All you need to know when planning a hike on the Pacific Trail
Preparing to hike one of America’s great trails requires not only preparing your mental state, but also your physical abilities and gear. This is the first lesson shared by Barney Mann, known in the hiking community as a true guru of the Pacific Trail.
Mann hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007 and was chairman of the Pacific Crest Trail Association from 2012 to 2015. He also hiked the Appalachian Trail and as PCTA chairman he was fortunate enough to appear on several Wild premieres with the cast and Cheryl Strayed. Mann and his wife live near the starting point of the Pacific Crest Trail and host more than 30 percent of those willing to hike the area at their San Diego home each year.
We caught up with Mann, whose book, “Journey North,” about his journey on the Pacific Crest Trail and his wife, was released August 1, 2020. Mann walked us through everything a beginning hiker needs to know when planning a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail.
The most popular route of the Pacific Ridge Trail
Most hikers – 95 percent – go north, starting in the town of Campo, deep in San Diego, and hiking at the northern terminus, Manning Park. Hiking south is much less popular because there are many problems with weather conditions (“the northwest mountains don’t get free of snow until July,” Mann says). As a result, the dropout rate among tourists heading south is high. Ultimately, most hiking applicants start in Campo, and from there “snake [their] way north, mostly along the ridges of California, Oregon and Washington for 2,650 miles,” Mann says.
How long does the Pacific Crest Trail hike last?
The 2,650-mile (4,265-kilometer) Pacific Crest Trail hike takes most hikers five months. Mann and his wife took exactly 155 days to hike – and they hiked the trail at ages 47 and 55. To complete the trail in five months and thus avoid the winter season entirely, hikers must hike at least 20 miles (32 km) per day.
The best time to start hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is from mid-April to early May, which means finishing the hike in September or October.
Resources and permissions every Pacific Ridge Trail hiker needs
Thanks to the success of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild and, of course, the movie of the same name starring Reese Witherspoon, the popularity of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail has grown exponentially. From mid-April through early May, 50 hikers who have been given permits can start each day, and these permits are in very high demand. Long-distance Pacific Crest Trail hiking permits, available through the Pacific Crest Trail Association , are free and requests must be submitted well in advance. To start hiking in April, your first opportunity to apply for a long-distance permit is six months in advance, in October.
Not only do hikers apply for permits through the Pacific Crest Trail Association website, but they also use it as a helpful resource. Mann recommends exploring the site for information, and buying a copy of Yogi’s Pacific Crest Trail Handbook .
Physical fitness and equipment for a Pacific Crest Trail hike
Before hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Mann recommends preparation, specifically a three-pronged approach. He says to be prepared mentally, physically and in terms of gear. As for mental preparation, Mann reminds hikers that “the most important muscle is inside your head.”
But beyond the thought of hiking 2,650 miles, Mann recommends that those who are already in good physical shape do at least two five-mile hikes a week for two months before hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
As for gear, everyone has a different opinion on what the ideal “base weight” of a backpack is. Fortunately, since Mann hosts more than a third of the hikers in his home each year, he has seen it all in terms of what people put in their backpack and how much a good backpack weighs.
The first thing to know is that hikers discuss pack weight in terms of “base weight,” which Mann explains is “the weight of [your backpack] without water, food or fuel canisters.”
He says that if hikers can start with a base weight of about 9 kilograms, that’s ideal, although some start at 18 kilograms and end up dropping weight at every opportunity. Mann’s personal starting base weight is about 4.5 pounds.
As for buying gear, he recommends hikers start with the big three: the backpack itself, a tent and a sleeping bag. In addition to these items, hikers will add clothing, electronics (possibly including an external battery, phone, camera or lighter), a sleeping mat, kitchenware, water purifier, a small first aid kit and other essentials to their basic backpacking weight.
