On August 31, 2002 I arrived at Monument 78 on the U.S.-Canadian border, having hiked 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada! The trip was amazing, and the entire four-month trek went almost without a hitch. Shortly thereafter, I created website overview of the trail, the planning involved in thru-hiking it, and my experiences. Back in my poor grad student days, hosting large pictures on my website wasn’t in my budget, so if I did things today, I would’ve done the website very differently. Perhaps some day I’ll update the website, but for now it is kept essentially as is.
About The Pacific Crest Trail
One of eight National Scenic Trails, the PCT stretches 2650 miles from the Mexican to the Canadian border through California, Oregon and Washington. The trail attempts to follow the crest of several mountain ranges, most prominently the Sierra Nevadas and the Cascades. It goes through thirty-three federal wilderness areas, twenty-four national forests, seven national parks, and five state parks. The trail peaks at over 13,000 feet above sea level in the Sierras, and drops as low as a couple hundred feet when crossing the Columbia River. Almost every major climatic zone in the continental U.S. is represented at some point along the trail, with desert sections, alpine sections and temperate rainforests.
While many hikers in the Western U.S. have at some point done sections of the PCT, very few have completed the entire trail, and even fewer have done so in a single year. While estimates vary, the total number of hikers who have completed the entire trail was around two thousand in the entire history of the trail at the time I hiked in 2002 (fewer than the number each year who complete the more famous, and more congested, Appalachian Trail). 2002 was a banner year for thru-hikers, with 300+ attempts and over 100 people completing the entire trail — although these numbers are rough estimates.
As a Scout I first hiked part of the PCT in 1989, completing the northernmost section of the trail from Rainy Pass to Manning Park. While section hikers can hike a rather leisurely 15 miles a day or so, in order to complete the trail in its entirety in one season, a hiker must put in many more miles a day. I completed it in 105 days, averaging more than twenty-five miles a day — and that includes two full rest days and many partial days. For me there were two keys to doing this: pack weight and food.
My base pack weight, excluding food and water, was approximately ten pounds. I rarely carried more than twenty or twenty-five pounds total. I worked hard planning and assembling lightweight gear, paring down what I carried to only that which was absolutely essential. While most ‘serious’ backpacks weigh four pounds or more, mine weighed less than a pound. My sleeping bag, my single heaviest piece of gear, weighed 1 1/4 pounds. My second heaviest piece of gear was my second camera (my first broke part way through the High Sierras) which weighed about 1 pound. My entire cookset, including fuel and pot, weighed less than 8 ounces. Having a light pack allowed me to use trail running shoes rather than hiking boots without fear of twisting an ankle.
The other vitally important thing was food – I ate over 6000 calories a day on average, and managed to only lose two pounds on the trail–which is a good thing because I didn’t really start with any extra weight I could safely lose. The bulk of my food was bought and packaged before hitting the trail. My good friends Jeff and Rachel shipped the packages out and I picked them up at post offices and resorts along the way. Unlike many other hikers I did not have a single problem with any of my packages; Jeff and Rachel (and the postal service) came through for all 27 packages. My staples were couscous and mashed potatoes, I had granola for breakfast every morning and lunches centered around peanut butter (peanut butter, honey and tortillas, PB&J on bagels). I ate more than 300 candy bars and trail mix consisting of 15 pounds of pecans, walnuts and cashews and 10 pounds of chocolate chips