PCT Southbound

Go your own way

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Grahamps

Backpacking Experience
Had done long (3+ weeks) trips, though with only moderate (10-15 miles/day) mileage. Had experience in a variety of environments (e.g. desert, high alpine, rainforest, etc.) 

Training
Was comfortably completing trail marathons in the months before beginning the hike. Plagued by injuries for most of the hike. Perhaps more weight-bearing or specific-strength exercises (including hiking, obviously) would have helped.

Start
July 4th at Rainy Pass, with no border tag. "I skipped the border because it simplified logistics, and because I was worried about time. Perhaps it is because I had already hiked that section of trail previously, but I did not (and do not) regret skipping the border tag.

Date Reached So. Kennedy Meadows
October 8th

Hike Result
Reached the southern terminus on November 3rd.  

 

LIFE NARRATIVE

Grahamps was (and still is) having a hard time balancing his love of mountains with his love of neuroscience research. The latter demanded that he live and work in Wisconsin, while the former demanded that he get the hell out of Wisconsin. He decided that taking a summer off to hike the PCT might be a nice compromise. Spoiler alert: After finishing his hike, Grahamps continues to feel the exact same tension between his inner selves as he did before the trail. The PCT is not a panacea. Grahamps convinced his friend from college, Pippi Longstocking, to join him on the hike. Graham chose to go southbound because of time constraints, and because he wanted more of a wilderness experience than northbounding would have offered.

THE DESERT

"I thought “the desert” had a unique charm, and generally enjoyed it. I was one of the few that felt that way, though. Indeed, SoCal was psychologically rough. It was monotonous and hot, the heavy water carries were a chore, there was too much skipping in-and-out of civilization, and sand got precisely everywhere that you didn’t want it to be. It wasn’t like there were any great trials, it was more that all the little things combined could get you down. But for all that, I still saw beauty in what was around me, and that was enough to make me love where I was. After 2000 miles, I also recognized that indulging any negative feelings about the desert (or any feelings of self-pity about having to be there) were just pointless and maybe even counterproductive, except insofar as they could build camaraderie with other discontented hikers. So I just shut down those thought-loops on the rare occasions that they cropped up."

FINDING A HIKING PARTNER

"I spent the first 21 years of my life living and hiking along the AT, and never once wanted to do the whole thing. A friend of mine once asked me if I would ever hike any other long trail, such as the PCT, and I said “probably not.” Then just last year that same friend asked the same question, and I was surprised to find that my position had completely changed. Can’t say why, honestly. At some point I started researching the trail, and that was the point of no return. Reading trail journals and listening to podcasts got me fantasizing about the hike, and I started actually preparing for it 6 weeks before my start date. Which might sound like a lot of time, but it really isn’t when you’ve got to worry about moving out of your apartment, finding a place for all your stuff, asking for time off, and working 50-60 hrs/week. I finished writing an academic paper and handed it off to my co-author the day before my hike started. It was a sprint.

Recruiting a hiking partner went like this: I basically just mass-emailed out to everyone I knew who might be interested, and said “I’ve pretty much done all the planning and logistics and research. If you trust me, I can give you some gear recommendations and double the portions in my resupply boxes, and you’ll be good to go.” I was totally fine with hiking the trail solo, and was actually operating on the assumption that I would be, so it wasn’t like there was any pressure to find someone. But I was really happy when Pippi agreed to come along."

REASONS FOR HIKING THE PCT

"On reasons for thru-hiking: I started the trail because I wanted to (1) experience as much beauty as possible, (2) have loosely-defined “fun”, both Type-I and Type-II, (3) feel super fit, (4) test myself, and (5) do something that I could feel proud of. Ultimately, I ended up finishing because of reasons (4) and (5). I believe that it’s possible to have more fun, see more beauty, and treat your body better by not hiking the trail, and instead opting for e.g. vanlife. At some point on the PCT you will probably be hiking along a buggy, muggy, boring, dusty horse-trail and ask yourself: “Why don’t I just skip this bit? I could take this day and spend it hiking somewhere else. Why here?” Sometimes the answer will be something like, “the people I want to be with are here,” but if you’re an isolated SOBO then that often won’t be the case. At some point you will probably keep hiking just because you don’t want to quit. There are many reasons that people choose to start the PCT, but I think that there are far fewer reasons why people ultimately choose to stick with it."

POST-HIKE BLUES

"Being done with the trail was hard for me. I felt totally purposeless without an explicit long-term goal to hold in mind, and ended up pouring my energy into anything I could. I got super antsy and had to walk around a lot; one day I walked 15 miles from Mission Beach to Del Mar. Having to screen out sensory stimuli for the first time in a while was tough. Finding out that the things which had been my primary concerns for the past few months (getting from point to point, getting clean water, getting enough calories, staying warm and dry) could now be accomplished in 15 minutes or less each day, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of free time that I had. Losing the steady, all-day drip of endorphins and dopamine that I had become reliant on didn't help. I felt like someone trying to quit smoking cold turkey. But mostly, I felt alienated and out-of-phase with the rest of the world."

