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Things to know before hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

Thru-hikers from all over the globe, welcome back on Apache Pine. After a few tips on how to get ready for thru-hiking and an in depth session on the Appalachian Trail, it is the turn of PCT, Pacific Crest Trail.

In this guide to the Pacific Crest Trail you will find everything there is to know to get ready to hike the PCT and reach your goal, whichever that is.

Introducing the Pacific Crest Trail

Lest’s start from the basics: what is the PCT and what’s the itinerary it follows? The PCT, officially designated as Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, it’s both an hiking and equestrian trail that runs from North to South (or the other way around of course!) 150 miles away from the U.S. Pacific Coast, from which it takes its name.

Together with the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, it’s one of the most important thru-hikes of the United States, covering 2,659 miles and crossing two Nations: USA and Canada. Its elevation is various according to the area: from Oregon’s right-above-sea-level, to Sierra Nevada’s 13,153 feet.

Running down the Pacific Coast from Mexico to Canada, the Pacific Crest Trail most definitely is one of the most stunning trails in the world. It passes through 25 national forests and 7 national parks, which earned it the designation as National Scenic Trail in 1968. It’s also the westernmost and second longest of the Triple Crown of Hiking and is part of the Great Western Loop. Last but not least, there’s a parallel rout for bicycles called Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail, 2500 miles long and crossing the actual trail in 27 points.

Tips to succeed at the Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike

Being one of the longest and most difficult thru-hikes of the Unites States, it is very important to have all the right tips and tools in order to prepare for the PCT properly.

Do your research

As every other thru-hike, do your research properly. It is not enough to know how long the trail is or where its major towns are going to be. It’s very important to know the trail properly. Get an in depth guide to the Pacific Crest Trail and get familiar with every single section of the itinerary. This is the best way not only to get ready physically and mentally for a thru-hike like this, but also to make sure you have all the right thru-hiking gear you need.

Also, learn from those who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail before you and ask them which parts they found the most difficult, what suggestions they have, what to pay attention to when thru-hiking this trail and any other precious information that could make a difference for you.

At the same time, always keep in mind to hike your own hike and to not think that you have to do exactly the same things that other people did. This is true for everything: you choose your own pace and you choose your own goal. You decided what’s best for you and you get to pick the reason why you are thru-hiking in the first place. Everybody has their own and they can all be very different between them.

Also, something that can be very hard - or simple - for someone might not be as hard - or simple - for you. So do trust the information you find and cross-check them, but always remember that you will be the one doing it all.

Don’t rely on technology only

When it comes to the most important information about the Pacific Crest Trail, don’t rely on technology only. As much as incredibly useful and reliable it can be, it can still run out of battery, or break down, and you don’t want to fall behind your plans because you don’t have access to important information. So make sure to always have your map with you and to store your numbers in a notebook as well. Provide yourself with a paper guide and make sure you have a backup plan in case something very important like a GPS tracker or a communication device breaks.

In regard to this, also inform your closest friends and family about your plans and your schedule, so that they will know (even if approximately) what you intend to do and when you are supposed to be where. Give your plan a 10 days leeway, however do keep in mind that this is very important information in case something happens and people don’t know how to reach you to check you are okay. If you fail to show up by a certain date in a certain place and send news to your loved ones, then they will know they need to start looking for you. Remember: safety first.

Safety first

Safety, which is a synonym of health, most definitely is the most important thing when you decide to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Safety, as we just said, can mean many different things.

Safety means, first of all, to be ready and to have all the right equipment to prevent and, in case, treat an accident or an illness. Prevention can be good protection from sun or from rain, as well as a good single bladed knife that you can use to solve many situations and problems. Of course it means to have all the right material, as well as doing all the right practices, like for example stretching.

At the same time, it also means to have the right first aid kit, complete of everything you may need, as well as the right basic skills and knowledge to behave properly during and emergency or before a wound: this can really make a huge difference.

When to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and what direction to take

Now, as every other thru-hike, the Pacific Crest Trail covers a lot of distance and very different environments, which means that you can find incredibly different temperatures and weather conditions according to the specific section and season. Also, sections change in difficulty if hiked from north to south or from south to north.

First of all, to understand if it’s better to choose one direction or another and in which month to start hiking the PCT, you have to ask yourself: how long does it take to hike the Pacific Crest Trail?

It normally takes the entire snow-free section of the year, which sums up to roughly 5 months. Some highly trained athletes managed to hike it in 2 months and a few people achieved the less-than-100 days goal by keeping an average of 30 miles per day, but remember: each one hikes their own hike and this doesn’t have to be your goal too. Make an average of the miles you think you can cover every day, do include much needed rest days and get an esteem of how long it will take you.

Now, when to start the Pacific Crest Trail? The majority of those who start the PCT from the northbound begin in mid-April, early May. Those who begin from the southbound start in late June or early July.

Regardless of the month you decide to start, you must keep in mind that snow covers sections of the trail during winter, spring and early summer and that winter really isn’t the season to find yourself on this trail. The first 200 miles starting from the Mexican border are characterized by rather dangerous sections and if you get to the Sierra Nevada section too early you will end up facing significant snow and dangerous stream crossing. In early July, the Washington section is characterized by steep and risky snow slopes.

On the contrary, if you start too late, than Southern California can be way too hot and become dangerous for its weather conditions. In general, it will alter the conditions of many sections of the hike, making it harder and more complex and putting at risk the successful outcome of your endeavor.

It’s always strongly suggested to start the hike during the usual and advised window. This will also make it easier for you to meet people during your adventure, who can turn out to be great friends and helpers and with which you can manage to face the hardest parts of the trail.


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