PCT Day 0: Angels in San Diego 

​Well, this is it. Tomorrow I start my thru-hike of the PCT. 

Today, my alarm went off at 4:30, and I was quickly wide awake and ready to head to the airport, despite only getting about 4 hours of sleep. Both of my parents also awoke at this ungodly hour to drive me to the airport. Everything went smoothly, and I quickly checked my bag and moved through security. 

I got to my gate with a lot of time to kill, and as I was aimlessly clicking through apps on my phone, I discovered that my favourite hiking podcast, Sounds of the Trail, had released their first episode of this thru-hiking season. It was titled “Anticipation”. How serendipitous is that. 

Mountains!! 

Time passed surprisingly quickly and soon we were boarding. It took a little over 5 hours to get from Toronto to San Diego. I spent the flight dozing and listening to my PCT playlist, and then gazing in awe out the window as we flew over the mountains of Colorado and the canyons of Utah and Arizona. And then we flew directly over the trail as we crossed Southern California!! I had thought about reading a book on my phone, but my mind was too jumpy to really focus on any kind of entertainment. Still, the flight somehow passed quickly. 

Palm trees!! 

Once I got off the plane and collected my bag, I headed out to find the spot where the trail angels had arranged to pick us up. There were three other hikers there too, Tom (also from Canada) and a couple from Germany, Carmen and Mike. We got picked up in a van by Pepa, a hiker who is spending a month volunteering with Scout and Frodo. 

Scenes at Scout and Frodo’s

Scout and Frodo’s place is absolutely amazing!! They have a beautiful yard, all set up with big white tents for the hikers to sleep in. They had a delicious lunch set out when we arrived, and then I spent the rest of the afternoon staring at my gear, meeting other hikers, and trying to wrap my head around what the hell I’m about to do. It still doesn’t feel real. 

We had an absolutely amazing dinner provided by Jim from the PCTA, and dessert from Anita, who owns Mom’s Pies in Julian (home of the free hiker pie!). We have definitely been spoiled here. After dinner we put the final touches on our gear for tomorrow (ie. filled up our water bottles), and now I’m lying in the dark in the tent in the backyard, still not sure if this is really my life. 

Bathroom signs. 

It’s pretty chilly now that the sun has gone down, and I’m excited to snuggle up in my cozy quilt. It’s only 8pm, but I’m getting pretty sleepy due to the time change and general sleep deprivation from last night (plus, 9pm is hiker midnight!!).

Home for the night. 

Tomorrow, we’ll get up at 5am, have a quick breakfast, and head for the southern terminus. More from the trail tomorrow (eep!). 

Planning a Pacific Crest Trail Thru-hike

So, you’ve decided to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, but are unsure of what to do next? Planning a thru-hike can seem like a daunting task, and while there is a lot that needs to be done, it doesn’t have to be the super-stressful process it’s often made out to be. One of the biggest parts of preparation is putting your gear list together, so if you are still working on that, check out my gear guide. If you’re ready to move on to the next stage of your planning, read on!

Permits

Get ready to fill out some paper work! For taking a trip into the wilderness, there are quite a few bureaucratic hoops to jump through before you’re able to set off into the mountains.

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The main permit that is required* for thru-hiking the PCT is the PCT Long Distance Permit, issued by the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA). This free(!) permit covers any journey of 500 miles or more along the PCT, and allows you to hike and camp anywhere along the trail. This permit is convenient because, without it, a hiker would have to apply to a multitude of different permits from the many land management agencies the PCT passes through. That being said, the long-distance interagency permits are limited to 50 people per day and some prospective hikers may miss out on nabbing a permit for their preferred start time. It IS possible to thru-hike the PCT without the thru-hike permit, but it will make the journey a lot more logistically challenging. I’d recommend finding out when the PCTA will start issuing permits, and being ready to apply as soon as the application opens (I booked the day off work to do this, it’s serious business).

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What is the Pacific Crest Trail? (And Other Frequently Asked Questions)

While many hikers who stumble across this blog will probably already know what the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is, most of the friends/family/random strangers that I mention the trail to don’t seem to have heard of it. I thought I’d use this post to formally introduce the PCT, and to answer some of the questions I am most commonly asked when I tell people about it.

The Pacific Crest Trail is a U.S. National Scenic Trail that runs 2,650 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border to the U.S.-Canada border. The trail crosses through 3 states: California, Oregon, and Washington, following the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. Along the way, the trail passes through 25 national forests and 7 national parks, as well as countless other wilderness areas.

PCT map

Map courtesy of the USDA Forest Service

In order to complete a thru-hike of the PCT, a hiker must walk the entire length of the trail in a single trip. The climate, terrain, and environment that a hiker will experience on such a trip varies widely as the trail progresses. The PCT runs through 6 out of 7 of North America’s ecozones, providing a testament to how varied the experience is.

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Views from the trail in Southern California

Most hikers start in California and walk north towards Canada, although there is a smaller group that starts at the Canadian border and walks south. This means that most hikers begin their trek with 700 miles of desert in Southern California. Hot sun, rattlesnakes, desert scrub and chaparral, and the welcome shade of trees in the higher elevation areas such as the San Jacinto Mountains.

Continue reading “What is the Pacific Crest Trail? (And Other Frequently Asked Questions)”