FINISHING THE TRAIL

"My heart started to race as we hammered out the last couple of miles, but actually finishing was anticlimactic. There was a little exultation, a little pride, and a little joy. But no more than you might experience after winning a pickup game of pond hockey. The significance of the thing wouldn't set in until days, maybe weeks, later. It was just sort of like, "Well, I guess there's nowhere else to walk." A friend asked if it felt like the end of Forrest Gump's run, and I think that's pretty much dead on."

A GREAT TRAIL STORY

"I don’t normally eat commercially dehydrated meals (e.g. Backpacker’s Pantry, Mountain House, etc.), because they’re prohibitively expensive. But my mom, bless her well-intentioned heart, sent me a couple “gourmet” meals from a backpacking food startup in Maine (where I’m from). The minute I ate one, I knew something was up. I spent the whole next day puking my brains out. As I was racing to catch up with Pippi and beg her to slow down, I saw a group of 4 weekenders headed down the trail towards me. They were beaming at me and I could tell that they wanted to talk, which I was very much not in the mood for. So I smiled back, puked on the side of the trail *without breaking stride*, smiled at them again as their faces changed to horror, and sped by as they scrambled off trail to give me as wide a berth as possible. That night, after I thought that the worst of it was over, I climbed into my waterproof bivy sack and zipped it shut. Well, it turns out that the worst was still yet to come. I puked inside my bivy before I could get the zipper open. The force of my emesis caused vomit to rebound back into my face, and the waterproof fabric traped my mess, marinating both my down sleeping bag and all of my clean clothes. I stumbled out into the drizzling cold to strip naked and wash my stuff in a nearby river, then shivered the rest of the night in the remains of my own puke. It sucked, but I laughed even as it was happening."

HIS TRAIL ADVICE

"It’s not advice, but it has to be said somewhere: There’s a very good chance that the trail will drastically improve your opinion of humanity. The kindness of strangers is powerful, and you will experience a lot of it.

My greatest regret with respect to my hike is that I didn’t keep a journal.

People will tell you to do things like swim, make fires, stretch, eat right, etc. The reason that you have to be told to do these things is that you will become exhausted and find them laborious. Yes, even swimming and bonfire building. It’s easy to see anything that isn’t putting in miles or sleeping as “extra work.” Do the extra work. It’s (almost) always worth it.

I was very glad that I minimized my zeros (the number of days when I didn’t hike at all). I often felt “pressured to relax” on zero days, and rarely felt like I needed to spend two nights in the same place to feel recharged. Zeros also interrupted the trail experience, rarely at times when I actually wanted the experience to be interrupted.

Going stoveless was a great choice for me. Consider it."

Trenchfoot and Gap Year

Backpacking Experience
Our first backpacking trip ever was with my son’s Boy Scout Troop in 2010 and we got totally hooked.  Since then we have done several longer trips including two in the Sierras.

Training
Trenchfoot ran 3 to 4 times per week and day-hiked at least a couple times per month, 10 to 15 miles each hike, and three 20 mile hikes a couple of weeks prior to the start of the thru-hike. Gap did significant weight training in addition to the required physical training with his ROTC unit at high school.

Start
Harts Pass to the border then south on the PCT all the way to the Southern Terminus

Date Reached So. Kennedy Meadows
10/25/16

Hike Result
Completed the thru-hike, only bypassing two sections of trail that were legally closed due to fires (Seiad Valley and Agua Dulce)

LIFE NARRATIVE

Trenchfoot lives in San Diego and is a retired Aerospace Engineer currently working as a part-time consultant.  During one of his day hikes in the Laguna Mountains several years ago he stepped onto the PCT for the very first time.  He stood there completely amazed that there is a single trail that runs all the way from Mexico to Canada and vowed that one day he would attempt to complete a thru-hike.  That one day turned out to be 2016 when his 18 year old son declared that he was going to attempt the PCT that summer after graduating high school.  

Gap graduated high school in June 2016 and decided to take a Gap Year (thus the trail name) and hike the PCT.  He is currently taking classes at a local community college and will be joining the Marines.  After completing his Marine enlistment he plans to become a firefighter.

Trenchfoot speaks below about their journey. 

PLANNING

"Prior to our thru-hike I read several blogs from both SOBO and NOBO hikers and made notes from these (lessons learned, campsites to avoid, best resupply options, great places to eat, gear that worked/didn’t work, etc).  I found a resupply spreadsheet online from another hiker and used that as a template for my resupply planning.  My final resupply spreadsheet is on this site on the SOBO Blogs page. We packed all 25 of our resupply boxes ahead of time and mailed out the first few prior to leaving.  The remaining boxes were addressed and ready for my daughter to take to the PO when we needed them sent out.  We carried paper maps as well as the Halfmile app and Guthook app."

