Here’s a little more background on what the Pacific Crest Trail is and what we’ll be doing on it. I decided to write it in FAQ style, with questions I’ve been frequently asked; questions I frequently ask myself; and answers to some other interesting questions. Here ya go! (This got a little long, so I split it into two parts.)
Feel free to ask me more in the comments below and I will try to answer them in Part 2!
Note: I am, by far, not an expert on this subject. There are plenty of people who are, and you can find them through Google searches and some of the links provided below, like this one.
What is the Pacific Crest Trail?
The Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT for short, is a 2,650 mile trail that spans the states of California, Oregon and Washington. It starts at the Mexican border in Campo, CA and ends at the Canadian border in Washington. The trail usually runs along the ridgeline of the mountain ranges of the west coast. In California, it traverses the Laguna Mountains, San Jacinto Mountains, San Bernardino Range, San Gabriel Range, Sierra Nevada and other mountains, across the San Andreas Fault, through a stretch of the Mojave Desert, and parts of Yosemite National Park. Its Oregon section covers the Cascade Range, including Crater Lake, passing through lava fields, and near The Three Sisters Mountains and Mt. Hood. The trail crosses the Columbia River on the Bridge of the Gods going into Washington. In Washington, it climbs out of the Columbia River Gorge, continuing along the Cascades, with a close-up view of Mt. Rainer. The trail ends at the Canadian border, but has been extended for a seven mile stretch into Canada, requiring you to carry a passport to get back into the United States. This allows a quicker connection back to a road.
What is a thru hike?
How long will it take you?
We are planning on the entire hike taking us between 4 ½ and 5 months. We will start our hike on April 19th and hope to finish sometime in September.
What will you do about food?
There are a few options for food. Typically, we will carry about 4-6 days worth of food in our packs between resupply points. A resupply point is a town, or sometimes only a small convenience store or post office that is off the trail. Resupply points are reached by walking or hitching a ride. Once we reach a resupply point, we will either stock up at a local store or pick up a package we have mailed ourselves ahead of time.
Not all towns along the trail have places to stock up on food, so often post offices and other places will hold packages for thru hikers. Some people put together all of their packages ahead of time and mail them out, or have someone else mail them as they go. We are choosing to resupply in town whenever we can, and do a few package drops that we mail ourselves along the way for more remote areas.
As for what we will eat, we have put together meal ideas that include highly calorie-dense foods that either do not require cooking, or are cooked quickly. Any “cooking” we do will be merely boiling water for instant foods on a little canister stove.
A sample menu for the day may look like this:
Breakfast: Protein bars or oatmeal
Lunch: Cheezits, peanut butter, cheese, pepperoni
Dinner: Instant mashed potatoes or instant mac and cheese with beef jerky, dried vegetables, and powdered milk mixed in
Snacks: bars, nuts, dried fruit, crackers
I also plan on carrying a good multi-vitamin, and spirulina powder and chia seeds to mix into things like oatmeal and instant potatoes for added nutrients.
And of course when we get into towns, we’ll pig out on whatever we want!
What will you do about water?
We are carrying a Sawyer Mini water filter to filter our water from streams, springs, etc. In the desert, we will often carry large amounts of water with us at a time, since water sources will be few and far between. We will also have iodine tablets as a back-up water treatment.
What about snakes, spiders, scorpions, bears, and crazy people?
These are all things one may encounter on the trail. Except for crazy people; that is a myth. As for the other creatures, they are typically not things you have to spend a lot of time worrying about. From my polling of many fellow hikers during my time in Arizona, I learned that rattle snakes never bite people unless you are drunk, or stupid; i.e. unless you provoke them. They do have a rattle that will warn you ahead of time, and you simply stay out of their way. They really want nothing to do with you.
The same goes for the other poisonous critters. You just watch out for them. Don’t put your hands in holes. Don’t put your feet in your shoes without checking.
Bears, again, typically want to leave you alone. You want to be cautious about protecting your food at night by hanging it or keeping it in a bear canister. In a portion of the trail through Yosemite, bear canisters are required.
Where will you sleep?
We have a light-weight tent Jason will be carrying and light-weight down sleeping bags. Mine is rated for 11 degrees, mainly because I get cold easily, but also at higher elevations like the Sierra, it could get below freezing at night.
On the trail, we will tent out at a combination of established camp sites, and wherever looks flat.
We’ll occasionally stay off the trail in places with actual beds, where we can also take showers, including hiker hostels, cheap motels, a couple splurgy hotels or resorts, and maybe with trail angels, and friends along the way.
What’s a trail angel?
A trail angel is someone who lives near the trail and helps out thru hikers, doing anything from giving them food, to a ride, to a place to stay, or maybe just words of encouragement.
Any other questions I should include in Part 2 next week? Jot them in the comments or shoot me an email.
Update (11/20/17): Wow, reading over that sample menu made me laugh! We ditched our stove and instant mashed potatoes (along with bear spray and other “essentials”) a couple weeks into the hike and never looked back! It made me realize how much you learn as you go on the trail. But reading good resources and thinking about pre-trip planning is helpful. Here’s another resource you might check out: Pacific Crest Trail 101, a good overview of the trail and things to think about as you start planning. But as always, you’ll have to hike your own hike.