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Date: Wed, Sep 16th, 2009
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Pacific Crest Trail Map
This entry is for anyone considering the PCT. I read some blogs prior to the hike in an attempt to collect some information. The internet is a vast wasteland in this department. So keeping in mind that my opinions are just that, here are a few things that I will weigh in on.
- Don't try to go ultra-light in one go. A pack under 10 pounds should only be attempted by someone who has lots of experience in the field with a pack under 10 pounds. If you must go this light, do as many weekend trips as possible in various weather conditions. Otherwise, be content with a base weigh in the 10-16 pound range.
- Bring a tent for the high Sierras, maybe for the northern Cascades too. Some sort of tarp or bivvy is needed for S. Cal and N. Cal. You won't get much or even any rain, but you need to be ready for it. Crossing San Jacinto without a shelter is crazy.
- Frameless packs are not worth the weight savings. Get something with some rigidity. Perhaps they make frameless packs that you can use a tent pole as the stay.
- If you have normal balance and ankles, you really don't need trekking poles on most of the trail, but they certainly help at times. Bring two for sure through the high Sierras, but otherwise go with whatever you are comfortable with: two, one, or none.
- I didn't have one, but if I had to do it again, I would bring one of those mylar covered umbrellas for the desert. Elsewhere I just don't see them important enough to be worth the weight. Rain gear is good enough on it's own to keep you warm. Relying only on an umbrella without rain gear is asking for trouble, unless you have loads of experience with that setup.
- If you've used gaitors in the past and love them, bring them. Otherwise, there is no reason to buy them.
- Your feet will be wet for days on end in the high Sierras and possibly the northern Cascades. Bring socks that will keep your feet warm even when they are wet all day. I used wool, there may be better products out there. Check it out.
- White liner gloves are good for sun protection during the absolute hottest part of the day and perform nicely in the cold. Add some sort of waterproof shell mitt or glove and you'd be all set for the cold and wet areas.
- Oh, the iceaxe question. It's going to depend on the year. For comparison, you can look online at the snowpack from the 2009 season and know that I left Kennedy Meadows on June 2nd without an iceaxe. There weren't any moments where I regretted not having one. When in doubt, I would recommend waiting longer to enter (planning your start date accordingly) rather than bring an iceaxe.
- Those micro spikes are a neat little product, they work, but they are simply not worth the weight. Switching into boots, instead of shoes, would be a smarter choice. I could see how boots would give you a much better edge for traverses and the ability to kick better holds in spots.
- I'm not sure how or why, but there are people on the PCT without proper sunhats. Don't be one of them.
- I had zero foot problems. No blisters. None! Until your feet get nice and toughened up, which should be by Kennedy Meadows, change your socks often. I rotated my thin hiking socks and changed them practically every hour, drying a pair on my pack as I walked in the other pair. In the desert, wash your socks with soap every few days, the more often the better. If you wear the cleanest driest socks possible, you will have far less foot troubles. Beware of tape, moleskin, or anything you put on your feet. It will change the way you walk, which will just cause a different problem. Go slower until you are positive your feet can handle an all day pounding without stopping.
- Superfeet are worth the money. You don't need to replace them like shoes, since there is no compression. When they crack is when you replace them. My pair lasted the entire way.
- I went through 4 pairs of shoes, which is pretty typical I think. The wet conditions of the high Sierras will trash your shoes quickly, otherwise they'll still look ok when you chuck them . . . but it must be done.
- 1.5 US sizes larger than normal was the right shoe size for me. I went with 2 sizes larger (bought them in advance on clearance), which worked fine, but 1.5 would have been perfect
FOOD and COOKING
- There is a ton of information on this, most of it I found pretty reliable. Just mix and match a system that works for you. I bought in towns when possible. Places rated as "hard resupplies" are generally better than you'd expect. Just about everywhere, there is enough to get by on.
- Keep the hiker boxes in mind. If you aren't picky, it's a great place to supplement . . . for free!
- Keep restaurants and trail angel food (if leaving at kickoff) in mind. You'll usually have to carry less than you think in Southern California.
- DO NOT skimp in the high Sierras. It gets cold and your appetite kicks in. Pack more food than you have been and you'll be much much happier.
- Many people don't cook, but wow, it's a really nice boost to moral to have a hot meal at the end of the day. The alcohol stoves work. I used an esbit setup. Esbits have a better heat output and you can ship them. They do cause a residue on the pot.
KICKOFF and START DATES
- Kickoff is cool. Go. It's a well run, low key affair.
- There is NO REASON to start walking before kickoff. I left Campo the Sunday after kickoff, with the much feared "herd." I saw 8 people on day one. That's not exactly a stampede. I am not a speedster, yet I arrived at Kennedy Meadows by May 31st. Even in a low snow year (85% of normal I think), this was borderline too early.