HIKING WITH A FAMILY MEMBER

"It was fantastic to hike the PCT with my son.  I don’t know if I could have made it without him. I have the utmost respect for anybody who does the PCT solo.  It takes so much mental toughness to accomplish that.  My advice to other hiking families is to treat each member of the crew as a partner in all decisions made. For us, even though we were father/son we were hiking partners.  Gap had plenty of camping and backpacking experience and skills from Boy Scouts.  We made all decisions together.  Anytime there was a tough decision to make I always trusted his gut instinct and it always turned out to be the right decision."

LOW MILEAGE HIKING

"We didn’t do big miles but were “slow and steady”.  In fact we were passed by pretty much everybody going SOBO and at one point we were the last two people on the PCT heading south. We hiked very little at night, usually only when we knew we were close to a campsite we wanted to get to.  This limited the miles we could do as the days start getting shorter in the fall.  Like all SOBOs we were very conscious that we had to get through the Sierras before the snows start.   Thus we were suffering a bad case of “Sierra Stress” starting in northern California.  In our first 2083 trail miles (Canada to Tehachapi Pass) we only took 6 zeroes.  Our longest day was 27 miles and most days were in the low 20’s. Once in the Sierras we kept a close eye on the weather (mostly updates from hiking guru Worldly).  Our goal was to get over Forester Pass by October 15th.  “Forester by the Fifteenth” was our battle cry.  However, weather and a few minor injuries caused us a few delays so we ended up crossing snow-free Forester Pass on October 22nd.  We were very lucky!"

A TRAIL STORY

"For us, the most pleasant surprise was the kindness that complete strangers showed PCT hikers all along the trail.  People would go out of their way to help us, even if they really had no idea what the PCT or a thru-hike was.  A classic example of this happened to us a couple of days south of Sierra City.  It was the opening weekend of hunting season.  (Good grief, the PCT is hard enough without the additional challenge of not getting shot while on the trail!)  That Sunday evening we were looking for a camping spot and found one next to a dirt road.  There were two ATVs parked nearby.  A few moments after we had setup a gentleman came up the trail toward us.  He and his two sons were out hunting in the area and the ATVs belonged to them.  We started talking and he asked us where we had come from.  “Canada” I replied.  “Canada!” he said stunned.  We proceeded to tell him about the PCT and our thru-hike.  Had no idea he was on the PCT, that there was a trail that went from Mexico to Canada, or that there were crazy people that tried to walk the entire length. We chatted for awhile longer then he asked what time we get up in the morning.  I told him 0630 but they should not worry about that and should come up to get back out to their hunting site as early as needed.  

The next morning we woke to the sounds of the ATVs coming back up the hill from their basecamp.  I looked at my watch and it was 0625 and thought it was very nice of them to wait that late and not wake us up earlier.  The ATVs stopped close by our tents and I heard footsteps coming over toward me.  There was a “ka-thud” as something was dropped just outside my tent.  The man said "I thought you guys might enjoy a hot breakfast".  He and his sons had made breakfast sandwiches of English muffins, eggs, cheese, and ham steak for us. He also left us a trash bag and told me to put all of our trash in it and place it on his ATV.  “No sense in you guys carrying all that with you”.  By the time I got out of my tent they were already out of sight down the trail to their hunting areas.  I picked up the bag he left and it was heavy, a good quality for food when you are a hungry backpacker.  They had made each of us two gigantic, thick sandwiches. I called over to Gap and told him it was time for breakfast!  We both took our time eating the sandwiches, savoring each warm and delicious bite.  It took me awhile to realize that when the man asked what time we were getting up in the morning it wasn’t about when they were going hunting, it was about when he needed to bring us breakfast!  That was one of the most memorable meals I have ever had in my entire life; a hot breakfast delivered tent-side in the middle of the woods."

HIS TRAIL ADVICE

"Pay very careful attention to the weather conditions (snow/rain/cold as well as heat).  Bears and mountain lions don't kill people on the PCT, weather does. Don’t go into an “iffy” weather situation alone.  We were with a group of SOBOs leap-frogging each other all the way to the Sierras.  We decided ahead of time to group-up prior to going into the Sierras so that nobody was ever alone in these mountains."

"If you haven't done much (or any) backpacking do a shakedown backpack trip (3 to 5 days) to checkout all of your gear and to make sure you know what you are getting into.  I live in San Diego and over the years on my day hikes on the PCT I have met people that were bailing out on their northbound thru-hike after just a couple of days on the trail.  Don’t spend all of the time and money to attempt this if it is something that you aren't physically or mentally prepared to do, or it's something you are not going to enjoy."

