Sunset atop the Hat Creek Rim
The answers to the following questions are based upon my own thru-hiking experience and express my own opinion to which there are many.
Why the Pacific Crest Trail?
I suppose that the answer to that question is different for each hiker, but for me it probably came about as a natural progression. My first long distance hike was in '94 when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail which was on the east coast of the U.S. and in terrain that I was familiar and comfortable with since I have lived in Alabama and North Carolina for most of my life. I then went on to thru-hike the 475 mile Colorado Trail which introduced me to high altitude hiking since 90 percent of that trail is above 10,000 feet and it gave me a taste of hiking in the more arid and exposed western U.S. After that I felt completely confident to take on the 2,658 mile Pacific Crest Trail like it was my own backyard! During the last decade the PCT has truely come into it's own as a tame, yet wild trail and I'd definitely reccomend it as a first-time thru-hike attempt to anyone, but that is how the PCT came about for me.
Planning a multi-month hike on the PCT seems overwhelming. How did you begin planning and how did that process progress?
Even after all the wilderness trips I've taken, I too feel that sense of confusion when first begining to plan a new adventure. Getting organized is my way of attacking the problem and with the internet this process has never been easier since there is now so much more information available (like my website) just floating around out there in cyberspace just waiting for someone to harness it's wealth. I did ALL of my research through random search engine searches, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, and interacting on the various mailing lists out there like the PCT-L.
After a while I learned how the guidebooks split the PCT into five regional sections: Southern California, Central California, Northern California, Oregon, and Washington which broke my research down into smaller segments which was helpful in getting my mind prepared. Each section is unique and had differnt obstacles, major peaks, and terrain that I got to know quite well before taking my first step. Before long certain terms and places like the desert, Kennedy Meadow's, the High Sierra, the Hat Creek Rim, Mount Shasta, Crater Lake, the Oregon lake country, the North Cascade's just to name a few, became words that quickly created visions in my head and helped my brain prepare for what to expect. Feeling a sense of being overwhelmed at the begining of any new experience is a good thing (as Martha Stewart would say :-) because it is just a signal from your brain to start learning. Simply said, knowledge breeds confidence and besides, I always like to stake out a place before I enter it.
Which guidebook and maps did you use? Did you use a compass?
The only complete guidebooks for the entire trail that I know about are "The Pacific Crest Trail- Volume's I and II", which also include a complete set of topo maps and available from The Pacific Crest Trail Association for about $50.00. I just cut out and carried with me a section or two at a time in my backpack, then mailing the guidebooks about 10 days ahead of myself in a drift box. Eventhough I did my fair share of cussin' the guidebooks and those super tiny maps, I still can't imagine doing the trail without them. For example, there were many places where the trail came to an old logging road and there would be no trail markers, but the guidebook would say something like, "at the junction with a faint logging road, hike SE for approximately 500 feet, then pick up the northbound trail again down a steep ledge." And yes, I did take a small basic compass which was most valuable in situations like that just described.
The PCT Data book (about $6.00) was also a wonderful thing to have which served as a quick reference and that is what I used most of the time, unless I really began to feel lost then I'd pull out the detailed guidebook and maps.
Overall, how good is the PCT marked? Did you ever get lost?
Compared to the Appalachian Trail which is marked with it's famous "white blazes" every step of the way, the PCT has a more "stealth" marker system employed. In places there are pockets of a well marked trail, but that is certainly the exception and not the rule along this path! I'd say that 98 percent of the time common sense will indicate the correct route to take when in doubt. Even the times where I took the wrong route it wasn't long before the bells and whistles in my head began to sound off my error, but I just accepted that as a part of the adventure despite my feelings of humiliation! Review your guidebook and maps before the days hike so that you'll have a general idea of what to expect and you should do just fine. On overcast days I liked to glance at my compass quite often since I didn't have the sun as a directional reference point. Sometimes I'd hike 10 miles before finding a definite trail indicator which certainly reassured my confidence, but all the time in the back of my head I knew there was no other way to walk, but it sure was sweet to have my hunches confirmed!
