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.

Pacific Rim National Park

If you think of hik­ing as some­thing you only do in the moun­tains, think again. These rugged coastal hikes will stretch your per­cep­tion of what life on the beach can mean.

Shi Shi BeachShi Shi Beach to Rial­to Beach, Olympic Nation­al Park, WA
Dis­tance: 35 miles, 5–7 days
Part of Olympic Nation­al Parks, this hike takes you along beach­es, over rugged head­lands on rope lad­ders, and around points that can only be round­ed dur­ing low tide. Sea otters, whales, and col­or­ful tide­pool crit­ters abound along with spec­tac­u­lar sun­sets and sea stacks. You’ll need: a tide chart, a reser­va­tion, and a bear can­is­ter for keep­ing your food away from the aggres­sive raccoons.


Lost Coast, CaliforniaMat­tole Beach to Shel­ter Cove, The Lost Coast, CA
Dis­tance: 25 miles, 3 days
In North­ern California’s fog­gy, “Lost Coast,” this hike through the King’s Range is less rugged than its pre­de­ces­sor, but more iso­lat­ed. Don’t miss the Pun­ta Gor­da Light­house, and enjoy long sandy beach­es with occa­sion­al riv­er cross­ings. A per­mit is required to camp overnight in the Kings Range Wilderness.


Channel Island National Park, CASan­ta Bar­bara Island, Chan­nel Island Nation­al Park, CA
Dis­tance: 5 miles or more
To hike San­ta Bar­bara Island, you first have to get there, which involves a boat ride from main­land south­ern Cal­i­for­nia to this rugged lit­tle nation­al park of scat­tered islands that are home to Ele­phant Seals, sea cliffs, and arch­es. Once you make your way up the steep cliffs from the beach, you’ll find rolling land­scapes and stun­ning vis­tas of a great blue world stretch­ing off into the horizon.


Pacific Rim National ParkThe West Coast Life­sav­ing Trail, Pacif­ic Rim Nation­al Park, B.C.
Dis­tance: 47 miles, 6–8 days
The great-grand­dad­dy of Pacif­ic coastal trails, the West Coast Life­sav­ing Trail from Pachena Bay to Port Ren­frew on Van­cou­ver Island’s west coast, has been described as gru­el­ing, remote and as “an obsta­cle course for adults.” It involves scram­bles over impass­able head­lands, riv­er cross­ings on hand-cranked cable cars, and scram­bles up and down lad­ders. Orig­i­nal­ly cre­at­ed to pro­vide an egress to sailors strand­ed by the many boats that wrecked in the “grave­yard of the Pacif­ic,” it fol­lows a road­less, rugged, and reward­ing stretch of the British Colum­bia Coast.

 

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.

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.

 

©istockphoto/tolstnevThe Pacif­ic Crest Trail. The Greater Patag­on­ian Trail. The Appalachi­an. They’re all on most long-dis­tance hik­ers’ dream list of trails to con­quer, but they’re also incred­i­bly dan­ger­ous for the unpre­pared, espe­cial­ly if you’re solo hik­ing. There are end­less threats along these paths and it’s impor­tant to know how to keep your­self safe while you hike for weeks on end.

Before you start your next long-dis­tance hike, make sure you have these things checked off when you go.

Make a First-Aid Kit
Basic first-aid kits for a short hike in the local park and a first-aid kit designed for long-dis­tance hik­ing are two dif­fer­ent ani­mals. For starters, one is obvi­ous­ly going to be much larg­er than the other.

Gauze, emer­gency med­ica­tions, tape, oint­ments, and tools are all pret­ty stan­dard. For long dis­tance hik­ing, you also need to account for the spe­cif­ic land­scape you’re tra­vers­ing and the wildlife you’ll encounter. You’re more like­ly to encounter ven­omous snakes on the Pacif­ic Crest Trail than you are on the Appalachi­an, for instance.

Hik­ers on weeks-long adven­tures need to include items like irri­ga­tion syringes to clean out wounds, emer­gency splints, space bags and blan­kets for treat­ing hypother­mia, rub­ber­ized ban­dages, ther­mome­ters, for­ceps, aloe vera gel, mole­skin for blis­ters, rehy­dra­tion salts and approved anti­his­t­a­mines for aller­gies. You might want to car­ry a spot bea­con to call for help in case things go south quick­ly. Those are just for starters.

Become famil­iar with the trail by study­ing guide­books and speak­ing with those who’ve trav­eled it before and put togeth­er a com­pre­hen­sive kit that’ll help you in case of emergency.

