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PCT 101

Posted by on March 23, 2015

I’m reviving my blog (with a new look and design) in preparation of my next adventure: hiking the Pacific Crest Trail! The Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT, is a 2,650 mile long trail that stretches from the border of Mexico into Canada, going through the mountains of California, Oregon, and Washington. Here’s a nice picture of the trail, including some of the major towns/sites along the way. (For more information about the trail, check out: mapWhen I tell people I’m going to hike the PCT, one of the first questions I’m asked is: “Did you see the movie Wild?” The answer is NO! I did, however, read the book last year, and I have an unfavorable opinion of the author which I won’t go into here. To clarify: I am not hiking the PCT because I read this book or because of the movie. I have dreamed about doing a long-distance hike for years but only now have the time off work in the spring and the financial ability to do so.

I have this opportunity now because my current job is ending on March 31 and instead of immediately starting something new, I have decided that it is now or never for this hike! I was further inspired to chase this dream when one of my friends told me he was going to do it and convinced that 2015 was the year when I saw that the drought was causing a record low snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountains this year.

The second question I am typically asked is, “How long is it going to take?” Although I don’t know exactly, I think it will take about 4-4.5 months. The “average” PCT thru-hiker (which is not to be confused with the “average” person) typically spends about 5 months completing the trail. And, of course, I hope to be better than average.

And now for the math: if it takes about four months to hike 2,650 miles, how many miles will I hike each day? The simple answer is: around 20 miles per day (you have to take rest days to recover and spend some time in towns picking up your resupply boxes). But it’s not quite that simple because of the terrain I’ll be going over. Here’s a picture of the PCT’s elevation profile to give you an idea of what I’m talking about (note the scales on the sides):

PCT ProfileYou’ll notice that the scale on the Y-axis is in thousands of feet and that the line goes up and down a lot! That means there are a lot of uphill and downhill sections which will slow down my pace. The long answer of how many miles per days is something like this: I plan on hiking about 20 miles per day to start because I hear the beginning is not as difficult. In the Sierras I’ll probably decrease my daily mileage t0 15-17 miles per day because of the elevation changes. Once I’m through the Sierras (and I’m really well conditioned to hiking), I’ll probably hike around 30 miles per day. This is just my plan and assumes no major injuries or severe weather delays. I will try to live by the motto developed in South Africa of “be flexible!” and not get stressed when my well-made plans are thwarted in the first two weeks.

Several people have also asked what I will eat and how I will get food along the way. I’ll post another entry specifically on what I will eat later, but for resupplying, Jacob will be mailing boxes to me along the way which I will pick up in towns close to the trail, either at post offices or houses/businesses that accept boxes on a hiker’s behalf. In a few lucky places, Jacob will also meet either on the trail or in town and hand deliver my resupply boxes. This is the most awesome thing anyone could do for me on this hike. I currently have 25 boxes in my spare bedroom full of food and ready to be mailed once I get underway.

I also get asked if I am doing this alone. While my friend and I plan on starting the hike together, we agreed early on that we likely will not finish together and don’t plan on hiking every mile side-by-side. We hike at different paces and have different rest schedules both during the day and during the week. But I certainly won’t be alone, even after we drift apart. In 2014, the PCT Association issued over 1,400 permits for thru-hikers and another nearly 1,200 for section hikers. This does not count the people who are just out of the day or a week long trip. While only 425 of those 1,400 reported completing the entire PCT last year, the trail is not as isolated as it used to be and I doubt I will have many completely solitary days.

Of course people express concern for my safety and I’m planning on doing all that I can to stay safe, but I am not afraid of a bear attack because that is a statistical improbability. I’m much more likely to get in a car accident driving to the trail head than I am to be attacked by a bear. My biggest concerns are: (1) blisters, (2) a twisted ankle, and (3) an infected wound. Since I took a Wilderness First Responder course last year I feel prepared to deal with (and help others deal with) these situations and others. As I mentioned above, I probably won’t ever be alone for long and I’ll (sadly, in a way) never be more than 80 miles from a town, so I know that if I get in a dire situation, I am never really that far from help.

So please join me in this next amazing journey! Leave comments and send care packages (more details on how to do that later) and follow along as I hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

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