It’s been two weeks since I took my first steps on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a 2,650 mile (4,265 kilometer) trail from Mexico to Canada. The trail runs through California, Oregon and Washington. It traverses desolate and stark desert, unfolds through the majestic Sierra Nevada, runs through the deep forests of Oregon and the dramatic North Cascades of Washington. Thru-hikers will spend an average 5.5 months completing the whole trail. I plan to hike the trail for 3 months, having left it too late to get a Visa to remain in the USA for more than 90 days. I think 3 months on this trail may just be enough anyways!
I join the trail at mile 369, a few days from the start of the desert section. I’m hiking with an old walking buddy that I met on the Camino de Santiago in 2013, whom I’ve nicknamed ‘Captain Nav’. He will be the navigator for the majority of the way. We are using GPS and an App that gives information not just on distances and elevation, but also water sources, and camping spots.
I am carrying between 13-14 kilos, which will vary over the coming days depending on the amount of water we need to carry which can be up to 4L or more. I soon learn that water dictates everything about hiking this section of the trail. We have agreed to carry no more than 6 days worth of food in an effort to keep our weight down.
Day one, with fresh legs, and an energetic excitement in each step, we reach the summit of Mt Baden-Powell, the highest mountain in southern California. At 3000m, it is significantly higher than our highest mountain at home (Aus), and one of the smaller summits that we will reach on the trail.
Prior to starting the trail, I had told Captain Nav, that, whilst I have done a ton of hiking, I have never actually camped before. He was reminded of this our first night when he was entertained to no end watching me set up camp. I will admit, popping the tent up in the lounge room at home, was slightly easier than actually getting it up outside. However, it took only a few nights to get the hang of it, and 14 days later, I can set up and pull down my ‘home’ in only a few minutes!
After a few days, we hit the start of the desert section which runs through a corner of the Mojave desert. It is unbearably hot, dusty, dry and water becomes more and more scarce. In a few days it will become necessary to hike at night, as it’s simply impossible to hike during the day.
The trail itself is not overly technical, and is relatively easy to follow, especially with GPS. There are endless climbs, broken only by the occasional descent. The trail is a seemingly never ending series of switchbacks back and forth back and forth, to the top and bottom and top again. Dirt and dust are constant companions, and we laugh about our ‘tans’ that will wash away when we eventually shower.
Time means nothing out here, and the days begin to blur. We wake with the sun. We hike until we can no longer bear the heat of the sun any longer, and then we wait for it to pass. Back on trail we start to think about where to spend the night. This is always dictated by where water is. If there is no water near by or reachable by day’s end, then we ‘dry camp’. Not camping by a water source is a lesson in discipline and I learn very quickly how valuable every drop of water out here is.
It has been a tough and exhausting introduction to this trail, but after two weeks, I am finally starting to get my trail legs, and am settling into trail life as if it’s the only life I’ve ever known.