Friday, January 27, 2012

The Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT, is one of the crown jewels of the long distance hiking world; one of the longest and most challenging treks in the US, if not the world.  The PCT was first conceived in 1932, designated as a National Scenic Trail in 1968, and finally finished in 1993.

The PCT is 2663 miles long and runs along the mountainous backbone of California, Oregon and Washington.  Its southern terminus is at the Mexican border and in the north extends up to Manning Park, 7 miles into British Columbia.  Most of this trail is through National Forests or Parks as well as other protected areas, although some portion of the trail is constructed through easements on private property.  The route generally follows the ridge line of the Sierras and Cascades, avoiding populated areas and roads as much as possible.  The high point of the trail is over 13,000 feet in the Sierras and the low point is at the crossing of the Columbia River, near sea level.  The trail is restricted to hikers and equestrians with no wheeled vehicles, including bikes, allowed.

The PCT, like the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) are popular trails for day hikers, section hikers (those doing some portion of the trail) as well as thru-hikers (those attempting the whole trail in a single season).  Approximately 300 hikers a year tackle the trail as thru-hikers with about 60% of them actually completing the whole 2663 miles in a single hiking season.  Most of these thru-hikers leave from the Mexican border in mid April and arrive in Manning Park about 5 months later in mid September.  This requires that the thru-hiker average nearly 20 miles a day, although the daily mileage is usually greater to allow for rest and resupply days in towns that are near the trail.  Thru-hikers come in just about every color, size, shape, nationality, age and gender.  Most are young white lanky males, but there are plenty of women, aged folks and those whose shape is anything but lanky.  Last year a 13 year old girl completed the whole trip, and 70 year olds have also been known to complete the trail. The only thing this diverse group has in common is the willingness to walk from dawn to dusk nearly every day for 5 months through desserts and mountains, across snow and raging streams, in the rain, snow, cold and heat, sleeping on the ground and eating 4000 calories a day of dried foods that they have been carrying for up to a week.  That and the drive to reach Canada before the snow sets in.

I don't remember when I first heard about the PCT, but for at least the past 30 years it has been a dream of mine to hike it someday.  I have never seriously considered trying to do the whole thing in one year, but rather a section of the trail each year until I have finished the whole thing.  The fulfillment of that dream started in 2010 when a friend and I hiked the northern 70 miles of the trail, and it was beautiful.  Last year I had planned on doing the nearly 200 miles to the south of there, but the high snow levels pushed me down into Oregon and I did the northern 160 miles of that state in 8 days.  This year the goal is to bite off about 300 miles of the trail in a bit more leisurely fashion, taking about 3 weeks with more frequent town stops.  I have not yet decided which section of the trail to do this year, waiting to see how much snow we get this winter as well as dealing with some logistical issues.  Stay tuned for more information as the summer draws nearer.

And yes, I am a little bit crazy :)

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