Where will you be hiking?
The Pacific Crest Trail runs through the western United States, from border to border through Washington, Oregon and California. It is approximately 2,650 miles long (4,250 km). I intend to walk the entire trail in a single pass, which is known as a "thru-hike."
Which direction will you hike?
Like the vast majority of thru-hikers, south to north.
What is the climate/weather like along the trail?
Broadly speaking, sunny and clear (though probably a rainy slog in Washington in the fall). The trail starts in the hot southern California desert/high desert, enters the Sierra Nevada near Mount Whitney and immediately plunges into tall icy mountains, and stays in more moderate conditions the rest of the way.
Will you be taking any detours?
There are a few points on the trail that I'd be stupid not to: I'll pass within several miles of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the 48 contiguous states, and I'll also pass within several miles of Oregon's Crater Lake. Resupply points are often miles from the trail itself and I will have to walk or hitchhike to them. So, yes. But the plan is still to walk from border to border in a single continuous line.
Will you be passing through my area? Care to drop by?
Check out the trail map to see where I'll be walking. Depending on scheduling, hiking speed, weather, morale, and a bunch of other factors, I may or may not be able to take some time to break off the trail and visit with friends. Drop me a line at baxildragon (at) gmail d.ot com if you're interested.
Timing and Scheduling
How long will you be hiking?
2,650 miles (4,250 km). Probably about five and a half months. I'll be done by mid-October whether I've reached the end or not, due to encroaching weather.
How far will you walk every day?
Averaging 20 miles (33 km) a day during the days that I'm on the trail will get me to the end with time to spare. Realistically, this average will probably be closer to 16 mi (26 km), considering town days and "zero days" and unexpected obstacles. Broadly speaking, miles per day will also start lower and climb throughout the hike as my body adjusts to the constant motion.
When will you start?
I will be attending ADZPCTKO from April 28-30, after which I will hit the trail in earnest. My "official" start will be April 27, when I get up in the morning and walk the first 20 miles (along with kadyg) from the Mexican border to the campground where the kickoff party is held.
When will you finish?
When I'm done. ;-) No, really, any date I could give would be rendered pointless by the hiking itself -- unexpected rest days, faster than expected pace, minor medical emergencies, equipment snafus that hold me up in town, etc. Most people who finish do so in late September or early October, and that's about as specific as I can get.
Do you have an itinerary?
Before I leave, I'll post a rough one. Dates will change but resupply locations shouldn't.
Why did you quit your job all the way back in March?
Because research, gear purchase, prep work, physical training and test hikes are eating. my. brain. I was getting very little of that done while employed. I had hoped for two months of lead time, but ended up having to settle for six weeks. At this pace, it might just barely be enough.
Why did you choose the start time you did?
There is a fairly narrow window of opportunity for thru-hiking the PCT. Northbound hikers start in the southern California desert and immediately thereafter jump to the high Sierra and its chilly 11,000-foot-plus (3,400-m) passes. Leave too late and you bake. Leave too soon and you freeze. Take too long and winter blows in to northern Washington. So my start time was already constrained to April or early May; I chose to start April 27 for ease of planning around the ADZ Kickoff Party.
How much is the trip costing you?
Deep breath: I've budgeted about $12,000. But this includes paying credit card bills and my half of rent for the entire time I'm gone (because I love my poor overworked wife); several preparatory classes (including Wilderness First Aid certification); and over $3,000 in gear (I could reuse most of what I've already got and cut that dramatically, but I'd rather upgrade to serious, lightweight, durable equipment). Once I'm actually out on the trail, per Yogi et.al. the total trip cost should be approximately $1 per mile. Someone who already has most of the needed equipment and has no housing obligations could probably do this for $3,000-$4,000.
How much weight will you carry?
This varies dramatically based on climate (water capacity) and distance between resupplies (food capacity). Hikers measure what they call a "base weight," or weight of equipment minus any food/water -- what will be with you 100 percent of the time. Like many thru-hikers, I am aiming for a base weight of 15-20 pounds (7-9 kg). My "average" load would then be from 25-40 pounds (11-18 kg), or 1/5 to 1/6 of my body weight.