The best attractions on the Pacific Crest Trail
When you begin planning your hike on the Pacific Ridge Trail, one of the best ways to mentally prepare yourself is, of course, to allow yourself to admire the famous sights you’ll encounter along the route. Starting at the Mexican border in Campo, hikers will hike through the mountain ranges of southern California-“Lagunas, San Jacintos, San Bernardinos, San Gabriels,” Mann says.
Farther north in California, hikers hit the Sierra Nevada, which Mann calls “the jewel in the crown of the Pacific Trail.” Once hikers pass Kennedy Meadows at mile 702, they head out on the 210-mile off-road trail, which Mann says is “the longest off-road trail in the country.” In the Sierra Nevada, Mount Shasta is the long-awaited summit.
By the time you cross the California-Oregon border at 1,700 miles, you’ll have three months. For those who want to try part of the Pacific Ridge Trail but not make the crossing, Mann says it’s very popular to “hike the sections” only in the Oregon or Washington portions of the trail. In Oregon, his favorite attractions are Crater Lake, Three Sisters and, of course, Mt. Hood and the famous Timberline Lodge. There are few sights in Washington that compare to the scenery of the North Cascades and the Bridge of the Gods, which features prominently in Wild . Finally, the trail ends at Manning Park, where Pacific Trail hikers officially become hikers across the street.
There’s just one catch. Once you finish the trail at Manning Park, “you still have to walk eight miles,” Mann says.
Pacific Crest Trail
This article is about one of the longest hiking trails in the U.S. and in the world, the Pacific Crest Trail* – and the author’s attempt (successful, by the way!) to hike the entire route in one summer.
* Note : the most correct translation of the name of the trail (Pacific Crest Trail), in my opinion, is exactly “Pacific Mountain Trail” or “TGT”, not “Pacific Crest Trail” (PTH), as it has recently become called due to the decision of the translator of the book “Wild” (Wild). You can read my thoughts on this in the discussion of the Wikipedia article. I am concerned about this point because I am writing a book about my THT journey. You should be able to start reading it in a few weeks. – Richard, 05/09/2018.
Along the entire west coast of America, from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, stretches the world’s longest mountain system, the Cordilleras. In the center of North America, the Cordilleras widen and divide into several parts. The range at the eastern end is commonly referred to as the Rocky Mountains, while the western edge of the Cordilleras is represented by such mountain systems as the Sierra Nevada (California), the Cascade Mountains (Oregon and Washington), and the coastal ranges of British Columbia (Canada). The Pacific Crest Trail (hereafter “PCT” – from “Pacific Crest Trail”) is built along these heterogeneous ridges overlooking the Pacific Coast. It is 4,270 kilometers long.
The beginning and end of the trail for most long-distance hikers are the Mexican and Canadian borders, respectively. Only about 5-10% of people who hike the PCT become “southbounders” (SoBos or south-bounders) who go from north to south. North-south hiking is often considered more difficult due to the shorter hiking season, because the snow in the northern Cascade Mountains melts later than in the relatively low, arid mountains of Southern California. I, on the other hand, will be a northerner: I start at the Mexican border, as most people do.
The start of my hike is in conjunction with an event held each year for a freshly minted group of long-distance hikers at Morena Lake Park at mile 20 of the trail. This year it will take place on April 25 (4 days after I write these lines!). Accordingly, I’m starting on the 24th. The organizers of this free (for this season’s long distance hikers) event are a friendly group of people who discovered the trail together in the seventies. Since I’m going on the trail without company, I want to take this opportunity to get to know most of those who are doing the TGT this year at once. Many, if not most, of them are also going solo, so probably almost everyone will be interested in making new acquaintances. I imagine it will be easy to get to know each other. Despite differences in background, culture, occupation, etc., everyone has a lot in common. One way or another, we’ve all walked a similar path to get here. Going forward, our shared experiences will bring us even closer together.
