Coyote Buttes, The Wave

Look­ing to have a life-chang­ing adven­ture this upcom­ing year? Unfor­tu­nate­ly, some of the more icon­ic hikes and adven­tures will require you to wait in line or get your per­mit quick­ly. These are the hard­est back­coun­try per­mits to get, and how one might go about actu­al­ly get­ting them.

Things to Know About Adven­ture Per­mits (Even the Easy Ones to Get)
Some gen­er­al tips for get­ting pop­u­lar back­coun­try per­mits include falling all the direc­tions to a tee. If fax­ing your appli­ca­tion is the best-rec­om­mend­ed action, dust off the fax machine and fax away. Flex­i­bil­i­ty is also key, espe­cial­ly if you’re aim­ing for a walk-up per­mit of any kind, and know­ing the alter­na­tive trail­heads and hav­ing back-up itin­er­aries will ensure max­i­mum suc­cess. Also, keep in mind group size; while it’s fun to get every­one out on the adven­ture, larg­er groups have more spe­cif­ic require­ments and can make it hard­er to get a permit.

Last­ly, just because you got the per­mit, doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly qual­i­fy you for the adven­ture. Know your own abil­i­ties, pack the right util­i­ties, and under­stand the envi­ron­ment you are putting your­self in.


Hik­ing the John Muir Trail

John Muir TrailFor many hik­ers, the John Muir Trail (JMT) is the epit­o­me of back­coun­try hik­ing. This is one of the hard­est back­coun­try per­mits to get, and there’s a good rea­son for that. It’s got pic­turesque moun­tain pass­es, serene moun­tain lakes, and alpine inspi­ra­tion to last you a life­time. As a result, there are many avid adven­tur­ers look­ing to make this epic 210-mile hike, and for good reason.

How to Apply
Requests for JMT per­mits have lit­er­al­ly dou­bled over the last five years. As such, total usage of the trail has tripled since the year 2002. This rise in pop­u­lar­i­ty has sig­nif­i­cant­ly increased the impact on the area. As a result, we have the Inter­im Exit Quo­ta Sys­tem. For most hik­ers who are look­ing to start at the North­ern Ter­mi­nus of the JMT (Hap­py Isles & Lyell Canyon), you will need to Apply For Your Per­mit at least 168 days in advance (24 weeks). Apply via fax for your best chances, and believe that they go fast; accord­ing to the NPS, 97% of these per­mits are declined.

Oth­er Options
There are a num­ber of oth­er ways to get access to this moun­tain cathe­dral coun­try, though. And they all require some extra research and time. If you can’t get a per­mit with­in Yosemite, you can start your hike in anoth­er area not man­aged by the nation­al park. Sim­ply put, your oth­er-agency per­mit should grant you access to the trail. Check out these oth­er trail­heads where you could start your jour­ney. If all else fails, there’s anoth­er option. First-come, first-served per­mits are issued begin­ning at 11 a.m. the day before your trip at the near­est ranger sta­tion to your entry point.


Day Hik­ing Coy­ote Buttes, Arizona

Coyote Buttes, The WaveTucked into the south­west sand­stone of north­ern Ari­zona and south­ern Utah is the Paria Canyon-Ver­mil­lion Cliffs Wilder­ness, home to Coy­ote Bluffs and one of the hard­est day-hik­ing per­mits to obtain. Coy­ote Buttes is most known for the geo­log­ic land for­ma­tion known as “the Wave.” It’s a bril­liant dis­play of swirling sand­stone in its pris­tine environment.

How to Apply
Coy­ote Buttes (CB) per­mits are split into two areas: North and South. No mat­ter the direc­tion you enter, the entire­ty is day-use only, with too few water sup­plies to sup­port overnight trav­el­ers. North CB con­tains the famed Wave for­ma­tion, but the South holds its own too. Both areas only allow 20 peo­ple a day, 10 of which are giv­en out via lot­tery (for North CB) or reser­va­tion (South CB) four months in advance.

Walk-In Per­mits
The oth­er 10 dai­ly per­mits are walk-ins. And recent odds of obtain­ing a North CB per­mit through the lot­tery have been as low as 3%. So your bet­ter bet is the walk-in per­mit. Show up at the Grand Stair­case-Escalante Vis­i­tors Cen­ter the day before your desired trip between 8:30—9:00 a.m. Utah time, and put your name in the hat.


Hik­ing Half Dome, Yosemite Nation­al Park

Half DomeWhile most vis­i­tors enjoy the splen­dors of Yosemite Val­ley as a road­side attrac­tion, it is pos­si­ble to get a lit­tle clos­er to the action on Half Dome, and you don’t have to be a seri­ous climber to do it. You do have to be in mod­er­ate­ly good shape though. This 14–16 mile climb gains over 4,000 feet in ele­va­tion and is steep enough to require its name­sake fea­ture. Lit­er­al cables to help your final ascent to the top.

How to Apply
The offi­cial cables of the Cables Route typ­i­cal­ly go up at the end of May and remain there into ear­ly Octo­ber, and you’ll need a per­mit all sev­en days of the week. Yosemite Nation­al Park only issues 300 per­mits to climb a day, and 225 of those per­mits are up for grabs in the pre­sea­son lot­tery from March 1st through 31st. Max­i­mum group size is six, and each mem­ber of the par­ty can apply for your group’s per­mit. To help your chances of land­ing next year’s Cables per­mits, check out the stats on the most pop­u­lar days to apply.

The Oth­er 75 Permits
If you are up for an overnight trek, there are oth­er options. You might have bet­ter chances of obtain­ing a wilder­ness per­mit that includes the Cables route in your jour­ney. Yosemite reserves 75 permits/day for back­pack­ers want­i­ng to do this (with 25 of those reserved as walk-up per­mits). And there is no pre­sea­son lot­tery for these, just apply up to 24 weeks in advance.


Back­pack­ing the Teton Crest Trail, Grand Teton Nation­al Park

Teton Crest TrailSee for your­self why Grand Teton is one of the most pop­u­lar Nation­al Parks in the coun­try. Sharp, jagged peaks, lush alpine val­leys, and dra­mat­ic vis­tas that will astound. Overnight trips into these mag­i­cal moun­tains can be hard to get a per­mit for. Pop­u­lar overnight hikes like the 40-mile Teton Crest Trail have a ten­den­cy to fill up with­in days, if not hours. So be sure to act fast if the Grand Tetons are on your radar this upcom­ing season.

How to Get a Permit
A third of all back­coun­try per­mits for Grand Teton Nation­al Park are avail­able for ear­ly reser­va­tion between the first Wednes­day of Jan­u­ary and May 15th. Look­ing to bag a clas­sic route like the Teton Crest Trail? You’ll want to apply as ear­ly as pos­si­ble. Fax­ing in your appli­ca­tion can ensure the quick­est deliv­ery. The oth­er ⅔ of the avail­able per­mits are reserved for walk-ins, which can be secured up to a day in advance. If you do your research and are flex­i­ble with a few back­up plans, you’re sure to find a good time on your next impromp­tu trip out.