Which direction did you hike?
By far, most PCT thru-hiker's begin on the Mexican border and walk north to Canada... and so did I. Hiking through the desert seemed like a "hot" idea and an environment that I had no experience whatsoever dealing with on a day-in and day-out basis, so the idea of doing it in the spring seemed most logical to me... but, I couldn't start hiking too soon or I'd have to deal with the High Sierra snow only 650 miles north which most of my research advised to enter no sooner than mid-June. Well, fortunately 2001 ended up being a very low snow year and I could have entered the Sierra's even sooner than my May 31st entry at Kennedy Meadow's. Looking back I believe that I timed it just right, but remember that the snowfall varies from year to year and can definitely define your "safest" entry date into the Sierra's, so from about January forward I'd reccomend staying in close touch with the Pacific Crest Trail Association where you can easily research the current snowfall along the trail and on the PCT-L mail list where there is always plenty of discussion about the snowfall and what most starting hiker's are thinking.
How did you get to the trailhead near Campo in southern California, and from the trailhead at Manning Park in Canada?
From San Diego there is a small bus service that gets you toCampo about mid-afternoon, but if you are engaged in a thorough research (like you should) on the PCT-L mailing list or message boards like that on the Pacific Crest Trail Association's website, then you will most certainly find the names of trail angels who will help you get to the trailhead. That is the route I took and was driven to the trailhead very early with four other hiker's for a first light start which was nice since I was able to get 20 miles from the border on the first day... and far away from all the illegal imigrant traffic. These trail angels are really some of the finest quality people I have ever met and should not be taken for granted.
On the Canadian side there is a Greyhound bus service that leaves eastbound or westbound each morning at about 11:00 a.m. at the steps of Manning Park Lodge. Highway 3 is a main Canadian artery so you should also have good luck hitching, but at this point I just wanted to tune into myself and begin processing what I'd just accomplished so I chose the bus this time.
Is the PCT near the Mexican border really dangerous with all the illegal immigrants?
That was my same concern eventhough my chances of being killed or injured while driving the car to the store are probably a zillion times greater, but nonetheless I was concerned. As a precaution I definitely wanted to (1) Get an early first light start, (2) Begin my hike with or near a small group of people, and (3) Get 20 miles away from the border to Lake Morena State Park on that first day. That was my plan and that's what happened. But despite my precautions I still ran into a group of five Mexican's or rather, they ran into me while I was adjusting a shoestring alongside the trail. The first fellow spoke some broken English and we had a few short and pleasant words, then they just all filed on by me while smiling and waving. They just wanted to get into the country and had absolutely no interest in harming me. If you attend the ADZPCTKO at Lake Morena in late April, then you will find plenty of good folks willing and wanting to drive you to the border. The Pacific Crest Trail website usually has a link to the ADZPCTKO schedule sometime after the first of the year. I highly reccomend attending.
What is the ADZPCTKO ?
The Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off is not sponsored by the Pacific Crest Trail Association (although they attend) but is financed and organized by a group of dedicated trail angels. It has been held during late April since it began in 1999 at Lake Morena State Park and it is an opportunity for the current year's hiker's, previous hiker's, and all those interested to show-and-tell, slack pack, pow-wow, learn, laugh, and enjoy everyone's company. There is plenty of food and plenty of gear & equiptment demonstrations along with the famous Homemade Gear Contest. Even if you're a total hermit or recluse, this only lasts for a day (or weekend if you come early) and I can't imagine a better way to begin a multi-month hike.
How did you deal with the hot desert section?
The desert ended up being one of the most pleasant surprises of the trip. All during my research and planning everyone seemed to refer to the desert as the "desert", which was absolutely correct but it sort of misled me into visions of a scantly clothed man, crawling on all-four's through the sand with a parched throat while repeating a barely audible, "Water-water...". Technically the first 650 miles from the border is the desert section, but the good news is that the "real" desert crossings are seperated by several high mountain chains such as the Laguna Mountains, San Jacinto's, and San Gabriel's just to name a few. On one day you might be hiking in the pure hot desert then in a couple of hours you'll be trying to find the trail through the snow and that is a wonderful way to walk through the desert! Another good point is that there are no bugs and no rain in the desert with the very slightest exception so if you plan to complete this section before June then you'll be just fine.
