Where and what is the PCT?
The Pacific Crest Trail (or PCT for short)is a continuous hiking trail which which goes from the border of Mexico (near Campo, CA) to just across the border of Canada (Manning Park). It passes near the southern california desserts, up across the heights of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and on through the cascade mountains of Oregon and Washington.
How long is it?
It’s about 2650 miles long. Although, most people end up taking side trips into towns and over to some places of special interest. That usually puts the trip at roughly 2700miles.
How long does it take to do the whole thing?
I hiked it in 5 and a half months, but that included a lot of goofing off. 4.5 months is very “do-able”. The fastest it can be hiked is about 3 months, but that means 30+ miles/day and no time off. The longest one can safely take is about 6 and a half months.
When did you leave and finish?
I started hiking on April 17, 1999.
I finished on Oct 2, 1999.
How many miles per day did you hike?
On a full day of hiking I usually went 24 miles. Although, a lot of days were only half-days (coming out of town, etc.) The farthest I hiked in a day was ~32 miles.
How much did your pack weigh?
Without food and water, ~20-23 pounds (changed depending on equipment). I carried about 2.3 pounds of food per day. Water weighs about 2 pounds per liter (or quart).
How did keep yourself supplied?
The PCT passes through or near a number of small towns that usually have at least a post office or a store. One can mail resupply packages ahead to oneself / general delivery.
How many people do this each year?
In 1999, somewhere around 250 attempted it. Only about 60-70 of those actually made it to Canada. I don’t know how many of those people actually hiked the whole trail (some skipped around a lot)
How high in elevation does it get?
Forester Pass is at 13200feet. The PCT passes a few miles from the summit of Mt. Whitney in California, which at 14,496 feet is the highest point in the lower 48 states. Many PCT hikers make a side trip to the top of Mt. Whitney (I did).
What kind of map/directions did you have?
Wilderness Press puts out the best guide to the PCT (2 volumes). These books include topographic maps and text descriptions of the trail. I sliced up the books, and included the appropriate sections in my re-supply packages.
How long has the PCT “been around”?
The idea for the PCT has been around since around 1930. The trail was “made official” in 1965 and 1968 and 1972 and finally in 1993. It does undergo minor changes from year to year. I’m sure someone will find it necessary to re-dedicate again in a few years.
Did you hike south to north? north to south? does it matter?
I went south to north… essentially “chasing the spring” as it worked its way north. South to North is an easier route for a variety of reasons. Some people do the trail North to South. They usually start a little later and go quicker. In 1999, nobody hiked the whole trail North to South. There was just too much snow in the North Cascades.
How does the PCT compare with the Appalachian Trail (AT)?
The PCT is longer, more remote, less populated, and achieves higher elevations. The trail of the AT however is a steeper grade, and there’s a lot more up and down and up and down. I think that one actually climbs more vertical feet on the AT. The AT is also a lot more humid. The AT has been around a lot longer, and is more widely known. Something like 1000 people “try” the AT each year. Also, the PCT allows pack animals and horses, the AT only allows people.
Did you do this alone? Why?
Yes and no. I was completely self-sufficient. But, there were a lot of other hikers on similar schedules. I spent a lot of time hiking with other people, more for companionship than anything else.
What kind of foods did you eat?
Lots of pasta and candy bars. Check out the Equipment section.
Did you carry a phone or a radio or GPS receiver?
No. Keep in mind this was 1999, and cell phone service was spotty at best. But more than that, part of the reason I did this hike was to disconnect from the virtual world, and reconnect with the real one. All those gadgets are distractions. Yes, a cell phone can also be a practical tool, and a great safety aid, but in 1999, not so much. But a radio? a distraction. GPS? unnecessary. Gun? Dangerous, heavy and unnecessary. It’s been said that “we pack our fears”. If you fear the cold, you’ll pack too much warm stuff. If you fear being thirsty, you’ll carry too much water, and on and on. It’s really important on a long hike like the PCT to figure out which fears are rational.
What equipment did you bring?
I should note that I hiked the PCT in 1999, and a LOT has changed wrt/ equipment since then. If I had to do the trail over again, I would change some things (for example, bringing an Alcohol stove). But this list is what it is… my thoughts about what I brought in 1999.
I used a Mountainsmith Mountainlight 5000. I was very happy with the performance of this pack. After 2650 miles, the only bit of wear it shows is a little on the bottom seam, which connects the waist pad with the backpack. I put a little duct tape over this seam to protect it from further wear.The backpack only weighed 4 pounds empty, 2-3 pounds lighter than manufactured backpacks of similar size. I liked the “air-flow” back pad, it allowed air to circulate through the center of the back. It kept me cooler and a lot less sweaty.I also liked the independent left/right adjustable suspension. I was able to get the backpack balanced “just right” for my frame.One other feature which I really liked was the quick-release ice axe strap. When I needed my ice axe, I was usually not in a place where I could safely remove the pack. With this feature, I was able to just pull the ice axe off. Some other hikers I met agreed that this was a slick feature.
