Musings on IT, data management, whitewater rafting, and backpacking

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

500 miles on the PCT – A Crazy Idea

In August 2003, I tried to hike 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail through the High Sierra in California – in 30 days.


First Try

In 1976, I was ready to drop out of graduate school.

But I needed a new goal.

I started backpacking as a teenager in the Boy Scouts, but it wasn't much fun with the primitive equipment and techniques. In high school and college, I'd gone backpacking many times with friends (and better equipment), and we all had a great time.

The PCT route had recently been established (but not finished), the Wilderness Press PCT guidebooks made the trip seem possible, and Colin Fletcher's book The Thousand Mile Summer provided the inspiration.

My new goal became thru-hiking the California section of the PCT, alone, in six months. That's about 1,700 miles in 180 days, averaging 9.4 miles per day (stop laughing).

After a frantic couple of months preparation, my best friend dropped me off at the Mexican border on April 1. The border fence was a few strands of rusty barbed wire back then.

I dropped out a few days later at Mt. Laguna, with blisters covering about one-third of each foot. My 65 pound pack, lack of conditioning, and isolation all contributed to my failure. Hitchhiking home, I nearly died from hypothermia in the back of a pickup truck.

Helping Others

In 1977, four college friends started thru-hiking the entire PCT. I helped them plan and pack, met them along the way, and generally encouraged their trip. One friend made it all the way. Everyone had a life-changing experience.

Second Try

In 1980, my best friend and I tried to thru-hike the entire PCT. To make a long story short, I dropped out and returned twice in the first month due to injuries and illness. I finally dropped out for good at Weldon. My body rebelled at both the food and exertion (50-65 pound packs again), and my mind couldn't overcome those obstacles. My friend dropped out a month later.

Twenty years of dreaming, and then ...

In 2002, I was approaching one of those Big Birthdays, and figured I'd better hike the PCT sooner rather than later.

I was inspired by Ray Jardine's books on hiking the PCT using lightweight gear and techniques. This time for sure! I needed to get into shape, and reduce my pack weight.

I chose to thru-hike "the best of the PCT", 500 miles southbound from Donner Pass to Walker Pass. I wanted to complete that hike in 30 days, in August 2003.

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