Date: Sunday, 08 October 2017
Start: Camped by the trail at Mile 1315.0, 6673 ft
Finish: Where the PCT crosses Hwy 36 at Mile 1328.8, 5051 ft
Daily Miles: 13.8 PCT
Total PCT Miles: 2649.4
Weather: Cool and sunny
Accommodation: Room at Antler Motel, Chester
Breakfast: Pop tarts
Lunch: Tuna melt & fries, ice-cream
Dinner: Soup, meatloaf & vegetables, cheesecake & ice-cream
Aches: Nothing new
Highlight: Reaching the end of my PCT hike at Hwy 36, having now covered the entire PCT from Mexico to Canada in one season. I felt no temptation to cross the road and continue hiking!
Lowlight: None really
Pictures: Click here
I was hiking by 5:50am on a relatively mild morning, using my headlamp for light. Several times, I could see pairs of eyes through the trees reflecting the light, but each time they darted off as I approached. I suspect they were deer.
The first 90 minutes were spent steadily climbing 1000 ft to 7631 ft near the top of Butt Mountain, with beautiful views of the mountains, particularly Lassen, as they emerged from darkness as the sun rose. From there, it was basically a gradual descent of 2500 ft over the 10 miles remaining to Hwy 36. It was almost entirely in forest apart from the last mile or so that crossed some more open country of volcanic origin. The soil colour changed to orange and there were the usual scoria and aerated rocks. My mood during the descent was almost disbelief. I couldn’t quite get my head around the fact that once I reached the highway, my adventure would be over. It seemed unreal, but welcome nevertheless.
I reached Hwy 36 at 11:45am, took a couple of pictures and started hitchhiking towards Chester, 8 miles away. Within 15 minutes I had a ride, and 30 minutes later I was ordering lunch at the same diner where I had had breakfast three and a half months ago before resuming my hike northwards to Canada. After lunch, I checked into the motel I had booked from Quincy, and then spent the afternoon doing laundry, cleaning gear, and disposing of things I no longer need.
Tomorrow, I catch a 6:30am bus to Susanville, and from there a 9:30am bus to Reno, where I will pick up a rental car in the early afternoon. I will then take a few leisurely days to drive south down the eastern side of the Sierras, contemplating the distance I have walked, eating, and maybe doing some outlet shopping. On Wednesday or Thursday, I will arrive in Orange County (south of Los Angeles) to stay with my daughter-in-law’s parents, Kelly and Sergio, who have been generously storing my pre-hike gear as well as my ever-increasing belongings (things I no longer needed or wanted for hiking, and mailed to them) until my return. I fly out of Los Angeles on Saturday, and arrive in Sydney on Monday, 16 October.
The Pacific Crest Trail was everything I had expected, and more, with a couple of surprises thrown in.
The scenery was stunning, and there was rarely a day that wouldn’t justify a day-hike on its own. By the end, I was feeling a bit guilty that I wasn’t appreciating the wonders I was seeing as much as earlier in the hike. My spectacular surrounds were becoming too familiar.
The hiking was hard, physically and sometimes mentally. To complete the 2650 miles in one season is a test of endurance. You necessarily hike 20+ miles most days you are on the trail, or you will be caught by the autumn snows. One PCT hiker described our lives as “hike, eat, sleep”, and that was accurate. Apart from the days in town, I was hiking 12 hours on most days. Age has a lot to do with the physical challenge, and I know from my running carer, that my body doesn’t recover from big exercise days nearly as quickly as it once did. When I hiked the Appalachian Trail 31 years ago, I had only two “zero days”, but for the PCT, I must have had more than twenty. My body also doesn’t move as quickly as it once did, the product of a lifetime of running abuse, which meant more hours hiking.
Luck plays a big part. Several times, I was a hair’s breadth away from serious injury, or worse, but survived to complete the trail. Others didn’t. I also escaped any serious over-use injuries. Many others didn’t. I was lucky with the wildfires, just getting through two parts of the trail before they were closed for extended periods by the authorities. Other fires closed more sections of trail later. Many hikers were stopped, and I felt particularly sorry for those who had toughed out the deep snows of the High Sierras, only to have their dreams of a contiguous thru-hike scuppered by the wildfires.
The big surprise was the weather. I never once had to pack up in the rain, and in total, probably only experienced a day’s worth of drizzle, sleet or snow in the whole time I was hiking. I did have to set up camp while it was snowing lightly a few times, but that wasn’t a big deal. There are few places in the world where you could hike for nearly six months in almost perfect weather. The wildfires were also a surprise, and they were particularly bad this year, but as noted above, didn’t really affect my hike.
I’m heading home now, uncertain of whether I will attempt another long self-supported backpacking hike. The end-to-end Te Araroa trail in New Zealand has been on my radar for a while, but just now seems like too much effort for my ageing body. Trails where I can stay in hostels, B&B’s and alpine huts (Europe), carrying much less weight, have more appeal, as do shorter hiking trails in Australia such as Bibbulmun and Heysen. Not that the latter are short, there just isn’t the same seasonal time pressure as for the PCT, so they can be hiked at a more leisurely pace.
Anyway, in the short-term, I’m looking forward to catching up with family and friends and will leave planning the next adventure until the new year. I would like to thank all of those people who sent me messages during the hike, particularly in the middle stages when my mood was down. Most weren’t answered because of time pressure, but they were all very much appreciated.