As a rule, on extra-long hiking trails, non-binding alliances are formed – companies that may “dissolve” in a day or maybe a month. Each long-distance hiker is autonomous in terms of equipment and food and goes on its own schedule. At the same time, the need for communication has not been canceled. In order not to break away from the company, we have to adjust: to adjust the pace of walking, postpone the solution of physiological needs, change plans for visiting settlements. When individual needs of participants begin to diverge too much, they part ways. But the trail is long, and it’s not impossible that you’ll cross paths again in 10, 100, or 1,000 kilometers. Several hundred people hike the Pacific Mountain Trail each year. Some prefer to go (or are forced to go) alone, others in company. Each seeks the optimal balance of solitude and company.
Geography and Climate
The natural environment of the Pacific Mountain Trail is varied. In southern California, it is low, arid mountains and semi-desert. In Central California, it is the high, granite-bound Sierra Nevada (“snow-capped mountains” in Spanish), where you will not find a single road for more than 300 km (and this in the most populous state in the US!). In Northern California, the route passes through low forested ridges, and in Oregon and Washington – through the Cascade Mountains, which are interrupted only by the powerful Columbia River on the border of these two states. Oregon is characterized by densely forested plateaus with freestanding snow-capped volcanoes, while more typical fold mountains are found in Washington.
Temperatures may reach 40 degrees or more in the desert and low mountains, but temperatures will generally stay in the 15-25 (10-30?) degree range during the day and 0-10 degrees at night. Minus temperatures are likely at least several times during the hike, so, despite the summer heat, most long-distance hikers take sleeping bags, designed for temperatures from 0 to -10 C. It is also necessary to take into account that the body that has lost a lot of weight is less resistant to the cold.
The climate along the west coast of the United States is distinctly Mediterranean, meaning that precipitation is mostly in winter and dry in summer. Of course, the high mountains create their own microclimate, but even in the high mountains a month can go by without rainfall. In California and Oregon there are areas where you have to walk 30-40 km to the next source of water. Late-spring snowfalls are possible in the mountains of Southern California, and in the northern Cascade Mountains, lingering rains often begin as early as the second half of September. In the Sierra Nevada, snow in the passes usually melts by July, but most long-distance hikers get there as early as June and encounter vast snowfields and full-flowing streams that must be waded. The amount of snow in the Sierra Nevada can be tracked on special Web sites.
Another problem for long-distance hikers is all sorts of insects, most often mosquitoes. As we move north, we sort of run away from the onset of summer and then catch up with it. Almost all northerners in all years sooner or later face endless swarms of blood-sucking mosquitoes.
Forest fires, which break out in the summer and fall, are also possible. In case of fire there will be information (as a sign?) about the necessity to get off the trail and avoid the burning area.
The choice of equipment for the TGT stems from the geography and climate. The Pacific Mountain Trail can rightly be considered the birthplace of modern light hiking. This is where Ray Jardine honed his methods, and later other craftsmen. It was on the TGT that long-distance hikers first began to wear lightweight running shoes rather than heavy boots on a mass scale. Unlike the Appalachian Trail, which is full of untrained people with whatever equipment they need (the trail is facilitated by hiking shelters every 20 kilometers), most long-distance hikers on the THT are at different stages of easy walking. Here you can often see backpacks with a basic weight of 5 kg or less. Lightweight backpacking and the “beach look” have become the norm here over the past 10 years.
My own choice of gear is also driven by my experiences hiking in Colorado, Peru, the Crimea and the Carpathians. I already have a stable set of gear. In addition, finances don’t allow much experimentation with new gear right now. Here I will briefly describe and explain my choice of basic equipment:
- Backpack: in the south – Zip by Mountain Laurel Designs (40-45 liters), in the Sierra Nevada – Pinnacle by Golite (70 liters), in the north – Blast 36 by Zpacks (50-55 liters) or Zip. Changing backpacks in the Sierra Nevada stems from the need for additional gear (ice axe, crampons, and the obligatory bear-proof food storage container). Also, the distances between resupply points are greater here, and more food will have to be carried. Probably at the beginning of the Sierra Nevada, my backpack will weigh about 18 pounds.