"The trail conditions in Washington are very likely to be bad (to very bad) when you start; snow, downed trees, overgrow trail, cold/wet conditions are to be expected.  Don’t be discouraged, the trail conditions will improve as you go south.  Plan on doing fewer daily miles for the first couple of weeks."

"A camping permit required in North Cascades National Park in WA.  Most of us did not realize this (even though it was on the PCT website) before getting there so we just “bandit camped” in the established sites (luckily there was room).  You can get a permit here.(https://www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/permits.htm)."

"Stehekin is the first resupply point going south.  Allow an extra week for boxes to arrive, even priority mail.  Everything has to be brought to Stehekin via ferry and some people’s boxes did not arrive in time."  

"Know some basic first aid.  Consider taking a Wilderness and Remote First Aid Course (link http://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/cpr-first-aid/wilderness-sports#wilderness-remote-first-aid) offered by the Red Cross. We had to put some of this training into practice on our hike, mostly because Trenchfoot fell down a lot."

"Resupply options for SOBOs going thru Sierras a bit sketchy due to when some of the places close.  Tuolumne Meadows and VVR are a couple to keep a very close eye on. Stay in contact with them if you plan on shipping a box there.  We ended up switching our resupply from Tuolumne Meadows (which closed) to Kennedy Meadows North while on the trail.  Red's Meadow Bus was also not running so we hitched to Mammoth from the High Trail Trailhead."

CHANGES THEY WOULD MAKE FOR NEXT TIME

"Take an emergency transponder.  Parts of the trail were far more remote than I expected. There are significantly fewer SOBOs than NOBOs.  We went three consecutive days on one stretch of our hike without seeing another person on the trail. There is no cell service for days in many areas, especially Washington."

"Resupply more frequently so that each carry is smaller.  We did several 7 day food carries that we could have broken into two shorter resupplies.  It is always uphill from a resupply point, so do smaller resupplies when possible to keep your pack weight down."

Rainbow Trout

Backpacking Experience
None

Training
In decent shape, running a lot, and hiking around Paris. Training didn't prepare for elevation, terrain

Start
Hart's Pass headed south in a group of 4 French friends - July 9th

Reached So. Kennedy Mead
N/A, flip-flopped Sierras 

Hike Result
Made it to the US/Mexico border, but missed a couple big sections of the trail. 

LIFE NARRATIVE

All four members of the Frenchtastic Four had professional jobs and were living in Paris together in the same apartment. One rainy day in January 2016, Rainbow Trout shared the idea of doing the PCT. One friend challenged another saying, “you’ll never do it,” daring each other to back down. They spent 2-3 hours that day planning logistics and finances and then decided to wait three days to see if everyone was still interested. If so, they’d buy plane tickets. That momentum lasted, and they booked flights that week. Six months later they were in Northern Washington starting the PCT southbound.

They made it south from Hart's Pass to Ashland, OR, and then decided to flip flop down to the Sierras and hike from Walker Pass north to the Oregon border. They started the flip on the 6th of September, made it through the Sierras, and then hit bad snow storms near South Lake Tahoe. Rainbow Trout and Refill got off there and hitched back to Walker Pass headed south. Top Ramen and Dirt Arrow continued north, making it as far as Mt. Shasta before going back to Walker Pass and heading south. 

 From right - Refill, Top Ramen, Dirt Arrow, and Rainbow Trout

From right - Refill, Top Ramen, Dirt Arrow, and Rainbow Trout

HIKING AS A GROUP

“Make sure your goals are clear before you go. We had no idea what it would be like, everything we thought and we were discussing about was made of dreams and impressions and videos we’ve seen here and there. So we made our goals while we were walking, but we could have talked about it before. Some of us wanted to take it more chill and enjoy the trail, and some of us wanted it to be a sports challenge where you do the best and go as far as you can in a limited amount of time. Now I know the trail and that seems obvious to me (to make clear goals about expectations), but back then I’m not sure if I would have been able to clearly voice what I expected from it.”

“Generally speaking, everything went really fine for the four of us together, expect for when we were hungry or thirsty or had a bad nights sleep. When you are hungry, you don’t see the trail in the same way. You look at your shoes and think 'I want food' instead of looking around and seeing the beauty. So that’s the same way, when we discussed where to rest, or resupply, there was less patience when one person wasn’t in sync with the three others. When three are in good shape but someone is sick or having a bad day, the group should be thoughtful and try to ease the tension. It’s hard to understand and have empathy for the person that is suffering, but it pays to put yourself in his or her shoes. 

"If someone had to stop their hike the rest of us would’ve kept going for sure. We also said if someone is sick for more than three days and we have to stop, we should leave on the fourth day and the other person can catch up via car. It (deciding to go ahead or stay when a friend is sick) really really depends on the situation."

