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.

One thought on “Basic PCT Questions Answered”

  1. I am very excited for you both. I am excited about following you thru the woods. I wish I could hike it with you:)
    Gervais

    Like

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