Annual hike provides a taste of Wild and wind power

Photo of the Pacific Coast Trail hike past modern wind turbines via organizer Paul Gipe.

One outstanding attribute of wind energy is its compatibility with nature and human activity. An annual event that’s turned into a great tradition and is taking place again this spring is a living example of that.

On May 9, participants will take part in the 30th annual Windmill-Wildflower Hike on the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT). The PCT, recently made all the more famous by the Cheryl Strayed book Wild and movie by the same title, runs from Mexico to Canada and so encompasses a variety of landscapes and environments.

The Kern (Calif.)-Kaweah Chapter of the Sierra Club, the organizer and sponsor, puts on the Tehachapi event for a couple of purposes. The hike allows the group to spotlight a section of the trail that does not draw the hiker numbers that perhaps it should, probably because of its desert-like environment as opposed to the wooded sections with which many associate the trail and hiking in general.

The other purpose for the event: With wind turbines taking their place in the natural surroundings to tap an inexhaustible natural resource, the hike serves to educate the public on clean and affordable energy.

Those have been the two driving forces behind the hike from the beginning, says Paul Gipe, an original organizer of the event and a former Western Representative of the American Wind Energy Association. “For all of my professional life, I’ve stressed that wind is compatible with all land uses, including public recreation,” says Gipe. “The wind turbines are there, and you can go out and enjoy a beautiful day in the sun and the wind… and you can see there’s no overt conflict.”

So project developers like First Wind host events such as ATV ride-ins in such scenic locations as Maine, and hikers out west get to experience wind power’s compatibility with recreation as well.

All are welcome fro the hike, and nearly 1,000 people, from children to octogenarians, have now made the trip across Cameron Ridge. Make no mistake, though, it’s a real hike, not the cliché walk in the park. The six-mile trip is rated moderate by seasoned hikers, but it has steep uphill and downhill segments, organizers caution. Moreover, the trip takes participants up to a high elevation where springtime whether can be variable and extreme.


In the early 1990’s, the hike passed by older wind turbines that have since been removed in favor of modern turbines. Photo via Paul Gipe.

Having led the event from the beginning, Gipe can tell you some stories about past trips. The hike has taken place in snow, rain, blistering sun, and (appropriately) extreme wind. Gipe says that just last year, the windiest of all the hikes across 30 years, required him and other group leaders to hold the hands of children near the summit out of concern they could be blown over. After seeing the turbines along the trail and experiencing those kinds of winds, anyone who participated last year surely knows the true power of wind.

The payoff, though, promises to be unforgettable, even aside from the firsthand education on wind power. The trek concludes at the scenic summit, where hikers will sit back and take in the striking view as they eat their lunches.

Given the unpredictable springtime weather at 5,000 feet, with potential temperatures ranging from near freezing to sweltering heat, organizers urge participants to dress appropriately: hat, jacket, sun screen, and at least one quart of water per person. Total duration of the hike is about five hours. A car shuttle picks up hikers at the end.

The hike starts promptly at 9 a.m. and leaves the PCT trailhead kiosk located northeast of the junction of Cameron Canyon Road and Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road. The PCT Cameron Ridge segment kiosk is on the south side of Cameron Canyon Road, 100-200 feet northeast of its junction with Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road.

For more information, contact Gipe (661-325-9590) or Tony Swan (661-363-5106).

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