PLANNING FROM ABROAD

"We took six months to research everything and buy the gear. When you talk about long distance hiking at a gear store in Europe, they don’t really understand. They think either you are doing The Camino in Spain, which is pretty easy in terms of terrain, or you are doing some actual climbing or mountaineering. So we bought the packs from Hyperlite in Maine (and other gear in the US). The only piece of equipment from Europe we used was a French sleeping bag, and it was the only piece that compared with US gear in terms of warmth/price/weight."

“It takes a lot of time (planning from Europe), nothing sounds familiar, and you have no idea which town is big, which name is a trail angel name or a city or a town, what Oregon is, etc. It’s hard with the names because they are so unfamiliar and don’t stick in your head. We didn’t really understand the notion of a desert, and it took time to grasp the environment from the maps. You need patience. Wrap your head around the measurement systems, like the mileage, beforehand. And the weights - ounces and pounds, because if you go on a gear list and everything is listed, for us it doesn’t mean anything. 

"It took us six months to plan and we were living in the same apartment, so we could talk everyday. It would be way more complicated if you were 3, 4 people having different life schedules and trying to meet once a week or something. We didn't know where to start. The visa, the permits, the flights. What shall we do first? I think you should get your start date that works best for you, then register for the visa, and in the meantime get your PCT permit. The US Embassy mostly wanted to know you had enough money to sustain yourself."

HIS TRAIL ADVICE...

"Get two pairs of socks for real. Wet feet is the worst for me. I don’t even care if you take one pair of underwear. But take two pairs of socks."  

"Heavy protein bars make me throw up, they are awful."

"Talk to anyone you meet on the trail, because they could have a beer or candy for you or something. Everyone you meet that isn’t a hiker has food and might give it to you. Always give it a try."

 

Huck

Backpacking Experience
A lot of 4-5 day trips and a summer working in Glacier NP.  

Training
Some day hikes, mainly just biking a lot and baseline decent shape.

Start
Ashland, OR (Callahans) and went north - July 1st. August 20th at US/Can Border, then back to Ashland and southbound. 

Reached So. Kennedy Mead
October 5th

Hike Result
Made it to the US/Mexico border

LIFE NARRATIVE

Before the trail Huck was working a part-time job and seeing if she wanted to study law. She had talked to a good friend a lot about the trail, and both agreed that unless they were in debt or had children they wanted to do the trail as soon as they could. It wasn’t that either needed the trail to find themselves, but they both thought they'd just really enjoy it. They northbounded from Ashland to the US/Canadian border to avoid the snow, and then Huck's friend left the trail. Huck went to Ashland and continued south alone, spending about three weeks of her hike hiking by herself.

HIKING WITH A FRIEND

"I hiked the first 7+ weeks with one of my best friends. We were both competent on our own in the outdoors and had similar levels of physical and mental endurance. We both liked to push ourselves, but neither of us was addicted to clocking miles. You're planning the intimate details of life together when you hike with someone - what will we eat, where will we camp, when will we stop for a break, why do you take so long to poop? It's way too much time together to internalize resentment about basic physical wants and needs, especially in a context when you're more tired and worn down and those simple topics are more important. So being comfortable enough with each to communicate was key. People say it's important to each have a full gear set in case you split up, but we shared a tent, stove and other items and it was fine. For us, it wasn't about each doing the trail, it was about doing it together. I'd say our friendship was even stronger when we finished.

My friend stopped, as previously planned, after OR/WA and I continued on in CA on my own. I also really, really liked getting to have that solo experience. I hiked almost 3 weeks by myself in different segments and that was challenging but also empowering. 
In general I trusted people a lot on the trial, and as a woman hiking alone you get a lot of respect. I definitely had that thought in the back of my mind that I was at risk, but overall I was empowered and I trusted people and I felt like people respected me. I feel like women are viewed as equals by fellow hikers, or at least most fellow hikers. In general safety wise I felt fine. I would encourage women to feel fine hiking alone. I think it’s better for lots of reasons to hike with people, but I don’t think someone should feel afraid.

Being alone also opens you up more to meeting people and joining up with others on the trail. It's a great community, and it seems most people meet others to hike with along the way. I ended up hiking with a solo guy and a married couple, and it was a fantastic group. I have heard about many "trail break-ups," though, mainly between friends. One person decides they don't want to do the trail, people hike at different paces, or people just have a falling out. Hiking with a friend can be an incredible shared experience, but communicate a lot! Make sure your friendship is more important than your miles, even if that means splitting up. Also, one thing my friend and I agreed to was that if one of us didn't feel comfortable or safe doing something, we wouldn't do it. And this actually came into play one time when we were deciding whether or not to cross a river (we ultimately kept going down stream till we found a log), and it was a good thing to have established beforehand."

