Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail 2012

After 32+ years I will be retiring from the San Diego Police Department on December 30, 2011. I will be 55 years of age and in OK shape with the exception of being a bit overweight (OK, so I carry around a pony keg and not a six pack). I often get asked what my plans are after I retire. I tell people my first adventure will be to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and I get this look of; what?

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,663.5 mile hiking trail that runs from the Mexican border at Campo to Manning Park which is located 8 miles into Canada from Washington State. The PCT is a national scenic trail that traverses three states (California, Oregon, and Washington). I will climb 60 some mountain passes; descend into 19 major canyons; pass more than 1000 lakes; 3 national monuments; 7 national parks (Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, Crater Lake, Mt. Rainier and North Cascades National Park), 24 national forests; and 37 federally mandated wilderness areas.

The PCT starts out in a desert like area that is hot, dry and rugged. It passes through mountains that are tall, steep and snowy (Forrester Pass 13,153 feet). The trail will require crossing creeks, streams and rivers; climbing over rocks, logs and bridges. In the course of hiking the trail I will climb over 314,711 feet of up and down climbing of hills and mountains and then into valleys, canyons and meadows. The lowest point of the trail is the Cascade Locks of Oregon, at 140 feet above sea level. The highest point along the trail is Forester Pass, California, at 13,153 feet. I will hike 1,698.8 miles in California, 456.8 miles in Oregon and 499.8 miles in Washington. (More people have climbed Mt. Everest than have completed a thru hike of the PCT.)

Most hikers attempting to thru-hike the PCT will begin their journey in mid to late April. There is a kick off for hikers the last weekend of April called the “Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off” (ADZPCTKO) which is held at Lake Morena, near Campo. The idea is to begin the southern portion of the hike early enough to avoid the extreme high temperatures of the desert and arrive at the southern portion of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (Kennedy Meadows) when the snow pack has had time to melt (June 10-15). Once a hiker makes it to Kennedy Meadows the goal is to make Canada before the snow begins to fall in Washington (Late September – Early October). The hike should take roughly five months to complete.

I will encounter snakes, spiders, mosquitoes, bears and poison oak. I will carry everything I need on my back in a pack that will weigh in at about 20 pounds, less food and water. I will use a tent (Big Agnes Fly Creek / 2 pounds) and cook at least one hot meal a day. Granted the food will be freeze-dried or dehydrated, but hopefully good enough to eat every day for five months.

There is a saying among hikers “Hike your own hike.” The premise is to hike according to one’s own dreams, goals, expectations, and not have your hike determined by someone else’s expectations or goals. I intend to hike continuously from the southern terminus at the Mexican Border to Manning Park in Canada. I plan on hiking at my own pace and enjoying the solitude and solace of being alone in thought as I walk the trail. I hope to purge the negative thoughts of a lifetime in law enforcement. I hope to also reflect on the fun times and accomplishments of a 32+ year career. I will take side trips to hike Whitney, Half Dome, Crater Lake and others as they present themselves. I will take hundreds of pictures, lots of videos and write daily of my experiences. I will share the good and bad in hopes those who wish to follow my adventure get a flavor of what I am experiencing.

The two most often asked questions I get; “Who are you going with?” and “Why?” The answer to the first question is, “No one. I will be heading off alone.” I will be considered a “solo” hiker. I won’t be alone on the trail. There are hundreds that begin the hike every year. So along the way I will come across people who are attempting a similar feat.

The answer to “why” is a little more complex. I began to dream of hiking the PCT several years ago. I have always enjoyed hiking, camping and exploring the great outdoors. My favorite place to unwind and explore is the Eastern Sierra’s. I read journals of those who have attempted or completed a thru hike of the PCT and began to contemplate following in their footsteps.

So why am I going to attempt to thru hike the PCT? I guess because I became fascinated with the challenge. I also was looking for something to help purge the negative effects of 32+ years in law enforcement. The more I read about and learned about the trail, the more I thought about doing it myself. There are two other trails people thru hike (Appalachian Trail and Continental Divide Trail) annually. I decided if I were going to make an attempt at thru hiking it would be the PCT and not one of the other two. I think hiking the PCT is very doable for me and a challenge I seek in retirement.

In my readings of other thru hikers journals and BLOGS, I came across a man named Jonathan Ley. He has hiked the PCT and Continental Divide Trail and written about the experiences. Ley writes of an encounter with a Border Patrol Agent a few miles from the border after starting his PCT adventure. The agent said, “You know, I’ve seen other people doing this walk. I just don’t get it… I mean, what do you get out of it?” Ley said it was the first direct, “why?”

Ley went on to write a list of why he thru hiked. Many of his reasons mirror mine;
  • Life is made of experiences and I hope to have as many as possible. 
  • Unfulfilled dreams become regrets and I intend to have as few as possible. 
  • To share in something unique, that few have known or will ever know. 
  • To learn about my limitations. 
  • To learn about the world and to better understand my place in the natural order of things. 
  • To avoid living a life that has already been played out by countless others. 
  • To think, dream, imagine and to reflect, unencumbered by the distractions of life. 
  • To endure mental and physical hardships and perhaps become stronger as a result. 
  • To learn what is truly important in life.
Ley closed with the thought most on my mind. Maybe it isn’t what I am about to undertake, rather who I am that is important. I am not hiking to do something but more to become something… to become someone. I don’t know if the person I have become is good or bad, but I am going to attempt to find out.

I am heading into this adventure with eyes wide open. I am aware of the obstacles to completing a thru hike of 2663.5 miles. I am retiring six months ahead of when I had planned so I can begin the hike this year rather than wait another year. I began preparation a little over six months ago by buying a package of material from a hiker who had hiked the trail years ago and put together planning and hiking tips for those interested in attempting a similar feat.

I will detail my planning in future posts and re-tool this site to allow for those with interest to follow my hike when I start. I plan on beginning my hike sometime after April 15, 2012. In closing, I will use a quote I have seen on various journals and blogs;

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well-preserved body but rather to skid sideways, totally worn out with a Yuengling in your hand and shouting “Holy Shit… what a ride!!!”


Joyce Edgar said...

congratulations on your retirement and the challenge you have taken on for yourself. It should be interesting to read your reflections next year.

Anonymous said...


Came across your blog on the web. Look forward to meeting you on the trail.


Anonymous said...

Hey Sparky, came across this blog searching for pct info. I love reading people's journals and personal experiences/thoughts on this trail. I too have been planning to do this trail for a good while, and finally am going this April. I will be starting a little early in Tehachapi heading north to Yosemite, but have plenty of time to "smell the roses" and wait out the conditions. This will be my first time ever hiking on the pct and as the days are counting down it's getting so nerve racking! It's been a mixture of excitement, obsessively reading, packing/repacking gear, and daydreaming. All of your reason's to do this trail are dead on, and I share the same reasoning. Possibly I will see you out there, and if not you might see my sign ins on registers. Either way good luck and it's always good to know that I'm sharing the trail with people that have the same goals and aspirations.