PCT 101

Here’s the most common questions we’ve been asked about our hike.

What’s the PCT?

Map of PCT from Yogi’s Handbook


The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a long ass trail for hikers and horses (and their riders, of course). Its endpoints are at the Mexican border (a bit southeast of San Diego) and at Manning Park, Canada covering just over 2,650 miles. A thru hiker will pass through 3 states (California, Oregon, and Washington) and 6 ecozones.

What’s a thru hike?
Basically, a thru hike is hiking the entire length of a trail in one continuous journey. The most commonly known thru hike in the U.S.A. is the Appalachian Trail.

When do most people begin their hike?
Northbound hikers leave from the border sometime between March to late May, most leaving at the end of April.

How many people thru hike the PCT?
It’s hard to know an exact number. It’s probably around 400-700 people every year and about 50-60% of them make it.

How long does it take to hike?
Takes anywhere from 3-6 months to complete the hike.  Amount of time to complete it depends on many factors such as hiking speed, hours of hiking per day, days off from the trail (e.g. going over to Portland to visit your sister for a few days and to meet the nephew born while you were getting sunburned in the Sierras), etc. The average hiker takes 5 months.

How do you get water?
There are various watering holes along the trail. They can be as clean as a faucet or as dirty as a questionable stagnant stream. Distance between water supply spots vary (from a few feet apart to 20 miles apart. Ugh.). Where there are long dry stretches, hikers will often come across a water cache left by trail angels.

How will you get food and supplies?
There are many small towns and stops within walking or hitchhiking distance from the trail. You can either buy all your food from the local shops, or have food/supplies shipped to you and picked up at the local Post office. A hiker will 3-10 days worth of food at a time, which translates to 6-25lbs of weight. Supplies that will only be used during specific sections, such as an ice ax for the Sierras, will be mailed to us from home. Thanks mom! We can also receive care packages from other people. We hope to get some treats that are hard to find on the trail from our fans (again, thanks mom).

Where will you sleep?
In a tent, under the stars, out in the backcountry for the vast majority of the time. There may be the occasional motel stop to shower, laundry, avoid horrific weather.

How many miles a day will you hike?
About 20. 15 when things get steep, snowy, or tiring. 30 if we’re feeling ambitious, energetic, or crazy.

You’re gonna be stinky.
Yes…yes we will be. Fortunately, we’ll be outside most of the time so it should be ok. Showering will be a luxury so we’ll see how many we get in during those 5 months.

What’s awesome on the PCT?
Deserts, mountains, valleys, meadows, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, plants, animals, people, towns, stars, general beautifulness, the weather…sometimes

What’s not awesome on the PCT?
One could  definitely say that there no downsides to the whole experience. The hardships make the experience more fulfilling. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. However, whatever doesn’t kill you could at least make you itch. So, here’s some less than awesome aspects: poison oak, angry animals (bears, scorpions, rattlesnakes, lions, mosquitos), not getting a hitch, heavy pack days, serious blisters on your feet. Weather can include crazy wind, snow, extreme temperatures (20-100F), and rain.

Will you see other people on the trail?
Yes! and it’s an aspect that we’re looking forward to. In addition to meeting other thru-hikers (some northbound like us, some southbound), we will come across day hikers, section hikers (people who are hiking only a section of trail), and trail angels.

What’s a trail angel?
A volunteer who helps out hikers and the trail. Trail angels help out in many ways. Their amazing acts of kindness are called “trail magic.” Here’s some of the wonderful things they do:

  • maintaining water caches during long dry stretches of the desert
  •  offering services to hikers (laundry, shower, a place to sleep, holding mailed boxes, rides to/from the trail)

What’s hiker trash? Is it smelly?
Not sure where the term originated or if there’s an official definition (a simple google search could probably fix this), but we think of hiker trash as the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, who just happen to smell like a combo of foot, b.o., dirt, and peanut butter. Hiker trash is the term applied to  long distance hikers as they are often confused for homeless people or other “trashy” people. Hikers use the term affectionately to refer to one another and themselves. And yes, it is the smelliest trash you’ve ever encountered.

2 thoughts on “PCT 101

  1. Matthew

    How much would 5 months cost you out on the trail? over all what was the cost without sponsors and donated gear and goods? how much training was involved- types and dedicated time? was it more mentally or physically draining at times?
    thanks,
    Matt

  2. admin Post author

    Matthew, the cost varies greatly from person to person. We do not have any sponsors or donated goods. The average total cost for the cost of the hike plus gear is somewhere around $3000-6000. Motels, restaurants, and shipping costs can really add up, but if you’re money savvy you can save money. I suggest ordering Yogi’s planning handbook to help you get a better understanding of how much people spend, along with any other question you may have about planning and hiking the PCT. There are some great charts and breakdowns of people’s budget in the book that’ll show you how varied people’s costs can be.

    As for training, we were both in ok shape. 3 months before leaving, we could hike about 5-7 miles wearing a pack. Over 3 months, we hiked on local mountain trails every weekend, gradually increasing our hiking distance to about 12 miles a day before getting to Campo. In addition to hiking, we would go to the climbing gym, take our dogs on long walks, or go running. a few weeks before leaving, we hiked the Trans Catalina Trail to test out gear and get some training on ascents/descents.

    In the beginning, the trail was physically demanding. The whole trail is demanding, but my body felt strong after the first couple weeks. The body aches became less. Although they never really went away, they became tolerable and you get used to the weight of a pack. I think the mental part is the most challenging part in the end. As I prepare for this year’s hike, I think about both the physical and mental challenges ahead. I’m doing the same training by hiking trails with a pack, climbing, walking dogs. For the mental part, I’m doing more research on trees, flowers, insects, birds, geography so that I have a better connection to the trail while I’m on it. I’m also going to carry a super mini pack of cards this year to help pass the time when my mind gets bored.

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