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[pct-l] Trail Notes
I've answered several requests for information about the hike my son, Brian,
and I did on the PCT this year (1997), so thought this would be a good time
to condense it for general use. It may help others planning thru-hikes.
Brian had planned for several years to hike the PCT and finally took
time off from work this year to do it. He asked me if I wanted to join him
since we've done a lot of hiking together (though nothing like this) and he
knew I'd be interested. I had recently retired so had the opportunity as
well. Brian is 36 and I am now 60 years old. I definitely wanted to join
him on the John Muir Trail portion but I also knew I would have a problem
keeping up with him if I joined him at Kennedy Meadows or Whitney Portal. So
I decided to start with him at Campo and go as far as Donner Summit on Hwy
We started on May 4th and reached Donner on July 17th, a distance of
1204 miles counting resupply detours. Brian then re-outfitted to travel solo
-- new, light sleeping bag, bivy sack, shoes, smaller cook pot, etc. -- and I
took him back to Donner on the 19th. He made excellent time heading north,
and we picked him up in Manning Park, BC on September 21st. He actually got
in a day earlier -- 2650 miles in exactly 20 weeks. He ran into some rotten
weather in northern Washington with wet, cold rain and some snow in the high
passes. He survived it all OK though and, on balance, it was a wonderful
experience for him. I was also very pleased to have completed the part I set
out to do. Sad that it was over but glad it was done, if you know what I
mean. I'll try to answer some questions about the hike.
Our food was packed in bulk, measured for each trail segment. Plenty of
calories -- about 5000 per day for each of us -- but not much variety. We
had granola for breakfast, trail mix about every hour when we stopped to
rest, a longer lunch break with Clif Bars, crackers, peanut butter, and/or
some jerky or split a can of sardines. Dinner was our only hot meal, with
noodles and sauce, rice with sauce or potato buds with sauce. Cookies or
instant pudding for dessert. Believe it or not, we were hungry enough so
this stuff ALWAYS tasted good. I lost 20 pounds and Brian about 15 on the
trip, despite eating all we could carry.
We each carried one plastic bowl and a spoon, plus one cook pot. The
only other utensils we carried were our Swiss Army knives, the smallest they
make. We didn't carry anything extra, though I know many hikers packed a lot
lighter than we did. The difference, I think, is that we tried to have some
things along to help when all did not go as planned. The first aid kit
included antiseptic and antifungal cremes, and plenty of blister fixings.
Also, I had a heavy-duty needle and carpet thread which came in handy for
pack repairs. Duct tape (about five feet of it rolled onto a short pencil).
All this stuff was used often, weighed little, and made things a lot easier.
If we needed anything along the way, we either bought it at a trailhead
when we picked up our resupply packages, or had it sent to us in the
packages. We had food sent to us about every five or six days on the
average, usually care of general delivery at post offices. These packages
were put together, except for last minute items, before we started out.
Our days on the trail were pretty uncomplicated. Get up at first light,
eat and pack up, get on the trail as soon as possible. This was particularly
important in desert areas. We would take a break about once each hour or
when we reached a natural stopping point -- a major stream or mountain pass.
Longer break for lunch, perhaps 20-30 minutes. Reaching a camp site, near
or sometimes after dark, Brian would immediately get some water hot for Ramen
and the rest of our meal while I rigged a bear line and set up the tent (if
we wanted to use it). We could be in our sleeping bags within an hour after
reaching camp if we felt like it. We carried a tarp in the desert -- seldom
used -- and a tent in the Sierra. The tent was set up when we needed
mosquito protection. We had few problems with bad weather in California.
The worst problem I had was with blisters. My shoes were fine but I had
put in a cheap innersole which tended to ride up the back of my heel, then
wear holes in my hide. I got rid of the innersoles but the damage had been
done. I wore three pairs of socks till I got to Idyllwild and found some
good replacements. The feet didn't really get healthy till we reached
Tehachapi. It took me about three weeks as I recall to get in shape to pack
20 miles or more each day without feeling sore. I should note that I was
running about 100 miles a month before the trip.
The only other problems of any significance were the mosquitos in the
Sierra and a run-in with a Yosemite Yogi that got a bit of our food. We got
a little careless and didn't hang our bags quite high enough. 10 or 11 feet
isn't high enough.
Just a couple other thoughts about hiking the PCT, for what they're
worth. First, take a camera and take lots of pictures. These really bring
back the experiences we had. We carried a light 35mm autofocus with a zoom
lens. Second, leave the dogs at home. They will wear their feet bloody
trying to keep up, and it's a sad thing to see. Also, they're not allowed in
National Parks, so create quite a logistic problem.
The official PCT guide books with their detailed maps and descriptions
are essential. We cut the books up into sections to reduce weight and had
them sent to us in our resupply packages. Ray Jardin's book was an
interesting read, but not very useful. It did give some good tips for weight
reduction, but I felt it went to extremes which could put you at risk when
things go wrong. That's WHEN, not IF. Just one example, and many will
disagree with me on this. I have no use for running shoes on a long hike.
They're too hot in the desert, too cold in the snow, they're wet even in
morning dew, you'll bruise your feet because the soles are too thin, and they
have no support so you're likely to turn your ankle when you misstep.
Carrying an umbrella is silly; wear a hat. I found many uses for a hiking
staff. Besides being a handy third leg for crossing streams, it served as a
pole for our tarp-tent and a good tool to relocate rattlesnakes off the
Our hike this year was a wonderful experience. We met many great people
along the way, both hikers and local people. Without exception, they were
helpful and friendly. They added much to the pleasure of our trip.
I hope this helps you plan and enjoy your journey. Good luck! --
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