The Pacific Crest Trail, also known as the PCT, is the second-longest continuous trail in the country. The trail encompasses the entire west coast similar to the way in which the Appalachian Trail stretches through the east, starting from Mexico and ending at Canada's border. The landscapes that hikers will see are similar to that which the early pioneers of the country's west saw during their first exploration of the land; many of which were photographed by famed photographer Ansel Adams in all their natural glory.
The hike is not an easy one but it is worthy of the effort and time one would put in as a thru-hiker. The range of terrains can vary anywhere from desert settings to snow-capped mountains, meaning hikers must be well-prepared to encounter a number of conditions. In total, the trail spans roughly 2,650 miles through the most scenic and beautiful of western U.S. states.
Natural Threats On The PCT Aren't What Most Hikers Expect
When we think of hiking alone through a trail that spans from one country through to another, the first threat that comes to mind is probably something pretty extreme. Of course, there's danger involved in any major endeavor such as this - but on the PCT, it's not likely what you think.
For example, some might be fearful of the wildlife that exists in this vast wilderness but, in reality, it's rare to see so much as a mountain lion and unlikely that a hiker would run into a bear. Hikers should consider more the event of a sudden thunderstorm during which lightning is a concern, as well bees that might defend their territory. Rattlesnake sightings are more common, which means hikers should always be alert and aware.
Water Can Sometimes Be Scarce So Be Prepared
A trail can stretch on for up to 30 miles before a water source is found. It would also be naive to think that running out of water only happens in desert terrain, as this can happen anywhere along the PCT that's remote and dry.
Occasionally, hikers will encounter full, unused jugs of water that are left along the trail by people called 'trail angels,' but it's not something to rely upon heavily. Being aware of the forthcoming stretches of trail and having at least two liters of water in your pack is the best way to combat this issue.
Some Stop-Off Points Include Hostels And Motels
A hiker who has committed to hiking the PCT isn't likely planning on spending every night on the hike in a motel or hostel, but it is nice to know they exist. When it comes to the basics such as showering, sleeping in a (comfortable) bed, and general recovery time, motels and hostels are a necessity for some.
The majority of the thru-hike will be spent in a tent out in the wild but there will be towns to stop off in, and these are perfect for resupplying and grabbing a good night's rest. And there's no shame in doing so!
Deciding At Which End To Start And The Ideal Timeline
On average, it will take a typical hiker anywhere from four to six months, according to Backpacker, to hike the entire PCT. Therefore, it's so important to determine a personal timeline ahead of time; this is not to say that there won't be amendments along the way, but having a goal and staying on track is helpful.
Additionally, determining at which end to start is equally as important as each end requires different timing based on inhospitable weather conditions later or earlier in the year. If a hiker is heading northbound to Canada, they should start in late April. If they're heading southbound to Mexico, they should be starting in late June. Backpacker also states that about 90% of all thru-hikers start by heading northbound.
Obtaining (All Three) Permits
Thru-hiking requires a permit and when a hiker is tackling such a long stretch of trail, it can require obtaining multiple permits. In the case of hiking the PCT, three are needed: a thru-hiker permit for those intending on hiking 500 or more consecutive miles, a northbound permit that allows hikers to enter Canada, and a California Fire Permit which allows hikers to cook and boil food in the state. Important: Campfires are not permitted anywhere in Southern California or wildfire-prone areas.
Essentials To Pack
Some essentials for a thru-hike are similar to that of day or overnight hikes, but many are not such common sense items. The complete list of these includes:
- Topographic map
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, and possibly a wide-brim hat
- Headlamp + extra batteries
- Water filtration system
- Lighters or matches + backups
- Duct tape
- Toilet paper, toothbrush, and toothpaste
- First-aid kit
- Plastic bags or other containers
- Permits and passport
- Lightweight blanket such as mylar
- Vaseline for chafing and starting fires
Food And Resupply Stops, As Well As Mailing Supplies
One of the most common questions people ask of thru-hiking is how on earth one person is meant to carry enough supplies for a six-month hike.
The answer to that lies in the magic of resupply stops which are towns (or any form of civilization) to which hikers can make an easy detour in order to stock up. Additionally, packages can be sent to these resupply stops so that nothing needs to be purchased; it's worth it to mark these on a map prior to hiking.