“The Mountains Are Calling, And I Must Go.”
John Muir may have first said those words, but they ring no less true to me. And next year, I’ll see up-close the mountains that spawned that famous quote, as I embark on my second epic-length hike: a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Why the Pacific Crest Trail?
A week into my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2016, in Hiawassee, Georgia, I met “Squirrel”, who had completed the Triple Crown of Hiking: a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. At the time, I thought it was a crazy thing to do. (Setting aside the fact that thru-hiking even one of those trails is a pretty crazy thing to do, and I was in the process of doing just that.)
But, the seed was planted. Sometime later in my AT thru-hike — I forget when, exactly — I knew that the Appalachian Trail was not going to be my only long-distance hiking endeavor. The Triple Crown was a tantalizing achievement, and being somewhat of a completionist, the Appalachian Trail needed a proper follow-up.
That follow-up started with a few local day hikes and a thru-hike of Vermont’s Long Trail in 2017, which was easily the most rugged stretch of hiking I’ve done outside of the White Mountains. But now, after 3,000 miles of hiking on the east coast, it’s time to shift my gaze west.
About the Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail is roughly 2650 miles long, stretching from the US/Mexico border near Campo, California, to Boundary Monument 78 on the US/Canada border. The trail then continues another nine miles to end in Manning Park, Canada.
In the process, the trail crosses seven hundred miles of southern California desert, before entering the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. In the High Sierra, the trail passes near Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States, and crosses many national parks and forests along its route through California, Oregon, Washington, and into Canada.
A New Challenge
In comparison to the Appalachian and Long Trails, the Pacific Crest Trail (which is longer than both of them combined) brings three major challenges: remoteness, the desert, and high elevation.
The Appalachian Trail, while wilderness and remote, is not really that remote. The PCT, however, spends most of its length fairly removed from civilization. Resupply locations are fewer, further between, and farther off-trail when they occur.
In contrast to the AT, which is often described as the “Green Tunnel” due to its nearly ever-present foliage, the southern quarter of the PCT is desert. This means, no shade, and little water. On the AT, I rarely needed to carry more than a few liters of water on the AT. But water sources on the PCT, particularly in the desert, are further apart, and substantial water carries will be necessary.
The high point of the Appalachian Trail is Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies, at 6,643 ft. The highest point on the PCT is Forester Pass at 13,200 ft (shy of Mt. Whitney’s 14,498 ft). This will make a significant portion of this hike at a far higher altitude than I ever encountered on the AT.
All these details, and more, make the PCT a very different hike than either the Appalachian or Long Trails. But I'm looking forward to the challenge.
I did relatively little preparation for my AT hike (going from idea to trail in six weeks), but the PCT demands far more thought and planning. So, I started actively planning for the PCT in late August, though I had been vaguely investigating for the better part of the last year.
Next spring, I’ll be back on the trail for another grand adventure. Until then, I’ll be writing about my planning process for the Pacific Crest Trail. You can follow along right here on longstride.net, or on Facebook, or Twitter. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the journey as much as I will!