How did you deal with the snow in the High Sierra and would you reccomend taking an ice ax?
As I mentioned previously 2001 was a very low snow year and many entered during the latter part of May as I also did on May 31st, complete with my trusty New Balance 803 trailrunner's. There was still plenty of snow and ice to negotiate over the high passes but I really managed just fine. And yes, I did carry a small ice ax although I was only two out of ten hiker's who did, that I witnessed leaving Kennedy Meadow's. There were a few distinct places that I was glad to have it such as the icy trail up Forester Pass and when I got lost from the trail at Muir Pass. Some hiker's did just fine with their trekking poles or nothing but I was sure glad to have my ice ax from Kennedy Meadow's to Tuolomne Meadow's where I mailed it home. On a very snowy year you might want to have it for the Sonora Pass area.
In the snowy High Sierra's, did you wear gaiter's or gore-tex socks with your trail runner's?
No. That was something that I studied quite a bit before my hike, but I finally made no changes from my plain sock/shoe set-up. I also knew that I would pass by a couple of outfitter's while in the desert section so I'd have about a month to adjust for the Sierra's if I learned that I'd need them after talking to other hiker's along the way and also headed to the same high country as me. 2001 was also a very low snow year which also had something to do with my decision. Also, I found that while in the Sierra's I was constantly fording across streams and rivers so my feet were usually in some state of wet or drying. When crossing the snow the mornings were never a problem since the snow was more solid, but as the afternoon sun began to melt it then it sometimes became a slushy mess in places like Muir Pass. Gaiter's may have protected my lower legs when I had to "post-hole" it through places like this, sometimes crashing through and skinning up my legs on hidden rocks and boulders, but in these conditons I can't imagine gaiters keeping my feet any drier from that slushy snow. I just kept moving until I was up and over the passes, then back in the security of the trees.
Where did you get your food and supplies?
This was my first long distance hike where I was almost totally self-sufficent, opting to resupply as I hiked instead of the usual method of having someone back home mail my food drops.This worked out so well that I now can't imagine doing it any other way. I'm now working on a detailed explaination about how this worked but until that is done I'll give you a general overview of how I did it.
(1) I used a 5 gallon plastic paint bucket with a rubber waterproof sealed lid and wire handle as a drift box which I continued to mail ahead of myself and had access to it about every ten to fourteen days. My drift box contained items such as film, fuel tablets for my stove, guidebook sections, extra food, etc. It was also very convenient to throw something like my ski mask into, then pick it up later when it was cooler.
(2) I still had someone back home to send me only two pre prepared boxes with my hexamine fuel tablets, ice ax, winter clothing and a few other items that just didn't make sense to ship all the way in the drift box.
(3) I then found towns along the way where I would buy my trail food at the local grocery stores and in places where the grocery stores were too far off the trail I'd just mail myself food packages up ahead. I found that the assortment of free priority mail boxes that the post office provides were just right in most cases to pack three to five days of food.
If you aren't on some granola-bola field grazing exotic diet and are good at making do with what you can find, then this plan might be the ticket for you, like it was for me. The best part of ressuplying as you go is that it is so liberating since you are virtually self-sufficent and that is the thing that appealed to me because I have such an indepentent personality.
Can you elaborate on your gear list and didn't you miss a lot by going "ultralight" hiking 30 to 40 mile days?
