Soon I will touch the wall between California and Mexico, turn around and take a photo, then begin hiking across the desert toward the first reliable water source at Lake Moreno twenty miles to the north. April 22 is my start date. I cannot wait.
The new monument marking the start of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) faces north, so most people post a photo of themselves next to it with the trail heading north in the background. What you rarely see is the wall between the USA and Mexico in the background, but it’s there and I intend to place my hand on it before taking my first steps. After all, I am planning to hike from Mexico to Canada – and do not want to short myself the first 100 yards or so of such a monumental hike.
It took two tries to secure a thru-hiking permit for the PCT and I was ecstatic when my application was approved. There appear to be thousands more applying for a permit than receiving one and only two permit lottery days. I could have found a way to hike it without a permit, but it would have been much harder logistically and may have meant I couldn’t hike the entire trail.
The first 700 miles are desert. I will hike for long distances through dry creek beds as this year has been a very low snow year. Even if some late snows come along, it’s likely to be far below average. Right now, most of California is measuring less than fifty percent average snow/rainfall.
Water is one of the major differences between the PCT and Appalachian Trail (AT) which I hiked in 2018. I expect to carry a lot of water as there are few sources and lots of desert sun to hike, while completely exposed to sun and wind. Because far fewer roads cross the trail, I need to be more self-reliant, too. There will be many places where I need to hike multiple days before I come to a road and can rethink my strategy, gear, or food and water.
Another big difference is elevation gain. Even though I will eventually hike to a few mountains which are twice the elevation of the highest point on the AT, the overall elevation gain is far less. This doesn’t seem to make sense until you realize elevation gain is measured from every low to every high, and the AT has lots and lots and LOTS of up and downs. The PCT, by contrast, goes up and down fairly slowly over very long distances. There will be plenty of steep places too, just not so many in relation to the entire trail. My uncle and I hiked to Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous states, a few years ago. It’s a side trail from the PCT. This time, I plan to bypass the high altitude extra hike and just keep plodding along north.
Up in the Sierra Mountains, I will have many steep and dangerous places to hike. Lots of places to be careful of footing and fast streams to cross. The low snowfall lowers my risk of flooding rivers, so I will benefit later from the low snow year. I’m hoping it makes up for being so thirsty the first seven hundred miles.
In Northern California and Southern Oregon, I may have to reroute for fires. It’s generally expected hikers will be rerouted sometime on the PCT as fires have become such an issue the last several years. If this is the drought year predicted, it will be dicey in July and August. Once well into Oregon though, I only have to keep up a good pace and make it through Washington before the snow flies. In 2019, major storms came early – in mid-September. I hope to be done by the end of September, but we will see.
It seems like I’ve only talked about the hard stuff in this post. Oops! There is much beauty and good stuff, too. I’ll share it as I go along. I don’t know what possesses me to want to hike 2,650 plus miles, but the backpacking bug bit me and held. Maybe my posts from trail will give you a better idea of the appeal and not just the misery.
I finish at the Canadian border, and have a walk-thru permit from Canada to enter. There isn’t a formal border crossing, as it’s just a trail through trees marked by the northern terminus monument. No wall, barbed wire, big river or armed guards to navigate. Nevertheless, an entry permit is needed to legally enter.
Thank goodness I received one, as it’s only seven miles to E.C. Manning Provincial Park in Canada, but at least thirty-five miles back to a road in the USA. Plus, some of my Canadian friends may be waiting there to celebrate with me as I finish. Walking from Mexico to Canada along the PCT is another dream of mine. In just six weeks it will be time to move from dream to life!