Questions and Answers
On this page, I hope to answer some common questions about my trip and about the
Pacific Crest Trail. Please email me at
firstname.lastname@example.org if you
want to know more.
- Where does the trail go? Where does it start and end? The Pacific
Crest Trail runs 2650 miles from the Mexican border near Campo, California
(about 50 miles east of San Diego) to the Canadian border, near Manning Provincial
Park, British Columbia (about 125 miles east of Vancouver). The trail
runs due north from the border and quickly crosses I-8 on its way across
the awesome Anza-Borrego desert and into the San Jacinto Mountains,
part of which are in a National Monument established by President Clinton.
Dropping out of the San Jacinto mountains,
the trail then crosses
I-10 at San Gorgonio pass and enters the San Bernadino mountains, passing
near Big Bear City on its way to Cajon pass (I-15) and the San Gabriel
which it traverses to the hamlet of Agua Dulce. This is the end of a long
westward swing around the LA area, which was suprisingly wild and really
nice despite the proximity to so many people. The trail then strikes north
across the Tejon Ranch, part of the Mojave, and traverses part of the LA
aquaduct, before crossing the Tehachapi mountains, which geologically
are the start of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is 150 miles further across
spectacular desert ranges to the popular start of the Sierra, a small
store located in Kennedy Meadows, near Ridgecrest.
Leaving Kennedy Meadows, the PCT enters into perhaps the grandest of all
mountain scenery in the America and certainly one of the great ranges
of the world. The trail runs past Mount Whitney, the highest point in the
contiguous United States, before entering and traversing Sequoia and Kings Canyon
National Parks and the John Muir and Ansel Adams wildernesses. Leaving
the Ansel Adams wilderness, the PCT enters Yosemite, traveres the eastern
end of it, and then heads due north through the exquisite Sonora Pass
area on its way to Lake Tahoe and the end of the Sierra Nevada.
From Lake Tahoe north, the landscape
changes from the classic granite of the Sierras into the volcanic
ranges of the Cascade mountains. Mounts Lassen and Shasta provide beacons
for the hiker, pointing the way north. The trail makes a sharp right
turn at Mount Shasta to escape the dry lands to the immediate north of
the second highest Cascade peak, and heads into the unique Klammath
mountains. Crossing I-5 and into the Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains,
the PCT rolls north before entering Oregon and pushing east I-5 again,
near Ashland, Oregon.
The trail through Oregon is a sequence of highlights, each separated
by several days of hiking through mosquito infested forests. The
majesty of Crater Lake is followed by the awesome mountains of the
southern Cascades: Mts Thielson and Washington and Three Fingered Jack.
These provide a brief respite before the trail plunges back into
the viewless forest, only to emerge for an all-to-brief period in the
Three Sisters Wilderness. Another forest walk ensues, but the
inspiring Mount Jefferson comes to the rescue, at least for a day.
Mount Hood provides a final, and exciting, Oregon peak to wonder at.
The trail traverses around the southern and western flanks of
this fourth highest of Cascade mountains, before plunging down to meet
the Columbia river at the town of Cascade Locks, just down river
from the larger burg of Hood River.
The PCT heads north into Washington, a state which provokes a definite
love-hate feeling in the hiker. The majesty of places like the Goat Rocks
or Alpine Lakes wildernesses are balanced by the cruel destruction of
wide spread clear cuts. Large tracts of protected lands are offset by
large tracts of destroyed land. The trail rumbles through a small
part of Mount Rainier National Park before crossing I-90 at
Snoqualmie Pass. With a final push north, the trail crosses
the North Cascades National Park, before ending at the Canadian border in the
spectacular and pristine Pasayaten Wilderness. As there is nothing at the
border except for a monument and a trail register, most hikers head north
for 8 miles through Manning Provincial Park to the park headquarters, where
lodging, food, and a bus stop are located.
- How long did it take you? How many miles did you walk per day?
I started hiking north from the Mexican
border on May 9, 2003 and reached the Canadian border on August 21, 2003. That
works out to be 105. That works out to be an average of 25.24 miles per day.
I went slower at first and then picked up the pace after my body had strengthened
and I cleared the Sierra Nevada.
I reached Sierra City (1191 miles) on July 2, which is 55 after I started,
I averaged 21.65 miles per day. I went from Sierra City to Canada (1459 miles)
in 50 days, which is 29.18 miles per day.
