So for the last few months I have slowly been pulling together a plan to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. As the date is getting close and a lot of pieces are falling into place I find I’m getting asked more questions from friends, family and potential hikers as well.
I thought I would throw together a quick post to answer some of the major questions and a bit of a checklist I ran through in the lead up.
You’re going to walk how far!? For HOW long!!!!?
The current plan is to walk the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail, 4,280 km. Four Thousand, Two Hundred and Eighty Kilometers. That’s 2,660 miles (measurement and temperature conversions are still something I’m trying to get use too…) All in all this should take me roughly 5 months.
The Trail starts just outside a town called Campo near the Mexican border in California and then heads north, all the way into Canada. Halfmile Maps are the gold standard for PCT maps, he has an overview map you can view over here. For a bit of a reference for family and work mates, I made this google map showing the length of the PCT if I was to road walk it in Australia. It’s a bloody long way!
How would you even begin to plan for something like that?
Reading. Lots of reading. Mostly on the internet in forums, facebook pages, blogs and pages dedicated to help specifically with PCT planning. There are a few books for sale that are designed to help with planning, some even intended for those with little previous hiking experience. Controversial at times (lots of opinions rather than facts) but that’s basically what you get on the internet too.
For me the main sites that really helped are;
- The Pacific Crest Trail Association. This should be your first stop. Lots of FAQs, all the links and information for permits. They’re responsible for the trail and issue the main permit, while also providing links to other permits needed (Canadian Entry, Californian Fire permit.)
- Craig’s PCT Planner. Great planning tool with a lot of the resupply points. You plug in your expected pace and hours per day you want to hike and it will suggest the best stops for you. You can see my plan here.
- Plan Your Hike – Resupply Points. Gives more info about resupply towns, addresses etc. Honestly there are a few (As the Crow Flies, PureBound etc) that offer the same/similar information. Reading other hikers personal ones helps too, then you have to make your own. Often on the fly.
- HalfMile Maps. Those who have hiked with me before know I love having a map to read. I use maps all the time at work and I like the security of having them in hand. HalfMile are easily the best you can get for the PCT… and he has them up for Free! Some people have the PDFs only on the phone, which is fine too. When others might read a book, I’d read a map.
- PCT Water Report. One of the concerns on the PCT is water… or lack there of. The Water report is good to judge how long some stretches are with no reliable water source.
- “PCT Class of 2016” facebook page. Lot of other people in the exact same position, sharing their concerns, questions and advice.
But what will you eat?
Honestly… probably food that isn’t all that healthy. It’s the same food that I eat on day hikes and 2-3 day overnight hikes here. On a thru-hike it’s suggested that the average male needs somewhere between 4500-6000 calories, per day. If it’s low-fat, low-carb, low-whatever it’s probably not for a hiker. On average I’ll carry 4-5 days worth of food, enough to get me to the next resupply town. Longest carry might be as big as 9 days. There are also some sites (Sonora Pass Resupply) set up to service hikers, which I may use sometimes.
Food variety includes Freeze Dried Meals (Back Country here, Mountain House/Backpacker Pantry seems popular over there) Beef Jerky, Chocolate, Lollies, Corn Chips, Muesli/Protein Bars, Dried Fruit, Trail Mix, Deb (instant) Potato (Idahonian over there?), Pasta Meals (usually sold as ‘sides’ with dehydrated sauce in the packet. Think Mac n Cheese), Pop-Tarts, Rice Meals or anything that can be eaten straight from the packet or ‘cooked’ with boiling water. Cheese and some salami’s are good and can last a few days as well, to change it up a bit. Tuna/Chicken pouches are a little heavier but I throw in a few occasionally (usually to eat the first night/lunch) to add a little extra. Ready made meals (Heinz Big n Chunky) sometimes make the cut, but are rare (because they’re heavy.) Condiments like Salt, Sauce, Parmesan Cheese and Olive Oil are in there too. Those ‘Baby Food’ squeeze packets are good for storing things like sauce.
