PCT Advice, generally
The PCT in 2017 remains my most formative hiking experience. Learning about water management in the desert, learning about snow work in the Sierras, learning to flip (god, so many flips) — it was all beautiful and hellish and exhausting and liberating, all at once.
The record high snow in the Sierras scarred me deeply in ways from which I still haven’t recovered. Few risks have truly scared me since, and I find myself strangely attracted to the things that do.
To our AT friends heading out on the PCT, make sure you pay attention to Postholer and Inciweb! The weather on the PCT is a lot more volatile. Multiple people died our year. It does happen and there were several moments when I thought I’d be the next. I know a little summit fever is necessary to hit your goals, but too much summit fever can be fatal. Take care and, if you ever don’t know what to do, picture my maternal face hovering nearby, telling you to drink water, eat a snack, take the safe route, and live to hike another day. <3 — K
GENERAL AND GEAR ADVICE
Before starting trail, work on being well-hydrated for like a week beforehand. That’ll help once you get into the desert. Umbrellas are really useful for most of the trail and sunscreen will be necessary for most of the whole trail. A base tan can help too, if you burn easily.
I’m PRETTY sure that Poodle Dog Bush isn’t as monstrous as people make it out to be. Definitely don’t touch it, but it’s not the plague.
We did print out the Half Mile maps but we really didn’t use them very often. I would say that getting the PDFs for your phone + Guthook would be a better option. If you’re encountering an area with a lot of risk, such as a burn area or high snow area, a big Nat Geo overview map would be useful. A couple times, we used downloaded batches of Google Maps to plan fire reroutes. Also check out what’s on Avenza, a good mapping app with a lot of free maps, or on Gaia.
Most people sleep with food in a opsak except where bear canisters are required. I could probably count on one hand how many times we voluntarily hung our food on the PCT.
Our coldest night — possibly on the whole Triple Crown — was a super windy campsite on the north side of San Jacinto. The desert gets real cold.
Mail yourself a pair of neoprene socks for the Sierras! Ours are the Randy Sun (yes, we know) ones from Amazon and we love them. We actually didn’t end up getting them til we were postholing in Oregon, but once we tried them, we take them every time there’s going be slushy snow. Layer them over your normal socks. If you’re doing river crossings, though, they don’t do much — water will just sluice in the top.
If doing a big ford, position watchers downstream on both sides of the bank with trekking poles out. We tried various group crossings for really high fords and found that the best, particularly if you’re helping a small person across, is linked-arm pairs with someone bracing from behind. A lot of the bigger people, myself included, prefer to solo fords though. Your mileage may vary, of course. We also had a record snow year, so god willing, the fords will be less torrential.
If a ford looks impassable, make sure you send scouts up and down stream — like, half a mile or even more, if necessary — to check on what other possibilities look like. Don’t do stupid fords out of vanity’s sake.
Unlock all backpack buckles for fords. And double-check pockets are zipped so no phones get away from you.
Microspikes instead of crampons. The fast on-and-off is critical.
We (and pretty much everyone, lol) use the Camp Coursa ice axe and it’s totally fine. Some people try to intentionally buy too small a size to save weight and that is a big ol’ mistake. This makes traverses more dangerous if you’re having to lean over. Buy one so that it hits just above ankle when you’re holding it straight down.
Those gin-gin ginger chews, or candied ginger, do really help with altitude adjustment for me.
It truly sucks, but if you’re new to snow work, do take the time to practice self-arresting on your first significant snowfield. I didn’t want to because I was cold, but I wish I had — had some spooky falls later.
Microspikes OFF for glissades for ankle unbrokenness.
If your pass is mostly snow, try to hit it very early in the day so that the snow isn’t slush. Much harder to climb slush.
Always have a bit of cash on hand — there were some surprise cash-only places.
In NorCal/Southern Oregon, there is a secessionist movement called the State of Jefferson, with a flag with a pair of Xs. It’s a little unsettling. We got DEEP into it when having to divert the route around fires. People were mostly nice, but also deeply afraid of the federal government. So try to keep conversation light. And if you’re from D.C., don’t bring that up. (Learn from our mistakes.)
You can get by without maildrops for MOST places, but there are a few places you’ll want to send to. Spend some time with Yogi and the Halfway Anywhere surveys to figure out what works best for you.
Two years later, I still haven’t fully decided if our first main flip from the halfway point to the northern terminus was the right choice overall. But it was DEFINITELY the right choice for us at the time, given the information and emotional fortitude we had. 2019 is shaping up to be a bad snow year as well. Flipping is a part of thruhiking, particularly as extreme weather and fire seasons force our hand. Don’t be afraid to flip if you feel like it’s the right choice for you.
PCT LOCATION-BASED ADVICE CALIFORNIA
The Frodo and Scout ride to trail is amazing and a fun way to meet people before you start.
The Mt. Laguna outfitter is actually fantastic. Really cool owner. We were almost disappointed to not need anything from him! Cool place to check out there.
The Paradise Valley Cafe is extremely good shakes and burgers and they will let you camp for free if you ask nicely.