What gear will you carry?
Surprisingly little, considering I'll be out there for several months. Clothing, sleeping bag/pad, tent, and a small stove/pot/spork will be the survival basics, along with a water purifier, headlamp, trail guides/maps and compass, and some miscellaneous repair/camp gear. I'll have a journal and camera to document my trip along the way, aided by kadyg's transcription efforts, LJ's Phone Post capability, and what few Internet cafes I'll be able to find. I'll have supplemental gear mailed to me at certain points along the way, such as crampons and an ice axe/pole for the High Sierra leg of the journey. But since I have to carry everything I'll be using, I'm definitely trying to strip my needs to the bare minimum.
Aren't you worried about bears?
Not nearly as much as I am about rattlesnakes.
Aren't you worried about rattlesnakes?
Not nearly as much as I am about lightning.
Aren't you worried about lightning?
It's certainly a danger -- about 60 people die from lightning strikes each year (although most of them are in Texas or Florida). I'll just have to be as safe as possible and deal with it.
Hasn't it been an awful heavy snow year?
It sure has. This means that the High Sierra is going to be a giant white slog -- or that I'll have to get there later to let the extra snow melt (which makes the timing on the rest of the trip tighter). Both options mean extra challenge. Unfortunately, since I can't postpone my trip until next year, I'm stuck with it. The good news is that this should mean fewer water worries in the desert, and a later start to the worst of the mosquitoes.
Pssht. West Nile isn't even fatal in 99 percent of cases. Maybe call me back if bird flu sweeps in.
You could get badly injured or even die out there!
That's not a question. But yes, I could. I go into this knowing there are serious potential consequences. There's a certain amount of harm reduction that comes with experience and training, and beyond that, I've simply made the decision that this trip is worth the hazards that accompany it. If I die out there, heavens forbid, then at least it will have been doing something that I love.
Is your lovely wife kadyg going with you?
She's made the decision to stay home, work, keep our cats fed and happy, and provide logistical support while I'm out on my crazy hike. She will be joining me for the first 20 miles, a week's worth of hiking in the section near our home, and perhaps for a weekend here and there.
Are you hiking with anyone else?
Not as such. However, over 150 thru-hikers will be attending the ADZ Kickoff Party, and many of them will (like me) be hiking northward once it wraps up; thus, I'll be in the middle of a pretty good-sized group as I get started, and I suspect I'll end up falling into pace with another hiker or hikers. So for the desert -- the part of the trip that I'm not used to -- I should have plenty of company, and the same goes for the High Sierra.
Do you really think you can do the whole thing?
Statistically speaking, I'm fighting the odds -- but if I was going to let that stop me, I'd have quit already. The more popular Appalachian Trail may have as much as a 90 percent thru-hiker attrition rate (per Bryson); the Pacific Crest Trail Association says that attrition weeds out 40 percent of PCT thru-hikers in a typical year. (This difference is not because the PCT is easier -- it's because the AT draws many more newbies.)
Do you have any previous distance hiking experience?
I took, and loved, an Outward Bound course the summer I turned 18. We hiked less than 40 miles of the PCT proper (in the Yosemite area) -- a lot of cross-country and meandering -- but I was out there for a month and got a feel for what extended wilderness trips are really like. So at least I know I won't have my expectations shredded in those critical first few weeks.
How do you get/find food out in the woods?
The PCT is fairly remote, but on average every 40-100 miles (two to seven days) it passes by a major enough town to reach a grocery store and post office. I, and most other hikers, will be using a combination of on-the-fly grocery-store food and pre-bought food mailed to myself. Foraging and/or hunting would probably cost me too much walking time, even if I were skilled in those pursuits.
What else should I know if I want to take a thru-hike of my own?
Two good starting places are the PCTA's FAQ, for other common questions, and my planning Bible, Yogi's PCT Handbook, full of comprehensive feedback from dozens of people who have finished the trek. If you want to start on other trails, such as the Appalachian Trail, start somewhere like here or find appropriate books.