I'm also working on a very detailed review of how all my gear performed, piece by piece which will eventually be on my "Gear" link back on the PCT index page, but I'll give a general overview for now:
This is the first long distance hike that I used ultralight gear and hiking techniques. The base weight of my backpack was under 10 pounds, excluding food and water and I'm here to report that I'll never ever go back to using traditional gear. I love to find ways of doing more with less, which is what ultralighting is all about... not suffering or doing without like so many are somehow led to believe. My shelter was only 18 ounces but I was never wet or cold and it was completely mosquitto proof with plenty of room for a rainy day, if necessary. My complete stove with one days supply of fuel weighed only 1.5 ounces, but I had a hot cooked meal every day in the wetest and windiest weather with hot coffee or tea to boot! My Frogg Togg's rain jacket and Railrider Adventure pants, both weighing about 16 ounces kept me warm and dry and completely protected from the wind, even on the 13,000 foot passes in the Sierra's. My 10 pound base weight even included 18 ounces of pure luxury items such as an Olympus 35-110 zoom camera, AM/FM radio, extra batteries, etc.
I could go on and on but I believe that you get the point: I certainly didn't suffer or give anything up, but going ultralight produce's just the opposite result because when you've gained the confidence to lighten up the quality of the hike is magnifed tenfold. I was amazed at how much the quality of my experience increased when I could concentrate more on the beauty and curiosity of the trail and less on the effects of too much weight on my back.
How long was your hike?
I started hiking from the Mexican border on April 26th and finished in Canada on August 12th which put my hike at about 109 days of wonderful trail life! This total includes about 5 "zero" days so I was actually hiking 104 days.
Explain your hiking style and how many miles did you cover in a day?
I guess that everyone eventually develops their own style of hiking and mine is definitely goal-oriented, which in a nutshell means that I'm happiest when I'm moving closer to my goal... Canada in this case and according to my calculator I averaged approximately 25 miles per day for the whole walk. For all of Oregon and Washington (including the North Cascades) I don't believe that I had a single day less than 30 miles. On several occasions I was confronted with the question about whether I was sacrificing the quality of my hike by moving so fast, but those kind folks were simply judging me by their standards because the quality of my hike would have been dramatically less if I had tried to slow down. Hiking towards a goal is what brightens my soul and spirit so that is exactly what I must do, but at the same time if carrying a 40 pound backpack and covering 8 miles a day is what makes you happy then I agree that that is exactly what you should continue doing. By the way, I did three days over 40 miles, and 43 miles was my record for the trip when I was in the Mt. Adam's area of southern Washington.
Did you encounter any bears and did you carry a bear resistant food bag or cannister?
Yes, I saw 6 black bears on my walk most of which were in northern California, but I strongly assume that many bears saw me! During most of these sightings the bears wobbled off into the funniest run ever just as soon as they detected me, but on one late evening they just walked away in a casual "I'm the king of the woods" way, so I continued to hike back up onto the crest and camped atop a steep ledge where I felt more secure. And no, I didn't pack my food in any kind of bear resistant bags or cannisters and never will. As a matter of fact I always slept with my food directly next to my upper body.
For beginners, I am a stealth camper which means that I look for "raw" campsites up high on the ridge where no one has ever been and very rarely did I ever stay in an established campsite. If you like late night encounters with bears then just start camping in the established campsites where they regularly monitor for people-food. Personally, I like to camp high up on the ridges and out of the valleys especially away from water sources. Most of the well-worn campsites just seem plumb nasty to me anyhow and I just feel much better about myself when I find a raw stealth place to snug away for the night. If for some reason a bear ever did make a late night visit then I it was my plan to quickly break camp and move on several miles uptrail because he'll probably bug me all night long if I didn't. That was my plan and I do believe in having a plan. What's your's?
How about those rainy days?
This was the best part about hiking on the west coast because if there is one single word to describe the climate, I'd say that it was "dry". From Mexico to Canada I only had 5 or 6 days of rain and only about 3 of those where it rained all day long. You can just about make a safe bet that you will not see a drop of rain during your approximate month long crossing of the desert in spring, or at least I didn't. Despite the drier environment I still most definitely carried my 8 ounce Frogg Togg's rain jacket all the way, but that was the only waterproof garment that I had.