For the luxuries I also take Milo on my hikes, with powdered milk. Nice warm drink for those cold early mornings. Sweetened condensed Milk gives a nice calorie/sugar boost and makes it taste better too, also good to suck straight from the tube. Ideally you want to look for food with really good calorie/weight ratio.
For me, it’s a little harder to prepare food. Some people box up a whole heap and have it send from home. It’s completely impracticable to do that from Australia so I’ll be buying on the go. Sometimes buying in a ‘Big’ town and sending on a food package to a little town up ahead. I think the first few shops are going to take a bit of time as I try to familiarise myself with different brands.
What about things you don’t want to carry the whole way?
I’m going to tackle this 2 ways. Sending stuff to a friend and a ‘Bounce Bucket’. As I plan to do some travel in the USA after the hike (and try fit in some Diving too!) I’ll have gear that I want in America, but obviously not want to carry. As it’s much cheaper than trying to send it from here, I’ll carry this stuff on the plane as I head over then mail it on from LA. Some gear that I’ll mail the day I land includes dive gear that I definitely wont need until I’m Finished.
The ‘Bounce Bucket’ is for things I want on trail… but not all the time. So razor (gotta look tidy!) maps for further down the trail, spare Milo (research has lead me to believe that it’s hard to find in the US, and it might be different anyway!) spare first aid stuff, some replacement gear, medicine (Brycinal) a Roll of Duct Tape etc etc etc I’ll send it ~2 weeks ahead, catch up to it, take out what I need and send the rest on again.
I also have planned for 2 care packages from home. Gives me the chance to include any major gear replacements (Shelter/Backpack/Pad) which I have at home if I want/need and also get some more Milo (5 months worth wont all fit in my Bucket :o)
What about your gear? You’re going to carry it all?
Yes, well except that which goes into the bucket above. Gear choice is something that comes up a lot in the discussion threads. Which is better, which is lighter, is this good enough, where can I get it cheaper, do I really need it etc etc. Luckily because of all the Hiking I do in Aus I already had mostly everything sorted. The only thing I bought specifically for the PCT was a good Down Jacket. You can see my full gear list here. If you do want your gear critiqued by others in forums, it’s best to put it together in a nice readable list. Sites like milestepper and lighterpack.com help, but a good excel list will serve the same function.
Aren’t there Bears… and Rattle Snakes!?
Yes, there is wildlife. Rattle stakes look aggressive in movies, we’ll see what they;’re like in real life. A few months ago at work I walked past an Eastern Brown Snake, then a few weeks later walked past 2 Red-Bellied Black snakes on a hike… So I think I’m good with Snakes. Bears though, we’ll see how that goes. The last death by bear in the 3 states I’ll be walking through was in 1974, 42 years ago. I think I’ll be ok. You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a bear.
Weather, that could be dangerous. Looks like it’s going to be a ‘average’ snow year, but some of the rivers after that all starts melting are going to be high. Taking care while crossing weighs on my mind more than Bears, Snakes and spiders. Cold Snow, Storms, Raging Rivers, Lack of any rivers at all (one stretch is 30+ miles without water!), desert heat. All things worth more planning for. Weather is the only thing I worry about, and it’s something that you can’t always predict or plan for. Well, that, and being shot by a gun toting American! (I kid I kid, please don’t shoot me.)
I think flora (plants) are going to be interesting too. Poison Oak, Poodle Dog Brush and other stinging plants are probably going to be a sore learning experience. I know what to avoid in the Aussie bush, I’ll have to learn fresh with new species over there. Some portions of the trail have flourishing berries too (like huckleberries) that people pick and eat. I’ll stick to store bought food, until I see first hand other people not die from eating the wrong thing…
What about your Phone Battery?
When hiking I keep mine mostly off. I will use it (hopefully to keep this Blog updated!) and a few other items that need power (GSP Watch, Head Torch, Camera) and I’ll be keeping them charged with a Battery Pack. External Battery with USB in and out, use it on the trail and recharge it when I get to a town. Some people take Solar, but for Hiking I don’t think it’s quite there yet. I actually have a small hiking panel, but I’ve concluded that it’s not great when you’re on the move all the time. Perfect for hiking into a camp or for hikes with small days though.
