The Plan

A year ago when, somewhat to my surprise, Louise and I realized that we both still wanted to hike the PCT together, I knew very little about how to make it happen. I decided to start with setting dates, to make things real. I needed to figure out when we should start and about how long it would take. I had no idea what speed to expect from us, and it seemed the optimal start time changed year to year. The main difficulty, though, was working within Louise’s summer break. She would be in school until some time in May and need to be back in early September. Three and a half months, at most. There are people who have hiked the whole trail in that timeframe, but given our experience level and our uncertainty of our physical capabilities, I could not count on that for us. After agonizing over many possible scenarios, we decided I would do the whole thing and she do part. We would start at the southern terminus together and see how far we got before she had to fly home.

This was the plan until I mentioned it to a PCT hiker, Lapsong, who I ran into on the Wonderland trail last September. He said starting as late as mid May, we would miss out on the social aspect of the trail. Most people would be leaving a month earlier. Another friend back from months of wilderness restoration in the desert warned against hiking through the Mojave in late June, due to intense heat and water scarcity. It was very hard for me to accept that my plan was not a good one. For months, I had been spending my dull moments romanticizing day one… Louise and I, stepping foot in a desert for the first time, looking like we walked out of an REI catalogue, flashing wild grins at each other, incredulous and silly, prepared as we could be but still with no clue. The version where it’s just me at the start is not as good. But makes the most sense by far.

So here’s the real plan. On April 27, I fly to San Diego where I will be hosted by some trail angels for a night. I start my journey from Campo, CA on April 28. Louise will still be studying abroad in Prague at this point. After she returns home in mid May, she will fly to LA on May 20 and a trail angel will help her get to me in Wrightwood, CA, at mile 364. On May 21, we will set out together, planning to go almost 2000 miles to White Pass in Washington where we will leave the trail to make it to Seattle for Louise’s flight back to Charleston at the end of August. I will continue, as long as it takes to finish the remaining 270 miles to Manning Park, weather permitting. I chose my start date based on the depth of the snow pack in the Sierras this year. Other years I may have chosen to start earlier but we don’t want to enter the Sierras (~mile 700) before mid June.

Having such a rigid itinerary makes me nervous. It’s impossible to predict what natural pace we will fall into together, and there are so many things that could put us behind schedule. Someone gets injured or sick, we leave the trail to replace a piece of gear, we lose a day when were are rerouted around a wildfire, I could think of dozens more but I’ll stop there. I have to keep reminding myself that there are no disastrous repercussions for being too slow. Perhaps Louise waits for me in Wrightwood for a day. Or we have a crazy time making our way from southern Oregon to Seattle to catch her flight. Or we miss her flight and we may have lost some money but she will still get home.

The plan may have strayed from our original vision but it works. I still spend my dull moments imagining day one. There is less grinning and silliness but just as much excitement and uncertainty. Louise and I will still get one hundred days together. I’m sure at times that will feel like enough.


Basic PCT Questions Answered

This is geared towards those with little knowledge of the PCT. No information specific to my trip, maybe a little dry, but if you have no idea what ‘a PCT thru hike’ might be like then this could be informative.

What is the PCT?

The Pacific Crest Trail was designated a National Scenic Trial in 1968, along with the Appalachian Trail, but it was not until 1993 that it was officially completed.  People have been hiking between Mexico and Canada on the trails that now make up the PCT long before that, starting in the 70s. Today it stretches about 2,650 miles between Campo, CA and Manning Park in Canada, roughly following the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges. It hits 25 national forests and 7 national parks. It passes through a few small towns and crosses roads where hikers can hitch to a nearby town, but in general it is fairly remote.

Who does it?

In the past decade, the PCT’s popularity has boomed. In 2009, 103 people reported completing the trail. Last year, the number was was 697. And of course, many more hikers do a good chunk without finishing the entire thing. Last summer the PCTA (Pacific Crest Trail Association) issued 5,657 permits, with about 3,500 for people planning to go the whole way. Roughly two thirds of hikers are male. Most hikers are in their 20s or early 30s, but there are people out there in their 60s too. I’m not certain but I get the sense that there is roughly the same number of people hiking solo as hiking with a partner or group. People come from all over the world to hike it but most are from the US. The vast majority of hikers are northbound, over 90%.

How do they do it?

Planning a PCT thru hike feels like a gigantic endeavor. But today there is a wealth of information easily accessible that can answer any question you’d ever have about camping, navigating, resupplying, eating, drinking, and pooping on the trail. I can’t imagine doing it without all of the online and print resources I’ve found, all of which have become available in the past 10 years. I feel like the main things a thru hiker must have are the right clothing and shelter to be safe in a variety of settings, from the Mojave desert to the north Cascades; a plan for getting more food and supplies, whether it’s buying as you go or sending them to yourself; and enough knowledge of the trail to know where to find water, how far to the next exit point, where the trail might be closed due to wildfires, etc. Of course, being mentally prepared also really helps. I’m told that its good to be physically prepared but not essential because the trail will get you in shape pretty quickly.

How long does it take?

People hike the entire trail in as few as 2 and as many as 6 months (2 months being record speed). People’s hiking speeds range from 15 to 35 miles per day. The window of the year for safe hiking is smaller than for the Appalachian Trail. Snow conditions in the Sierras and Cascades dictate how early people can start (depending on which direction you are heading). This year there is so much snow in the Sierras that very few people are starting a northbound hike before April. And the coming of Fall in the north Cascades will determine how late one can be hiking northbound. There can be whiteout snow conditions on the last stretch of the trail in late September.

Well, there are some basic facts. Soon I will make a post about how Weeze and I plan to do it.

The Decision

“So, uhh, wanna hike the PCT together?”

On a summer day in 2015, my sister and I sat across each other in a Seattle coffee shop, taking a break from the remote work of our respective jobs. Scrolling through Facebook, I came across a Jezebel article written by someone I went to school with who had hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. Louise’s good friend was hiking it that summer. We considered what an incredible thing it is, and what remarkable knowledge, determination, and gumption those people who do it possess. We discussed all the challenges–acquiring backpacking knowledge, buying gear, feeling physically equipped, planning the whole thing, having the time and money, but mostly, who to do it with if not alone… Its unlikely that we’d have a friend with that kind of flexibility and commitment who we would want to spend that much time with in the wild. And we agreed that doing it with a boyfriend would change the experience in an undesirable way. Slowly we whittled down the list of potential hiking partners until there was almost no one left. I know we were both thinking it but I can’t remember which one of us asked, “So, uhh, wanna hike the PCT together?”

And that is how it all began. That day, Louise and I looked at our next 3 years and thought about how we could do this with Louise being a student and me trying to be a functioning adult. We decided 2017 could work, gushed a bit about how cool it would be, and left it there. It rested in the back of my mind, an exciting notion that was so distant and outlandish that I could hardly imagine sticking to it. But about 8 months after our initial PCT talk, I called Weeze to check in on the matter. Both of us still down, I went ahead and purchased Yogi’s PCT guide and have not stopped planning since. 12022575_10205069418315452_3319692099959716985_o