The most intense rain of the trip was from Belden to Old Station where a cold rain continued for two and a half days and since I wasn't carrying much winter clothing and I had just enough food to get me to Old Station based on 30 mile days, then I had little other choice than to keep moving or freeze. I did stop once a day for about half an hour to cook something hot, but I had to wrap part of myself with my 1 Mil plastic ground cloth. Days like this really put the minor inconveniences of our "normal" lives back home into vivid perspective!
Did you use trekking poles?
No. Seems that more hiker's on the PCT use them, but I just never could get used to 'em and prefered the "freestyle" form of hiking having my arms and hands completely free. Trekking poles are a personal thing and if they help you then you should have them, but they just aren't for me.
How did your feet hold up?
I don't care how tough that a 3 or 4 month thru-hiker protrays themself, believe me... anyone who hike's for any distance worth mentioning has feet problems. I've tried nearly every "miracle" insole, boots, shoes, trailrunner's, and method imaginable, but the fact is that hiking with a backpack is hard on your feet, period. Now, with that off my chest... yes, my feet held up pretty good overall but there was certainly a lot of pain at times and I was probably dealing with some sort of blister most of the time. Concerning blisters I have also tried every preventive measure and treatment over thousands of hiking miles and the best thing that I've discovered is to do almost nothing! When I got a blister I would just continue to walk on it until I reached my day's campsite, then I would use a sterile needle to drain it then go to sleep. It's amazing how much healing takes place in the human body within just 8 hours of sleep. The next morning I would continue my hike and for the first day after draining the blister would produce some varying degrees of pain, but I always just hiked on and 99 percent of the time the pain would fade within an hour or so of leaving camp. The following days usually revealed much healing and that's all I ever did for blisters.
From Echo Lake to Sierra City I developed a very painful shin problem which finally forced me to rest for a 30 hour break, but it finally went away and I was able to continue my hike.
What weight sock did you use?
Coming out of the desert at Kennedy Meadow's where I had my first feet swelling episode I had been wearing a mid-weight Thor-Lo sock which had served me well on all my previous long distance hikes AND when I was still wearing my heavier leather boots. Switching to the trail runner's was a whole new ball game I quickly learned and they seemed to fit more snug on my feet than the old leather "clod-hopper's". There also didn't seem to be as much room to play around with in the trailrunner's and to allow my feet to swell naturally up and down as I hiked. This was a learn as I went process so at Kennedy Meadow's I had no access to a thinner sock to allow for this swelling so I first experimented with cutting the tongue out of my shoes in such a way that I could flip it in or out, depending on the daily swelling condition of my feet. That worked out OK but I still wished that I'd had a thinner sock and I had hiked all the way to Ashland before I ran into an outfitter with some thin liner CoolMax socks that would work. I forgot the brand name which was a common "big" brand name (?) but I'm sure they're all probably good. Those thin liner socks were the ticket and my feet were MUCH more happier through Oregon! In the future I'll probably start my hike packing both a liner sock and a mid-weight sock until several weeks into the hike, then most likely go with the liner socks 100 percent because 30 + mile day's seem to make my feet a swelling machine! I suppose that each hiker would have to determine the best system for them and according to their own daily mileage, foot health, pack weight, etc. but that's how things worked out for me
Did you encounter any rattlesnake's in the desert?
Yes! And you will too if you spend a month in southern California like I did. For whatever reason, rattlesnakes seem to really like the desert environment, or at least during the spring. Snakes, like any other potential danger in life is much easier to face when put into it's proper perspective because I know that I'm probably 100 times closer to death each day of the week when I drive 3 miles to work in my pick-up truck. Educate yourself about snakes, their habitats, first-aid, then have a plan ready inside your head about how to handle the rare chance of a bite and you will be fine. I had two close calls on my hike, but all of those rattler's would have bitten me only as a last resort and I made sure that it wasn't. Nights were usually cool and I never felt scared to sleep in the open under the stars at night. Fear usually does more damage than anything. Just stay alert.
