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[pct-l] Re: Downsides of a distance hike

My $0.02 worth, based on my '82 thruhike:

1.  Primary Goal(s):  IMO predetermined, well thought-out goals are useful
for increasing the odds of a successful thruhike or long-distance hike, with
the caveat of #2 below.  In our case, my two best friends and I after years
of planning a PCT thruhike decided to "thruhike the PCT together", as one
inseparable goal (as opposed to, say, having goal #1: thruhike the PCT; goal
#2: hopefully do it together as a group).  Our other goal (secondary, as it
turned out) was to be absolute "purists" while doing so.  Doing the hike
together became even more cemented in our heads when we faced many
nay-saying AT thruhikers during the first weeks of the hike, who informed us
(some helpfully, others condescendingly) that we had "no chance" of
finishing a thruhike as a group, much less as a group of three.  Well, after
hearing that so many times we were damned if we weren't going to prove those
people wrong.  The big test, however, came once we faced the realization of
what Mother Nature had thrown our way that year -- the worst snow/avalanche
conditions in the Sierras in 40-odd years (very similar, but not quite as
bad, as the situation facing this year's thruhiker hopefuls).  When we
reached Weldon on May 17th (way, way too early in the season according to
Jardine's calculations) we had to make a fateful decision: to attempt the
Sierras anyway, despite our lack of winter mountaineering experience; bag
the thruhike altogether and wait for a "normal year" (though I'm beginning
to suspect there is no such thing!); or skip the Sierras temporarily
(flip-flop) and return to do them later.  One of us wanted to go for it;
another absolutely refused, judging it as too dangerous for our
skill/preparation levels (and with good reason, since he and his mother had
been severely injured -- and his father and younger brother killed -- in a
climbing accident on Mt. Hood a decade earlier); the other (me) was leaning
one way, then the other, depending on the fluctuating levels of testosterone
flowing in my veins (directly tied to the levels of beer in my system at any
given moment).  We opted to flip-flop, giving priority to doing the thruhike

2.  Flexibility:  This is especially important as regards weather, since
even with the information available today (PCTA webpage; snow-level
websites; this list; Jardine's book; etc.) you are rarely going to know with
enough lead time just exactly what Mother Nature will throw at you in any
given year (water availability; temperatures; snow; snowmelt; forest fires;
etc. etc.).  It's fine to be a "purist" when the trail is visible (or
"guessable") for everything except relatively short sections, but that won't
necessarily always be the case.  And, as another post-er put it, there are
alternate trails that you may have to take due to injury, resupply changes,
lack of water, no visible trail, snow/avalanche danger, etc,. or that you
simply may enjoy more (Crater Lake detour; some sections of the old Oregon
Skyline Trail; Eagle Creek at the OR/WA border; etc.).  As another post-er
put it, you do indeed need to be careful about the "slippery slope", but
that is where a strong primary goal becomes helpful.  If your goal is to do
the PCT as a "purist" then beware the "slippery slope" and either be
extremelywell-prepared (substantial winter mountaineering experience) just
in case you choose a "bad year"; or be willing to go for it despite adequate
preparation; or be prepared to bag it and wait for another year.  If your
goal is to do the PCT in one year but be reasonably flexible where Mother
Nature requires it or enjoyment demands it, take advantage of the side trip
to Crater Lake or the absolutely gorgeous Eagle Creek trail down to Bridge
of the Gods, but keep your eye on your time-line so that you don't fall too
far behind.  If your goal is to finish the PCT in one year, then almost
certainly that will require some sacrifices, including the inability to stay
as long as you would like in the many, many wonderful areas you will pass
through.  But that's the trade-off a thruhike in one season demands.

Kelly Flowers

Kelly Flowers

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