FLIP FLOPPING

"I made the decision to flip-flop because there was still a lot of snow in the North Cascades and I couldn't push my start date back because of my hiking buddy's post-trail plans. We didn't feel like we had enough experience in snow, particularly with route-finding, and ultimately decided it wasn't worth risking it. We started at Callahan's (Ashland) and headed north to the Canadian border, then I flipped back to Ashland to head south to Mexico. We hit snow a day south of Crater Lake but besides having to use Guthook a bit to stay on trail, it was fine. Snow continued several days past Crater Lake off and on but we didn't have any serious traverses or passes, just following footprints, wearing more clothes, and using Guthook pretty regularly. Northern Oregon was almost completely free of snow, as was all of Washington except a couple traverses in the Goat Rocks. Our time in the North Cascades was spectacular. Not only were there no snow complications, but the weather was beautiful and we had stunning views. We met quite a few NOBOs in OR/WA, many of the front 30 or so of the pack, but we never crossed the herd. It would have been an interesting experience, but I was glad to never have a crowded trail. "

"When I flipped back to Ashland, I was probably 1/3 of the way back in the SOBO "pack" and I continued on with the SOBO crowd. Flip-flopping definitely provides a more solo experience. Very few others will be doing the same route so you don't meet as many fellow hikers and you don't share as common of an experience. People you meet on the trail and hike with really are a huge highlight of the experience so this is a significant con for flip-flopping, in my opinion. Perhaps more of a flip-flopper community can be created and it can become a more established third way to do the trail, whether that's from Donner Pass or somewhere further north. It's a great option for avoiding risky snow and potentially lengthening the time you can take to do the trail. It's also a fantastic option for people who want a solo experience. For those who just want less of a crowd though, I would recommend going SOBO. I loved my experience and the people I met because I flipped, but all things considered, if I had it to do over again, I would have gone straight SOBO."

GEAR AND FOOD

"Some of my favorite items I brought aren't on a typical gear list. I bought a lightweight waterproof speaker toward the end when there were four of us hiking together. We used it to listen to music, podcasts, a presidential debate, and an audiobook together. Awesome way to pass the time, and great for spurring conversation. I also started carrying a strand of battery operated Christmas lights after my sisters came to hike with me for a bit and brought them along. So great. We'd string them up over wherever we were all eating our dinners and it created a nice little ambiance. My mosquito net was another game-changer. I highly recommend getting the full torso one with long sleeves, not just a head net. Oregon would have been mostly misery without these. One thing I loved but that I ditched toward the end when I was sending home everything possible was a lightweight collapsible bucket. I had two shirts, 2-3 pairs of socks and two pairs of underwear that I rinsed in that, dried on my pack, and alternated each day, especially in the first 2-3 months when it's hot enough to really get sweaty. Rather than washing directly in a water source. It was also great for getting water to put out bonfires, carrying dinner supplies to a pretty eating spot, and for sitting on."

"My friend and I decided to make a bunch of dehydrated dinners for our trip and it was a fantastic decision. Thai peanut sauce with rice noodles, black bean chili and rice, mashed potatoes with ground beef and green beans, chicken coconut curry with veggies and rice, spaghetti... You can do so much with a dehydrator. We learned a lot and some meals were better than others, but overall I really liked my food. It takes a lot of time, cutting up vegetables, making sauces, getting everything cycled through 8-ish hours of dehydrating, packaging the different elements together, but it was worth it for the taste and better nutrition. The total cost wasn't a lot different but I think overall it's a little less than buying pre-prepared everything. I did also supplement most of my boxes at grocery stores for snacks and lunch stuff." 

HER TRAIL ADVICE...

"Get the app "Overdrive" and a library card for access to lots of free audiobooks and ebooks. You log in with your card number and any ebook or audiobook your library owns can be "checked out" remotely and downloaded directly to your phone so it's even available on airplane mode.

Swim as often as possible. It doesn't take long to take a dip, it feels so good, and it's a great way to experience your surroundings, not just walk through them. 

Make bonfires often (when safe) and invite other hikers to come over and join you. Especially when the mosquitoes are bad!

Spend a night at Evolution Lake in the Sierras if you can. And take at least one on-trail zero!

You become able to do the trail in the process of doing it. 30-mile days sound crazy now, but when you just walk all day, that becomes a really doable distance. You will build up the mental and physical strength to keep going as you go, you don't need to have it all in the beginning. 

Being with other people is REALLY helpful. For enjoyment, for safety, for pushing through and staying motivated."

Pippi Longstocking

Backpacking Experience
Started backpacking about 10 years ago at the beginning of highschool. Since then did quite a few trips from two days to two weeks. Before the trail had never hiked more than 17 miles in one day with a full pack

Training
Didn't have time to train but runs and bikes regularly and was in good shape for hiking

Start
July 4th from Rainy Pass. Went directly south instead of tagging the border.