Do you carry an AM/FM radio or weather radio and if so, how was the reception in the backcountry?
Yes and I would never hike without it. It's another one of those personal decisions that everyone makes for themselves. I'm a current events junkie so I loved keeping up with the news each day and of course, the weather. I probably listened to it for a couple of hours each day at various intervals and like the TV at home, this radio had the potential of making me a "mind-numbed" robot if I'd kept it on all the time. At only 4 ounces this was one of my favorite luxury items and offered a "window" of knowledge into the western United States which was interesting since I'm from the east coast. It proved very helpful for regular reports during the week I was hiking near Lake Tahoe and huge forest fire was only 10 miles from the PCT.
As for reception I'd say that I had probably about an 80 percent success rate for the entire distance from Mexico to Canada. The desert was great for a variety of stations from San Diego and Los Angeles, but while crossing the Sierra's I had a complete block due to the terrain. Reception during the remainder of the walk was sort of in-and-out depending on whether I was low in the valley or up on the crest.
Did you drink any coffee while on the PCT?
Yes I did and I always will because it's one of those moments that brings immense pleasure to my outdoor experience. I've read and heard all the arguments about why hiker's shouldn't drink java, but I still managed to hike 30 to 40 mile days consistently. Even if it does have a slight negative effect it is my philosophy that if something like coffee gives such great pleasure during the few short breaks from walking, then I'm gonna drink it! Yes, if something like coffee is enjoyed this much, then it is most certainly boosting the psychological side of the equation, thus giving me something to look forward to once a day at some special moment and that makes me happy which is important while under the stress of a thru-hike. Ah, the smell... the taste... the aroma... the lite caffeine buzz... well, would you rather me smoke a cigarette. I don't think so.
Elaborate on your diet while on the PCT and how much food you carried.
On some of my prep hikes before taking to the PCT, I seemed to do just fine on about 2 pounds of food per day according to my postal scales. Well, thru-hiking must have triggered my after burners because at one resupply point in northern Oregon I left with almost 20 pounds of food for 5 days... and ate nearly all of it! Early in my hike I learned that I needed to pack more food after leaving Warner Springs because I was faced with doing my first 30 mile day or going hungry, so I did my first 30 miler into Idyylwild and packed a little more food before leaving. I saw some hiker's intentionally trying to save weight on food at one point, then after not having enough fuel they began to overpack. I'd rather pack a little extra weight than go hungry
My diet consisted mainly of very common items that can be found in any grocery store. Almost every morning I ate a bowl of whole grain dry cereal and powdered milk before hitting the trail which got me going. When packing I stuffed both of my outside net pouches with a "ton" of finger-food which I began eating almost immediately, such as a variety of granola bars, power bars, candy bars, nuts, granola mix, bread, cheese,dry fruit and you name it. I always ate a 3 ounce pouch of tuna each day which was a treat and I always cooked one hot meal each day such as a lipton dinner, mac 'n cheese, or whatever I found at the last grocery store. I always tried to leave every trail town with a little fresh food such as an orange or apple, but that was heavy and I ate those items by the second day out. I loved to pack a half head of red cabbage which I ate raw or cooked into my meal which was a real treat. I also packed a head of garlic which I sliced up and added to my cooked meals. As for vitamins I packed the same pills that I was taking before my hike and retreived what I needed from my drift box every 10 to 14 days. Of course, while in a trail town I indulged almost non-stop at restaurants and grocery stores, mainly on as much fresh and raw food as I could hold inbetween the gulps of ice cream!
How much money did you take?
Not much. I mainly relied on my Visa check card which was very convenient, but I soon quit carrying it in my rear shorts pocket when it somehow got bent. I probably had around $200.00 cash on me at all times for some of those little out in the middle of nowhere places like the store at Mt. Laguna which only dealt in cash. I also had $300.00 packed away in traveler's check's that I figured might come in handy if I lost my Visa card.
Did you take any shortcut's or alternate routes along the way?