- What is the average time most hikers take? Most hikers tend to
take in the range of 135 to 165 days to complete their hike. I didn't set out
to do a fast hike, but that is how it turned out.
- Do you feel you missed something by hiking so many miles a day?
No, I don't believe I did. I never really felt rushed. I took lots of breaks during the
day and didn't run the trail or anything daft like that. I started walking early
in the morning, usually as the sun came up (around 6), and would set camp as the sun was
setting (around 8 or 9). I'd usually get into camp with energy left over, despite
hiking 30 or 35 miles. The three things I did miss was a bit of the social scene during
the summer. After entering leaving Sierra City, I met only four new hikers. There
were two hikers that were hiking at about the same speed as I was, and I saw them
most of the summer. The second thing I missed was the fall foliage in Washington,
which is supposed to be spectacular. The third thing that I missed was all the
bad weather and forest fires that the late season brought. Many thru hikers had to
hitch hike around fires in Oregon and Washington, missing large amounts stretches of
trail, including gems like Mount Jefferson.
- Did you hike alone? Sort of. I set off from the Mexican border alone.
At the end of the first day I ran into a young woman (Glory) who I then hiked with until
Agua Dulce, and from Kennedy Meadows to Belden. I met two
hikers (Will and Birdie) at the Pines-to-Palms highway near Idyllwild.
We hiked into Agua Dulce together, and then from Kennedy Meadows to
Ashland, where Will took off. I was then completely alone until Cascade Locks,
where I saw Birdie during a day off. I was along for another ten days, when
I met up with Birdie again for the hike from Skykomish to Manning Park. I tried
to hike and camp alone as much as possible, but some days this just didn't work out.
- What about those silly names? Frequently hikers go by "trail" names,
instead of the real names. Sometimes the hiker themselves decide on a trailname
before hand and try to make it stick. Sometimes this works, but these names
usually don't fit very well. I took to inventing my own trail names for
people who I thought gave themselves trailnames. These names usually were not
too flattering and I generally only used them around friends. The more traditional,
and long lasting, way for people to get trail names is for others to give them.
The name usually reflects a trait or habit of the hiker, or something that they
may have done or had done to them.
- Did you get a trail name? I got the trail name of Suge (as in Sugar) in
Big Bear City. The story is really rather boring, but it involved a nice woman at the
postoffice, a bunch of beer, and a King of the Hill episode. It is best if you
invent your own story to weave into these three points. For a while I became known as
Sugarmonkey. Glory, Will, Sharon, and I were hiking up into the San Gabriels after
a long day. We really wanted to camp, but couldn't find anything on the way up. On
top of the climb, we couldn't find anything good. Rather than pressing on, we decided
to walk back a bit to a subpar campspot. On the way back, I spotted a clearing through
the brush that was perfect. I was so happy that I did my best ape imitation,
complete with swinging
arms and sound effects. The name was born out of the laughter of my companions.
It really was a nice spot, though.
- How did you get your food? The PCT goes close to many towns and I tended to
buy my food from these places. Many of the towns are small and have limited supplies,
but this wasn't much of a bother. I would usually hike 75-125 miles
between resupply points, although I did have several longer stretches and a few
short ones. I found that even when I left a town with a
large grocery store, I carried about what I would out of town that had only a
gas station to resupply at. I mailed myself food to four locations along the trail
where resupply would be difficult or expensive. See the separate page I have put
up on towns on the PCT. I tended to carry more food
than most. Here what I would typically carry out of a resupply point for a
"three days and a morning" (100 miles) stretch between resupply points:
- 6 Quaker Breakfast Squares or 12 Fruit and Grain Bars
- 1 box Mac and Cheese
- 2 Packages Ramen noodles
- 2 pouches Lipton's Rice and Sauce
- 4 Snickers Bars
- 4 Milky Way Bars
- 8 oz cheese
- 1 package tortillas
- 1 jar nutella or peanut butter
- 2 bags spicy Cajun party mix
- 6 individual packets of Cheese and Crackers (6 crackers per)
- 6 individual packets of assorted nuts (hot peanuts, smoked almonds, etc)
- 1 box raisens
- 6 individually wrapped Mrs. Fields cookies or 1 bag Double Stuft Oreos
- What about water? From the Mexican border to Kennedy Meadows (mile 697),
there are lots of stretches where water sources are 20-30 miles apart. There
were many times when I would carry my full load of 7.2 liters of water and reach
a water source with a half liter of water left. After Kennedy Meadows, there
are only a few stretches where water sources are more than 10 miles apart. Usually,
you don't have to carry any water at all. Most water sources north of Kennedy
Meadows are creeks or springs, but in Oregon there is mostly putrid lake water.