Date Reached So. Kennedy Meadows  
October 8th

Hike Result
Successfully reached the southern terminus on Nov. 3rd

LIFE NARRATIVE

Pippi Longstocking was finishing up a post-graduate internship in Nepal when Grahamps, one of her college friends, managed to convince her to join him on the PCT. They started from Rainy Pass and went south directly from there, taking about 4 weeks to finish Washington, 2.5 weeks covering Oregon, and the remaining 2.5 months in California. Pippi and Grahamps were lucky to have some friends and family meet them on different sections of the trail, and they also enjoyed meeting other SoBo hikers on the way. Pippi’s favorite sections of trail were (in order from N to S) Glacier Peak Wilderness, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Goat Rocks, Three Sisters, and the High Sierras. She loved being in the mountains all day, sleeping under the stars every night, meeting other hikers, and being disconnected from off-trail stresses.

ON HIKING WITH A GOOD FRIEND...

"Overall, I was happy to hike the trail with a friend. Fortunately, Grahamps and I had done a lot of hiking together in the past and knew that our hiking styles and personalities would be relatively compatible. There are numerous benefits to hiking with a partner; it’s safer, you can share some gear, it helps prevent loneliness, and it’s neat to share such an amazing adventure with someone else. However, there can also be many challenges; people have different hiking paces, it can be hard to stick together if one person gets injured, and being with the same person every day for 2650 miles could be a little annoying. Before starting the trail with a partner, make sure your hiking styles are compatible and have a frank discussion about what to do if hiking together isn’t quite working out. Maybe plan to hike apart for a week or two so that you can experience what it’s like to be on the trail alone."

MT. WHITNEY STORY...

"Like many other PCT hikers, we decided to make the day trip to go up Mt. Whitney. We stashed some of our food and gear in the bear box at the Crabtree campsite to lighten our loads, as is common practice amongst thru-hikers attempting Whitney. Unfortunately, when we returned later that day, we found that someone had stolen our tarp (our only shelter), a thermarest air mattress, and a few other smaller items. Luckily there was a backcountry ranger at the Crabtree station who loaned us a tent and sleeping pad to use for the night, which was quite necessary since it got down to the single digits F. We were very surprised and disappointed to have this happen; previously, we had had only positive encounters with others on the trail and had perhaps become too trusting of other hikers. We had to hike out to the nearest town and spent a few days and a lot of money replacing our gear before we could get back on trail. However, even though we had some bad luck, I was very heartened by the reaction of the other PCT and JMT hikers and trail-angels in the area who offered their support and even donated some of their own gear to help us get back on track. Unexpected obstacles do happen on the trail, but in general, the good always manages to outweigh the bad, and there will always be other people willing to lend a hand."

TRIALS IN SO CAL

"Honestly I didn’t really like So Cal. After coming through such amazing scenery in the High Sierras, I found the desert to be a huge disappointment. I wasn’t very interested in the scenery, didn’t like the dryness and seemingly perpetual wind, and was ready for the trail to be over. To ease the boredom, I relied heavily on audiobooks and podcasts, but the days still felt incredibly monotonous. Just south of Wrightwood we ran into 3 other SoBos whom we had hiked with earlier in Nor Cal. Hiking with others made the days go by a bit faster, so we opted to stick with them for the final days of the trail. There are, of course, PCTers who do like the desert, but unless you’re one of those people, you will have to rely heavily on willpower to persevere through the desert. Hiking with friends through So Cal definitely helps."

HER TRAIL ADVICE...

"Take the time to enjoy the best parts of the trail (even if it means putting in hard miles in the “boring” sections so that you can take it a bit easy in the more beautiful sections). Side trips and detours can also be worth an extra few days of hiking. I highly recommend side trips in the Sierras to climb Half Dome and Mt. Whitney.

The trail can be exhausting and uncomfortable. Your body gets tired, your mind gets tired, and sometimes, all you want is a fresh salad, a warm shower, and a soft bed. But trust me, all of the pain and discomfort is worth it when you get to the end and can feel the satisfaction of completing such a difficult journey. Focus on the positives to help you get through the difficulties. Set small goals for yourself so that you have something to motivate you each day and can feel as though you are accomplishing something.

Treat your body well. Stretching every night can help prevent injuries. If you feel an injury starting to form, reduce miles or take a few days of rest to let your body heal. Give yourself good fuel; a lot of people revert to eating almost nothing but candy and junk foods, but my body always felt much better when I filled it with healthier trail foods."

Macro and Huckleberry

Backpacking Experience
Huckleberry is a life long backpacker, Macro got into it in college & post college. JMT ‘07

Training
Both trail runners in very good shape. Ran 30-60 miles per week.

