We interrupt your (ir)regularly scheduled programming with an update on our plans for 2017. Yep, that’s right, we have a plan! Or at least the outlines of one; a goal to be more specific. We are planning to hike from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Apparently, hiking 550 miles along the Camino de Santiago, 100 km on the MacLehose trail, and climbing Toubkal and Kilimanjaro wasn’t enough for us in 2016 — we’re looking to do significantly more hiking in 2017.
We will blog more about the PCT and our preparations to hike the trail as we get closer to our expected start date. For now, I’ve included a few general FAQ-type explanations of our plans below, including the all important why.
What is the PCT?
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650 mile wilderness trail running through California, Oregon, and Washington. The trail runs roughly along the highest portions of the Sierra-Nevada and Cascade mountains, although it also traverses the Southern California desert.
Why are we doing this?
We hiked a portion of the PCT in the summer of 2015, when we spent 14 days hiking the 211-mile John Muir Trail (JMT) in the Sierras. Hiking the JMT was an empowering experience for me. I remember hearing about the trail from one of my debate coaches when I was in high school and thinking that completing the trail sounded like a super human feat. Yet, I managed to hike it. By the end of the trail I felt so strong and in tune with my body — I knew that this was something that I wanted to do again.
While hiking the JMT, we discussed hiking the 550-mile Camino de Santiago the next summer. We fantasized over the cold beers that we would drink at the end of each day’s walking in Spain and the daily showers that would be available to us. Less than one year later, we learned three important lessons from the Camino de Santiago. First, we were capable of hiking 550 miles. Second, we craved the independence that hiking in the wilderness the prior summer had afforded us — we had more control over our days and could stop to make camp whenever we wanted on the JMT. And third, maybe hiking the PCT wasn’t such a bad idea after all. An additional forth lesson might be that my mind tends to dream up new goals for myself when I’m hiking 😉
There’s something very liberating about having quit our jobs and given up our apartment to travel. Not only in the obvious way, that travel in and of itself is liberating. But also because we’ve put ourselves in the position to do anything — including my seemingly impossible dream of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. This dream seemed so unlikely that, even though I’ve been following the blogs of PCT hikers for years and hiked the JMT in 2015, I was afraid to acknowledge to others (let alone myself) that it was something that I wanted to do. Most people have to change their lives to follow their dream and hike the PCT; I’ve already made those changes. It is now or never.
Where does the PCT start/end?
We’ll be hiking northbound. This means that we’ll start at its southern terminus, which is at the US/Mexico border near the small town of Campo, California. If all goes according to plan, we’ll finish the PCT at the northern terminus along the US/Canada border and then continue hiking another 7 miles or so to Manning Park in British Columbia, Canada.
When will we start hiking the PCT?
Our plan is to start hiking in mid-April, with April 18 being our current goal date. Due to a recent rise in the number of people hiking the PCT, the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) now limits the number of permits issued to 50 hikers per start date. This is intended to limit the impact that large number of hikers have on the trail ecosystem and to discourage large “bubbles” of hikers, especially in Southern California. While we are aware of some hikers starting on the date of their choosing rather than their official permit date, we intend to follow the rules. We’re still waiting for information on when the permit lottery will open (likely in early February).
How long will it take us to hike the PCT?
It can take anywhere from 4-6 months for hikers to complete the PCT. The current record for a supported PCT hike is 52 days. We will not come close to that record. Our goal is to finish in five months, by mid-September, so that we’ll be done hiking before northern Washington is covered in snow. Our estimate includes our plans to leave the trail twice to attend weddings on the East Coast. I’m still trying to figuring out if my trail running shoes will match my dresses 😉 But really…
When will we return to the US?
Our current “plan” for 2017 is to continue traveling internationally until the end of March. While it would be great to have more time at home to prepare for our hike and see family and friends, we face ACA tax liability if we return any sooner since we have not had a qualifying medical insurance plan during our travels. You gotta love it when your travel planning includes studying the tax codes!
What will we eat on the PCT?
Food. Lots of it. We’re actually still trying to figure this out. More on this to come.
What will we bring? Our packs must be huge, right?
Gear is a favorite topic amongst hikers and we’ll be posting more about our gear selection once we’re back in the US. We hope to keep our base weight (pack weight without food, water, and fuel) down to around 12 pounds each — so not the huge packs that Hollywood is obsessed with portraying. Keeping our packs light will help us hike further each day and will reduce the risk of injury. Our base weight when we hiked the JMT was about 14/16 pounds and we’ve made some gear changes that should bring this number down further.
Are you afraid of bears? Murderers? Rattlesnakes? Snow? Sasquatch?
Nope. Injury is my biggest fear at this point. Overuse injuries such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and tendinitis are currently my nightmares that float around in my head. We’ll be taking it easy for the first few weeks to let our bodies get used to hiking day in and day out to hopefully help reduce our injury risk.
How many people start/finish the PCT each year?
The data on this is inexact because no one officially counts who starts the trail or who finishes without skipping around. The PCTA reports that in 2016, they issued 3164 permits for people to hike the entire trail heading northbound. By the end of the year, 684 people self-reported to the PCTA that they had completed their northbound thru-hike attempt. That’s a 21.6% completion rate. Of course, some people who applied for a permit may not have eventually started and people who finished may not have reported it to the PCTA (and, conversely, some who skipped around may have reported that they finished). It all probably evens out though. Needless to say, there are lots of people who leave the trail for one reason or another.
Will we continue to blog from the trail?
I hope so. We’re still trying to figure out what that will look like, but I’d like to have some way to record our journey so that I have something to look back on.
Is this the trail from Wild — the book/movie with Reese Witherspoon? Are we hiking because of Wild?
Yes, this is the same trail, although in the book Cheryl Strayed did not start at the southern terminus, skipped the Sierras, and didn’t hike Washington. No, we’re not hiking because of Wild. We have been backpacking since long before the movie came out. If anything, my fascination with hiking the entire PCT stems from blogs that I’ve read of normal people taking on this seemingly impossible task and from the 1975 book by Willian R. Grey (creatively titled The Pacific Crest Trail) that was sitting on my Dad’s bookshelf. Thanks Dad!
Any other questions about our plan to hike the PCT?