PCT?

One of the many signs throughout the trail.

The Pacifict Crest Trail (PCT) is the world’s longest completed continuous footpath, running from Campo, CA to Manning Park, BC, Canada. It runs through California, Oregon and Washington. The path is 2650 miles long (so that’s 4200-something kilometres). It is said that more people succeeded in climbing Mount Everest than that there are who completely thru-hiked the PCT at once. Crazy right.. 

The PCT starts in Campo, California, located 50 miles east of San Diego and ends in Manning Park, just 100 miles east of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It is a well-maintained trail (for the most part). It is for the exclusive use of hikers and riders (horse riders), and only a few miles on paved or dirt roads, are shared with other users (like crossing a highway). 

The PCT is a wilderness trail that only occasionally touches civilisation. So camping in the wilderness is an integral part of hiking the PCT. You will hike through deserts, forests, passes, alpine ridges,..


Potest quia posse videntur – He can because he thinks he can.

Virgil, Roman Poet

Southern California

The distance between Campo and Kennedy Meadows is approximately 700 miles. This is an arid landscape with desert vegetation at low altitudes an brush at intermediate altitudes, there are only forests in the mountains!

Spring is the best seasons for hiking this section of the PCT, but you need to wait until the snow has melted in the higher mountains. Thru-hikers will start this section in April, May and June and this is the best time for section-hikers as well. In a dry year most of the creeks and springs will have dried up by early spring, so you’ll encounter long stretches without water. Fortunately this section is well provided for by trail angels. Despite their help, there could be times when you need to carry up to six litres of water. So strategy to cope with the heat is key! You will see plenty of rattlesnakes but these are only really dangerous to those who try to handle them! Wild bears will run when they sense you (California is known for the black bear).

The High Sierra

The 450 miles from Kennedy Meadows to Donner Pass take you through a spectacular alpine landscape. In this section, you’ll reach the highest point of the PCT (13,180ft), at Forester Pass. Many hikers take a day off to reach the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental USA. For 200 miles the PCT coincides with the world famous John Muir Trail (JMT), which starts on the summit of Mount Whitney and ends in Yosemite Valley.

Mt. Whitney Trail going towards the crossing with the John Muir Trail

The High Sierra is the most exciting section of the PCT but also the part with the most problems, with a 200-mile section without a single road. Any bears you meet might be after your food and then there’s the mosquitoes. In high mountains, fresh snow can fall in any month of the year and thunderstorms can be spectacular. During the day it can get very hot but be prepared for freezing temperatures at night.

Northern California

You’ve already hiked 1150 miles in Cali, but a further 550 remain before reaching Oregon. On entering the Cascade Mountains, large volcanoes, including Lassen Peak and Mount Shasta, dominate the landscape. Once you’re approaching Oregon, you return to alpine terrain upon entering the Klamath Mountains. Thru-hikers will pass through this section in July and August. It is likely to be sunny most of the time but it is also the main season for thunderstorms, rain and hail. There is also the risk of fire, started by lightning striking the often tinder-dry forests.

Oregon

There is generally less ascent in Oregon than elsewhere on the PCT and the 430 miles here are fast going, fit thru-hikers should cover 20 miles comfortably each day. The landscape is dominated by volcanoes, large and small. You’ll pass by Crater Lake, the Three Sisters, Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood, these are all spectacular volcanoes that tower above tree-line. Thru-hikers will pass through Oregon during August and early September and can expect good weather. Forest fires have been a problem in recent years, so some sections of the PCT may be closed for this reason.

Washington

The bridge that links Oregon to Washington

Only 480 miles remain before you reach the Canadian border. When you reach the border or Oregon/Washington, you’ll cross the Bridge of the Gods. You’ll pass Goat Rocks Wilderness, where you’ll return to a spectacular alpine landscape. Mount Rainier and Glacier Peak, both covered by large glaciers, dominate the hike through Northern Washington. Washington’s Cascade Mountains have a reputation for rain and you will be hiking through temperate rainforest. Most thru-hikers will be in Washington in September, a good month for these mountains. The first heavy snowfall of winter is unlikely to fall until well into October.

Source: The Pacific Crest Trail by Brian Johnson