If you do sleep under the interstate outside Cabazon, be sure to sleep in a group. (We did this as it was the ONLY place out of the wind we could find.) We’ve been told that the local druggie population stays under a separate bridge a bit to the West, but it’s still a little dodgy. Also, sleeping DIRECTLY under the highway is somehow less noisy than staying slightly to the side.
Hiker Heaven and Casa de Luna are both super rad hostels, but totally opposite. Hiker Heaven is SUPER clean and the most efficient, precise hostel I’ve been to. My little Type A heart rejoiced. Casa de Luna is the more traditional hostel disorder but extremely chill. Enjoy a night at both! The forest behind Casa de Luna is an absolutely beautiful little manzanita grove to set up a tent in.
The Deep Creek Hot Springs are wonderful, even in hot weather. But a) keep your head above water due to water-borne parasites; b) the local hot spring bums sexually harassed our friends, so let your female friends know to keep a wary eye.
Nighthike the aqueduct for sure! There was a really nice wind farm just north of the aqueduct that let us chill and nap in their A.C. during the day.
Tehachapi versus Mojave is one choice you’ll have to make. Tehachapi is much nicer and has a lot more services, though I do hear people sleep at the Mojave airport if you’re low on money. But Tehachapi is really spread out. The Post Office is like way far out — we stayed near there and wished we were more centrally located.
Kennedy Meadows is not as fun as we’d supposed. We found it overcrowded and kind of stressful. This may have been our extreme snow year — everyone was trying to figure out if the Sierras were passable, whether they’d flip, etc. Yogi’s got a great outfitter there, though, if you need anything heading into the Sierras.
Mt Whitney obviously worth it. It’ll take an extra day, though.
Bishop is a really cool climber town. Very good brewery, good food, good outdoors shops. I really like it there.
VVR is a fun spot to hang out, but WILL suck up your money. They do a tally-as-you-go-pay-at-the-end system, so watch yourself and that beer tab.
Off Sonora pass, your resupply options are either Kennedy Meadows North and Bridgeport/Walker. There is no good solution here because they are all expensive and have limited services. We did KMN and spent less money than our friends, so fairly happy with that decision. They also had a good system for mailing your bear cans home, which is convenient.
Donner Pass has a little restaurant that will give a free beer to thruhikers. This is a trap, because then you will order a huge nachos and a burger and an entire pie and it’s probably worth it, but it is a trap nonetheless. Solid pie.
Sierra City was a harder resupply than we had been anticipating. The store was just sold out of stuff. I think it’s described in Yogi and other places as being a GOOD resupply, but that was not our experience.
Belden is an overwhelming scene that is constantly either currently-hosting or exhaustedly-recovering from giant party shows. It’s going to be tempting to hang out there because NorCal is the hottest place on Earth, but if you do, watch your packs from the partiers. Just to the north of town, there is a nice little footbridge with a cool stream and shade. That’s where me and HB siestaed instead. The Braatens weren’t around when we passed through — that may be a solution, too.
The Chester, CA Pine Shack Frosty shakes are extremely large and extremely good.
The Subway Cave in Old Station is actually really neat. Take an hour and check it out. Bring a headlamp.
You have to get up early and get in line for the Morning Glory breakfast in Ashland but it may be the best breakfast I have ever had in my entire life, on or off trail. Highly recommend. There are some cheap hotels right nearby for planning purposes. Do not miss this breakfast.
The Timberline breakfast buffet does in fact live up to its reputation. If you’re feeling fLuSh WiTh CaSh when you get there, it’s a really nice hotel with a pool and sauna, but it’s expensive.
Don’t try to stealth at Crater Lake — they really are vigilant about enforcing that. The restaurants there are also extremely overpriced. Xanterra is the company that manages most of the National Parks accommodations and they are pretty garbage. I thought about getting a $10 “rice and broccoli vegetarian bowl” which turned out to literally be a stryrofoam container of Minute Rice and frozen vegetables.
Bend and Sisters are both good and expensive trail towns — you pass by the smaller Sisters on the way to Bend. Deschutes Brewery in Bend is really good. Whichever one you choose to resupply at will have good beer, good outfitters and good groceries.
Thunder Island Brewery in Cascade Locks gives out free beer to thruhikers. The extremely large soft serve at East Wind is an excellent choice.
Actually do consider wearing bright colors here as Yogi suggests — there were a ton of hunters out in the PNW during hunting season.
Definitely do a maildrop to Stehekin — there really is almost nothing in the camp store. It’s a great trail town though. Very friendly, and it’s cool that it’s so remote. Also, plan on at least half a day at the Stehekin Bakery. I am entirely serious when I say that it had life-changing quiche. There’s free camping in Stehekin, so maybe hit the Bakery up for a couple meals.
We surprise-didn’t-have-any-cell-phone service for the last 100 miles or so in Northern Washington, even with Verizon (including in Stehekin — you can buy a phone card there, though.) Let family know that.
Snoqualmie Pass is less than an hour from Seattle, so if you have anyone trying to meet up with you near the end of trail, that’s your best bet.
Goat Rocks in Washington is one of my favorite places on the whole Triple Crown. Take it a little slow if the weather is nice and enjoy!