PCT Southbound

Go your own way

Filtering by Category: Stopped Thru-Hike Attempt

Karma Forward

Backpacking Experience
Before 2015 had never backpacked or camped alone. Spent three months northbounding the PCT in '15, gave him a  sense of preparedness for SOBOing 2016

Knocked out a hike or two in San Diego, but completed nothing over 10 miles. This was in large part due to an intensive work schedule -- the price of taking months off at a time.

July 7th at Harts Pass

Hike Result
Got off trail around mid-August. 


Karma Forward was born in Spain, the child of two US Navy personnel. Raised on military bases overseas, he finally moved back to the United states at the age of 17. After the usual rebelliousness and adolescent angst, he reconciled himself with his Americanism then immediately shipped himself off to Hawaii where studied Ethics and Philosophy Science and Religion.  

Ever the risk taker, Karma determined that bartending would be a swell career, and proceeded to make margaritas for the next dozen years or so, all the while burning through even less suitable jobs. Justin had done about half the PCT in 2015 nobo, and came back this year to try and complete the trail southbound. He stopped his thru-hike due to foot injures shortly after Stehekin, but stayed around the trail and continued hiking off and on until mid August. In total he’s now hiked 1,750 miles of the PCT.


"The difference between Campo and Harts Pass was extraordinary for me on several fronts.  Firstly the terrain could scarcely be more opposite in treacherousness, in amount of human contact, and in overall tone.  I liken SOBOing to immediately starting in the high sierras. Climb up 5000, go-down 4000.  Rinse and repeat.

The most dramatic difference for me however was that being so far removed from my home all at once had a deeply unsettling effect on my spirits.  The wind was cold and I was always wet it seemed. I felt far more alone SOBOing even though, in some cases I truly wasn't.  Suffice it to say, the effect was quite profound."


"I took many breaks while SOBOing. I spent almost a week and a half exploring eastern Washington and towns few people outside their scarce residents had ever heard of. Why? I like to explore.

I wasn't at all disturbed to have finished my hike shortly after Stehekin, for several reasons. Firstly, my feet truly were in very bad shape: The result of poor decisions on my part but some quite necessary ones also.  More importantly though, I didn't hike the PCT in 2016.  Not really you see. I just needed to escape my life. To feel the fear again. Of course I told people I was hiking south. SOBOing and all, and I did to an extant. But I have never been one of those people, which are most of them if you think about it, that HAD to finish the trail.  I just had to be alone and afraid and at my wits end.

I've been struggling with a great ideological demon for quite some time now. I'll be honest, I've been broken by this struggle in more ways than one. No one understands me much any longer. I’m a bit of an outcast even amongst outcasts I'm afraid. Just recently, I suffered another blow, where I was basically disavowed by my oldest friend.  I tried to write about this struggle but inevitably find myself doing so in parables and narrative. My story “A dragons tale” is the beginning of one such telling.  http://www.notthewaterreport.com/

In any case, my time SOBOing last year was an attempt to best the beast once and for all.  I was able to fight him to a standstill, and in doing so, found a reason to live. That's what happened in the Northern Cascades for me. Immediately after I had made my decision the universe indulged me with a thousand verifications of the choice."


"When I came back from the PCT (both times) I would go hiking with people and they would get into these paces and just go non stop clambering up mountains at ungodly speeds. They would be disappointed at my lack of any apparent desire to do the same. I would inevitably lag behind distracting myself with some clouds or odd rock formation. At first I thought perhaps they simply wanted to impress me or even compare themselves to me and thus prove to themselves that they too could have hiked the PCT (even though i freely admit to only having hiked about 1750 miles of it myself.) Anyway it wasn't long before they stopped hiking with me. Perhaps they think of my hiking at all as some sort of fluke or something.  

 I’ll tell you something: these people don't enjoy hiking I think. I think they would enjoy it more if they looked around once in a while. If they ventured off trail and explored some hidden nook, they might find an interest in it. I'm sure I represent a different perspective when I say that self-improvement while noble in its ends, is quite limiting in its means.  If all we know what to do with a mountain is climb it, then a sad and limited species we have become." 


"Venture off trail.

Look for interesting people.  

Don’t feel bound by anything but your own whims."  

Candy Cane

Backpacking Experience
Backpacking since birth, but before the trail had never packed solo, or for more than 11 consecutive days, or over 12 miles per day.

Generally athletic, for 2 months hiked a couple 13ers and walked to work 1-2 days a week (20mi total). Felt very prepared.

Harts Pass to the border July 6th, then south on the PCT w/ 3 other hikers. 