From Mexico to Kennedy Meadows, I used Polar Pure to
treat my water. Polar Pure uses iodine crystals to form an iodine solution and is
very cheap: $6 worth of polar pure treats about 2000 liters of water. North of
Kennedy Meadows, I tended not to treat my water, choosing instead to drink directly
from the great water flowing off the mountains. I tried to choose the safest
water I could and did treat occasionally when the source merited some iodine. In
far northern California and southern Oregon, there are lots of cattle and
rumors of spoiled water sources, so I began treating again. Across most of
Oregon I had to take water out of lakes and always treated such water. I never
had so much as a case of loose bowels during my trip.
- What about bears? I saw eight or maybe ten bears during my trip. I'd usually
suprise them while they eating by the side of the trail in the early morning. They
would take off like a rocket and I could generally hear them crashing through the
brush several minutes after they ran. I saw three bears south of Kennedy Meadows and
the rest in northern California. I never had to deal with a problem bear, although
I did hear stories of hikers who had to. I credit my campsite selection for
this. I would generally cook my main meal of the day in the afternoon (between 12 and 5)
and then continue hiking through the early evening. I would not camp in
designated campsites, where bears have learned they can get food from campers.
Particularly in the Sierra Nevada, I would not camp low and in a valley. Instead,
I tended to camp higher up on ridges or just below passes. At night, I
would put my food in my pack and put my pack under my feet and sleep
comfortably. A non-rabid black bear is not going to physically attack you
to get at your food. But, they will climb a tree and take your food off of
a bear line. I thought it best to keep my food with me, rather than risk
having it stolen by a bear and contributing to a problem.
- What about bear cannisters? Bear cannisters are required for
camping in certain areas of the Sierra Nevada and even for hiking in
some areas. Some of these areas are small and you can get across them
in a day and not have to worry about the regulations. Other areas
require you to use a cannister above 10,000 ft, but don't require one
down low. Unfortunately, there isn't a good, up-to-date, centralized
clearing house for this information. At least, I could not find one.
There is lots of out dated information available and lots of rumors,
but very few concrete, recent documents. From reading the signs
at various entry points, it looks like the only place I violated the regulations
about carrying a bear cannister was in the Ansel Adams wilderness.
- Did you carry a cell phone? No. Even if I had, it wouldn't have
been of any use outside of a few areas in southern California. The PCT
goes through some fairly remote and mountainous terrain. Cell phones
just don't work very well. If you feel like you really need to be able
to contact people in an emergency, buy or
rent a satellite phone for the trip. Very expensive and heavy, but atleast
it will work. On a personal note, I do not believe that a cell phone is
necessary and, more importantly, is certainly not desireable. I wanted to
get away from outside contact and to simplify my life as much as possible.
If an emergency had arrisen, I would have dealt with it then as best I
- Did you get lost? How easy is it to stay on trail? It is
harder than the Appalachian Trail, but not too hard in general. The trail
has the most markers in the south, but it is also the easiest to get lost
here. The reason is that there are a lot of ATV and other use-trails
that cross the PCT, and it is easy to veer off on one. Silverwood Lake was
rather awful and I got fairly well lost. I ended up on a road, figured out
where I was on the map, and just walked the road for a mile to where
the trail crossed it. That was as bad as it got for me. In the Sierra,
you have no blazes except old axe marks, and the trail is frequently
buried in snow. Unless you are one of the first ones through, you
can generally follow tracks to get to the right spot, but
not always. I got lost a fair amount in the Sierra, but never really
all the bad. Pinchot Pass was the worst, but even this wasn't
too hard. The notorious section O (Burney Falls to Dunsmuir) was
very easy, due to the fact that trail crews were working hard on it.
- What books do I need? There are four: The California guides,
volumes I and II, the guide to Oregon and Washington, and the data book.