Be Pre­pared for the Worst
If you’re set­ting out to do a long-dis­tance hike it makes a ton of sense to pro­tect your­self, to a cer­tain extent. A sim­ple can of bear spray and even a pock­et knife can go a long way to pro­tect­ing your­self, whether it be from the way­ward hik­er or an ornery bear. While vio­lent attacks are rare, they do hap­pen and you need to know how to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion is impor­tant. For those a lit­tle less inclined to car­ry some­thing too seri­ous, runner’s mace is a good alternative.

We hear Kung-Fu works, too.

Carry/Study your Maps
If you’re hik­ing a long trail with­out a map, you’re ask­ing for trou­ble. Not only should you have a guide­book with exten­sive maps of the trail with you as you go, but you should also spend an ample amount of time study­ing it before­hand in case, heav­en for­bid, some­thing hap­pens to it while you’re on the trail and you have to rely on memory.

Take notes and stuff them in a sep­a­rate com­part­ment of your pack, or sim­ply have a sec­ond copy of the book with you as you go. The added weight might be a pain but it could save your life in the long run.

Stay on Trail 
We’re not say­ing you shouldn’t explore a bit, but do it with a bit of com­mon sense back­ing you up. If you go off trail, don’t trav­el fur­ther than a few meters.

Always keep the trail in sight and mark your way back in an envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly way. If you’re unfa­mil­iar with your sur­round­ings or things sim­ply don’t feel safe, just stick to the path. Nobody wants to end up falling down a ravine or serv­ing them­selves up as a deli­cious din­ner for moun­tain lions.

Remem­ber, in a lot of nation­al parks it’s actu­al­ly ille­gal to go off trail, and some trails pass through pri­vate lands.

 

nomad

Watch the Weather
A sud­den storm can wreak hav­oc on your hik­ing trip. Along long-dis­tance trails, there’s always the dan­ger of flood­ing, mud­slides, and bliz­zards that’ll wind up send­ing you to an ear­ly grave if you’re not ready for them. Always keep up with local weath­er reports. Many trails are with­in a dis­tance of cell recep­tion and you might be able to get reports on your phone.

Oth­er­wise, be sure to check up on what’s ahead at each resup­ply town you come to.

When long-dis­tance hik­ing, your com­mon sense, and your instincts are your great­est resources, so trust them and always play it on the safe side when your gut is telling you some­thing is wrong.

Unless your instincts are awful; then you just might be out of luck.

Nate (right) and Tyler at an Alpine Lake in the Sierras

Fun fact: I’m one of three Clymb employ­ees to have thru-hiked the Pacif­ic Crest Trail (PCT) in 2005.  Over the course of five months, I trekked 2600 miles from Cana­da to Mex­i­co with my col­lege room­mate, Tyler (Brand Event Man­ag­er at The Clymb). That same year, Brett (Busi­ness Devel­op­ment Man­ag­er), began hik­ing the PCT northbound.

Tyler and I nev­er saw Brett on the trail — our paths prob­a­bly crossed some­where around Etna, Cal­i­for­nia — but we still have plen­ty to chat about around the water cool­er. It was in the mid­dle of one such dis­cus­sion that we got the idea to put togeth­er a light­weight trekking event for The Clymb.  We want­ed to give our mem­bers an oppor­tu­ni­ty to light­en their loads and walk far­ther, faster.

The Trekking Essen­tials event will help you do just that. Every hik­er is dif­fer­ent. There is no mag­ic com­bi­na­tion of gear that allows you to walk 30 miles a day with­out break­ing a sweat. But one thing’s for sure: an effec­tive long dis­tance back­pack­ing sys­tem needs to be light­weight. Every item in your pack needs to be assessed in terms of its val­ue ver­sus its weight. If pos­si­ble, each item you choose to car­ry will serve mul­ti­ple pur­pos­es. That’s why you’ll find tarps propped up by trekking poles, down jacket/half sleep­ing bag com­bos, con­vert­ible pants, and mul­ti-tools in this event.

Brett watching his calorie intake
Brett watch­ing his calo­rie intake; Milk was a bad choice

If you see some oppor­tu­ni­ties to swap your old hefty gear for some­thing less bur­den­some, I encour­age you to go for it. The feel­ing of cruis­ing across an alpine ridge unen­cum­bered by your pack is an exhil­a­rat­ing expe­ri­ence. If you’re curi­ous to learn more about what it takes to pre­pare for a thru-hike, check out an arti­cle I put togeth­er for Ore­gon Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing (OPB).

Have a lis­ten to Nate, Tyler, and Brett as they share their insight­ful and fun­ny thoughts on thru-hik­ing The Pacif­ic Crest Trail: