Before Cheryl Strayed hiked and wrote her memoir about the Pacific Crest Trail, and before National Geographic rated this one of The 20 Worlds most Epic Hikes, hundreds of hikers have annually traversed the 2,650 miles of trails, spanning from the US/Mexico border on one end, to the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia.
It’s not the easiest of hikes and it’s not uncommon for preparation to take just as long as the average thru-hike (5 months) if not longer. The endeavor is worth it, as hikers are rewarded with a journey through stunning vistas in unspoiled backcountry and some of the country’s most spectacular wilderness ranges. You’ll be accompanied by vivid terrains from some of the highest mountain passes in the west to the hottest desert in the US, cutting through 57 major mountain passes, 19 major canyons and past more than 1,000 lakes.
The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail began in 1932 with Clinton C. Clarke, an avid boy scout and Harvard graduate. He envisioned a north-to-south trail across the entire country along the wildest mountain ranges in the far west. As a result, he founded the Pacific Crest Trail System Conference along with the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and a young photographer by the name of Ansel Adams.
Hundreds attempt a thru hike per year, and nearly half don’t finish. Injuries are prone and the elements will test all things resolve, gear, and endurance. Hikers can start from either trail terminus, although most north-bounders start in late April while southbound hikers start late June. Either way, the point is to avoid as much snow as possible. It generally takes the entire snow-free season to walk– that’s about 5 months averaging 17 miles per day.
While the highest point is 13,000ft above sea level, PCT hikers will actually climb over 314,700 vertical feet over the course of the entire hike. California and Washington typically are the most difficult stretches as the trail generally follows the high route through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges.
The PCT is about possibilities. See how Wesley Trimble’s incredible video of thru-hiking the PCT with cerebral palsy.
Fortune favors the bold, and fortune really favors the prepared. There’s no right way to pack for the trip and there are plenty of trade-offs that each individual hiker needs to choose for themselves (e.g., going ultra light makes traveling easier, but potentially more risky given how much gear you decide to shed). As for resupplying, here are the most common practices:
- Buying as you go. Buying your supplies along the way allows you to adapt to changes in your gear and food needs. While this kicks some planning down the road (and allows room for fresh food along the way), many places may not offer hiker-friendly options (carrying tin cans and jars really isn’t great on a hike).
- Mail to the Trail: There are dozens of post offices, hotels, stores, and lodges that can receive your package and hold it for you; however if you send items to the post office, you’ll be locked-in to their business hours and getting to/from becomes time critical. As a popular alternative, many local stores will receive and hold packages for you which should provide more flexibility.
- A Bounce Box: Basically this is a package that you continually mail ahead and rendezvous with. The nice thing about this approach is you can have you personal items along with your phone/charger, clothes, sunscreen and the like along the trip without needing to carry them in your pack.
- And of course, some combination of all of the above.
People go on the PCT for variety of reasons, but we thought Cheryl Strayed had a nice summary:
It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B.
It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.
– Cheryl Strayed, Wild
Want to see more? Check out this guy who documented his PCT journey with a daily selfie. (Skip to 1:57 for the epic conclusion).
Recommended resources as a starting point: