Tehachapi Pass, California – Cheryl Strayed’s First Wild Footsteps

This was the place where Cheryl rubbed sage between her hands because her mom had taught her that the scent provides a burst of energy – in this way Cheryl felt her mother’s power with her on the trail.


Also, this was where Cheryl spent the windy night reading and rereading a poem called Power by Adrienne Rich.

her wounds came from the
same source as her power
― Adrienne Rich, The Dream of a Common Language

Hike in this area

It was early June 1995 when Cheryl Strayed first set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail at Tehachapi Pass (off Highway 58 about 12 miles west of the town of Mojave, Calif.)

Anyone who has read Wild or who sees the movie will remember Cheryl’s initial struggles to lift her heavy backpack and her first arduous hike north from Tehachapi Pass. Here’s how you can experience these moderately difficult miles via a six-mile out-and-back day hike.


Tehachapi Pass may not be renowned for jaw-dropping beauty (indeed, the first mile of this hike is not pretty), but for prepared hikers the area offers solitude and its own unique aesthetics. Of special interest is the knowledge that heading north from Tehachapi Pass you are walking Cheryl’s first steps on the PCT – and if you’re lucky enough to be a novice hiker, you’ll perhaps experience similar wonder, astonishment, and self-discovery. Keep in mind, however, that this is a dry, rugged section of trail so hydrate well, carry a minimum of a quart of water per person for the six miles outlined here, and watch for rattlesnakes.

From the PCT’s crossing of Highway 58 at Tehachapi Pass, follow Cheryl’s path northbound on the PCT (beginning parallel to the road and then heading uphill) for about three miles to the site of her first camp. Along the way you’ll traverse rocky tread, spy lizards doing push-ups, pass Joshua trees, yucca, and junipers, perhaps hear the Mountain chickadee’s three-note “How-are-you” song and enjoy views.

Wind Turbines near Mojave. Photo by Rebecca Sudduth, Creative Commons License.

The Wilderness Press Pacific Crest Trail guidebooks describe where Cheryl likely made her first camp as “a broad slope among scrubby junipers – a level place to camp if needed.” She describes the area as “surrounded in all directions by beige, barren-looking mountains dotted with clusters of sagebrush, Joshua trees, and waist-high chaparral.”

“I came to a rare level spot,” she wrote, “near a gathering of Joshua trees, yuccas, and junipers and stopped to rest.” For day hikers, this is a good spot for you to stop and rest, as well. Have lunch or a snack, savor the view, and plan to turn around and head back to your car afterward.

You will have earned the break because, make no mistake, this portion of the PCT is dusty, dry, and windy! Tehachapi Pass is, in fact, renowned for its nearly incessant wind and extreme weather patterns. Winds can reach nearly 70 miles-per-hour. To take advantage of this, wind turbines blanket the nearby ridges, converting wind into electricity. Each year, a single wind turbine can produce more energy than contained in 1,000 barrels of oil. At least 5,000 wind turbines operate in this region, making it among the biggest wind energy systems in the world.

Distance: Plan on five miles (or more) out and back.

Driving Directions: Tehachapi Pass is located along Highway 58 about 12 miles west of the town of Mojave (at the junction of Highways 58 and 14) and 12 miles east of the town of Tehachapi. Near the pass, the PCT crosses Highway 58 at the Cameron Road Overpass, exit 159. There is parking on the north side of the road.

Special regulations: Wilderness permits are not required to travel on this segment of the PCT. A California Campfire Permit is required, however, if you plan on having a campfire or using a stove. The permit is your agreement to follow the current campfire restrictions and regulations.

Agency jurisdiction: Bureau of Land Management – Ridgecrest Field Office

Region: Southern California; Section F


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