An update on the challenges being faced on the PCT this season.
To a much greater extent than the AT, an attempted “true thru” hike of the PCT (meaning no skips, flips or unsanctioned bypasses) is under the influence of the weather.
This year’s class watched with dismay as a long winter piled up near-record levels of snowpack and, crucially, snow water content so when the season started in early April thru-hikers were faced with dangerous wintry conditions anywhere north of mile 700. By mid June only 6 hikers were documented as having hiked across the Sierras. Multiple posts a day were seen on internet forums from hikers either bailing completely, taking multi-week breaks or asking where the best place was to flip up to and trail angels reported spending whole days on the PCT with supplies and good cheer only to see exactly zero hikers come through.
Flipping on the PCT is difficult to make work. On the Appalachian Trail NOBOs can flip up to Maine at any after June and have a clear run down to Georgia for the rest of the calendar year if required. On the PCT though the hardest (most mountainous, most remote and most exposed to bad weather) sections for NOBOs are between miles 700 and 1020 (the Sierras) and then much of the rest of the trail is still between 5000 and 10,000 feet elevation making it impossible to pick a long stretch of snow-free hiking if you want to avoid the Sierras. There’s been so much snow that one ski resort publicized it would be able to stay open until August!
It got so bad that the press picked up on it, such as in this article. The Pacific Crest Trail doles out hazards in cruel ways. Thousands of hikers on the 2,650-mile trek face perils including rattlesnakes, exposure, corneal flash burns from snow glare, and heatstroke. But 2017 is shaping up to be one of the most frightening years in the national scenic trail’s history.
The hikers that attempted the Sierras ran into deep snow, obscured landmarks, avalanches and – worst of all – rapid and deep icy water crossings (creeks, streams, rivers). Imagine postholing in cold snow only to reach a swollen creek racing at high speeds with icy water only kept liquid by its motion. The nearest town might be 50 miles away (3-4 days) so options are rather limited if things go wrong or you want to bail. Actually you don’t have to imagine it – here is a video though you need a Facebook account to view it. It’s worth watching to get a true idea of what it is really like…
Hikers have been swept off their feet, losing gear and risking concussions and hypothermia. One such hiker, Marcus Mazzaferri recounted his story here. With a single mis-step in near-freezing water about 15 miles north of Tuolomne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, his plans went terribly awry. He is sharing his story now, so that others may learn from his ordeal, about what put him in such a desperate situation and the good decisions he made afterwards that led to his survival.
It probably isn’t something everyone would have guessed but California in June isn’t all beaches and rollerblading. In the span of just a few days all these stories came up on my Facebook feed.
Plus a story of day hikers dying of exposure near the trail.
In the meanwhile back in the warm tranquil safety of London… I have moved closer to deciding on my desert hiking outfit (I’m liking ExOfficio’s BugsAway Halo shirt but their Sandfly pants are a bit too roomy) and started the process of investigating my continuing foot problems from a scan/surgery point of view – it’s still really painful. Since my ex-girlfriend had cancelled my health insurance six months earlier without telling me (fortunate I didn’t get cancer then) I have to take out a new policy and have that sorted out before pursuing it further.
I note with interest that Osprey are updating the Exos range of packs for Spring 2018 (so hopefully just in time for my hike) though details are scarce at this point. All the bloggers’ attention has been on a new ultralight pack, the Levity, which is similar to the Exos but lacks hipbelt pockets and a floating lid, and has minimal padding in the straps to achieve an impressively low weight so I think the Exos will still be the only pack to compete with my Marmot Graviton that I am currently testing on day hikes (16 miles last Sunday).