PACE and SOLO/GROUP HIKING
- Everyone knows the phrase "hike your own hike" yet many do not do this. I saw countless people hiking way faster than what they'd prefer. This is usually because they are hiking with a small group. If your social needs are high, going at some other pace other than your own is a likely scenario. For me - no thanks to that for 4.5 months. Don't worry about finding people to hike with. Hike by yourself out of the gates and you will find yourself running into certain people day after day. These are the people to hike with!
- Mix it up. Hike solo sometimes and with different people at other times. You have a lot of time - meet some different people.
- For the high Sierras, hiking with a few people is a good idea. It's purely placebo, since there's really not a lot someone is going to be able to do for you if you get in trouble, but it feels nice to be doing a big traverse or crossing a stormy pass with somebody else.
- Don't try to really crank out the miles until after the high Sierras. Give yourself time to enjoy things and discover what your body can handle.
- Favor nearo days over zero days (short trips to town, not long ones). You can easily compensate for a slower hiking pace by not spending excessive amounts of time in towns. You miss out on nothing. To mis-use an economics term, there is rapidly declining marginal utility when you hit town. That first meal is divine. The second not so much. Stick to your "to do" list and get back on the trail.
- Pay attention to what your body requires and carry enough. Usually it's no more than 15 miles, sometimes in the mid 20's.
- Start walking as early as possible in the desert. It is beautiful, more comfortable, and you need to carry far less water. Take a siesta in the shade and startup once again in the late afternoon.
- I didn't utilize the caches very much at all. If I had to do it again, I would use them more. I would carry enough water to get to the next natural source, but being thirsty for sure. Use the caches to only top up.
- A six liter capacity should be enough for most people in the desert, less elsewhere.
- I didn't have any stomach bugs and I did not treat any spring water or water from streams with no visible signs of cattle or human impact. I treated rivers, lakes, and ponds.
- If you have some experience, the PCT is remarkably easy. I used the 3 guidebook series. The maps are really small scale, but they are good enough. A better set of maps would be helpful for the JMT section, since the snow covers the trail quite a bit.
- When you find yourself in the woods and the snow has covered the trail, go slow and be patient. You will save time in the long run. Look for blazes, but often they aren't there. Look for any sign of human impact, sawn logs especially. That helped me find the trail more than once. When in doubt, make your best guess based on the maps and your compass and pay attention. You can always backtrack.
- If you know where you are and know which way to go, don't be afraid to go off trail. In the high passes and with the snow covered switchbacks, sometimes off trail is the better option.
- Budget accordingly! It's annoying to hear about hikers' money issues. Save up for the hike, then do it. If you are a cheapskate it damages the reputation for all those hikers in the future when they need to deal with business owners and trail angels.
- I eat a ton. I think I spent about twelve bucks a day on food. I'll look at the numbers and hopefully remember to update this.
- You'd have to have incredible willpower not to have one restaurant meal when you hit town, so do it. Any other meals, however, will be plenty enjoyable and far cheaper from the grocery store, especially in Southern California (great fruit and veggies usually).
- One or two beers, if you drink, is plenty during a town visit. It adds up quickly.
- If you carry more food on the trail, you will be less inclined to go absolutely crazy on expensive town food.
- Unless the weather is really bad, you can save a ton of money by not getting motel or hotel rooms. I went the entire hike and only payed for the hostel in Big Bear. You'll should be able to get clean and be comfortable without resorting to an expensive lodging. Nothing wrong with getting a room, it's a matter of priorities. One night of sleep can easily equal three awesome restaurant meals.
- If you can go out right now and walk ten miles, you can probably do the PCT. It requires no amazing fitness. The impact to your feet is the main physical constraint. If you have solid general health, keep your pack light, go at your own pace, listen to your body, and can find a way to enjoy your time out there, then you can do the PCT.
- It is helpful, however, to be able to do some serious mileage right away. Southern Cal has some long waterless stretches. I would recommend being able to walk 20 miles right away. Having to carry water all day, then overnight at a waterless camp sounds like a bad a idea. Better to come into the thing ready to walk 20-ish miles in one day.
- Walking hills with a pack is the best way to train. If you can't do that, just walk as much as possible. If you can't do that but still think you can do 20 a day no problem, just be sure to focus on footcare when you are starting out. Don't be in a rush.
Good luck. Have fun. I sure did. If you have any questions just leave a note on the guestbook. I can't promise I'll get to it often, but I will look at it when I can.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650-mile national scenic trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. The PCT traverses 24 national forests, 37 wilderness areas and 7 national parks. The PCT passes through 6 out of 7 of North Americas ecozones. Learn more: www.pcta.org