Start  
Ross Lake Water Taxi to head of Devil’s Dome trail, met PCT at Holman Pass. Started July 6th 

Reached So. Kennedy Mead
October 10th

Hike Result
Made it to US/Mexico Border

LIFE NARRATIVE

Huckleberry and Macro had both been working full time in San Francisco for a decade. Since moving to the Bay they had started getting more into backpacking and hiking and running. Huckleberry had always thought about doing a thru-hike on the PCT, and Macro started thinking about it during their JMT hike in ‘07. In 2015 they decided that maybe they should do the PCT while they were still relatively young, instead of waiting until they were retired. They started planning in early 2015, then in late 2015 started getting their dehydrated meals ready.

Originally the plan was to go northbound but as they read more they realized that timing wise the SOBO window worked better and given the description of southbound (fewer people) it would fit them perfectly. Also they had hiked often in the Sierra and loved hiking in Sept/Oct, the same time they would hit it during a southbound thru-hike. For the couple, the hike was a great mental break and helped put their lives into perspective and realize what’s important. Their strategy was to plan very well, take Washington slow to avoid overuse injuries, and be consistent - they took only four zero days during their entire thru-hike. They also took their time through the Sierras, slowing down to enjoy the scenery.

HIKING WITH YOUR PARTNER

“Take the time to talk about things that are important, or if there is a problem just talk it out. We spent a lot of time backpacking together so we knew the ins and outs of that, and we knew what worked for us as a couple on trail.”

We hadn’t really come up with a plan if one of us couldn’t continue, but what we ended up deciding is that if one of us had to stop the other one would continue. This was our one chance to take this time off in our careers.

We didn’t always feel like we were going fast. We had a plan that we didn’t want to go to fast in Washington and have an overuse injury. So we planned on going 17-18 miles per day (for that first state), and mostly stuck to that plan.”

THEIR TRAIL ADVICE...

“Don’t get Gore-tex shoes. They are waterproof but they still get wet and then never dry. Waterproof shoes don’t work because they aren’t breathable. Once they are wet they stay wet.

Take it easy to begin with and don’t overdo it physically. Plan shorter days so you give yourself some time to break in your body. Don’t go out super hard each day because you’ll get an overuse injury or burn out really quickly.

Be prepared to have some adverse weather in the Sierra, but bring some cold weather gear and really take your time to enjoy it. Don’t feel like you have to hurry so much that you miss the beauty.”

 

Old School and Shortcut

Backpacking Experience
Multiple two night trips

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

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

Sierras
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

LIFE NARRATIVE

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.

BIG MILE DAYS

“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.”

HIKING WITH YOUR PARTNER

“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.”

HIS TRAIL ADVICE...

“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.”

Carbon

Backpacking Experience 
One previous two night trip

Training
Didn't train (broke in shoes a little). Would do a lot more

Start
Started at Stehekin headed south with 1 friend - July 10th

Reached So. Kennedy Meadows
Oct 8th

Hike Result
Made it to US/Mexico border

LIFE NARRATIVE

Carbon and his friend The Greek has just finished up their PhD programs in Computational Chemistry and decided to attempt a thru-hike. He thought the hike would be a fun and relaxing way to celebrate the PhD. Instead he wanted to quit on the first day of hiking, and the second, and for almost all of Washington. What kept him going was when he started to believe, “I’m here because I chose to be and I can do it.” After Snoqualmie Pass the trail got easier and he felt confident from having done one of the hardest parts of the trail.

“The first day, even just going 7 miles, I quickly learned it wasn’t going to be all fun and games. I hadn’t even tested out my tent so it took me two hours to set up my tent. Very quickly I realized that this was going to be really hard.”

“ I wanted to quit a lot, constantly. And I just kept not quitting. That’s Washington for me. Wanting to quit and not quitting.”

LOSING A HIKING PARTNER

"The Greek and I had hiked over 1,200 miles together, and had both gone through the grief of adapting to trail life. We both knew that he was going to leave the trail to meet up with his girlfriend from Germany for a couple of weeks in September, but we had initially thought that he would return to the trail after that was over. He decided not to return in the end and stopped in Chester, CA. He had to catch a bus there on September 13th to get to Quincy and then San Francisco by the 15th, so we had to rush for nine days to make it on time. This entailed a lot of night hiking and anxiety. We made it, but The Greek and I were exhausted. After The Greek left I was not sure that I would want to continue with the trail, but after taking some rest in Chester I decided that it would to stupid to quit given that I’d made it halfway. The Greek was a lot tougher than me at first and pushed me harder that I wanted to go. I have come to appreciate that and the toughness that first half of the trek gave me made the Sierra and So Cal much more enjoyable."

HIS TRAIL ADVICE...

“Research a lot about gear and trail conditions. Talk to people if you can about the difficulty”

“Prepare your body and test you gear”

“Get trekking poles!”