SweetPea – This post could probably win the award for the most procrastinated post. After being in a groove of writing a blog post every other day for almost five months, it has felt like such a chore to write down my thoughts after finishing the PCT. Not really sure why that is…perhaps it already feels so far away, perhaps I don’t want to close out the great experience we had. In any case, I hope that this post can be helpful for other hikers who are considering doing the PCT or another long-distance trail.
Beardoh – A solid 2 months has passed since we finished our PCT thru-hike. We have spent time in Seattle, California, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. It is interesting how quickly we find ourselves back in ‘normal’ life – at least our version of it. I think for me it is particularly odd. I have a hard time getting used to frenzied America. I don’t mind heading off into the woods to avoid it for months at a time – it has been appealing to me since I watched Grizzly Adams every Sunday morning over 30 years ago.
We had a truly wonderful summer on the PCT. So many beautiful days through the great mountains of California, Oregon and Washington. The landscape of the west coast mountains hit me like a brick in 2012 when I first experienced them on the PCT. The High Sierras were so striking to me – I had no idea that mountains like those existed in the US. The blue and green lakes, jagged peaks, immense views, and super blue skies have left images in my mind that I don’t think I could shake if I wanted to..and I don’t. It was so good to be in those mountains again…and by that, I mean all of them – the desert highlands all the way up to Washington’s Cascades. Each part had it’s challenges: heat, snowy passes, more heat, hail, cold days. All good. We took each day as it came and walked through whatever was thrown at us.
This hike also brought us some wonderful new friends, hopefully life-long friends. Hiking these big trails can do that. There are people that I have met whilst hiking in the past 5 years whom I have now spent more time with then some of my closest friends going back to high school or college. So many days walking and talking and learning about each other. So many nights around camp chatting about past and future adventures. I love it. Hiking has made me realize how social I actually am, and I believe that is a great thing. Mtn Man and Gazelle -> we already miss having you guys as part of our daily lives. We must adventure together again! And Soon!!
For the rest of this post, part 2 and possibly more we want to write a post-hike brief and reflection. Starting out right now, we are not sure exactly where it will go, but will try to keep it relevant and interesting to both followers of our travels/website, as well as to future thru hikers of the PCT.
This year’s hike was a success. Not simply because we made it to the Canadian border, but because SweetPea and I both overcame some tough physical challenges. We knew these going in. For me, it was chronic sinus and asthma issues that started several years ago. For SweetPea, it was a chronic hip tendon issue that started on the Appalachian Trail in 2011. Both of these issues could have taken us off the trail this year if they were exacerbated too greatly. We knew this going into the hike and were truly prepared to hop off early should we need to. In fact, in preparation and at the beginning of the hike, our expectations were not really to complete the PCT. Our food drops were prepared for the whole trip, but mentally, we were OK with a plan that took us as far as we felt made sense, and then possibly taking an extended break and hopping on another long trail like the Colorado Trail for a period.
On to some specific points…
I started the PCT with much of the same gear as I had used on previous hikes (as far back as the AT five years ago). I didn’t buy anything new for the PCT hike, other than a t-shirt to hike in and two pairs of underwear. Everything else in my pack (and my pack itself, for that matter) had at least 800 miles of use before starting the PCT. For the most part, this worked well, however, I made a few changes in gear along the way:
1. My pack started to show signs of wear pretty early in the hike. I ended up covering a lot of spots on the pack with Gorilla Tape and resewing a few spots which seemed to have been compromised (Thanks to the Saufley’s for having a sewing machine!). The pack went as far as South Lake Tahoe, then I decided not to push it any farther. I was able to buy a used MLD Prophet (Thanks MountainMan!) and used it for the rest of the hike. I think in the future, if my DIY backpack utilizes new/experimental materials, and I’m not sure how many miles I can expect to get out of a pack, I will be tempted to sew an extra pack. Our packs tend to be really inexpensive ($15-$40 each), so it isn’t really a big investment of money…it is more an investment of time, which always feels to be in short supply. If the pack wears out earlier than expected, I can still have another pack (made to my preferences) which I can have sent out to me on the trail.