Know Before You Go
There a few things to con­sid­er before plan­ning your trip into the Tetons. If you camp with­in the park, expect to not only watch the Required Back­coun­try Video, but under­stand the con­cepts and dan­gers ahead of you. Among oth­er things, also be aware that although the hik­ing sea­son tra­di­tion­al­ly starts in June, snow is near­ly always present, espe­cial­ly in the high­er ele­va­tions, and know­ing how to cross that ter­rain is imper­a­tive to your success.


Back­pack­ing the Bright Angel and the North & South Kaibab Trails, Grand Canyon Nation­al Park

south kaibab trailWhile Grand Canyon Nation­al Park issues over 10,000 back­coun­try per­mits a year, your odds of receiv­ing one for the cov­et­ed Bright Angel and North & South Kaibab trails dur­ing the peak sea­sons (April-May & Sept.-Oct.) are worse than your chances of get­ting denied. Indeed, this one def­i­nite­ly ranks as one of the tough­est back­coun­try per­mits to get.

How to Apply
If you want to hike in the Grand Canyon overnight, request your per­mit by the first day of the month that is four months pri­or to your trip. For exam­ple, if you want to hike April 15th, apply by Decem­ber 1st. Grand Canyon Nation­al Park will begin accept­ing faxed or mailed per­mits 10 days pri­or to the first of the month, and all appli­ca­tions deliv­ered by 5 p.m. on the first will be ran­dom­ly processed. Any remain­ing and late appli­ca­tions will be processed in a first-come, first-served basis.

Extra Tip
The Grand Canyon ranks 2nd on Nation­al Park vis­its per year, and many of those vis­its (includ­ing overnight per­mit vis­its) hap­pen between April-May & Sep­tem­ber-Octo­ber. If you apply out­side of this date range you will have a bet­ter chance of being suc­cess­ful. No mat­ter the sea­son you adven­ture into or around the Grand Canyon, be sure to famil­iar­ize your­self with Desert Hik­ing Tips before you go.


Camp­ing in Glac­i­er Nation­al Park, Montana

Glacier National ParkThere are 65 des­ig­nat­ed camp­sites in Glac­i­er’s back­coun­try, and despite the rugged abun­dance of this beau­ti­ful land, per­mits for those camp­sites do fill up quick­ly. Take a look at Glacier’s Back­coun­try Camp­ing Map to get an idea of the vari­ety of trips avail­able and to help with your trip planning.

How to Apply
New to 2015, Glac­i­er Nation­al Park has stepped into the 21st cen­tu­ry and now only takes reser­va­tions online. The reser­va­tion win­dow opens March 1st for larg­er groups (9–12 campers, max) and March 15th for small­er groups (1–8 campers). Expect the servers to be a bit busy the day of, these reser­va­tions are grant­ed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Yes, it’s eas­i­er than before, but it’s still one of the hard­est back­coun­try per­mits to get. Pay $10 to apply, $40 if you are accept­ed, plus an addi­tion­al $7/night camp­ing fee.

Walk-Up Per­mits
Walk-up per­mits are avail­able at Glac­i­er Nation­al Park, and half of all sites are reserved just for that pur­pose. But don’t let that sta­tis­tic lead you to believe your walk-up per­mit is a guar­an­tee. Long-dis­tance trav­el­ers may have reserved your camp­site long in advance, and it’s not uncom­mon to have to wait a cou­ple of days to get the trip you’re dream­ing of.


Overnight Camp­ing the Won­der­land Trail, Mt. Rainier Nation­al Park, Washington

Wonderland Trail, Mt. Rainier National ParkThe Won­der­land Trail cir­cum­nav­i­gates the base of Mt. Rainier with a 90-mile loop (plus side trails) and con­tin­u­ous­ly chang­ing views of one of the PNW’s most icon­ic peaks. A com­plete hike around the Won­der­land typ­i­cal­ly takes around 10 days. And camp­ing is only allowed in the 21 des­ig­nat­ed camp­sites along the path, all of which fill up dur­ing the no-snow hik­ing sea­son (late July ‑Sep/Oct). This means plan­ning ahead is key to your success.

Obtain­ing a Walk-Up Permit
You can receive a walk-up per­mit the day of or day pri­or to your trip and no soon­er. Must be in per­son and at one of the des­ig­nat­ed ranger sta­tions to obtain a per­mit. Have your logis­tics in mind, and flex­i­bil­i­ty if you can afford it. That will strength­en your chances of get­ting a walk-up per­mit for the Won­der­land Trail.

In con­clu­sion, lay­ing your hands on one of the hard­est back­coun­try per­mits to get isn’t real­ly impos­si­ble, but you’ll have to be strate­gic, and you’ll most like­ly need to plan ahead. Do just that, and you’ll be so glad you did.

Sign, Pacific Crest Trail

Sign, Pacific Crest Trail

Are you think­ing about hik­ing a long-dis­tance trail this upcom­ing sea­son? Whether it’s the AT, CDT or PCT, or any oth­er thru-hike, some good, prac­ti­cal advice can ben­e­fit you on the trail with­out adding weight to your pack. Thru-hik­ing isn’t a fixed ratio of dif­fi­cul­ty (i.e. 30% phys­i­cal & 70% men­tal). The thru-hik­ing life is 100% men­tal and 100% phys­i­cal as you live in the ele­ments night and day for months at a time. To help your body, mind and spir­it get ready for a thru-hike expe­ri­ence of a life­time, why not exer­cise your aware­ness with these extra (and weight­less) thru-hik­ing tips.

Don’t be afraid of going solo
If you pre­fer the com­pa­ny of oth­ers but can’t com­mit any­one to an extend­ed trip, depend­ing on the thru-hike you’re aim­ing for, you won’t have to hike alone for long. North-bound hikes on the Appalachi­an Trail and Pacif­ic Crest Trail have a healthy lev­el of hik­ers every day. Each respec­tive over­see­ing admin­is­tra­tion (ATC & PCTA) have put out num­bers sug­gest­ing that over 3,000 hik­ers have attempt­ed north­bound treks in the last two sea­sons. If you find your­self a part of these sta­tis­tics next sea­son, it’s not dif­fi­cult to find some like-mind­ed hik­ers to trek along with.

Plan as much as you can
Use the offi­cial web­sites as a start­ing point and branch out from there. Use all the resources you can (logs, maps, guide­books, data books, pre­sen­ta­tions and friend­ly beta) to under­stand key aspects of your hike includ­ing resup­ply points, spe­cial­ty gear needs, a rough time­line and an esti­mat­ed bud­get. This will not only let you savor the fla­vor of the actu­al thru-hike more, but it will pro­vide an ade­quate amount of back­ground knowl­edge to inevitably adjust the plan when needed.

Bridge Creek Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, North Cascades National Park, Washington State, USA

Start walk­ing
Life on a thru-hike often involves over 40,000 steps and 12+ hours of hik­ing a day. Before you hit those kind of dis­tances, do your­self a favor and add more walk­ing into your dai­ly rou­tine. Walk to work, walk to the gro­cery store and start chang­ing your mind frame as to what is a rea­son­able walk­ing com­mute. A sev­en mile walk to the movie the­ater too far? You won’t think so once you’ve fin­ished your thru-hike. Bonus points are added if you throw on your pack with no-weight, half-weight or as full load.

