The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the world’s great walks stretching 2,648 miles from Mexico to Canada. This is my story hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
On weekends while working in San Diego, Nancy and I would take day hikes in the State Parks east of San Diego. One day we crossed the Pacific Crest Trail while hiking in the Laguna Mountains. On a post the distinctive logo designating the trail was plain to see.
The idea of hiking the trail from Mexico to Canada took hold. There was something appealing about hiking for days with little but a backpack and a sheet listing water springs and holes.
Many years later I read several US government publications about the trail. I also read many books containing daily accounts of many travelers. One such traveler is a man called ‘Half Mile’, his trail pseudonym. On the National Geographic half mile series maps he impressed GPS tracks complete with half-mile markers and text describing water holes, package pick-up addresses and distance between cross roads and towns.
And so the idea was born.
Zig-zagging 2,648 miles the PCT spans three states and crosses national Monuments, national parks and forests, Bureau of Land Management land, federally designated wilderness, state and county parks, and tribal lands.
Along the way, it ascends more than fifty major mountain passes and skirts the shore of innumerable bodies of water.
Diversity is what the PCT is about. Sometimes temperatures can soar above 100 F in the deserts and drop below zero in the mountains.
The US Forest Service has overall responsibility for the PCT but trail operations are shared by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Pacific Crest Trail Association.
The PCT is open to foot and horse travel and closed to motorized and bicycle travel. There are a few locations where the trail is routed on highway shoulders and across bridges with motorized traffic.
Wilderness permits are required for most of the congressionally designated wilderness through which the trail passes.
On October 2, 1968 President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Trail System Act, which named the Appalachian Trail and the PCT as the first national scenic trails.
Over the next twenty years, land management agencies, the PCTA and countless volunteers constructed nearly 1,000 miles of trail. In 1993, at a golden spike ceremony in Soledad Canyon, California, the PCT was officially declared open.
The trail has recently been popularized in the book by Cheryl Strayed, ‘Wild’. In 2014 a movie starring Reese Witherspoon was released.
In 2014 at a jamboree at Lake Moreno, twenty miles by trail north of the Mexican border, 1,300 people registered to hike the whole trail in one season, approximately five months. Such a walk is quite an achievement. I chose to section hike and to do so over several years.
There are two groups that deserve particular attention. One is the ‘Pacific Crest Trail Association’ and the other the ‘Trail Angels’:
The PCTA maintains and excellent website where information about trail conditions, weather, food drop location, water reports, maps and much more can be found. The site is www.pcta.org
The Trail Angels are a generous group of individuals who live in the many small towns the trail passes by. They ferry tired hikers to motels, sometimes provide accommodation, showers and laundry facilities and are depots for hiker food packages.
Water is foremost on a hiker’s mind:
A hiker always knows the distance too the next water. On a hot day in California, a hiker may need to carry six liters to get over high mountain passes. During the height of the trekking season, local trail angels stock water caches in strategic locations. It is always a good idea to filter suspect water.
In northern Washington, late in the season, water availability is not a problem. It is everywhere! On the section from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass I walked for seven days through heavy rain.
Hiker Trail Names:
Most through-hikers have trail names assigned by others. Some younger hikers have trail names that only the young can carry.
I met a young American while walking in Oregon. His name is ‘Waffleman’. He wore his shoes out while hiking in Washington. Undaunted, he cut sole pads from an expired sleeping mattress and strapped them to his shoes. In softer ground he left imprints like a waffle iron. Hence the name which he wore with pride.
Another was a New Zealander called ‘Donkey Legs’. I met ‘Donkey Legs’ north of Big Bear City, California in the spring. At first I concluded the name had its origin in his gangly appearance although I suspected differently. He was heading north as I was. I asked to walk with him a while. ‘Donkey Legs’ set the pace which I soon found blithering. I could not keep up. I lasted for half an hour before settling into my daily fifteen miles while ‘Donkey Legs’ strode off to make his twenty five.
That’s no pace for a sixty-nine year old!
I met ‘Donkey Legs’ again in the fall. I rejoined the trail at White Pass in Washington and headed south to the Columbia River. He was surprised to see me as I was him. Later I read in the PCT log that ‘Donkey Legs’ completed his hike to Canada. With legs like that, no wonder!
My trail name is ‘Bucket’. The name was assigned to me by a non-hiker. At a social function in Vancouver, the conversation turned to assigning me a trail name. After much horsing around, someone mentioned that older guys take on trips much as Morgan Freeman did. It did not take long for my new trail name to morph to ‘Bucket’. I was given a new handle!
My trip began at the Canada/US border at the 49th parallel eight miles south of the Manning Park. This was a short forty mile section south to Harts Pass.
Hikers are required to carry documents to enter either the US or Canada.
As the border is unmanned, the likelihood of being apprehended is remote. The penalties for not following the rules, if caught, can be severe. There are a few Canadian pot growers languishing in Washington jails!
The Canada/US border is the longest undefended border in the world. The marker here is at Mile 2,648, the northern terminus of the trail.
The swath you see here is common along the tree clad areas the 49th parallel passes through.
This is the only section I did not walked solo.
Luke Wendel and his son Ben from San Diego, joined me on this 30 mile leg. We drove from Vancouver to the trail head at Harts Pass. We left the car at the US Ranger Station there hoping to hitch hike back from Rainy Pass. That turned out to be a problem. Eventually a tourist from Switzerland picked up a grizzly me.
The Cascade Mountains are rugged. Here you can see the trail wending across the mountain side.
Some of the trail was easy.
Some was not so easy. It zig-zagged on the mountainside and was mostly overgrown.
Hiking through the windfalls up Agnes Creek was brutal. Heavy winds blew thousands of trees across the trail. Some trees were stacked twenty feet high and were difficult to pass through with a loaded pack. That day I covered less than five miles.
I met a couple from Seattle who were also cautious about crossing the Suiattle River.
The old bridge was washed out. Fortunately a tree fell across the river and created a bridge we were able to shinny across on our backsides.
The river began on a glacier on the side of Granite Mountain high above us.
The Forest Service recently built a new bridge downstream of our crossing here.
Marmots, deer, elk and rabbits crossed the trail often.
Rain, rain and more rain! It rained for seven days!
When it wasn’t raining hiking over gentle passes like this was common.
The trail passes by many emerald coloured lakes like this.
A tent-fly worked well when it wasn’t snowing. More about that later!