If you were brave, you could not buy the Oregon and Washington guidebook,but I
think this would be rather foolish if you were planning on a regular finish date.
Tempting the weather would be a recipe for disaster. The guidebooks have all
the relevant maps and water source information. Their town information is
not to be relied on, nor is their information on how to get to town.
Understandably, they very anti-hitch hiking and so give information
about how to walk into some towns. I stuck out my thumb, which worked
poorly sometimes, well others.
- What permits do you need? If you are hiking more than 500 miles on
the PCT in one stretch, you can get a permit from the Pacific Crest Trail
Association. This is just a National Forest Permit, but they fill it out for
you. Since federal permits are based on your entry point, my permit for the
Cleveland National Forest was good in Yosemite and the North Cascades, in addition
to Cleveland National Forest. Most places do not require a permit. If you
want to climb Mount Whitney, you need a permit, which the PCTA can also
issue for about $10. I met three backcountry rangers on the entire trip,
all within an hour of each other. This was in the Desolation Wilderness,
a very popular, and spectacular, area outside of Lake Tahoe. Two of them
asked to see my permit, but didn't ask it of the other people that I was
with at the time.
- What was your favorite place on the trail? I got this question
alot and it is a really hard (if not impossible) one to answer accurately.
The best answer would be: The whole thing. But, people do not want to hear
this. The most viewful stretch on the trail has to be the Sierra Nevada, from
Kennedy Meadows to South Lake Tahoe, with the stretch between Kennedy Canyon and
Wolf Pass, though Sonora pass, winning the overall beauty contest. There
were places in Oregon (Jefferson Park) and Washington (Goat Rocks) that came
close, but these were sights that you would enter into and leave a hour or
two later. The Sonora Pass area was an entire day of nothing but jaw dropping
views and the Sierras themselves run on and on and on. Unlike the Cascades,
in the Sierras you really are in the heart of the mountains, rather than
running alongside the edges of them.
- What was your least favorite part of the trail? This is easy: Most
of Oregon, particularly southern Oregon. It was very hot (upper 90s) and humid when
I went through in late July and the
mosquitoes were truly attrocious. Water was lacking, and what water there
was was foul and hot from shallow, stagnant lakes. To make matters
worse, the trail through Oregon
is mostly a flat walk through second growth forests, without views. Throw in
some clear cuts to complete the scene. Of course, there
are some really nice spots: Crater Lake, Three Fingered Jack, The Three
Sisters, Mounts Jefferson and Hood, Eagle Creek Falls. But,the state is 450 miles
or so in trail length. These highlights add up to about a day or two of
walking, which isn't enough to make up for all the downsides of hiking through
- How did you get to the southern trailhead? Bob Riess, a school
teacher in San Diego and all around good guy, picks hikers up at the San Diego
airport, puts them up over night, helps with logistics, and drives them
to the trailhead in the early morning hours. He posts a message to the
Pacific Crest Trail Mailing list in the winter time about this. To
subscribe to the PCT-L, see the links section of this site.
- How do I get home from Canada? When you get to the border, keep
hiking north into Manning Provincial Park. There is a trail that leads 8 miles
to the park headquarters and lodge. From there, you can catch a Greyhound bus to a
variety of locations, such as Vancouver. The bus stops at the lodge and you
can supposedly buy tickets on the bus or in Hope (a later stop). I wanted some
beer to drink and so hitched the 20 miles out to the east gate of the park,
where I bought a ticket and some beer, and then hitched back in. From
Vancouver, you can either take a bus south to Seattle or fly out of Vancouver.
It is a lot cheaper to fly out of Seattle, however.
- Where should I stay in Vancouver? The bus station is in a bad
part of town. Walk into downtown (through China town) and pick up a tourist
map at any of the kiosks or fancy hotels. Keep going to the Laughing
Taxpayer Pub and Inn, which is on Hastings, right in the middle of
downtown. Clean and safe, it cost $70 (Canadian) for two people, which is
much cheaper than anything around. It is about a 20 minute walk from
the station. The pub is quite good, with Strongbow (a cider) on tap.