Hike Result
Got really sick and headed home at S Lake Tahoe


Candy Cane was working as a physical therapist assistant as well as at Neptune Mountaineering before deciding that her life needed an overhaul. She planned the trip in two months and hit the trail. Middle and southern Washington were difficult for her due to shin splints. They healed and she got through Oregon. She got sick on trail, rested for a week with family, then attempted to head back out, only to get sick again. She decided she needed to listen to her body and take time for a full recovery which meant leaving the rest of the trail for another time. She hitched back to South Lake Tahoe and found a mother and son who offered her a ride to Oakland the next day. 


"Leaving the trail was the single hardest decision I have ever made for myself. This hike was all about me. I upended my life for this trip. I felt so many emotions, healed so much, forgave so much, learned so much about myself, met so many incredible people and made so many friends along the way. I didn't want to stop short of my goal of walking to Mexico and feel like I had yet again failed at something. I struggled with shin splints through southern Washington which was difficult and painful but manageable. When I got the flu in Oregon I couldn't even sit up in my tent. I contacted family to let them know I might be in trouble. Family rescued me on trail and I slept for a week straight, unable to eat and barely able to drink anything. I attempted to get back on trail. I was so depleted and my body so sick in so many ways I couldn't walk a mile without sitting to rest. I decided to honor the promise I made myself at 18 when I vowed to never push myself so hard that I sustained lasting damage to my body again. Advice I would give others in the same situation is listen to your body. Yes, the trail is a huge suffer fest. It's painful. But it shouldn't be so painful every day that you aren't having fun anymore. The trail will always be there. You can finish it another time. Reach out to people for support. They will be there for you. People you hardly know will be there for you. You have so much support. You just have to ask for it. "


"I think as women we tend to underestimate our ability levels. Know yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses. You know yourself best. Hear other people’s advice, but make decisions based on what you think is best for you. I took to heart everyone else’s terror regarding the snow and lack of melt before I left and thought I was going to die. With my experience, knowledge, and comfort with snow travel it ended up not being an issue at all and I never even used my microspikes. This is not to say that snow or mountains or other potentially dangerous situations should be taken lightly, but again, you know yourself best, so make decisions based on what your experience and comfort level lead you towards. Also, bring a pee bandana. You will want it."


"Northern Washington was surreal. The mountains were so different from the mountains in Colorado. The snow was a nonissue for me, although I was fully prepared for it. The scariest part was the “rainforest”. The trail was so overgrown and I was in the first group of people on the trail so the branches and vines were still completely covering the trail. While it was sometimes physically difficult to push and kick my way through the overgrowth, my main hurdle was psychological. I have a phobia of snakes. I have never allowed it to limit my outdoor exploration, but they are something that I factor in when doing a pro/ con list. Not being able to see the trail, my feet, or animals that might be lying in wait for me was hugely taxing both mentally and emotionally. That being said, I pushed through that fear because the views were unbelievable and so was Washington as a whole." 


"Have fun! Find beauty and be grateful for something every day. Yes you are in pain, yes you are hungry, yes you are more exhausted than you ever imagined. This is your life. This is your adventure. Live it. Love it.

Take pictures every chance you get. Take pictures of the amazing people you meet along the way, even if they are all candids. Everything. You will want to look back on them and each one will have so much beauty and be so amazing 3 months after your trip. You will remember so much from each picture.

Tennis balls are a great, lightweight way to roll out tight, sore muscles and feet. I highly recommend bringing one. 

You can do this! This is your journey. Do what is best for you."

The Greek

Backpacking Experience  
Had never hiked for multiple days.

In the worst shape of his life having a sedentary lifestyle for the past 3-4 years. His only physical preparation was "to walk for a few miles with my pack full and get fat"

South on the PCT from Stehekin, WA - July 10th

Date Reached So. Kennedy Meadows

Hike Result
Stopped at Chester, CA


The Greek first heard about people hiking for months on the Appalachian trail around 2009 and was immediately fascinated. He always wondered if he would ever do something like that himself. A few years later he heard about a similar trail along the Pacific Coast and just by looking at the scenery knew that this was the trail for him. In 2015 he got to visit Mt. Hood and felt he had to attempt it or else regret it forever. After spending months fantasizing about it and convincing himself that it was not for him, in 2016 he was ready for a change in his life and finally decided to go for it.

He spent 3-4 months preparing by reading online gear recommendations, blogs, and any related information he could find. He trained for a couple of days and then started together with Carbon (they had been working together at the University of Minnesota) on July 10th, 2016 from Stehekin. Although he started with the will to reach Mexico he ended up putting the trail on hold indefinitely after reaching Chester, CA, on September 12th, 2016. He got off trail because maintaining a relationship while on the trail, especially one across the world, turned out to be a lot more difficult than he expected. At the end this made the trail not as enjoyable. But he will be back one day to finish it!


