After a month and half delay due to some unexpected and serious medical issues we’re finally on our way to the southern terminus to start our northward walk. The Pacific Crest Trail, PCT, is a long distance trail from Mexican to Canadian border that travels through the entire length of California, Oregon, and Washington State. The total distance is roughly 2,650 miles. You might have seen parts of it featured in the movie Wild. A thru-hike is a hike completed from one end of the trail to another within one year. Each year an upward of 3000+ hikers attempt such hike. Most of them start from the southern dessert around April (NOBO). A few hardy souls also begin their journey up north from Manning Park in Canada (SOBO). The completion rate has significantly increased over the years from signal digit percentage to nearly a quarter. You can see more statistics on the hikers on the annual PCT survey. This increase is attributed to a number of factors, including the trail’s growing popularity, better intel on the trail, improved trail condition by volunteers and proliferation of trail community and people within them who are eager to help out random strangers. We call them trail angels.
The lure of a thru-hike first came to me four years ago. Up until then I had never even been on a camping trip. I suppose that’s why it’s so appealing to me. I love everything new and challenging. I started to train for distance running, completing half marathons and most recently, ran the NYC marathon while pregnant with Owen. I joined commercial hiking trips to Machu Picchu, Everest Base Camp, and Kilimanjaro. Even though I hiked with outfitters, the goal has always been to develop the skills and ability to hike on my own. Instead of using porters I always carried my own pack. This allowed me to test out different gears and learn the valuable lesson of going light.
Peter and I met on a hike in Patagonia. It didn’t take long for me to bring up the AT and PCT. “Wouldn’t it be great to be on the trail weeks on end?” I ask, “maybe it will bring a change within ourselves that we would not have discovered otherwise.” Although Peter had been an avid traveler and hiker, the idea of long distance hiking just wasn’t as high on his to-do list. No worries. I inundated him with books, movies and videos on thur hiking. With Owen on the way, our timeline opened up with my extended maternity leave. “This is our chance to do it,” I urged on. Besides, the baby will be small enough to be carried and we won’t have to bring food for him/her. We started to plan and prepare for the PCT late last fall: reading, dehydrating, upgrading our gears, creating itineraries and resupply strategies. A long hike like this takes significant upfront investment. With all the expenses and effort we quickly tipped into the no return zone, even as labor got tough, even as I was deathly ill with a rare infection. The thought always turned to how can we get in the trail.
Now the time is here. It doesn’t seem real. I have no idea how far we will get. Our first planned section will be from Campo to Cajon Pass/Wrightwood, roughly 350 miles. From there we plan to take a short break to reassess trail conditions and reorganize our supplies. Thru-hiking PCT is not exactly a walk in the park (it’s through many parks! A dozen of them at least). This year is especially difficult given the record amount of snow in the Sierra and the Cascades. Majority of hikers who started in April are either waiting it out in Kennedy Meadows or trying to flip-flop up north. We thought about picking up the trail from South Lake Tahoe but the snow condition from Dick’s Pass to Lassen is just as bad and dangerous. Our biggest challenge to start this late at Campo will be water and heat. Thankfully it has been a wet year so far. The water report has been looking favorable for seasonal streams. Still, we will hike conservatively and try to carry as much water as possible to avoid potential problems.
We will not hesitate to turn around and/or look for the closest exit to civilization if anything doesn’t feel right. While it is true that I have been dreaming and planning for this for years, I also want to make sure everyone in the team is doing well and that we will have many more beautiful hikes together as a family. In case of an emergency, we will activate SOS on the inReach satellite unit to send our coordinates to Garmin monitoring center, which will in turn contact local authorities to dispatch appropriate assistance. Here is a very well written blog I hope to not have to use. There are also a number of Facebook groups that might be useful: Pacific Crest Trail, PCTA, PCT Class of 2017, and Loved Ones of PCT Hikers.