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In just over two weeks’ time (25 April), I will begin hiking the length of the 4,300km (2,650 mile) Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) along the US west coast from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. You can read more about the PCT here and see a map here.
I have had a lot of questions about my adventure in the last couple of months. Here are the answers to some of those questions.
Will you be hiking with a group or on your own?
I am hiking on my own, but the trail has become exceptionally popular since the book “Wild” published by Cheryl Strayed which was later turned into the movie “Wild” starring Reece Witherspoon. These days the PCT umbrella organisation tries to limit the number of long-distance hikers to 50 a day starting from the south during the peak March/April/May period. That means I will have plenty of company, though I expect the numbers to dwindle as some people realise the hiking life is not for them.
Where will you be staying?
Mostly in a lightweight tent, similar to this, but when I leave the trail to visit a town for resupply, I’m sure I will be looking forward to a motel and a shower.
What will the terrain be like?
The early part of the trail traverses desert where water is scarce, day time temperatures high and the nights very cold. However, it soon climbs into the mountains and remains there all of the way to Canada. The highest point on the trail is 4,009m (13,153ft) at Forester Pass in the High Sierra. There has been record snowfall in California in the past winter meaning many days will be spent hiking in snow and river crossings will be treacherous with snow melt.
How will you get supplies?
My current plan is to hitch-hike to towns reasonably close to the trail, when available, to resupply for up to a week at a time. Where there are going to be no towns near to the trail, I will mail food ahead to post offices, campgrounds, resorts, etc. near the trail from the towns I do visit, or order it online from Walmart or Amazon for delivery to those places. There is a lot of detailed information available online about places to resupply and possible mail pickups on the trail.
I also plan to mail a “bounce box” ahead to myself along the trail in which I will put things I may only need in a town, or may not need to carry for certain sections (e.g. maps), or clothing and equipment spares.
Another way in which I may get supplies is via “Trail Angels”. These are volunteers who go out of their way to make life better for long-distance hikers by leaving food and drink in remote locations. I won’t be relying on such supplies, but I’m sure they will be welcome when found.
How long will it take?
I’m planning to take about five and a half months for the journey. Ideally, I will finish in early October because being later than that will risk being caught in early winter snows in the Cascade Mountains. However, how fast I hike will be dictated by trail conditions (snow) as much as my fitness, and I will need to be flexible.
Will you have mobile phone coverage?
Mobile coverage will be sporadic along the trail, as will places to recharge electrical devices.
How heavy will your pack be?
I haven’t weighed it, but am guessing that without food and water it will be around 10-12kg (22-25lbs). Food will likely average just over 1kg per day and fluids, of course, 1kg per litre. So, when fully loaded for a 5-7 day stretch, the pack weight will increase to over 20kg (44lbs). Added to this will be an ice axe, crampons, bear barrel and maybe extra clothing for the High Sierras. I’m not a minimalist or “ultra-light” hiker and will carry some “luxuries” such as an inflatable pillow, camp shoes, tablet PC, battery extender, camera, AM/FM radio and gaiters, as well as wearing my usual heavy duty hiking boots.
Will there be bears?
There are black bears where I will be going, but they are not considered dangerous unless you get between them and their cubs. Hikers are required to carry bear canisters, in which all food is stored, in the High Sierra. These are “bear-proof” with the idea that over time bears won’t associate hikers with food. At night, you store them well away from camp (but not near the edge of a cliff!).
Is the trail marked?
I gather the trail is generally easy to follow, though not as well-marked as, say, the Appalachian Trail. I will be carrying hardcopy maps and have them also available on my tablet, though power consumption will be a consideration for the latter. Given the amount of snow this year, which may make trail finding difficult, I have made a last-minute decision to also carry a GPS unit as well for backup navigation.
What happens when you get to the Canadian border?
Although the PCT officially ends at the Canadian border, the easiest way to reach civilisation again is to continue another 12km (7.5 miles) to the mountain resort of Manning Park in Canada and catch a Greyhound bus from there to Vancouver. I have already applied for, and received, my permit to enter Canada via the PCT.
Will you be keeping a blog?
I intend to keep a blog, but won’t be carrying my laptop as on previous adventures. As a compromise between weight, battery life, and functionality, I will be carrying a small tablet which can also be used as a phone. I hope to keep a daily blog, with a link to photographs, but will only be able to upload it when I have mobile phone coverage. I’m not sure how this system will work, and may have to adapt my plans.
Are you going to carry a gun?
No. My biggest safety fears are falls, particularly in the icy/snowy sections, river crossings and lightning. A gun won’t help with any of those.