Begin a blog, pho­to col­lec­tion, or extend­ed project
After weeks or months spent on trail, much of the mag­ic tends to blend togeth­er. Doc­u­ment­ing your jour­ney in some way will not only help solid­i­fy your trav­els into your mind, but it can become an ongo­ing rit­u­al that helps you to go that extra mile. Blogs, pho­to projects, and per­son­al jour­nals are all great options. Oth­er cre­ative out­lets to occu­py your mind include water­col­ors, col­lect­ing post­cards, or extend­ed projects like cap­tur­ing a pic­ture of your­self every mile of the trail.

Adjust your pack
Your pack straps aren’t the only thing that may need adjust­ment. Be ready to adjust all your sys­tems. Plan­ning will help you get a good base, but some­thing will inevitably need to change. The first 600 miles of desert on the PCT requires vast­ly dif­fer­ent gear than the High Sier­ra cross­ing that fol­lows. You might real­ize that your ham­mock isn’t warm enough in the ear­ly Ten­nessee sea­son. Per­haps you’d be more com­fort­able with an ice-axe in the San Juan’s of the CDT. What­ev­er it is, rigid­i­ty is only need­ed in your hik­ing poles, and even those have a lit­tle flexibility.

Break it down into sections
Some­where along the way on a thru-hike, you’ll inevitably start doing the men­tal math of your sur­round­ings. How far to the next hut, how many miles until the next town, and how many days it will take to hit the ter­mi­nus. While these Rain-Man cal­cu­la­tions are bound to hap­pen, you have the choice of what equa­tions to focus on. Break­ing the trail down into man­age­able sec­tions can help estab­lish a good frame of mind, whether that’s the offi­cial sec­tions, 100-mile chunks or even just one day at a time. Achiev­ing these man­age­able goals repeat­ed­ly can real­ly add up to a suc­cess­ful trip.

Much like the weath­er, the bad moments will also pass
Plen­ty of fac­tors can damp­en your mood on trail, includ­ing inclement weath­er. Insect swarms, sore-knees, twist­ed-ankles, cold nights, the audi­ble stom­ach groan when any­one men­tions bacon, the list goes on for tem­po­rary side-aches and rea­sons to com­plain. Much like the inclement weath­er though, the storm clouds will pass, and maybe a trail angel will pro­vide you with some break­fast. At times, the key to press­ing on will be in mak­ing key deci­sions when you can see the sun some­where overhead.

How Will You Look Back on the Experience?
Some­thing to think about dur­ing all big deci­sions as well as dur­ing those soli­tary hours of trail, glanc­ing far into the future, ask your­self right now, how do you want to look back on your expe­ri­ence thru-hik­ing?  Is it a con­stant, hard-fought crunch to the end regard­less of the con­di­tions? Or are you seek­ing the Zen-like sat­is­fac­tion of mov­ing at your own pace? Go ahead, write your answer down and pack it with you. Under­stand­ing your expec­ta­tions will help you find exact­ly what you are look­ing for on your thru-hike.

Hike Your Own Hike
The Gold­en Rule of thru-hik­ing: hike your own hike. Whether you are accom­plish­ing a sin­gle sec­tion at a snail’s pace or aim­ing to set speed records, the beau­ty of pub­lic-accessed lands is that you can choose your own adven­ture. The oth­er Gold­en Rule still applies, but if you want to wear a tutu, wear a tutu. If you want to be that hik­er who won’t stop get­ting Tay­lor Swift songs stuck in people’s head, go for it. At the end of the day, at the end of the trail, and a defin­ing part of every thru-hik­ing expe­ri­ence – you get to be you while you’re out there.

Mullerthal Trail, Schiessentumpel Waterfall, Luxembourg

Mullerthal Trail, Schiessentumpel Waterfall, Luxembourg

Europe is home to a num­ber of tru­ly epic hik­ing trails. Adven­tur­ers seek­ing the best thru-hikes flock to trails like the Tour de Mont Blanc in France, which cir­cum­nav­i­gates the base of Mont Blanc through three dif­fer­ent coun­tries over its 105 miles, or Spain’s El Camino de San­ti­a­go, The Way of St. James, a whop­ping 472-mile pil­grim­age to San­ti­a­go de Com­postela, a north­ern Span­ish cathe­dral in which rest the rumored remains of St. James. 

Yet in Lux­em­bourg (a tiny grand duchy land­locked between Bel­gium, France, and Ger­many, bare­ly big­ger than Rhode Island) winds a mag­i­cal triple-loop of a trail called the Mullerthal Trail. Award­ed as  “Lead­ing Qual­i­ty Trails — Best of Europe” by the Euro­pean Ram­blers’ Asso­ci­a­tion in 2014, the Mullerthal offers a tan­ta­liz­ing 70 miles of paths which wind through the name­sake Mullerthal region and appear to have been plucked direct­ly from a fairy tale. We’re talk­ing cen­turies-old roman­tic cas­tles, wood­en bridges over sparkling cas­cades, and nar­row, gloomy gorges whose walls seem to close in above and behind as you advance. There are sleepy, rolling pas­tures dot­ted with live­stock, caves from which were once carved mill­stones, and soar­ing cliffs offer­ing excel­lent views of the quaint, bustling vil­lages from which you’re nev­er too far to drop in for a meal.

Moss on rocks in forest of Mullerthal in Little Switzerland

The rel­a­tive close­ness of ameni­ties mean that while it’s pos­si­ble to back­pack the entire trail as a mul­ti-day hike, it’s equal­ly easy to stay in a dif­fer­ent place every night while explor­ing the Mullerthal. Towns through­out each stage have eater­ies and hotels, many of which offer sin­gle-night accom­mo­da­tions, wash­ing and dry­ing, even lug­gage trans­port for an addi­tion­al fee. You might also opt to book a sin­gle accom­mo­da­tion and to-and-fro by means of the excel­lent bus sys­tem that ser­vices major points along the trail.

The Mullerthal is orga­nized into thir­teen sec­tions along three loop­ing routes with two inter­sec­tions. There is no true begin­ning or end of the trail, although it’s most com­mon­ly begun in Echter­nach, which links Routes 1 and 2. From the tra­di­tion­al start of the trail at the bus stop in Echter­nach, the trail cir­cles clock­wise to the east and south, pass­ing through the for­est and the state­ly rock for­ma­tions of Stein­heim. Con­tin­u­ing to Rosport, which hous­es the Tudor Cas­tle, the trail moves on to a ven­er­a­ble shrine of the Vir­gin Mary at the Chapel of Girsterk­laus, and on still through mead­ows and val­leys towards the towns of Born and Moers­dorf. From here, the trail departs from its prox­im­i­ty to the Sûre, and turns west, ris­ing to a plateau of pas­toral farm­lands and the open for­est of Hebron. After skim­ming the lake of Echter­nacht, the trail deposits you right back in Echter­nacht prop­er. By end­ing in the very heart of the city, you’ll have your choice of shop­ping and din­ing as you pre­pare to turn in for the night.

