The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2650 mile (6260 km) hiking trail in North America stretching from the border with Mexico north to the border with Canada (and back the other way!). Designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968 but not actually completed until 1993, the PCT is the west coast constituent of the Triple Crown in long distance hiking along with the east coast Appalachian Trail (AT) and central Continental Divide Trail (CDT).
In contrast to the 14 states of the AT the PCT runs though only 3 – California (1700 miles), Oregon (450 miles) and Washington (500 miles) with the Cascades mountain range. California though is generally considered to have three distinct sections:
- Southern Cal (700 miles) is known as the the “desert” section including the Mojave desert, though significant mountain ranges still exceed 9000′ and cold weather is still a factor here;
- Central California (400 miles) is usually called the “Sierras” meaning the Sierra Nevada mountain range where the trail follows the vast majority of the famous John Muir Trail and hikers spend weeks in the 10,000′ (300m) to 13,200′ (4000m) range;
- Northern California (600 miles) is usually called “Northern California” and is most famous for not being the Sierras.
Another contrast to the AT is the relative difficulty of resupply. As well as there simply being less options, towns are usually further from trail and often require a hitch of 10-20 miles to get to town. For example, the most popular mid-Sierra resupply location (Independence, over Kearsarge Pass) requires a 15 mile round trip of hiking with 8000′ of elevation change plus 26 miles of hitching – an entire day just for travel.
As far as dangers are concerned, always a popular topic, this blog post by Mac covers it more comprehensively and humorously than I could manage.
As I write this in March 2016 the biggest concern for this year’s class is the current record levels of snow, the avalanche risk that brings and the eventual snow-melt effect on stream and river crossings. The current California snowpack is around double the average. While a common image of California is of sun and beaches the reality of the PCT route is quite different. Here are some photographs, courtesy of the PCTA, comparing the last high snow year (2011) to a low one.