Saturday, March 29, 2014

A 2014 PCT Overview

2014 marks the 6th year in my effort to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  In 2009 a friend and I set out to hike a section in Washington but discovered at the last minute that fire had closed the section of trail we were headed for, so we diverted to the Olympic Mountains.  In 2010 we managed to get started and hiked the short section from Rainy Pass into Manning Park, the northernmost section of the trail.  In 2011 my hiking partner was injured, and the snow was still deep in Washington, so I headed down to Oregon, starting at Cascade Locks and traveled south to McKenzie Pass.  2012 saw me completing Oregon as well as back up to Washington to travel from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass.  Last year started off with Seiad Valley to Sierra City and then Snoqualmie Pass to Chinook Pass, putting me past the half way mark.

Like the past couple of years, this season will cover multiple sections of the trail, starting in Southern California, then into the Northern Sierras and finally into the North Cascades.  The intent is to cover each of these areas in a somewhat optimal period, as well as to allow the old legs the opportunity to rest up a bit every few hundred miles.

As she has the last couple of years, Sue will travel the highways and byways, sightseeing and meeting up with me every few days to provide support; at least during the two California segments.  Love having her around, and love the support she provides.  It makes the trip so much more enjoyable.

Most of April will be spent in the Southern California desert, traveling from the Mexican border north to the region of Big Bear Lake.  While the end date is somewhat fixed because of already purchased airline tickets, the final end point is not.  How far I get depends on how well I do with the heat as well as sleeping on the ground.  I found the heat in Northern California last year to be very sapping, making big milage days very challenging.  So I am at least initially planning to lower my daily expectation.

I normally sleep in a hammock while out on the trail.  But that seems as though it is a fairly challenging feat south of the Sierra's, so I will be taking a tent and sleeping on the ground.  I have bought the lightest fully enclosed tent I can find, a ZPacks Hexamid Solo Plus, along with one of the thickest pads I can find, a Big Agnes Quad Core.  I have spent a couple of nights on the pad and found it to be tolerable.  Time will tell what multiple weeks will do to me.

I have real mixed emotions about this section of the trail.  I am not fond of the heat or sleeping on the ground, and have concerns about water availability, and will miss the relative solitude of what I have done so far.  But if I am going to complete the whole trail, this is a necessary section.  At the same time I am looking forward to trekking through a new type of terrain, experiencing travel with the herd, and seeing rattlesnakes.  It should be a good learning experience, and well hopefully help me to be better prepared when I tackle the northern half of the desert next year.

During the June/July timeframe I will head back into the mountains, picking up where last years trip ended at Sierra  City and heading south toward Tuolumne Meadows.  The biggest challenge in this section will be the altitude.  I have yet to hike about about 7500 feet, and expect to be considerably higher than that through a lot of this portion of the trail.  I don't anticipate any problems, but will not know until I'm there.

I will be back to being a southbounder for this segment, as well has probably going back to the hammock, assuming that I don't fall in love with sleeping on the ground (not likely).  It will be interesting to see many of the folks I encounter in April will hike past me in June/July.  I expect there will be at least a few of them.

I am really looking forward to this section.  I have heard a lot about the Sierra's and their remoteness and beauty.  I expect it to be physically pretty challenging, but that is what all the running now is ultimately for.  Running 50 miles a week should enable me to run up those mountains; yeah right :).

And finally, in early August, I will hopefully be heading to Rainy Pass, hiking the North Cascades south to Stevens Pass.  This is the third year I have had this section on the agenda and hope to actually be able to do it this year.  I expect to have one or two friends along for this segment, depending on their work and family commitments.

During the past couple of years the Washington segment followed the longer Oregon and California sections with only a short break in between.  And I found myself pretty worn out by the end.  So this year I have a 2 to 3 week break built in.  Should be able to fly up the many climbs on this section.  At least that is what I keep trying to convince myself of; time will tell.

I expect this section to be the most isolated and solitary on this years agenda.  120 miles with no roads and ahead of most of the northbound PCTers.  And the weather should be optimal in early August.  The only concern is over any lingering snow that we might encounter.  A little will be OK, but I would prefer not having long extended stretches under snow.

Hopefully, when this season comes to a close, I will have one long section left in California and a chunk of Washington left to do; one or two years to go, depending on my ambition and other obligations.  It's been fun, although also pretty physically demanding.  And then it will be time to figure out what's next.

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