Route 2 is short­er at 22 miles and more phys­i­cal­ly demand­ing, but the pay­off is pro­por­tion­al. It’s typ­i­cal­ly hiked coun­ter­clock­wise, head­ing steeply west from Echter­nacht toward Berdorf, a town renown for its deli­cious cheeses. From the same bus stop it descends straight into the stuff of lore and leg­end: a ravine called Wolf­ss­chlucht, the Wolves’ Canyon, where they are said to have shel­tered once upon a time; a maze of rock called the Labyrinth; the Aes­bach brook and the giant rock for­ma­tion Perekop, whose sum­mit of some 130 feet can be achieved by the nar­row stair carved into its crevice; Hohllay, a cave once used to carve the huge mill­stones used to grind flour; even a forest­ed amphithe­ater which still hosts mod­ern per­form­ers. Beyond Berdorf, the Mullerthal pass­es through the untamed Schnellert for­est and toward the town of Mullerthal, which con­nects Routes 2 and 3. Mullerthal is home to Heringer Millen, the region’s most impor­tant mill, now restored to grind its own flour. Grab­bing a quick bite at the mil­l’s restau­rant, the Schiessen­tüm­pel cas­cade will fas­ci­nate with its gen­tle brook and rus­tic rock bridge.

Mov­ing on from the mill, the trail soon becomes hemmed in with cliffs and con­tin­ues to a trio of bizarre rock for­ma­tions called Gold­kaul, Gold­fralay and Eile­burg (a wan­der­ing imag­i­na­tion might see trolls frozen by day­light with fea­tures and names like those). Beyond the not-trolls is the town of Cons­dorf, which has a mill of its own. Past Cons­dorf looms a set of gloomy crevices called Rit­ter­gang, Déi­wepëtz, and final­ly the Kohlscheuer, a slot canyon so deep that it swal­lows the sun. You’ll want to bring a head­lamp to make it through less-scathed, although the wary might always choose to go around instead. The trail snakes through forests of rock and tree around Hers­berg, the back­side of Cons­dorf, and through Schei­d­gen on its way back to the charm­ing bus­tle of Echternacht.

Route 3 begins in Mullerthal, and the bab­bling brooks are its faith­ful com­pan­ion for much of it. Head west to Beau­fort to take in the beau­ti­ful Haller­bach val­ley land­scape. Soon enough you’ll find trees laced with vines and rocks dressed appro­pri­ate­ly in mossy fin­ery as you approach Beau­fort Cas­tle. Dur­ing vis­it­ing hours at the cas­tle you can taste the well-known Cassero, a black­cur­rant liqueur made from cur­rants pro­duced on the prop­er­ty. From one cas­tle to anoth­er, fol­low the trail through the beech woods from Beau­fort to Laro­chette, where looms yet anoth­er dash­ing 11th cen­tu­ry cas­tle. Only beware the drag­on, said to be the spir­it of the cas­tle stew­ard who was thrown into its well as pun­ish­ment. The trail from here march­es on to Blu­men­thal on its high plateau, then again into a dream­ing for­est and along the Black Ernz, through a beau­ti­ful high moor called the Ripsmoor and a Taver­tine sun­di­al carved into the rock. You’ll pass the Schiessen­tüm­pel once more en route to Mullerthal prop­er, and if you haven’t stum­bled into a faerie cir­cle in the mean­while, that will be the end of this journey.

While thru-hik­ing the 2,600-mile Pacif­ic Crest Trail comes with plen­ty of high­lights, there are a few select loca­tions along the way that tend to real­ly stick out long after the hike is complete.

It’s the com­bi­na­tion of epic scenery and trail mile­stones that cre­ate the ulti­mate highlights—whether it’s the tallest peak in the low­er 48 or the entry­way into a whole new state, there’s dai­ly high­lights to be found on the PCT, but only a hand­ful of places that leave foot­prints in your mind forever.

South­ern Terminus—Campo, California
While it’s not much more than GPS coor­di­nates on the map, the South­ern Ter­mi­nus of the PCT holds spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance. Locat­ed in the small com­mu­ni­ty of Cam­po, Cal­i­for­nia, and erect­ed only feet away from the U.S.-Mexico bor­der, for the major­i­ty of thru-hik­ers attempt­ing the trail this is where their jour­ney begins. For the rest of thru-hik­ers, those head­ing south along the route, this mark­er denotes the end to an epic adventure.

Hik­er Heaven—Agua Dulce, California 
After trekking near­ly 500 miles through South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and con­quer­ing obsta­cles includ­ing intense heat, sparse water, and the ver­ti­cal gain of San Jac­in­to and Mt. Baden-Pow­ell, north­bound hik­ers arrive to a lit­tle place sim­ply called Hik­er Heav­en. Locat­ed in the qui­et com­mu­ni­ty of Agua Dulce, Hik­er Heav­en is offered and main­tained vol­un­tar­i­ly by trail angels Dona and Jeff Saufley and pro­vides tired hik­ers with a break from the trail, a place to rest up, and is an embod­i­ment of the PCT community.

Kennedy Mead­ows Gen­er­al Store 
A cou­ple hun­dred miles after Hik­er Heav­en in Agua Dulce, and after near­ly 700 miles of arid South­ern Cal­i­for­nia trav­el, north­bound hik­ers arrive at the small com­mu­ni­ty of Kennedy Mead­ows, known best as the gate­way into the Sier­ra Moun­tains. Trad­ing in the desert land­scape for an alpine envi­ron­ment with reli­able water sources is a great feel­ing for most hik­ers head­ing north, and the excite­ment res­onates through­out the Kennedy Mead­ows community—especially at the Kennedy Mead­ows Gen­er­al Store, which serves as a com­mon stopover for just about every hik­er on the PCT.

Mt. Whit­ney Summit
Serv­ing as the tallest peak in the con­tigu­ous Unit­ed States, Mt. Whit­ney stands impres­sive­ly not far off the tra­di­tion­al PCT route. Tech­ni­cal­ly a side-trip off the trail, near­ly all PCT hik­ers attempt the sum­mit of Mt. Whit­ney from the west­ern approach, and it’s no small feat to do so. For north­bound thru-hik­ers, Mt. Whit­ney is just the begin­ning to the 200-plus mile John Muir Trail ahead of them, mak­ing for a 14,505-foot intro that can’t be forgotten.

Sono­ra Pass
As beau­ti­ful as it’s sig­nif­i­cant in the jour­ney, Sono­ra Pass winds up and down through gor­geous Sier­ra scenery, all the while ush­er­ing hik­ers either out of or into the heart of the Sier­ra Moun­tains. For thru-hik­ers head­ing north, Sono­ra Pass comes right after fin­ish­ing the John Muir Trail and marks a qua­si-pas­sage­way into a new sec­tion of the trail (North­ern Cal­i­for­nia). For those head­ing south, Sono­ra Pass sets a high bar for expec­ta­tions con­tin­u­ing into Yosemite and through­out the rest of the Sier­ra Nevada.

