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Pacific Crest Trail

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  • Pacific Crest Trail

    Overview: The Pacific Crest Trail is a lot different from the Appalachian Trail. Along its 2650 miles it hits a high of 13,180’ at Forester Pass & a low of 200’ crossing the Bridge of the Gods at the WA/OR border. The terrain is about as varied as you can get. One day you may find yourself on a ridge in a snowstorm & a day or two later searching for water in the desert. In some places navigation skills are required. There are no white blazes to follow & snow pack covers many part of the trail through July. Although it is getting more popular in recent years, it has no where near the traffic that the AT does. Also, resupply is a little further apart & there are fewer choices. While the AT follows the “Green Tunnel” the PCT provides plenty of vistas.

    Pacific Crest Trail Association: This is the organization that oversees the PCT. By becoming a member you help support the trail & they can give you assistance in getting your permit for hiking it. Each year they host a Kick Off party at Lake Morena about the time most hikers are starting the trail.
    American Long Distance Hiker Association: Started by Ray Jardine many years ago as a western alternative to ALDHA it has become a great spot for information on western trails. They cover the PCT & CDT along with many other trails. The experience & knowledge in this group is amazing. It is worth joining just for the newsletters.
    Yogi: Is a past hiker that continues to hike & update her guidebooks from current hikers. She started as a grassroots publisher when hikers asked for her notes on water sources & she developed her PCT Guide. Since then she has developed a span of guides that cover the Colorado Trail, PCT & several others. I had the pleasure of buying her & D-low dinner in Sierra City while filling in a section of the PCT. It was hilarious to hear her story of joining other thru hikers to hike the Sierra. She hikes enough to keep her books up to date & if she isn’t on the trail she has a network to do it! I highly recommend her books! yogisbooks.com/
    Craig's PCT Planner: This is an excellent resource. Just fill in the form on how fast you hike, hours per day, how often to resupply, starting & stopping points & it will plan your hike for you. It also gives you an elevation profile for each leg of your trip.

    Getting There:
    Southern Terminus: Cheap public transportation to Campo, CA is readily available. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and Southeast Rural Transit System has a bus (#894) that runs several times a day from El Cajon Transit center to Campo. The transit center can be reached via trolley from airport, Amtrak, or Greyhound.
    Northern Terminus: Greyhound runs from Manning Provincial Park to Vancouver & on to Seattle.

    Permits: If you hike over 500 miles you can get a "Joint Use Permit" that will cover your entire hike. If you go over Mt Whitney & plan to resupply in Lone Pine. You must also get an additional Whitney Zone Stamp for $15. Less than 500 miles & you must get a permit for each National Park or Wilderness Area you enter from local jurisdiction(s).Entry into Canada: You can download a copy of the Application here.

    Terrain: The PCT is graded for equestrians so you won’t need your hands like you often do on the AT in the Whites & Maine & several other places. This may be different for thrus & early season hikers in the Sierra that find the trail covered in snow. Generally you can do a lot higher mileage than you can on the AT.

    Water: Water is a major concern on the PCT. Your first source can be as far as 26 miles in on your first day! It becomes a question of if there is too little or to much. In the desert sections & dry ridges it takes careful planning to get through many places. In a high snow year the Sierra can be almost impassible when most thrus hit in a high snow year when the snow melt makes streams dangerous or un-fordable. Postholer.com has a link to snow depth reports. I advise watching them at least a few months before you start & plan accordingly. Also be aware that along many parts of the PCT you share the trail with cattle. After a long dry day I came upon a pond that was the only water source only to find it inhabited by cows. They didn’t seem to mind defecating & urinating in the water they were drinking but I sure did! I highly recommend some type of water treatment.

    Snow: Most Thur Hikers will hit some snow on the San Jancinto Ridge. It is short lived until you hit in the Sierra further up the trail. For the most part by the time most Nobos hit the Sierra the snow pack is still quite heavy. Most people recommend having at least an ice axe. Learn to use it to self arrest & also to chop steps in case you hit a patch of crusty snow in the early morning Before you hit the trail!. For the most part the snow you hit will be “Sierra Cement” mostly dense enough to walk on not requiring snowshoes. At times it can be aggravating hiking in the irregular sun cups & posholing into it, but that come with the terrain.

    Bears: Black bears are a growing problem along the trail. They have learned to defeat all methods of bear bagging along certain parts of the trail. For much of the Sierra a canister is required. Here is a Map showing where one is required.

    Travel window: Unlike the AT the PCT has a “window” of when best to hike. Start too soon & you will be stopped with high snow pack & raging fords in the Sierra. Start too late & the water in the desert is even scarcer. Most hikers start mid to Late April. The annual PCT Kick off party is normally about the third weekend in April.

    RE-Supply stops: While many people can get by purchasing food as you go on the AT I don’t see this as a viable option on the PCT. Some of the stops are remote fishing camps catering to fisherman or car campers. Depending on where you live doing all mail drops can be expensive. In resupply section I have listed my review of places I have been & added a few others. It is not a complete listing, nor does it show how far off the trail they are. I’ll let you figure that out once you buy your guidebooks. Mileage is taken from a older guide I had on hand so it may vary somewhat. If I did it again without support I would plan for a zero in major towns & do mail boxes from there up the trail. Tehachapi, Truckee/So Lake Tahoe, Ashland, & Cascade Locks is my suggestion.

    1.3 Campo : Moderate store with camping at outskirts of town. Check at store for where. I got their through public transportation, but there are now several shuttles.

    20.2 Lake Morena : Small store just outside of park. Soup, snacks, beer & soda. If a dry year it may be the first water.

    42.9 Mt Laguna: Small general store. I picked up a few odds & ends for camp that night just down the road at FS campground

    110.6 Warner Springs: When I hiked the resort was private. Small gas station basically only soda & candy. I just did a mail drop.

