Backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail

snow on mountains with trees

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,650 mile trail that goes from Mexico to Canada. Every year roughly 300 people attempt to hike the trail in its entirety. The trail runs through California, Oregon and Washington and it requires a high level of physical and mental conditioning. The trail takes outdoor extremists through mountainous terrain, high and low desert, old growth forests, and backpackers could go days without seeing another soul.

The trail was first explored by men from the YMCA in the 1930s and then the federal government was lobbied to secure the trail corridor by Clinton Clarke and Warren Rogers, who were themselves trail pioneers. Five specific sections of the Pacific Crest Trail were laid out based on the seasons in which the trail is at it’s most optimum. The first section is Southern California, then to Central California, Northern California, Oregon and finally Washington.

Along the way, backpackers have the opportunity to set up camp in some of the most scenic wonders in the country. Not all backpackers camp throughout the whole trip, some opting for regular lodging when they come across a town, but tent camping is a necessity for most of the trip. Planning the trip should take six to eight months. In this time backpackers will be able to determine their daily hike, places to camp, where to reload for supplies, what to bring and how long the whole trip should take.

Equipment

All of this equipment should fit into an ergonomic backpacking backpack. The less it all weighs, the better. These are just the basics. Depending on what else is wanted, such as a cell phone or camera, et cetera, the weight and bulk of the pack will be more.

  • Sleeping bag
  • Tent
  • Water Bottles
  • Change of Clothes for Warmer and Colder Weather
  • Food
  • Bear Container for Food
  • Iodine for Water Purification
  • Hiking Boots
  • First Aid Kit
  • Map or GPS
  • Money
  • Pots, Pans, Utensils, Camping Stove and Propane
  • Wilderness Permits
  • Ice Axe, Snowshoes, Climbing Ropes, (depending on the time of year the hike is to begin)

Reloading Supplies

There are almost a hundred places along the Pacific Crest Trail where a hiker can reload their supplies. Some hikers like to pre-pack their foods and send them to be picked up as they pass through the towns that have postal offices. The downfall to this is that it can be very expensive, and if a hiker doesn’t finish the trail, they have to find a way to get their supplies back.

Another problem is that in the pre planning, some hikers don’t realize how sick of canned and dehydrated foods they will become. Eating the same things for two to three months will get old. Instead of eating top ramen and mac-n-cheese every day, other hikers decide to send some supplies to post offices along the trail, and then reload at each town. With a clear idea of how long between each stop, the hiker can know how much food they will need when they have to tent camp for a few days straight.

Permit Requirements

All National Parks, wilderness areas, and other restricted areas require a permit for overnight stays. The permits can be acquired at the visitor centers for each park, or a Thru-permit can be acquired through the Pacific Crest Trail Organization for hikes that are going to be 500 miles or longer.

Remember to plan the trip ahead of time, be in good physical condition, and if hiking the trail as a party of one, keep in touch with somebody along the way. Follow foot care techniques to avoid blisters and fungus. Don’t carry too much weight at one time, as this will slow the hike time and can cause severe back pain. If finishing the trail seems impossible, then don’t try. Only a small handful that start out each year are actually able to finish.

Bears are a huge problem along parts of the trail and precautions need to be taken. Do not leave food or other scented items out or in the tent. Do not approach a bear or a bear cub along the trail. Do not feed the bears or other wildlife. Pack it in and pack it out means that all garbage and waste items need to be properly disposed of. Most of all, if attempting the Pacific Crest Trail, be safe.

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