"Going SOBO is like riding a roller coaster straight from the top. Northern WA has some of the most difficult and isolated sections of the whole trail. Which is great, but in our case it meant a hell of time to get from Stehekin to Stevens Pass, due mostly to being unprepared physically and not having hiking poles. I ended up having to do most of that section with pain in my knees and swelling in my right ankle. The weather, which was quite wet and cold, as well as the presence of snow, fog, and bad trail conditions, made this section quite the ordeal. Having said that, those first sluggish (we probably didn't do more than 12 miles a day) and painful days were some of my favorite on the trail. Life on the trail was exciting, nature was magnificent, and the sense of accomplishment at the end was exhilarating."


"A reason why that first section was so hard for me was that my preparation was one-sided. I spent a lot of time choosing gear and reading about other people's experiences on the trail and not enough time in preparing my body to endure. Reading was definitely worth it, I was very satisfied with almost all of my gear and had a very good idea of what the overall experience would be but not getting fit wasn’t. You can get fit on the trail but it’s going to be painful and risky. I recovered from my injuries without much of a delay but they could have also ended my hike prematurely. Another aspect of preparation is having experience with multi-day hiking. Ideally when preparing for the PCT you would want to do at least one 3-4 day trip and if possible on a section of the PCT with the gear you plan to use. If this is not possible plan for low mileage days at the start so your body can adjust and then larger mileage will come naturally. "


"Hiking together with someone else is comforting and makes the whole endeavor less scary. We saw a bear after about 5 miles into the trail, the first bear I had seen in my life! Although the bear got up and left it would have been a much scarier experience if I was alone. However, it turns out that it's not always possible for two people to keep the same hiking pace throughout the day. So what we did, and what most hikers traveling together do, is for each person to travel at his own pace but meet at pre-agreed locations for lunch breaks or camping at night. That way you still have the companionship of others and are not restricted in how fast you have to walk."


"Although I was having a great time and was finally making big miles my decision to stop came from wanting to be with my girlfriend more than being on the trail. For this reason I decided it's better to stop and come back to finish it another time when I can enjoy it to its fullest. This decision was not something I anticipated or wanted when I started and it was a struggle against my urge to complete the PCT. I still feel I made the right decision and have no regrets. It made me realize what is really important to me. Hiking the PCT is about the journey, and journeys don't always take you where you expected.

No matter how hard the day was or how much my feet hurt I don't remember a time that I didn't feel happy lying on the notoriously uncomfortable Therm-a-Rest Z Lite trying to get some sleep. There is something magical about living in nature, pushing your body to its limits and the simplicity of life on the trail that I miss greatly since I stopped."


"Make sure you find a good pair of durable shoes that fit well. After a long day of hiking your feet are the ones that are going to make you stop, so having good shoes is crucial. My first pair of shoes (Altra Lone Peak 2.0), although very comfortable, completely fell apart after the first few days in Washington and I had to wrap them with duct tape to make it to Cascade Locks. Also, consider that your feet might grow while on the trail which might mean trouble if your feet are large to begin with. The largest shoes I could find in Ashland (size 13) were too small for my feet at that point. I was hoping I would break them in after a couple of days but instead I ended up losing two toenails and suffering for days.

If you are going SOBO expect snow in Washington. Even if online snow coverage maps appear to have little or no snow there might be a few small patches and they are enough to cause a scary experience or even worse, a serious accident. For me walking over snow covered slopes in WA was by far the scariest moment of my hike.

Another thing to expect that I didn't see mentioned a lot during my preparation is that the trail conditions, especially in WA can be extremely bad. There were sections with hundreds of blowdown trees, thick brush and washed out trail. Overall the trail in WA is really wild and isolated which also made it my favorite part. Just keep this in mind when planning miles and be prepared for a tough and slow start.

One more thing to expect when going SOBO is the solitude of the first few weeks. Most of the days in WA we would see at most 2 or 3 other hikers and camp by ourselves. This is a vastly different experience from going NOBO and I heard for some people it took weeks until they had a campsite on their own. If that's good or not it depends on you but it's good to keep in mind.

If you are not sure if you are going to need hiking poles then you are going to need hiking poles. In other words, unless you are an experienced hiker that prefers not using hiking poles then do yourself a favor and make them the first item in your gear list. I started without hiking poles thinking it would be a hassle to carry them around and ended up injuring both my knees and one of my ankles on the first few days of the trail. I then started to carry two sticks I found and although they kept me hiking despite my injuries they were heavy and tiresome. Upgrading to hiking poles made hiking so much more enjoyable and I didn't suffer any further injuries.

