultra champions
Some kind of asteroideae
Lanceleaf liveforever

On the way down to the Green Valley Fire Station to get water I caught up with Rugby and we hiked together a while. He knows a lot about nutrition and stretches, so I think I learned a couple of things!


I saw Knock Knock and Puma down at the fire station and Stumbles and her crew, and a few other hikers all getting water and chilling out. I had some ramen, soaked my shirt, and then tackled another climb. It was steep, so it went quickly, and soon I was headed downhill to a forest service road I would take to Lake Hughes.

Ahhhh, downhill and in the shade!
Lake Fire burn zone, where the PCT is closed
Road to Lake Hughes

Cell service was really good on the ridge above town and I was ahead of schedule (or so I thought!) so I took a two hour break to blog under a lovely tree with great breeze.

The blogging tree
Red tailed hawk

In town I resupplied and got a chef salad at The Rock Inn, where I did more blogging and waited out the heat a bit before climbing up out of town.

No more lake in Lake Hughes
Are they testing this sheep for Theory of Mind?
The Rock Inn

About 5:30pm I started up the forest service roads heading north, but I knew something was wrong when the road itself was signed as “private.” I’ve seen this kind of encroachment on public roads before, so I pressed on.

I passed one of the ranches up there with some vicious dogs right by the road. I prayed they were fenced, and they were. The owner came out, but did not say anything to me about being on the road so I kept on climbing.

Up at the top where I thought I would camp on National Forest land, the ranchers had put up a fence on the road that said “Keep Out” in both directions! At this point I worried that asserting my right to public lands would not be a good move, so I decided to keep walking to Highway 138 and either find a place to camp or get an Uber to a hotel.

I guess I won’t camp here….
Flatbud prickly poppy

Everything was going according to plan as I followed the forest road down into the desert, but when I got to Fairmont Reservoir there was a prison-style fence across the road and encircling the whole reservoir property, courtesy of the LADWP. My only choices were to backtrack through all the nonsense I just came through, or to follow the fence around the massive property.

Fairmont Reservoir
Road down to the reservoir

And here’s a problem: the land next to the fence was likely private ranch land. I was worried about running into someone along the way, but I saw no people or cows or houses.

Of course, at this point I get a text from Knock Knock. He and Puma wanted to know if I was still in Lake Hughes because they got an AirBnB there. D’oh!

I told him I was kind of screwed and he offered to come to rescue me (the AirBnB came with a truck!) but I told him to stand by. I really wanted to try and find a solution.

After a mile of hiking around the LADWP fence, I finally made it to a corner where my luck changed. There I saw an aqueduct and made my way over to it. It turns out this was also part of the LA aqueduct system, and it was open for recreational use! Signs said no swimming and no loitering, but they didn’t say no camping!

I promise not to loiter while I sleep

I followed the aqueduct almost to Road 170, which I need to take tomorrow to complete the road hike, but given the strong winds I stopped short behind a berm that offered some protection for my tent. I could see a ranch on the other side of the fence but thought I was okay.

Mountain phacelia

Then, halfway through setting up my tent, I saw a rancher walking toward me on his side of the fence, his wife about 100 yards behind him. I stopped what I was doing, walked toward him and said “Howdy!”

He said “Sorry, but I’ve lived here 35 years and I’ve never seen anyone put up a tent there.”

I explained: “I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and trying to get around the Lake Fire closure. I meant to get back to trail today but I got lost and ran out of gas.”

The he started talking about how he always wanted to hike the PCT through the Sierra. Yes! I knew it would be alright after that.

We chatted a bit more (his name is Jerry) and he told me he thought it would be fine for me to camp as long as I was out in the morning.

And then I finished setting up my tent and collapsed on my pad. I was actually happy to have already had contact with someone instead of wondering if someone was going to check up on me in the middle of the night.

Thru-hikers call this kind of quasi-legal (illegal?) camping “dirtbagging.” Honestly, I hope I never have to do it again!

Here’s today’s Hike-U:

Public vs. Private
This land is your land?
Not if ranchers have their way….
Except for Jerry!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Samuel Wilson says:

    …most ranchers are kind helpful people, some people who own property are not ranchers and may be growing marijuana and/or doing weird stuff, or on some sort of government aid and having nothing better to do than harass folks passing by…those are usually property owners that are not kind(though always exceptions to the rule on both sides). I live in the foothills of the Sierra on a ranch and most ranchers around here are worried about drug use, liability and theft by criminals and homeless people. If you look like a hiker and backpacker, I don’t think you will have anything to worry about with your average real ranchers. They will most likely tell you to move on through or turn around if you don’t have a good reason to be on their ranch, but if they understand you are in a bind, the average rancher will help you out. Thanks for all your posts !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JimmyJam says:

      Samuel, thanks so much. I feel like I overgeneralized, probably due to my frustration, and the ONE rancher I actually met this day was nice to me. Thanks for painting a richer picture. 😊


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