Are you doing it as a team / group / tag-along?
Nope. Just me. There will be hundreds of other people trying to do the same thing, maybe even a few thousand. All starting within a ~6 week window. There will be plenty of people to meet and hike with along the way. For a hike like this, for 5 months, you’re going to have times where you want to do something different.No question. Maybe I’ll want an extra day camped next to a great creek… or maybe I think this part is boring and want to smash out 40 miles. Maybe I want to do a side trail, taking me off the PCT for a few days. It’s not fair to make anyone wait for me. Hiking with people works only as long as you share the exact same goals. Either way there will be a time where you want to do your own thing, even if for a few short days. There will always be a chance to see friends further down the trail.
What training are you doing?
Ummm…. none… realy… I try to run 5-10k a few times a week, though lately weeks have been busy/I’ve been lazy and I haven’t kept it up. I am a little bit active for work and have some fairly active other activities (I still go hiking/bushwalking, Water Skiing, Scuba Diving) but nothing like training with a weighted pack. I know how fast I can hike currently and plan to go slower on the first week or 2 to ‘ease’ into it. Some train, others do not. In the end I think practice overnight hikes with all your gear and mental readiness are more important than physical training. Just don’t over do it at the start.
Why the PCT, why at all?
Why the PCT? I honestly can’t answer. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Though hiking is something I have only recently (~4 years ago) got back into, it certainly took up a lot of my weekends as a teenager and quite a few recently. With the sale of the house, long service leave ticking over from work, no current other commitments hanging over my head it seemed like a good time to do something. While looking for that something I found the PCT and haven’t looked back.
As for why at all, Why not?
My Quick/Rough PCT Checklist;
- Gear/Clothes/Shoes: I already had all these things, sans Down Jacket which I now have.
- Plan: Mostly finalised, thanks to those helpful sites (listed above.)
- Passport: Had to check it wasn’t going to expire (it won’t until late 2017)
- U.S. Visa: Involved a flight to Sydney and a 50 minute wait for a 50 second interview. I got it a little early and got the 5 year B2 Visa.
- Travel Insurance: One cover. Make sure your policy covers the higher altitudes that can be reached.
- Flights Brisbane, Aus > LA, U.S.: I knew approximately when I wanted to start and hung out for cheap flights. Ended up with Qantas.
- 2 care packages from Australia: Left in the care of my Sister. Currently open in case I think of more stuff I’ll ask her to add.
- Let banks know not to Freeze my cards: I still have to do this one actually….
- Bag to protect Pack in check luggage: Purchased a ‘Laundry Bag’ because Hiking packs have lots of clips/straps that could get caught and broken in transit.
- Phone Plan: Have settled on Cricket Mobile, seems highly recommended by past international hikers and it’s on the ATT network (one of the better coverages.) Best of all, compatible with my current Australian (/Asian market) Samsung S5.
- First day in USA shopping/mailing list: This is going to be hard, not knowing brands etc. At least I’ll have a generic list together. Includes Gas (from REI) for my burner, Food (Supermarket) Lighters and hitting a Post office at some point to send on food.
- First nights accom: Hostel in LA. HI in Santa Monica seems decent (any suggestions?)
- Amtrak Ticket to San Diego: Seemed better than a bus and cheaper than a flight.
- Second night accom: Staying at a Trail Angels in San Diego. These guys are awesome. They’ll put you up for a night, feed you and give you a lift to ste starting point. Look up Scout and Frodo if you plan to do a hike.
- Lift to Southern Terminus: See above.
- PCT Permit: From the PCTA website. They start releasing permits early Feb, get in fast as some days get booked out quick.
- Arrange Bear Cannister: For international hikers, keep your ear to the ground for the Bear Can Loan program. Saves having to buy/rent a ~$70 piece of equipment you’ll never use again.
- Permit to enter Canada: Can be done via email, so you can legally walk into Canada.
Hopefully this can give you an insight to what’s been going through my head.