I've never hiked a trail like the PCT where there was so much talk about taking various shortcuts or alternate routes, which makes this a unique trail with a lot of possibilities for whatever kind of hike that you're looking for. Personally, I made every effort to walk as much of the official PCT as possible, but I also wanted to make up my own unique adventure as I went. One of the most rewarding shortcuts that I will never-ever regret was fording the Klamath river into the Siead Valley with Jason. It eliminated a few miles of hot pavement and dangerous traffic, while ending up being one of my greatest memories of the entire hike and certainly the deepest and longest ford in 2,568 miles which you can read about in my journal.
On another occasion I took the Eagle Creek alternate route into Cascade Lock's because I'd heard all about it's magnificent waterfalls and gorges since leaving Mexico. This route was a few miles longer that the official PCT, but it seems like most hiker's take it. Although I did stick to the official PCT almost like glue, I kept an open mind to other possibilities to enrich my adventure and when I did get off the trail it was always for the right reasons.
Were the bugs in the Oregon lake country really as bad as they say?
I packed a little deet but the mosquitto's weren't too bad this year through Oregon, but I was prepared and glad to have bug netting sewed on around my tarp on a few occasions.
Did the snow in the North Cascade's of Washington hinder your hike?
Not at all since I had consistent high mileage days throughout the walk and was in Canada on August 12th, thus avoiding most chances of winter weather, which can sometimes hit the North Cascade's in early September.
Where was the most beautiful place along the PCT, in your opinion of course?
Wow! That's almost an unfair question because unlike the Appalachian Trail where you're under the trees most of the time, the PCT is greatly a walk on a very exposed crest so distant beauty is almost always there. Buttttttttttttt...I really loved the nighttime beauty found in the desert, looking up at such distinct clear stars throughout the night. Since the lush growth of wild flowers were near prime when I walked through Washington, I'd have to say that was a highlight for pure raw beauty.
How did you manage the dry Hat Creek Rim section in northern California?
Since I was doing 30 to 35 mile days it wasn't that much of a problem. Another key to successfully getting across this long dry stretch of trail was strategy. I got into Old Station before 8:00 a.m., resupplied and hung out around the store until about 2:00 p.m. when I resumed hiking. By late afternoon I tanked up on water (mostly in my stomach) at the ranger station just before ascending up onto the Hat Creek Rim and made it most of the way by hiking until it was dark, and I mean DARK. I was off the rim and down to the next reliable waterhole by noon of the next day. If you made it through 650 miles of desert then this shouldn't even register on the confidence scale. You will surely know how to handle the Rim if you make it this far.
Did you encounter any trail angels along the way?
Yes, and you can read about most of them in my photo/journal section. None of those who I met were "extreme" over-indulging let me do everything for you type people, but just the kind of folks who in most cases just offered a helping hand, a bed for a night, a piece of fresh fruit, or a Coke... something simple to brighten up my day,even if it was only an ear to listen as I shared my experiences. They were the kind of folks who reminded me and challenged me to become a better neighbor in all my life. Thanks, and I'm definitely a better person because of you!
How well is the PCT maintained?
For the most part I was impressed with how well it's maintained for such a long trail. Section "O" in northern California was certainly the most challenging in this respect, with overgrowth 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide in places. This section earned quite a reputation among hiker's and it wasn't good.
Did you have any problems sharing the trail with horses or other livestock on the trail?
None. I didn't see too many horses but when I did it was always a positive encounter. On one occasion a horseman politely requested that I stand on the low side of the trail so that his somewhat spooky horse could feel bigger than me alleviating some of the animals fear. From thereafter I always stepped off the trail on the lower side.
Did you have any trouble hitchhiking into some of the re-supply towns?
I had exceptionally good luck except for one very hot afternoon on the highway into Burney, just after the Hat Creek Rim and just before Burney Fall's State Park. I only had a half liter of water at this point and stood on the side of that parching hot highway for over an hour as every car passed me by, so I just walked the next seven miles to the park.
Did you get sick along the way, and did you carry a cell phone?
