The PCT is 2650 miles long – that is pure trail hiking miles – not inclusive of the hundreds and hundreds of extra miles that a thru-hiker logs as they trek into towns to resupply, nor the side hikes most do (such as Half Dome – twice, Mt. Whitney, and the rest of the John Muir Trail, among other things my brother did that year)
Approximately 300 people set out to thru-hike the PCT each year, and typically about half of them finish the trail having actually walked the entire distance.
Most thru-hikers leave from Campo at the Mexican border around April 20th, taking slower first days and arriving at the “kick-off” party that falls around April 24th or so. Leaving then allows most hikers to complete the trail by late September. Some will leave a bit sooner and hitchhike back to take part in the big festivities at the beginning, others will leave later, fearing some early parts of the trail can be quite cool or snowy even if you leave too early in April. Hitting some of the river crossings when it was too cold could lead to feet and shoes that were soggy for days or even a week afterward, but even could prove dangerous because of low temperatures. On the other hand, leaving too late risks hitting some of the driest and hardest places to get water in some of the hottest parts of the summer, as well as increasing the risk of encountering wildfires.
Much, however, has to do with your pacing. 20 miles a day is a pretty good daily average for a PCT hiker, with some days, especially early on, being lower mileage days, and some days of flatter terrain or good weather might cause someone to walk more than 30 a day. Many thru-hikers take a “zero” (or “near-o” – almost zero) day every 7-10 days to allow their bodies to rest and to resupply.
At some points, especially in the later Oregon and much of Washington state portions, it was nearly impossible to resupply without doing extensive hitchhiking into a town or “bouncing” supply boxes forward. But when you’re sending things to itty bitty trail towns, post office hours have the potential to be iffy, as did the choices if you decided to try to resupply at a town’s tiny general store. I tried to help orchestrate supplies getting to where he needed them in some of those later points – without having them sit there for too long and risk melting or not being fresh, but also trying to be sure they arrived before he did, sometimes as real challenging task!
Most of the hikers carried about 15 pounds of gear and whatever weight about 4-6 days of food and water amounted to (that varied by hiker and what they ate) in addition. Some set out in groups and intend to stay with them for the duration of the trail if possible. Others set out individually and try to meet up with people who seem to hike at a similar pace and take similarly timed “zero” days. My brother set out alone, met up with a core group that had some others coming and going periodically, and they largely stayed together until they hit Oregon and the group broke up a bit into smaller groups.
With some real grit and determination to try to get home to say goodbye to family leaving the country, he struck out on his own and didn’t take a single day off once he hit Oregon, and managed to be the 15th person to sign the PCT register in Canada that year (though some of those before him weren’t thru-hikers – so he actually finished even quicker than that indicates). Pretty impressive for a kid who had never done any distance hiking and didn’t do any real training before setting off on this crazy endeavour! He was logging 40 mile days many days toward the end – pretty crazy when you see what constitutes the “trail” at some points.
As he hiked, my brother carried a SPOT tracking device – a GPS device that uploaded his location every fifteen minutes or so, but that also allowed for several other functions to be employed if needed.
The tracker was amazing! At the end of each day, he could trigger an “ok” message, letting us know he was stopping for the day and if his tracker stopped moving it wasn’t because he had fallen off a cliff or been attacked by an animal or something – all very real dangers, especially since he hiked much of the trail alone. The tracker also allowed him to send a non-emergent “help” message that would be relayed to his primary contact (me) or which could get him help in the case of a non-life threatening situation. And finally, there was an “SOS” option – the button one would use if truly in life threatening or critical circumstances and that would get 911 or emergency personnel involved.
Throughout the day I would update a google map link so friends could see exactly where he was at specific times and I’d use the coordinate points the tracker sent to help me approximate his precise route. I could tell when he had stopped to eat or rest, and at night, where he camped. It was incredible to watch not only his tracker, but then to see the google maps showing the actual progression over days at a time!
Sometimes I wish it was that easy to trace God’s hand or working in my life. If I could pinpoint where He was moving or at work, the hard seasons and the not knowing would be so much easier to take! But God doesn’t have a nifty SPOT Tracker, and I can’t look dozens of times a day to see what He’s up to and what headway is being made. I guess that’s where faith comes in!
(And just because I thought these three pictures were interesting, they were taken in a ten minute time span while my brother was hiking the PCT – a depiction of just how much the terrain and even the weather can change in just a few minutes…or few miles!)