2. I switched hammocks before the mid-way point. While the Grand Trunk Nano 7 hammock is fine and I have been using it for the past five hiking seasons, I decided that I wanted to use a hammock which was a bit roomier. I ended up switching to a DIY hammock which Beardoh has used in the past. In the future, I will sew myself a new hammock with an integrated bug net. After seeing Beardoh with this style of hammock on several long hikes, I am ready to make the change myself. I have resisted in the past because I wanted to keep my hammock weight as low as possible, but I have decided that the integrated bug net has many advantages.
3. Since we used a bounce box for the first time, I was able to remove some gear during the hotter times of the trail. I removed my silk sack, long john bottoms and long john top for a period of about 600 miles. This worked really well and there were only a few nights that I wished I had these things with me. In the future, I would like to sew myself a pair of silk pajamas, to use instead of the long johns. Hopefully this can help to lighten the clothing portion of my gear. It may even negate the need for a silk sack, but we’ll see.
4. For my birthday on trail, Beardoh got me a pair of wind pants (Patagonia Houdini). I have had a wind shirt as part of my gear since 2015 and really liked it. The wind pants have been just as great. Not only do I like to wear them when hiking in cooler temps, but I also slept in them pretty much every night that I had them. I would have preferred the MontBell wind pants, since they are a bit lighter, but the inseam is much longer and I have short legs, so it didn’t seem like a good match. I was able to try the Houdini pants before ordering (Thanks Lid!), so I knew ahead of time that they would be a good fit.
Hammock – Most folks don’t think of the PCT as a hammock friendly trail. Preparing for my 2012 hike, there wasn’t much info about thru hiking with a hammock on the trail, so I used a tent until Belden, CA and then switched to my hammock. This year, we just went for the hammocks the entire trip. There were 5 nights that we did sleep on the the ground. All but 1 could have been avoided if we wanted to push another 5 miles. Z Rests (7 sections) were part of our gear for the summer hike (nice place to sit during breaks, and as a go-to-ground backup) so when we didn’t feel like pushing further, we just used them and stopped for the day. I wouldn’t do it differently, except maybe just skip the Z Rest in leu of a piece of tyvek for a break/sit pad from Kennedy Meadows north. The Hammock Gear Underquilt that I bought this past spring was excellent. SweetPea will be getting one this coming year. It stays in place and there is no cold-butt-syndrome…love it!
Backpack – My DIY pack made out of X-PAK worked well. I used Oxford Cloth for the material that was against my body, sustaining the most abrasion. The use of Oxford Cloth was a fortuitous choice as this was the difference between SweetPea’s pack and my own. The pack had over 3,000 miles by the end of the PCT, and still had more miles in it. I may experiment with pack stays in the next pack if I can incorporate them into the pack without adding too much weight. Longer water and food carries would be more comfortable with some rigidity.
Cook Kit – At the OR/WA border, we added a stove/cookpot/windscreen to our gear. It has been a long time and a lot of miles since we used a stove. On our AT thru-hike in 2011 (our first long distance hike), we used a stove every evening, and that was the last hike. Not having a stove has been nice: we don’t carry the extra weight, we don’t have to seek out fuel in town, we sit down and just dig into our food. What changed? We decided to grab a kit from traildesigns.com after spending so much of the hike with Mtn Man. The setup he had was very slick and light. It incorporates a Toaks Titanium Pot, with a Caldera Cone and Zelph Stove. It added 5oz to SweetPea’s packweight, and about 3-10oz to mine (variable, since I carried the fuel in a Evernew Water Bladder). We wanted to add in more food, and as we were getting into colder evenings, having a warm meal at the end of the day seemed like a good idea. We are both glad that we added in cooking at the end of the hike. That doesn’t mean that we will ditch our no-cook ways, but we will include cooking as an option in future hikes.
Down Jacket – I have been eyeing the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer down jacket for some time. It is very light for its warmth, and after trying one on in the Sierra’s, I started looking for them online…and found one for nearly half price. The Ghost Whisperer is a much better fit on me than the Western Mountaineering Flash jacket that I had been using. The GW is longer in the sleeves and torso which is more appropriate for someone of my height (6’5″).
Pole – The Komperdell pole that a I had been using finally died…I am not sure how many miles this pole had on it before I got it. Cam “Swami” Honan (The Hiking Life) had given it to us when he came through on his AT thru-hike (and I believe it had been given to him at some point). I bought another set of Komperdell poles, this time a carbon/aluminum composite version pretty early in the trip (I sent one pole home). I liked using this pole a lot. It is lightweight, very strong, and it’s grip is very comfortable on the hands.