Crater Lake Nation­al Park
Locat­ed in the noto­ri­ous­ly dry region of south­ern Ore­gon, Crater Lake Nation­al Park is a rein­vig­o­rat­ing sight to behold. High above the ancient caldera, thru-hik­ers can opt for the alter­na­tive Rim Trail for the best views. With hun­dreds of miles of the PCT stretch­ing north and south from the shores of Crater Lake, no mat­ter the direc­tion you’re head­ing, the sparkling blue waters are a much-deserved sight to see.

Cas­cade Locks / Bridge of the Gods
To cross between Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon, hik­ers must cross the Colum­bia Riv­er along the Bridge of the Gods. Not only is the sur­round­ing Colum­bia Riv­er Gorge that sep­a­rates these two Pacif­ic North­west States filled with enough beau­ty to cre­ate a post­card busi­ness, but the feel­ing of cross­ing into a new state is excite­ment enough to make this charm­ing town and mas­sive struc­ture a total high­light on the trail.

Goat Rocks Wilderness
With full 360-degree views of Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Pacif­ic North­west alpine scenery, the Goat Rocks Wilder­ness with­in the Gif­ford-Pin­chot Nation­al For­est in south­west­ern Wash­ing­ton pro­vides some of the best views found on the PCT. With the right weath­er, an option­al route can take hik­ers up and above “Old Snowy,” lend­ing toward unpar­al­leled views of what makes both the Cas­cade Moun­tains and the entire Pacif­ic North­west region so special.

Ste­hekin
Less than 100 miles south of the Cana­di­an bor­der, the small com­mu­ni­ty of Ste­hekin lies deep within—and lends access to—North Cas­cades Nation­al Park, and is only acces­si­ble by boat, sea­plane or foot trav­el. Hik­ers along the PCT, espe­cial­ly those going north­bound, are no strangers to hik­ing by now, and can find much enjoy­ment from the serene set­tings of Ste­hekin. While it’s the last stop for many north­bound­ers, it’s just the begin­ning for those head­ing south, and either way, no one can leave with­out sam­pling the fares pro­vid­ed by the Ste­hekin Bakery.

North­ern Terminus—Washington/Canadian Border
Locat­ed in a small patch of woods des­ig­nat­ing the U.S. and Cana­di­an bor­der, for the major­i­ty of thru-hik­ers attempt­ing the trail this is where their jour­ney ends. But for those head­ing south, this marks the begin­ning of an epic adven­ture, and com­pletes two ends of an inti­mate­ly con­nect­ed circle.

Thru-hik­ing the Pacif­ic Crest Trail is top on many hik­ers buck­et list, but tak­ing four to six months to hike the 2650 mile trail isn’t fea­si­ble for all. For­tu­nate­ly there are many gor­geous stretch­es between the desert of Cal­i­for­nia and the woods of Wash­ing­ton that can be hiked in a week or week­end. While many sec­tions lie on well trod­den trails, here are a few where you’ll find beau­ty and rel­a­tive solitude.

Cal­i­for­nia

Cas­tle Crags, California

South­ern Bor­der Mon­u­ment to Lake Morena—20 miles
The begin­ning of the PCT might not seem like it’s hid­den, but this iso­lat­ed stretch takes you through rolling hills of Coul­ter pine and oak before descend­ing into Hauser Canyon. The For­est Ser­vice rec­om­mends doing this as an overnight trip, so bring a tent and stay at the camp here. Plan to hike out ear­ly to avoid a shade­less ascent dur­ing the hot desert afternoon.

Cas­tle Crags State Park to Etna Mountain—100 miles
The begin­ning of the Big Bend sec­tion of the PCT stretch­es through the Kla­math moun­tains hit­ting the Cas­tle Crags, Trin­i­ty, and Russ­ian wilder­ness­es. This rugged route winds through an area heav­i­ly defined by glacia­tion. The lakes, gran­ite spires, and diverse forests are as beau­ti­ful as the trail is stren­u­ous, which is very.

Ore­gon

Sev­en Lakes Basin, Oregon

Sev­en Lakes Basin to Four­mile Lake—30–45 miles 
The Sky Lakes Wilder­ness is an epic sec­tion to explore, but its wind­ing trails will have you stray­ing off the PCT. A high­ly rec­om­mend­ed route leads you south­west from the Sev­en­mile trail­head through fir, pine, and hem­lock forests. Manda­to­ry stops include the Sev­en Lakes and Sky Lakes Basins, as well as the apt­ly named Heav­en­ly Twin Lakes. Only three miles from the fin­ish, beau­ti­ful cliff-lined Blue Lake is worth an after­noon stopover or an even an extra night.

Dia­mond Peak via Immi­grant Pass—15 miles
This pic­turesque and rel­a­tive­ly easy sec­tion can be packed into an overnighter or stretched out to sev­er­al days as side trips abound. Hike 4.7 miles from Immi­grant Pass to the well-marked, but unof­fi­cial, trail up Dia­mond Peak. The non-tech­ni­cal scram­ble adds three steep, but well worth the effort, miles. After the descent set­tle in at great stream­side camps in the mead­ow below Dia­mond Peak. Tree-lined Hid­den Lake makes for a relax­ing lunch/swim spot on the hike out.

Wash­ing­ton

Mt. Adams, Washington

Mount Adams—23 miles
Lit­tle broth­er to Mount Rainier, Mount Adams is gor­geous and much less vis­it­ed. Its rugged, vol­canic scenery trav­els along one of the only “lev­el” sec­tions of the PCT in the Ever­green State. From the fir and hem­lock forests below grad­u­al­ly climb through lava fields and moun­tain mead­ows to above tree-line views of Adams and its rival stratovolcanoes.

Rainy Pass to the Cana­di­an Border—70 miles
We fin­ish at the fin­ish line, but bring your pass­port because this length of the PCT takes you to Man­ning Park in Cana­da. You’ll also need your climb­ing legs as the trail gains over 13,000 feet up and over count­less pass­es. Head here in mid-August for wild­flow­ers in the mead­ows or Sep­tem­ber when the larch­es paint the hill­sides a glow­ing gold­en hue.

dog thru hike

dog thru hikePlan­ning a thru-hike is stren­u­ous enough, but throw­ing a dog into the mix turns the plan­ning process into a part-time job. You’re now putting togeth­er food lists, emer­gency prep plans and try­ing to build packs for two, and one of y’all can’t exact­ly lend a help­ing hand. If you’re con­sid­er­ing tak­ing your pooch on your next long-dis­tance hike here are the pros and cons you need to keep in mind.

Pro: You’ll have a friend
Thru-hikes can be lone­ly endeav­ors and, even for the most intro­vert­ed among us, weeks with­out inter­ac­tion can become drain­ing. Hav­ing your four-legged best friend on hand means you nev­er have to go it alone and won’t be lack­ing in com­pan­ion­ship. He might not be able to talk to you, but he’ll be hap­py to just sit around and lis­ten to water with you. Plus, there’s zero chance of you get­ting into heat­ed argu­ments about who ate the last Clif bar.