If you decide on getting a sawyer filter absolutely get the sawyer squeeze over the sawyer mini. The flow is like day and night, the extra money and weight is definitely worth it.

Talk to people. Talk to everyone you see. A few will talk too much or too little or their advice will be crap, but most of the times you will learn something useful or listen to a cool story they have to share. I found that the best people to talk to are middle-aged section hikers. They have the time to talk and the best stories to share. Of course when you hit the NOBO bubble you will get tired greeting more than 50 of them a day but it's still the best way to get information for what's coming up ahead.

Don't stress out! Things always work out on the trail."


Backpacking Experience
Been on a couple of extended overnights (2-3 trips)

Hiked 5 miles a day w/pack for 3 weeks. Stuck to flat ground. Would definitely do more

Stephen’s Pass going south July 10th  - alone

Hike Result
Got off trail at Barlow Pass (south of Timberline Lodge in Oregon)


Nightmoves had just got out of a long term relationship and moved back to his hometown in Alaska. He was working there and had been toying with the idea of doing something crazy when he settled on the PCT. He was looking into the logistics of planning a thru-hike and he realized if he didn’t jump on it he’d be stuck in the snow and would have to wait until next year. He prepped for about a month or so, and then headed to the trail, starting at Stevens Pass. He ended up packing way too much food and really struggling through the first couple hundred miles. After a relative offered him a place to live in Portland, he got off trail and stopped his thru-hike attempt so as to not miss the opportunity.


“I think it was a safe landing pad that was offered. Because otherwise I was just going to hit the end of the trail and be low on money and have no idea what I was going to do next.”

“Lighten up for sure. I carried a lot of stuff I didn’t need. I had too many extra clothing items, an extra pair of shoes.”

“I wish I would’ve finished. I mean, I left knowing that I could’ve done it. I guess I should’ve done it”


“Don’t over plan things. It occurred to me at one point that I could spend a year preparing for this. But plan more than I did. Plan moderately well, don’t over or under plan.

Be in shape and be ready so you can hit the ground running, because it was tough immediately. At Stevens Pass you walk up a ski hill, then down the backside. That was rough. That’s how I got used to the trail. I suffered early on.

Stick it out, you probably won’t regret it.”

Old School and Shortcut

Backpacking Experience
Multiple two night trips

OS - Already in good shape, did one 10-15 mile walk per week with gear.

Ross Lake water taxi to the PNW trail, N to border July 1st  

So. Kennedy Meadows Oct 8th

Hike Result
Old School made it to the US/Mexico border, Shortcut got off at Snoq. Pass and hiked from Sonora to VVR in the Sierras


Old School and his wife Shortcut were working on the West Coast and wanted to take a break from their careers before starting the next chapter of their lives. After three weeks on trail, Shortcut quit the thru-hike attempt due to injuries at Snoqualmie Pass, and Old School decided to go on. Throughout the trail he took significant time off trail to spend time with her. To make these meetings work and keep on schedule with his mileage average, he had to hike big miles days when he was on trail.


“Doing big days back to back is a very romantic idea. But in reality it makes the PCT feel way more like a job. You have to get up and put in your miles, and you really need to be dedicated to going and to going fast. And I think there is a romantic idea associated with that, to say I did 100 miles in 3 days, but the reality is I didn’t stop and lay by a lake, or have a long lunch with my friends. It means I did 100 miles in 3 days and that’s all I did.”


“I think that our relationship worked well because we were dedicated to the relationship more than we were dedicated to the trail. I’m guessing a lot of people have relationship difficulties on trail because they are dedicated to the trail more than anything. Personally I’m lucky because of how supportive my wife was. Having done the first three weeks together she saw how much I loved it and how much of a dream it was for me, and she was super supportive of that. It’s something that we knew would only last for a couple of months and we could stick it out with me hiking and her coming to visit me every two weeks. And I would work really hard to make sure she felt loved along the way. And that meant that I would check for cell phone service on top of every ridge and I would use my one hour of breaks every day to sit on that mountain and call my wife. It was a big effort on both of our parts, and the most important part was that desire of wanting what’s best for each other, even if it meant sacrificing for each other.”


“Know what kind of a hiker you are, and make your expectations based on what you already know about yourself. So if you know you are a very competitive or athletic person, make your expectation to finish. But if you look at yourself and say I love to hike but I don’t know if I can go the distance, then put your expectations in a realistic place.”

The trail itself doesn’t tell you anything (it’s a dirt path), but it allows you to put yourself in situations that tell you who you already are.

The trail was moreso in every way than I expected. It was more beautiful, but more difficult. More rewarding, but more challenging. I think with every expectation I had, good and bad, it was more extreme in every way. And that’s what made it so interesting and so captivating.”