- Sleeping bag: the Rocky Mountain No Sniveller sleeping blanket from Jacks ‘R Better (what weird names!) all along the route. It’s comfortable both at +10 C (if it’s slightly off the body) and at -5 C.
- Hammock: An ultralight hammock from Grand Trunk (formerly The Travel Hammock) with a homemade mosquito net. Why the hammock. Several reasons. It’s the easiest way to fully relax when you need to wait out a hot day, with the wind blowing over you from all directions. It can be hung up in one minute at rest stops to escape mosquitoes. Finally, you can set it up anywhere there are trees and sleep equally comfortably every night. No need to find a flat spot or clear the ground of twigs and pebbles. If I decide later that I don’t need the hammock, I’ll just send it home. See a video of my hammock and netting here:
- Rug: Evazote mats in various sizes from Gossamer Gear. Because of the use of the hammock, I take about 120 grams more mats than usual. Below zero in the hammock will still be cold underneath, so at these temperatures I will sleep on the ground (as a bedding I take a rescue blanket 90×250 cm).
- Awning: a 160×265 cm kuben poncho shade from Mountain Laurel Designs. It has enough area to hang over the hammock in moderate rain without much wind if stretched diagonally. In heavy rain, I’ll probably sleep on the ground. Looking for a way to avoid tangling the drawstrings.
- Clothing: my favorite polyester shorts, wind pants and windbreaker. This time instead of the polyester T-shirt from Golite, I’m taking a thin merino wool T-shirt from Icebreaker. It weighs 40 grams more, but it doesn’t muck up, which is especially important when going into civilization. Occasionally I’ll wear an open brim cap from Golite, probably over a towel rag to protect my ears and neck from the sun. But I’ll usually go under my favorite Golite Chrome Dome reflective umbrella. I’m also taking a merino wool thermal underwear from Icebreaker. I’ll be wearing it at night to keep the down sleeping bag from getting dirty. At the beginning of the trip I’ll also have a 160g down vest from Montbell. And, of course, underwear – polyester and quick drying, from ExOfficio (1 piece).
- Footwear: I’m going to go in Inov-8 sneakers. First I’m going to wear already worn out models 320 and 315. Then I’ll order 305 or, perhaps, 335. Of the entire Inov-8 line, the 305, 320 and 335 are the ones with the thickest cushioning layer.
- Socks: I have developed a fetish for socks, especially merino wool socks (Smartwool). I have accumulated a fair amount of them, which I hope to use up during the hike. I also want to try thin polyamide socks, which are much cheaper than wool socks. I’ll probably take one pair of thick socks with me for the mountains of Southern California and for the Sierra Nevada. I hope to finally decide over the course of the hike which socks are best for long summer hikes.
- Burner: the Caldera spirit stove from Trail Designs. It took me a long time to decide whether to take the Bush Buddy wood-burning stove or the Caldera. Or not to take the burner at all. In the end, I opted for the Caldera because it is faster and easier to cook on than the Bush Buddy. It is also better protected from the wind and does not smoke the boiler, and I want buckwheat for dinner, and not cold It also turned out that the alcohol (antifreeze) is easy to get in the “touch” towns and is sold in small bottles or even on draft. If I were going with someone else for two, I’d probably choose the Bush Buddy for the sake of weight savings.
- Wok: Titanium from MSR. My version of the Caldera is tailored to the dimensions of the Titan.
- Trekking poles: “Adjustable Goat Poles” from Titanium Goat. To take or not to take, that was the question. In the end I decided to take it, because it’s always easier to send home than to ask for it to be sent.
- Flashlight: Tikka Plus XP from Petzl. It is likely that in the hot semi-desert I will sometimes walk at night, and there is nothing more convenient than this headlamp. The tiny Foton is no good for that. I only take it as a spare (it weighs only 6 grams). When I don’t have to go at night, I’ll send my headlamp home.