Con: He’s kind of high maintenance
Dogs are great com­pan­ions but they’re also pret­ty damn needy. They’ve got to be exer­cised inces­sant­ly, which the trail will take care of, but they also have to be watched like a hawk so they don’t get into trou­ble. Your dog won’t real­ize that cop­per­head on the trail isn’t his friend and it’s up to you to make sure he doesn’t try to play with it. He’s also going to try and eat every­thing in sight, so you’ll have to be extra vigilant.

Don’t for­get about clean­ing up his poop!

Pro: He’ll keep you warm
Most thru-hikes last mul­ti­ple sea­sons and at some point you’re going to feel that cold air nip­ping at your heels. Your dog will glad­ly stand in to help keep you from freez­ing overnight. Pups make great cud­dle bud­dies when they’re not try­ing to stretch and push you out of the tent.

Con: He’ll need extra training
Basic com­mands aren’t going to be enough to keep your dog safe on the trail. You have to be cer­tain he’ll come when called, stay by your side when instruct­ed and, most impor­tant­ly, leave things alone when you say. Oth­er­wise, you’re ask­ing for trou­ble and some pret­ty hefty vet bills—if you man­age to get him to a hos­pi­tal in time.

Sign your dog up for train­ing class­es that focus on off-leash skills, but also reassert your own abil­i­ties to make him fol­low the sim­ple direc­tions most dogs should already know. It’s life and death out there.

Pro: He’ll help you make friends
There’s noth­ing bet­ter to help you make friends than hav­ing a dog by your side. They’re def­i­nite­ly peo­ple mag­nets with their adorable faces and affa­ble per­son­al­i­ties so they can help you out if your social skills kind of suck. Believe it or not, meet­ing peo­ple out on the trail is actu­al­ly one of the best parts of doing a thru-hike.

Con: He can’t car­ry his own weight
While your dog might be able to han­dle a small load over his back, don’t expect him to do any heavy lift­ing. A thru-hike is hard on a dog’s body and con­trary to pop­u­lar belief it’s not safe to stick extra gear in his pack that you don’t want to car­ry your­self. He isn’t a pack mule and his back can’t han­dle much extra weight, espe­cial­ly over long dis­tances, so you’ll have to han­dle his food your­self. Speak­ing of which, if you for­get to add that to one of your resup­ply box­es you’re going to have a bad day.

There are plen­ty of argu­ments for and against tak­ing your dog along with you on a thru-hike, but with prop­er plan­ning it can safe­ly be done. Whether or not you’re up to the task is some­thing to seri­ous­ly con­sid­er before head­ing out. Your dog can be a great com­pan­ion if done prop­er­ly, or a huge lia­bil­i­ty if you go in half-baked.

Hik­ing the 2,650-mile Pacif­ic Crest Trail has its chal­lenges, but there’s got to be a rea­son why more and more peo­ple are ven­tur­ing out each year to tack­le this mul­ti-month thru-hike.  To find a lit­tle clar­i­ty about the things you learn along the way, a 2016 PCT thru-hik­er by the name of Hawk­eye was hap­py to share 10 life lessons learned while hik­ing the Pacif­ic Crest Trail.

bradlane1It’s the Steps Between the Des­ti­na­tions that Define Your Journey
The begin­ning and end of the Pacif­ic Crest Trail make for some of the best pro­file pics, but the real pic­ture of what it’s like to hike the Pacif­ic Crest Trail comes from the many days between the two des­ti­na­tions. Truth be told, the begin­ning and end of the trail aren’t the most mem­o­rable moments of the entire trip. It’s the sud­den snow­storms, the unex­pect­ed trail mag­ic, and the wide-vari­ety of peo­ple who cross your path that have a big­ger impact than the two mon­u­ments that capped the whole experience.


bradlane2Plan Ahead and Pre­pare; Then Go With It When the Plan Falls Apart
Not until the last three miles of the 2,650-mile Pacif­ic Crest Trail did any well-thought out plans go exact­ly as I had writ­ten out on paper. An extra day in town, few­er miles thanks to inclement weath­er, ambi­tious plans meet­ing the real­i­ty of what they are, you name it—any num­ber of things can slow you down on trail. While the ini­tial direc­tion of north lays a good foun­da­tion and prop­er pack­ing is essen­tial for non-star­va­tion, you can only plan and con­trol so much on the Pacif­ic Crest Trail. The rest you just have to make it up as you go along.


bradlane3You Nev­er Know What’s Real­ly Ahead of You Until You Hike There
Inside the tent at night, it’s easy to keep your­self up wor­ry­ing about what obsta­cles lie ahead on the trail; until the com­plete exhaus­tion of hik­ing for months on end kicks in and you fall asleep the moment your head hits the stuff-sack pil­low. Stress­ing about how much the climb will hurt, whether the weath­er is going to stay on your side of the moun­tain, or the unknown dread at the pit of your stom­ach won­der­ing if you can stand up to the over­all chal­lenge. The truth was, only a small num­ber of wor­ries ever came true, and most of the real strug­gle seemed to come with­out fore­warn­ing. While hik­ing the Pacif­ic Crest Trail, the only way to see what obsta­cles you’re fac­ing is by con­fronting them with every step forward.


bradlane4A Lit­tle Com­pa­ny Can Take You A Long Way 
Some of the most reward­ing times hik­ing the Pacif­ic Crest Trail were the solo-moments. Feel­ing your­self shrink as the sun drops on a hid­den camp­site, fol­lowed by the reas­sur­ance of life wak­ing up to the new day’s light—it’s a nec­es­sary expe­ri­ence for any hik­er. But that time alone comes with a sharp edge on its back, enhanc­ing every strug­gle and every phys­i­cal and men­tal dan­ger you come across. Hav­ing a lit­tle com­pa­ny on trail didn’t just pro­vide a safe­ty net, it was often encour­age­ment to go that extra-mile, and you wouldn’t believe the sort of sat­is­fac­tion there is when you are sit­ting, soak­ing in the rain and you are able to turn to some­one and say, “well, this sucks.”


bradlane5Earn­ing the Views Makes Every­thing Look That Much Better 
There’s no lack of moun­tains to climb on the Pacif­ic Crest Trail, almost frus­trat­ing­ly so at times, and there is always a point in each climb where a stray thought could find itself cen­ter­ing around “why am I doing this?” More times than not how­ev­er, as you climb and climb and climb some more, wait­ing for you at the top is a stun­ning view of the world. While those views aren’t too shab­by in the nor­mal day’s light, once you have your blood flow­ing and feel weak in the knees, those views can take you off your feet and remind you exact­ly why you chose this life.


bradlane6This Too Shall Pass
Nin­ja mos­qui­tos mak­ing their way into your tent, soft­ball-sized sprains that slow down your day—a lot of the things that are easy to com­plain about on trail often do pass with time. Ago­niz­ing­ly slow maybe, but every blis­ter, abra­sion, and feel­ing of self-doubt does heal up and become stronger skin. Remem­ber­ing this, and remem­ber­ing that the suc­cess­ful feel­ings of climb­ing to the top of a moun­tain pass, hit­ting 10 miles by 10:00 a.m. and the reas­sur­ance that you are exact­ly where you are sup­posed to be in your jour­ney, those feel­ings too, they shall pass.