    180.2 Idyllwild: Great town despite the loss of elevation. State Park has Hike & Bike rates & coin fed shower. Decent shopping where I didn’t need a mail drop.

    276 Big Bear City: I stayed at Motel 6 & then at Fire Station a second night. Take a local bus to Big Bear Lake? A few miles away.

    365.9 Wrightwood: We stayed with a host family, the Johnsons. They moved away due to work the next year, but I heard they moved back in town. There are a few motels there & a moderate store An alternative to dropping down into town is a mail drop to one of the hotels at I-15 crossing, thus avoiding the 3 mile decent into town.

    454.5 Agua Dulce: Spry family runs a hostel for up to 50 people. Trail is getting so crowded now that they have to limit stays & often turn people away. She is active on FB

    555 Tehachapi/ Mojave: Full resupply available in either town. I did Mojave since I had a ride there but Tehachapi now has super Wal-Mart if you need canister fuel.

    647.8 Onyx: Although not planned I did a run into town when I zeroed at Walker Pass. Decent size store for short term resupply & vices

    697 Kennedy Meadows: Store is good for snacks. It is best place to ship your ice axe & other gear for the Sierra. Camping at FS campground a mile or so up the trail.

    739 Lone Pine: Decent sized town. Stayed here in 98 when getting off my LASH.

    784.4 Independence: Smaller than lone Pine or Bishop. Small market.

    825 Bishop: Good size town with all amenities. Although the town is spread out there is a shuttle bus system through town. If stopping here I wouldn’t bother with a mail drop.

    871 Vermillion Valley Resort: Last I heard it was up for sale but still running. 1st night camping for hikers was free. Not much in supplies but good place for a mail drop. Café & beer was great there although pricy due to the distance they have to bring supplies in.

    900 Reds Meadow/Mammoth Lakes: Decent store at Red’s. I didn’t bother with a mail drop since It didn’t seem worth it between Tuolumne & VVR. The free shower was nice & I did pick up some fresh foods.

    935 Tuolumne Meadows: Right in the heart of Yosemite the store was moderately stocked for hikers. I would recommend a drop since it is somewhat pricy, but you can pick up snack & stay in nearby backpackers campsite that abuts the car campground.

    1089 Echo Lake/ So Lake Tahoe : Mail drop need at resort or I found it easy to hitch into So lake Tahoe. At Lake Tahoe you can easily resupply & mail boxes ahead.

    1153.1 I-80/Truckee: Used to be hostel here. You could hitch into town for full resupply.

    1191 Sierra City: Moderate store. There was camping by RV park or stay in Hotel or USFS campground a few miles up road.

    1283 Belden Town Resort: Mail drop to Trail Angel in area. Camping just north of resort on FS property

    1371 Old Station: Small store. Camp on forest service land just off commercial campground. Super friendly people in this town.

    1417.5 Burney Falls SP Resupply via mail drop or hitch into Burney for grocery & motels

    1500 Castella: Moderate store outside SP. Hike & Bike campsite

    1600.2 Etna: Not a planned stop but my partner & I decided to do a quick in & out after hearing so much about an awesome Vietnamese restaurant. Nice store, laundry, & also enjoyed a local lager in the saloon there. Super, friendly people. One put off his chores to give us a ride back to the trailhead because it had started raining

    1657 Seiad Valley: Decent store, café, PO all in one location. RV park in back with shower, laundry & tent sites. Great bar 1 mi up road with sandwiches on homemade bread. Great with local beer. I heard they now let hikers camp in back.

    1721 Ashland: I didn’t go in to town. But if you are shipping your own resupply it’s a great spot to get & mail out your OR boxes as all other stops are fishing camps in OR.

    1745 Hyatt Lake Resort: Caters to fishermen & car campers. Restaurant & cabin rentals Not much for hikers, but will do mail drops.

    1775 Fish Lake Resort: Caters to fishermen & car campers. Not much for hikers, but will do mail drops.

    1829 Crater Lake NP: Resupply possible at Mazanas campground store but is more geared to car campers.

    1907 Shelter Cove Resort: Fishing camp with small store catered to fisherman. Cabin rental or camp in FS campground

    2048 Ollallie Lake Resort: Another fishing camp same as above 2102 Timberline Lodge

    2150 Cascade Locks: Free camping in town. I bypassed this since one of the women I was hiking with had family near by that we stayed at. Like Ashland it would be a logical place for future mal drops since supplies are limited at future resupply points.

    2298 White Pass: Moderate store with laundry & Deli. Great café at adjacent resort. Camping on FS property just to the east.

    2396 Snoqualamine: I skipped since a friend from AT put me up in Seattle. Scant supplies. I would mail a box here.

    2471 Skykomish: I shared a room in the Inn with there hikers & it came with a discount for breakfast. Only resupply was convenience store.

    2569 Stehekin: Neat little village with small store, steakhouse, bakery, bike rental, several other restaurants, & cabins for rent. Also free campsite at edge of town.

    Suggested Reading:

    Pacific Crest Trail Journals:
    A Gang of One By Lief CarlsenCarlsen, Lief (2012-01-25). A Gang of One - Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2011

    Walker, Bill (2010-11-01). Skywalker--Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail .

    Journey On The Crest: Walking 2600 Miles from Mexico to Canada By Cindy Ross

    Yogis Pacific Crest Trail Handbook

    Pacific Crest Trail Guidebook: California

    Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon & Washington

    Craigs PCT Planner: Online planning guide. pctplanner.com/ Just fill in sart & stop point, hiking pace, & hours hiked & it will plan your hike in a few clicks with elevation profile!
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