The base weight of my backpack will be about 5 kg (7 kg in Sierra Nevada). The hammock + extra mat weigh half a pound, and the camera kit (Canon G7 + spare battery + charger + card reader) weighs another half pound. In Sierra Nevada I carry a heavier backpack, a bear canister, an ice axe and crampons (the correct word would be “claws”), which adds two kilos.
Plans, intentions, nutrition
Based on last year’s experience in Colorado and the prices of California hotels, I decided that I would not spend the night in the cities. Staying overnight in a hotel knocks me out a bit, and the questionable amenities – showers, sinks and toilets – do not, in my opinion, justify the price of lodging (usually around $70-100 for a double room, and there are no single rooms). By doing so, I will immediately reduce the cost of my trek by $500 compared to the average PCT tourist. But getting or buying groceries in the cities is still necessary. Avoiding forced overnight stays in town is only possible by planning: you have to stop by and go into town before lunch to have time to do everything and get back to the trail before evening. At the same time, you need to know in advance the hours of operation of the post offices where you will receive parcels. I made myself a rough travel schedule with information about all the localities, post offices, and libraries (where the Internet is available). The good news is that there is an abundance of information now, both in books and on the Internet. You can even find an almost complete set of amateur PCT maps online, which are of a higher quality and detail than the official ones.
With only one 40-day hike under my belt, and not a fully successful one at that, I can’t be sure that my body will allow me to cover the entire 4,000-plus kilometers of the trail. If I have to get off the trail early, so be it. But I will do my best to make it to the end. Specifically, my layout this time around will provide me with the right amount of calories as well as a reasonable ratio of fats, carbs, and proteins (about 40:50:10 in caloric terms, respectively). I learned my malnutrition lesson last year in Colorado. My planned spread at the start of the hike will be about 1,100 grams and 5,000 kcal per day, with the possibility of increasing. Since I will be buying groceries in another state at the lowest possible price and having packages mailed to me, I will be able to adapt the layout to my needs and still continue to “reap the benefits” of this method of resupply. However, you can’t predict in advance what you’re going to be sick of in a month. I will supplement my standard food set with vegetables and fruits from stores, as well as other foods as I wish. The cost of my basic 5000 kcal comes out to about $9, plus about $3 for shipping (I’ll usually get food for 3-5 days at a time). Considering grocery shopping as well, I hope to manage $500 a month for food. Other expenses will be kept to a minimum, unlike most other long distance hikers who typically spend $3000 to $5000 on a hike, including hotel rooms, restaurant visits, and gear changes.
Planned basic diet (approximate, subject to change): Breakfast: Granola (fried granola) 200 g, whole milk powder 50 g Lunch: (stretched over the entire hike day with meals every 1-2 hours) various kinds of bars with a maximum of natural, not processed ingredients – 400 g, dried bananas 100 g Dinner: buckwheat 150 g (from Russian store, because there is no normal buckwheat in the US! ), salmon 50 g, olive oil 40 g, dried onions 10 g, cookies 50 g, nut butter 50 g
As you can see, that comes out to 1,100 grams and about 5,000 calories. You only need to cook on the burner in the evening, and only to reheat the pre-soaked buckwheat. All elements of the diet taste good to me (even very good). But if anything, I can give up part or all of this spread and pick up other foods at stores along the way.
I know from my hike last year, that after a while I will have an information hunger and a desire to strain my brain with some mental labor. Along with food supplies I will also “order” printouts of some interesting texts. I will make notes and report at least in two words about each day, and then put them on the Internet (on the next page of the report). I found an ftp-platform that allows you to edit sites without downloading any software. I want to attach one photo a day to the entries. I’m scheduled to have internet access about once a week.
Everything else is unknown! I’d like to finish the route by the end of August with an average speed of 35 km per day, but that’s just a guess. If you have any questions, post on the forum.