As some of you remember, I wrote a monthly column recently about my Appalachian Trail thru-hike last summer. I’m back. This time, on the Pacific Crest Trail. The Pacific Crest Trail stretches over 2,650 miles from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. The trail passes through the Mojave desert, up through the Sierra Nevadas, and the Cascades, and through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.
My Appalachian Trail experience inspired me to embark on another 4-5 month hiking journey. I always thought of AT as the ultimate adventure, but once I completed it I found myself hungry for more. There are three long-distance National Scenic Trails in the United States: The Appalachian Trail, The Continental Divide Trail, and The Pacific Crest Trail. The Continental Divide Trail, or the CDT, traverses the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada. People talked of doing the PCT from the very beginning of the AT. Hikers who complete all three of these trails are called “Triple Crowners.” There were some hikers on the AT who had already completed one or two of the other legs of the Triple Crown. So naturally, I would pick their brain about it. The wisdom I received was this: the PCT was easier in terms of hiking but more difficult logistically for resupplying. The wisdom of the easier trail comes from the fact that the entire PCT is graded for horseback. It’s a nice ‘gentle’ path, which allows for more daily miles. A sharp contrast from the roots and rocks of the up and down East Coast trails I know
Unlike the AT, you can’t just go hike the PCT. You need a permit or many permits. For trips over 500 miles, the Pacific Crest Trail Association issues permits that encompass all local and federal National Park and Forest Permits. This is to limit the use and numbers on the trail and protect the fragile natural resources. For long-distance trips northbound, the PCTA issues 50 permits every day in March, April and May. You sign in to a web portal and at a certain time, you are assigned a random place in line. You could wait five minutes or 2 hours. I was able to obtain a permit for May 21. I was beyond excited but not thrilled about the late start date. I was hoping for an early May start to give me a buffer for the end of maple sugaring season, and also increase the likelihood of less snowpack in the Sierras. My biggest concern was that it would be hotter in the desert and I’d be less likely to make it to Washington before the mountains there became snowed in. So I periodically checked to see if earlier dates would open up as some people gave up their earlier permits. I tried for weeks and weeks with no luck. Then one day I was able to change my date to May 10. I could then make concrete travel plans.
I would bring similar gear on this hike with some notable changes. I knew water was an issue on the trail. Some distances between water sources can stretch 30 miles. That’s a lot of water weight to carry. I needed to lighten up my load. My pack on the AT was usually in the 30-33 pound range. If I was going to hit that again while carrying 2-3 times as much water, I would need to change some things. I started by switching to a lighter pack and tent. I bought microspikes for possible snow and ice conditions. The sun in the desert is a concern. I bought a sun hoodie to cover my neck and head. I also made a minor tweak to my shoes. While I stayed with the same brand and model, I switched from a mid-cut to a low-cut shoe and ditched the waterproofing. I wanted my feet to breathe better, and the lighter, smaller shoes dry faster.
When I travel, I like to include as many things on my trip as I can. I had friends in Washington, D.C., and Southeast Pennsylvania that I wanted to see first. I left Vermont on May 3 after a very successful sugaring season. My father gave me a ride to Manchester, N.H., where I rented a car from the airport. I drove to New Hope, Penn., to see my AT friend, Doc. He is headed back to the AT late in May to finish where he left off last year.
The next day I headed to Gettysburg. I had always wanted to go. I did one of the guided bus tours of the battlefield and toured the museum and cyclorama. What a breathtaking place of historical significance. You could almost picture yourself being there. From there I headed to Washington, D.C. to return my rental car at the airport. My college friends Pat and Maddie, who were married last summer, were there to pick me up. They live just outside the city close to the metro, with easy access to D.C. I had seen many of the museums and monuments in the city on previous trips. One thing I hadn’t seen was Arlington National Cemetery. I got to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Pretty incredible and solemn. I went to the National Archives and saw the Declaration of Independence which was interesting since I was at the location of its singing only days before. I did a quick tour of the monuments and flew out the next morning.
My flight took me back to New York City, where I boarded another plane to San Diego. As I sit here in my hotel chomping at the bit to begin my journey I have all too much time to reflect and think. I am excited to hike and start my way northward. I’m excited for the challenges and rewards to come and to get back to the hiking community I love. Tapper will be born again! I look forward to keeping you updated along the way.