bradlane7Men­tal Strug­gles Are Hard to Get Over, For Every­thing Else There is Aleve 
Of course you can’t will your­self out of a bro­ken leg, or pos­i­tive­ly imag­ine the snake ven­om cours­ing its way out of your veins, but more times than not, it’s the men­tal strug­gles won or lost that define your expe­ri­ence on the Pacif­ic Crest Trail. There are immense lows, val­leys that you must climb out of to accom­plish your goals, and the high­est of highs as your raise you arms on top of the world. Being mind­ful of what is real­ly ail­ing you, as well keep­ing a healthy dose of Aleve or Ibupro­fen at hand, is the key for mak­ing the long haul on the PCT.


bradlane8Life Moves Faster with Less Things to Carry 
It’s unbe­liev­able the val­ue you put on things once you start hav­ing to car­ry them all on your back. Sud­den­ly things that were once con­sid­ered essen­tial get pitched into the lux­u­ry cat­e­go­ry, and it’s phys­i­cal­ly notice­able once you cut down all that weight. Liv­ing sim­ply, car­ry­ing only the necessities—even the intan­gi­ble items you leave at home while trav­el­ing the trail, such as con­stant social media plug-ins, 24-hour news chan­nels and the all-know­ing Google to answer all of your questions—makes you quite a bit faster in your pursuits.


bradlane9Insur­mount­able Goals Can Be Reached One Step at a Time 
While 2,650 miles might seem like a lot of dis­tance to cov­er over rugged ter­rain, which it is, the only way it can be been done is one step at a time. While that should go with­out say­ing, it’s easy (and stress­ful) to pic­ture the trail in its entire­ty. Instead, tak­ing the large goal at hand and break­ing it up to sin­gle cycles of the sun it a way to keep sane in an oth­er­wise over­whelm­ing hike across the country.


bradlane10There Are 24 Hours in the Day, Use Them
Donat­ing many 14+ hour days to cov­er the large dis­tances need­ed to reach the Cana­di­an bor­der, sud­den­ly the urgency to use each hour effec­tive­ly becomes inher­ent. What becomes hard to bal­ance how­ev­er isn’t the hours used to hike, it’s the oth­er parts of the day ded­i­cat­ed to rest and recov­ery. Using all 24 hours of the day doesn’t mean hik­ing all night, but instead rais­ing aware­ness of how to use the hours in the day to opti­mize per­for­mance. Rest­ing when relax­ing was need­ed, tak­ing care of the small chores that kept the jour­ney afloat, and hit­ting the trail at full speed with a recharged enthusiasm.


bradlane11Bonus: It’s All in How You Choose to Look at It
While it’s hard to say with any true author­i­ty, the entire trail is real­ly a les­son in per­spec­tive. Whether it’s an appre­ci­a­tion for the run­ning water back home, the real­iza­tion that these forests and parks have been grow­ing for cen­turies before you were ever born, or it’s just the under­stand­ing that rain is wet but it doesn’t have to ruin your day, hik­ing the PCT is a prac­tice in mind­ful­ness and that change in per­spec­tive will define the beau­ty along the way.

pho­tos by Brad Lane

Pete Brook is an inde­pen­dent writer who cov­ered his Pacif­ic Crest Trail thru-hike for Out­side Mag­a­zine last sum­mer. Along the way, Pete doc­u­ment­ed his expe­ri­ence through a hand­ful of arti­cles, and more close­ly through his social media. Pete’s hon­est take on the hike ran counter to the over­ly roman­tic ver­sions of out­door pur­suits that have emerged in recent years. I sat down with him to talk about all things PCT, social media in the out­doors, and much more.

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What was the inspi­ra­tion for the hike?
I did it to take a break; to do the oppo­site of sit­ting in front of a screen for 10 hours a day. That urge is not nov­el and the idea does­n’t deserve any applause. Being able to make time for the hike, and fin­ish­ing it, is some­thing to feel good about. But I’m under no illu­sions, I’m great­ly priv­i­leged both in terms of time and resources.  I’m a free­lancer, finan­cial­ly sta­ble, and with­out any fam­i­ly or respon­si­bil­i­ties to main­tain. Not a lot of peo­ple have that liberty.

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From the very begin­ning, you approached this hike with a cer­tain sort of appre­hen­sion, call­ing your doc­u­men­ta­tion an “hon­est view of the PCT.” Can you speak to that?
I won­dered before­hand what I would do as far as doc­u­ment­ing the hike. In the begin­ning I thought I would just go with­out a phone, and be invis­i­ble. After some delib­er­a­tion I real­ized I want­ed to be able to text my friends, stay in touch with fam­i­ly, and to ulti­mate­ly doc­u­ment the hike. From there I just want­ed to show peo­ple a dif­fer­ent way of see­ing the PCT. For exam­ple, when I pho­tographed the water sources, I want­ed to show how hik­ers can go 20–25 miles between water sources, espe­cial­ly in South­ern California.

A big thing I did was the sketch­es. Lit­tle land­scapes that I would see. A lot of peo­ple have since asked me about the sketch­es and what I want to do with them, more than the pic­tures I took. I think there was some per­son­al invest­ment that peo­ple appre­ci­at­ed. The sketch­es were dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions of the land­scape, rather than pho­tos every­one has already seen.

The Amer­i­can West has been pho­tographed to death. Pho­tog­ra­phy played a key part in estab­lish­ing our nation-state nar­ra­tive about the west, wilder­ness, and Man­i­fest Des­tiny. I write about pho­tog­ra­phy for a liv­ing, and I thought it was kind of an easy ges­ture to repeat the same doc­u­men­ta­tion. So I came up with the the series on water-sources, on ordi­nary land­scapes from where I took my morn­ing dump, and the sketch­es. That isn’t to say that dif­fer­ent ways of doc­u­ment­ing the hike, or the out­doors, are bad. I don’t judge the way any­one has cap­tured his or her hike,  I just had my own way of doing it. 

You wrote about want­i­ng to get away from your com­put­er screen. What did that real­i­ty feel like?
It’s a big priv­i­lege, and I kind of wish to dis­pel the roman­ti­cism that goes with the PCT. Of course it’s amaz­ing, of course you’re total­ly immers­ing your­self in nature, but it’s not like any­one can just get up and go. It’s not an easy undertaking.

“You’re very much liv­ing in your body and you’re very aware of liv­ing in reac­tion to your body. Your pri­or­i­ties are sim­ple things: mak­ing sure you have food, water, and shelter.”

In gen­er­al, to be away from the screen is to live a very dif­fer­ent type of real­i­ty. But, after a cou­ple of weeks, your body is used to get­ting up and walk­ing, and it becomes a very dif­fer­ent way to expe­ri­ence time.

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Do you see any con­flict with the fact that you want­ed to do this hike to get away from the screens in your life, but you also heav­i­ly doc­u­ment­ed your hike?
I had these dreams before the hike that I would ditch the phone entire­ly, but I had to be real­is­tic. I decid­ed that it wasn’t some­thing that I want­ed to do. It was a delib­er­ate choice to use the Halfmile App, to have email in towns, and to keep in con­tact with peo­ple. That choice to share pho­tos and words with peo­ple was some­thing I did deliberately. 