- Is southern California really as awful as people say? NO!!! Southern
California may have been my favorite section of trail. Yes, I may have enjoyed
it even more than the Sierras or Washington. I found the scenery sublime, the flowers
intoxicating, and the weather perfect. The walk along the LA aquaduct in the
Mojave desert was one of my favorite days of all. Hikers complain usually for
a few reasons. First, it is hot. Temperatures are usually peak in the upper 90s or
low 100s. But, there is no humidity, usually plenty of wind and shade, and it is only really
hot from about 11 to about 3 or 4. Before 10 and after 6 it is really very pleasant to
hike. I didn't have to do any night hiking, something that some people resorted to.
To beat the heat, you have to beat the sun and drink a lot of water. To beat the
sun, cover up: Long pants, long shirt, and a big hat with a neck cape. Don't
rely upon sunblock. How many people in the Sahara or Arabia do you see in shorts and
a t-shirt? I put sunblock on my ears and hands a couple of times, and that was
it. You also need to drink a lot of water. Like 2 gallons. Because there
are plenty of 20-30 mile waterless stretches this means you have to carry a lot of
water. Just do it, and don't grouse about it. Don't rely on caches, by the way.
The second thing that people complain about is their feet. As hot as the air is, the
ground temperature is a lot hotter. Wearing boots, or even trail runners, is asking
for blisters and swelling. Wear pure running shoes with as much mesh as you can find.
I had no blister in southern California. Yes, zero.
Third, hikers seem to think that the entire PCT will be like the pictures they've
seen of the Sierra. But, the desert mountains and flats of the South have something
unique and startling to offer. Aside from the incredible sunsets and sunrises,
there is a clarity that comes with the desert. Something
about being its being uncluttered that makes the desert very rewarding spiritually. This
environment is far more unique than the mountains. There are plenty of trails crossing
mountain ranges. There are almost no long trails through desert environments. Enjoy your
time in the South.
- When is it safe to enter the Sierra? This really depends on the year and
how much experience you have on snow and in the mountains. The most generally
accepted date to leave Kennedy Meadows is on June 15. I left on June 10 and did fine,
although the snow was excessive at times. After leaving Crab Tree meadows, the
jumping off point for climbing Mount Whitney, the PCT through the Sierras is a
a sequence of passes, separated by valleys. Usually, snow would obscure the
trail for the last 2-5 miles before the pass and for 2-5 miles after the pass. Sometimes
the snow was nothing more than an annoyance for route finding. Othertimes, there
was snow hidden in gullies and in cols that made traverses dangerous or difficult.
In the morning the snow would be hard, but usually manageable, except before
9 or so. In the afternoon (around 2 or 3), the snow would be soft enough that postholing
(when each step drops you to your knee or worse in the snow) became common.
Coming off of Muir pass there was approximately 6 miles of snow. Because I
was coming down around 3:30, it was 6 miles of very hard hiking. The best thing to do
is to monitor the PCT-L (see the links section) for snow predictions. These
usually come in February and are updated up to and including May. At least
two people make predictions about when it is safe to enter the Sierra. I would
emphasize that the entry date is for people with experience or for those
travelling with experienced partners. If you do not have much experience on
snow or ice, either delay your entry two to three weeks, or link up at
Kennedy Meadows with experienced people. The Sierra are not to be underestimated.
PCT hikers have died in the past in the Sierra.
- Did you take an ice axe? Crampons? Change to boots?
I did take an axe, but brought neither crampons nor boots, into the
Sierra. The axe I took was a very light, all aluminum model by Camp. I mostly
used it as a cane, as a break during glissades, and occasionally for self
arrest. If these terms mean nothing to you, spend some time learning them.
I used it to cut steps many times. This was very difficult due to the
lightness of the axe and the small size of the adze. I did not bring
crampons and don't think they would be helpful. The same goes for boots. The
only exception would be if you were to go all the way. That is, bring a pair of
real mountaineering boots to help you kick steps and to protect your
feet on scree slopes. I stayed in my trail runners and was happy.
- How many shoes did you use? I used four pairs of shoes total. I
started in pure running shoes (Brooks Adrenaline GTS), which I swapped out in
Mojave for a pair Asics Eagle Trails. These were thoroughly shredded by the
time I got to Sierra City, where I switched into a pair of New Balance 806s,
which I still hate to this day. A fit problem, you see. I changed them
for a pair of Asics Gel Trabuco V trail runners in Sisters, OR, which I
wore to the end of the trail.
Additionally, I started with a pair of well used Superfeet insoles and
bought new sets in Agua Dulce, CA and Ashland, OR.