Quick Adventure Facts:
Who - Joe (see gear list)
What - Pacific Crest Trail Thru-hike
When - April 29th to September 22nd 2007 | 147 Days
With a southern terminus at the Mexican border just south of Campo, California, the Pacific Crest Trail gently meanders through the desert mountains of Southern California before making its way through the stunning Sierras. The trail continues north through Oregon and the Cascade mountains of Washington State before terminating at the Canadian border. The PCT is routinely regarded as the most scenic of the three trails that make up the Triple Crown.Length
The Pacific Crest Trail spans roughly 2,663 miles (4286 km) across 3 states as it heads from Mexico to Canada.Terrain
The PCT is a joy to hike. The entire PCT is designed to allow pack animals like horses or mules to traverse it. What this means is it is well graded with few very steep sections and no rocky scrambles. You will ascend and descend very gradually for miles at a time rather than going straight up and over anything.
The PCT normally contours around mountains and rarely goes over summits except on optional side trails. It is not uncommon to walk 25 to 30 miles in a day once you get into the swing of things.
The PCT is very well maintained due to many volunteers. There are few roots or rocks, and since it is so dry it doesn't get overgrown very quickly.
The trail itself may not always be marked, but it is well worn and easy to follow. You will only occasionally need to check your maps or compass to stay on track. There are some relatively long sections between resupply, and managing water can be an issue.
Most of the PCT is open and exposed. This means you get great views all the time, but you are also in the sun all day long. Long sleeves, pants, and a sun hat are a good idea.
The first 700 miles or so of the PCT primarily travels through high desert in southern California.
Eventually the PCT exits the desert and ascends into the High Sierras, one of the most remote and highest elevation areas in the US. There will likely be snow fields left from the previous winter. Icy passes, swollen river crossings, lightning storms, and hordes of mosquitoes can all be hazards in the Sierras.
In Oregon you will see dormant volcanoes, cross lava fields, pass by hundreds of pristine lakes, and millions of pine trees. You’ll be able to go for a swim almost every day in Oregon.
The mountains in Washington are nearly as spectacular as the high Sierras, but don't delay or the weather turns rainy, or worse you could get snowed out and be forced to end your hike early.
The PCT has some sections that are pretty remote, and help is not always easy to come by. There are only a couple shelters on the PCT so you must rely on your own tent or tarp.Weather
Temperatures in the desert can get up to the 90's Fahrenheit (30's Celsius) in the day, and can drop below freezing at night. Much of the time you are up high in the mountains, so the temperature isn't always unbearable. Many hikers try to walk early in the morning or late at night, and take a siesta under a bush or behind a rock during the hottest part of the day. Some sections have very few trees.
The nights are almost always chilly, or outright cold. It is possible to get a freak snow storm even in the desert. Don't underestimate how cold it can be in the desert.
You may also encounter snow in the High Sierras if you are early, and again in Washington state if you don't finish soon enough.
Rain is scarce on the PCT. If you are lucky it might only rain 5-10 times on the whole five month trip, but you still need to be prepared for storms.
The PCT can be extremely windy, especially in the desert or when camped up high. Be prepared to camp in wind that gusts all night.
On the PCT you don't want to start too early, or you will reach the High Sierra mountains before the snow has melted sufficiently enough to pass through. You also have to move relatively quickly because the snow storms can start in northern Washington in mid to late September. Most hikers begin the PCT in mid to late April and take roughly five months to complete the trail.Logistics
Both termini of the PCT are in fairly remote areas. You can arrange a shuttle from San Diego to the Southern Terminus but the Northern Terminus requires additional hiking into Manning Park (border crossing permit required) to arrange a ride home; usually through Vancouver or Seattle.Resupply
Water is scarce in the desert, but there are numerous man-made water sources such as faucets at campgrounds, or water caches (jugs of water) left by trail angels at road crossings. You occasionally are required to go 20-30 miles between water sources requiring you to carry up to 5-6 liters (13 lbs) of water. Most of the long carries can be done in a day.
Trail towns and resupply are generally about 4-6 days apart. The longest section is around 180 miles through the High Sierra mountains. It took us 11 days, including a summit of the lower US's highest peak, Mount Whitney. There are a couple places where you can hike out of the High Sierras to break it up with a resupply, but that requires extra days and miles on side trails.Gear
On the PCT you need to be prepared for temperatures from below freezing to hot and exposed. It doesn't rain very often but you need at least minimal rain gear and shelter. It can be very windy. There are a few sections where you may need to carry 20-25 lbs of food and water in addition to your gear. If your base gear weight is under 10lbs you can do the PCT w/o going over 30-35 lbs total.
By: Joe Valesko
If I was going to do the trail again, I'd take my current 3 season set up. You can check it out here.
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