Somehow I managed to stay well on this hike and I believe that it was due to my extra effort toward staying that way! This was my first hike to pack that alcohol based hand sanitizing gel which I will never be without again and I always washed out my cooking pot with good water. Sometimes it's extremely hard to not get sick on the trail where the possibilities are greatly increased for picking up some kind of bug. It's very easy to just get lazy, to not sanitize your hands after a latrine break, keeping your hands away from your face, or something like bacteria taking up residence in your toothbrush. I worked a little harder at staying well on this hike and it paid off.
How about things like sunscreen and sunglasses?
I carried a good pair of sunglasses all the way and can't imagine anyone doing this very exposed trail without them, but amazingly some did. I carried sunscreen through a couple of sections but lost the habit and didn't use it much, although I know that I should have. Even on cloudy days there is a certain amount of radiation that is penetrating your skin and the wise person would save their intake of radiation for the day when you might need it more... like x-ray's for a broken bone or radiation treatment's for the possibility of cancer. Sunglasses and sunscreen are proven preventive measures against a subtle killer, but we've gotta use them!
Since you have also thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail how would you compare and/or contrast it with the PCT?
The AT is a trail that runs much more through the trees whereas the PCT is much more open and exposed. The AT is more humid whereas the PCT is more arid. The AT is about 500 miles less than the PCT, but I'd say that they are about equal in energy effort since the PCT has a more fluid trail when compared to the steep roller coaster of the AT.
Will you ever thru-hike the PCT again?
I've learned to never say "never" to anything unless the government wants to tax me even more! Seriously, I would love to do the trail again some day.
Did you have to ford a lot of creeks and rivers and how did you deal with that?
More than on any other trail that I've hiked, but most of the more dangerous streams had bridges. There were a lot of stream crossings in the Sierra's so don't even think that you can get through here with dry feet... it's just not going to happen during the spring and summer. At some crossings I was able to find a fallen tree for safe passage, but most I just had to scout for the safest place, then I'd find me a couple of sturdy tree limbs for balancing then I'd proceed across.
Because of the terrain and other natural factors it's not practical to build bridges across many streams which reinforces the idea that the PCT is a wild trail.
Where can I personally meet other west coast long distance hiker's?
There are several organized gatherings each year and I'd suggest that you keep a close watch on the Pacific Crest Trail Association website where they post dates and places for those events. I have a direct link back on my PCT index page, so just click yourself back there.
In your opinion what is the hardest to hike section of trail?
Of course, just the commitment to do a thru-hike makes the entire trail quite a challenge, but the Sierra's and the North Cascade's is mostly a lot of straight up's and down's, from the valley floor to the crest then doing it all over again. I was still able to cover 30 mile days in both places but I sure slept good at night! The desert can be a tough challenge to some hiker's and especially those who get a very late spring start.
In your opinion what is the easiest to hike section of trail?
I believe that most hiker's would agree on Oregon, from the California border to 3 Sister's Wilderness Area and this wonderful "roller-coaster" of a walk begins almost immediately after climbing out of the steep Seiad Valley in northern California and you're back up on the ridge. Although my longest day (43 miles) was in the Mt. Adam's area of southern Washington, the Oregon section was the most consistent "mild" walking of the hike, if there is any such thing as easy hiking!
Did you filter your water along the PCT?
I carried a Safe Water Anywhere one/half liter bottle, but I only used it sparingly. I drank freely from any spring since the good earth is the best filter of all if you can find a direct source. In the high country I regularly drank freely from snow melts, small streams, etc. On a very few rare occasions I would treat the water with iodine tablets and I never treated or filtered my cooking water since boiling it kills everything. As you can see I don't have a one-way everything method for making water safe, but after so many years on the trail I have developed a good common sense judgement when it comes to acquiring clean safe water. I can't imagine treating or filtering every drop of water while on the trail.
But you didn't answer my question!?!
Then just send it to me via the email link on the front page and I'll do my darn best to get it answered and posted.
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