I used a Feathered Friends Swallow. I got one with a dryloft (waterproof) shell. The bag worked great. It was rated to 20F. I spent a few nights in lower temperatures, but I was never cold. It helped to wear dry socks and a lot of clothing while sleeping.I often slept outside without a tent. Even when I had a dewy night (and there were lots of them on the PCT), the down inside the bag didn’t get wet. Although, if I stuffed the bag when the shell was still wet, the down would pick up some moisture. I had to throw it in an automatic dryer every now and then.One thing about the dryloft… if the down did get wet, the dryloft made it harder to dry.
I used a Wanderlust Nomad-lite. It worked great. Thanks, Kurt. The actual tent I used wasn’t even sown perfectly… I was planning to get a replacement, but my schedule prevented it. After a few rough snowy nights, I realized that this tent would do just fine. If I have any complaint, it’s that the tent was really noisy in the wind. Getting it to set up taught was an art form. Even when it was “as taught as could be”, it would flap in the wind.
I started out with a pair of Solomon Inca Low’s (kinda like ruggadized sneakers), which I wore all the way to Tehachapi. They had only developed one hole in the fabric, the rest of the shoes were in perfect working order. I only switched because I wanted boots for the snow.I wore a pair of Vasque gore-tex-lined boots in the Sierra. I developed some blisters on the backs of my heels after switching to the boots, but the blisters soon healed. Although people often say “you either get wet from the outside or from the inside” (meaning that any waterproofness of gore-tex is negated by the lack of ventilation it allows), I found the waterproofing very valuable. I had to slosh through wet trails and snow fields for miles at a time. Sure, my feet eventually got wet, but it took longer, and they got less wet. I was able to enjoy more hours of happy dry feet with the gore-tex. The ventilation problem did contribute to some nasty foot odors though. I should have aired-out my boots more often. I sent the boots home at Sierra city, then picked them back up at Snoqualmie Pass and wore them to the border. By the end of the trip, they were pretty trashed. The leather by the toe joints started cracking, and the rubber soles were falling off the toes. I did wear them through the roughest parts of the trail though, so I can’t complain.I switched to another pair of Solomon Inca Low’s at Sierra City. They were trashed by White Pass. They lasted a long time, and were always comfortable. No complaints.I wore a pair of Nike running shoes from White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. They’re fine shoes for running, but I’d never hike with them again. My toes were in serious pain by the time I reached Snoqualmie Pass. If my foot fell on anything other than level terrain (like a road), my toes jammed into the top of the shoes. A full day of this can be painful
I started out with a bit generic REI water container, and a platypus drinking bag. The cheap-o REI container started leaking after a week. The bite valve on the platypus started leaking after a couple weeks. I switched to “off the shelf” plastic spring water bottles for my “extra capacity”, and a Camelbak for my “water at hand”. The Camelbak bite valve worked a lot better. I bought it at South Lake Tahoe, and it’s still fine.
I wore gaiters. I started with a pair of “OR” ankle gaiters. They lasted to South Lake Tahoe, then the snaps broke off. I switched to a pair of Black Diamond ankle gaiters. The snaps were more durable… although the fabric started to fall apart by the time I reached Canada. I tried walking without gaiters for a short while… never again. I had to stop every 5 minutes to dig rocks out of my shoes.
I started out with a 3/4 length z-rest. By the time I reached Castella, it was pretty darn flat. I got a new one… full length. I liked the extra length, and couldn’t tell that it weighed more. I liked the way the z-rest can be folded into many different configurations – they make excellent seat pads.
I wore a hat by “sunday afternoons”. It had a neck flap which could be worn “up” with a velcro attachment. A lot of people asked me about it. If you want one, call 1-888-U-PICNIC.
I used an MSR whisperlite international. It was a little heavy, but it worked well. I couldn’t really find a lighter stove before the start of the trip anyway. I had to clean the jet twice during the trip. I used gasoline half the time and white gas the other times. Before I started, I figured gasoline would be an easier fuel to find… actually, white gas was available in just as many places.
I used an Evernew Titanium pot. This seemed to be the unofficial pot of the PCT, a lot of people had them. I think the pot has a somewhat no-stick surface too. For weight and durability, it’s hard to beat.
I started out carrying a pair of Teva sandals for use “around camp”. they were kind of heavy, so I switched to some more flimsy slippers. In an effort to keep my boots dry, I tried using the slippers to cross streams, but I found that good footing was more important than dry feet. By northern california I decided that I didn’t need the slippers (I don’t know why it took me so long to decide that). Anyway, I got rid of them and was fine with it.
Merino Wool – don’t skimp! (but don’t pay full (i.e. REI) price either!)
Fleece, parka, etc
I started out with a really light fleece, and wore a thin nylon jacket over the top of it for extra wind protection. At lake tahoe, I switched to a windstopper fleece. The windstopper fleece was really warm and just plain awesome. I’d also highly recommend windstopper gloves and a windstopper hat. I had a parka that weighed 1 pound – it was made with a gore-tex substitute.