Pacific Crest Trail: Thru-Hiking 101!
Hi again everyone! It’s Kaitlin here with another update from my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike. I recently reached the Oregon/Washington border, which means I’ve walked about 2,150 miles across the full length of both California and Oregon. All that’s left is 500 more miles across Washington! Now, I realize that the phrases “all that’s left” and “500 miles” being used in the same sentence seems a bit silly. 500 miles is still a long way to walk! If walking 500+ miles is something that sounds like nonsense to you, and you can’t fathom how that could be done, this blog is for you! Here’s a little thru-hiking 101 to cover how you can level up from a 1 night backpacking trip in Moro Canyon to walking across an entire state (or 3).
The first thing I always tell people when they seem shocked by the idea of going on a 2,650 mile hike, is that it’s just walking. That sounds like an oversimplification, but it really isn’t so different from any other overnight hike- you just keep doing it day after day. So, if you can hike, you can thru-hike! That being said, there are some considerations that are unique to long distance hiking that I’ll go over here.
First is being prepared with the proper gear. Just like any hike, you want to make sure you have the 10 essentials. On a thru-hike, because you have to carry all this stuff on very long days over and over again, I also try to make sure it’s as lightweight as I can, that items have multiple purposes if possible, and that I don’t carry anything I don’t need.
For example, my foam sleeping pad also makes a great chair for lunch breaks, and the sandals I brought for wearing at camp were sent home pretty quickly when I realized that my hiking shoes could do the job alone. These careful weight considerations might not matter much on a two-day trip, but you really don’t want to be overloaded when you’re in it for a long haul. I also research what I might encounter in different sections and adjust my gear accordingly as I go. In the higher elevation sections I made sure to bring extra warm layers, and in Southern California I brought along a lot more water bottles so I had capacity for enough water on long dry stretches.My pack in its most fully loaded state ready for 6 days in The High Sierra (I consider potato chips to be the 11th essential)
Next is resupply! This is one of the main things that sets thru-hiking apart from shorter hiking trips, because it would not be possible for me to carry all the food and supplies I’d need to hike for 5 months. On a hike like The PCT, you can usually cross a road that goes into town every 4-6 days. This is why a long distance hike is really nothing more than a series of shorter hikes strung together. Each time I go into a town, I research the next section of trail ahead, decide how many miles a day I’ll be able to hike to the next town, and pick up food and other supplies accordingly. This is also where I might decide to swap or pick up gear items to suit changing trail conditions, replace any gear that has gotten worn out, and eat as much “town food” as I can to fuel up, because you really miss things like ice cream and pizza when you live in the woods!
And finally, the key to surviving a long distance hike is to take it one day at a time! To get from Mexico to Canada within a safe window of summer weather, you need to hike a lot of miles per day. So far over the course of my hike I have averaged 20 miles per day for about 3.5 months. If that seems like an impossible task to think about at first, don’t think too hard about miles or the final destination! You can take it slower in the beginning, and think of your goal as the next town stop rather than the end point thousands of miles away to avoid getting burned out. After the next town stop, simply rinse and repeat, slowly building miles per day. Next thing you know, 10 miles turns into 100, then a 1,000 in the blink of an eye! One of my favorite things about thru-hiking is looking back into the distance and seeing landmarks like lakes or mountains that I hiked past and being in awe of the fact that I walked from there with my own two feet. I try not to take for granted what a feat this is, but it’s amazing how simple it can feel when you just start walking and keep going for over 100 days!
I hope this gave you all some insight into how I manage the simple but daunting task of walking across the country through the wilderness! I’ll be back with another update after some more walking, maybe even from the end of the journey! Thanks for following along so far!