What I real­ized about the desire to get away from being in front of the screen, was that it was real­ly about not being in front of a desk. I came to a place where I felt com­fort­able, going on my phone every once in a while to share the hike with peo­ple was some­thing I want­ed to be doing. I was invest­ed in shar­ing the journey.

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How do you think social media plays into the outdoors?
The thing about social media is that it’s pre­sent­ed as if it’s off the cuff, as if it’s effort­less, but the design and intent behind it is often larg­er and more thought out than is evi­dent. There’s a rea­son a lot of the pho­tographs of the out­doors on Insta­gram look the same. As con­sumers we have sub­con­scious­ly agreed which pho­tos do real­ly well and secure likes and com­ments. So we are going to con­tin­ue post­ing over-exposed land­scapes with sym­met­ri­cal com­po­si­tion, or pics of the bow of a boat, or a fig­ure at water’s edge, dead cen­ter. The trends are easy, but inescapable. How­ev­er, I don’t want to come over as neg­a­tive, I think of these pho­tos as way­points on a shared learn­ing curve. Just because some­thing is easy or com­mon does­n’t make it bad, it’s just easy and common.

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You’ve writ­ten about the dam­age being done to the trail from the increased traf­fic. What do you think the future of the trail is?
I think it’s going to be okay, I’ll say that first. 

There are more peo­ple liv­ing in the world, there are more peo­ple liv­ing on the West Coast of Amer­i­ca, and ulti­mate­ly there are more peo­ple who want to take on the chal­lenge. The PCT has only been for­mal­ized since 1993, so we’re not even 25 years into it. When peo­ple think back to the days when there were only a few hun­dred peo­ple on the trail, those were the ear­ly days, those weren’t the norm. I think the mas­sive spike in PCT hik­ers we’ve seen in the past decade will plateau. Now, the ques­tion is how we man­age 3,000 peo­ple on the trail each year, and it real­ly comes down to the hik­ers to treat it respect­ful­ly. Most hik­ers who I met were very respect­ful and fol­lowed Leave No Trace principles. 

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You seem to swear by Altra. Do you think they are the ulti­mate thru-hike shoe?
Hon­est­ly, I have to say yes and no. Of the four pairs of shoes I wore on the hike, two were Altras. They were my best pair and my worst. The first last­ed more than 900 miles, the sec­ond was less robust.  The major­i­ty of hik­ers tried Altras dur­ing the hike at some point. Some liked them and some did­n’t. A large num­ber of hik­ers did end up wear­ing Altras from begin­ning to end. But, I find that it’s almost point­less to rec­om­mend shoes because everyone’s feet are dif­fer­ent, so you have no idea what’s going to work for every­one. I will say, Altra is hon­est, they’re inge­nious with the design, and they don’t claim to work for every­one, but they do work for so many. 

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If you could tell the gen­er­al pub­lic, or peo­ple going into the PCT, what they need to know about the PCT, what would it be?
Not just for thru-hik­ing, but back­pack­ing gen­er­al­ly, no mat­ter how shit­ty the weath­er gets, how sick of the food you get, what­ev­er you’re feel­ing, you’re only feel­ing it right then and there. The good part might just be over the next pass, the next hour, or the next day. Embrace the fact that the suf­fer­ing is tem­po­rary. One more thing, nev­er ever under­es­ti­mate what your body can do. The human body is capa­ble of some pret­ty mirac­u­lous things. My body changed so much over the course of the hike and just know­ing how hard I could push myself was liberating. 

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What were your biggest take­aways from the hike? Were they dif­fer­ent from what you thought they’d be?
The biggest take away was that peo­ple are good, peo­ple are gen­er­ous. Every town, every com­mu­ni­ty you go through, the locals know who you are and they’re hap­py to see you. There are so many trail angels, so many peo­ple offer­ing rides, to put hik­ers up for the night. Some peo­ple even offer to pay for hik­ers’ food or sup­plies. The amount of sup­port and gen­eros­i­ty was out­stand­ing. That to me was far more amaz­ing than any neb­u­lous idea, or ide­al, of nature. There is no way hik­ers could do the PCT with­out the gen­eros­i­ty of non-hik­ers. As much as I thought the PCT would be a nature expe­ri­ence, it end­ed up being just as much a social expe­ri­ence. It was more about peo­ple for me. 


To keep up with Pete, check out his site, where he cov­ers pri­mar­i­ly pris­ons and photography. 

Cre­at­ed with the pur­pose of inspir­ing a greater sense of envi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship in the out­doors, Pack­ing it Out is an ini­tia­tive rais­ing aware­ness about lit­ter con­di­tions on America’s trails. The crew start­ed on the Appalachi­an trail, where they removed 550 pounds of trash. 

Firm believ­ers of the idea that actions speak loud­er than words, the Pack­ing it Out crew seeks to lead by exam­ple, set­ting out on trails across the US to clean up the spaces we all share togeth­er and inspire oth­ers to do the same, even if it’s just for five minutes. 

“The Pacif­ic Crest Trail is not a triv­ial under­tak­ing. Walk­ing 2650 miles at 20+ miles per day for 148 days takes a toll on your body, espe­cial­ly when your body is 64 years old. When I set out on the PCT, I knew it would be tough, but I learned quick­ly that the first thing that will take most peo­ple off the trail ear­ly is feet problems.

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I start­ed my hike in a pair of soft­er trail shoes think­ing the extra cush­ion would give me some pro­tec­tion from the rough and uneven trail tread. I quick­ly learned that the shape of the shoe and the lack of sta­bil­i­ty cre­at­ed more prob­lems that it solved. Bare­ly 100 miles into the hike I had ter­ri­ble blis­ters and had lost four toenails.

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I quick­ly noticed that most of the expe­ri­enced through hik­ers were wear­ing the same unusu­al shoe, Altras. It was my first expo­sure to Altras, and I got a pair of Lone Peak 2.0. This was some­where around mile 300, and all my foot prob­lems instant­ly went away. The Zero Drop sole allowed my body to walk with a very nat­ur­al stride and the wide toe-box gave my feet plen­ty of room to spread out com­fort­ably which they will invari­ably do on a long hike. I found the cush­ion to be an ide­al  bal­ance between flex­i­bil­i­ty and sup­port, which kept my feet com­fort­able and mov­ing all day long. Most days I walked non­stop for 13 hours at a time.  The unique dou­ble mesh design on the uppers allowed the shoes to breathe so I did­n’t have prob­lems with sweaty feet caus­ing blis­ters. In addi­tion, they dried out quick­ly after it rained, which it did plen­ty of through Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton. In total, I went through five pairs of Altras in the 2,300 miles that I wore them.  They got me through real­ly rough ter­rain, mud and snow and served me well in all con­di­tions. I can say with­out ques­tion that I don’t think I would have com­plet­ed this hike with­out my Altras” — Dean Paschall, Sun Val­ley, ID

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To get your own pair of Altras, shop here at The Clymb.