Conquering the Crest
The Truckee-Tahoe area is full of amazing trails; but only one of them will take you to Mexico in one direction and Canada in the other.
Wandering through three states ” California, Oregon and Washington ” and more than 2,650 miles from end to end, the Pacific Crest Trail is the longest hiking trail in America. And the few brave soles who are trying to hike the whole thing this year are passing through Donner Summit now.
“Going into Tahoe was probably one of our nicest days,” Said Eric Moyer, 36, one in a group of 2006 thru-hikers that passed over Donner Summit on Friday.
This year the trail is particularly challenging in the Sierra because of deep snow pack left over from a heavy winter.
“It was hard. We couldn’t see the trail at all, we were following footprints,” said Moyer, who hails from Pampona Beach, Fla.
The Tahoe area, with lingering snow along the trail, was no exception.
“I liked Desolation Wilderness, but it was unbelievably snowy,” said Paul Girard, 41, from Wenatchee, Wash.
Because of the snow on the trail, Girard, who is known on the PCT as “Paulie,” said his 20 mile per day average have been cut to 16 to 18 miles a day in the high Sierra..
The hikers said the Sierras were both a literal and figurative high point for them along the trail, with Southern California’s deserts as the trip’s low point.
“Even with all the snow, it’s better in the mountains than the desert,” Moyer, whose trail name was “Abandoner,” said.
Thru-hiking is a way of life for many hikers, and a loose-knit network forms along the Pacific Crest Trail.
“Being part of a community for me is the biggest thing, hanging out with random people,” said Greg Hammond, 19, from Seattle.
So why do people take four to five months out of their lives to hike the Pacific Crest Trail? Each hiker has their own reasons.
“It’s not college. … I was doing a full load and I was burnt out. It was a now or never,” said Hammond, whose trail name is “Hot Sister.”
Others just want to hike.
“I am a backpacking junkie and this is the only way I can get my fix,” Girard said.
Hiking such a long distance through such difficult conditions comes with many risks, including people getting lost because of snow-covered trails.
“One girl got rescued from rattlesnakes. Another guy died at Deep Creek Canyon. He fell, so there are definitely perils involved,” Girard said.
For thru-hikers, the reward is worth the risk.
“We summited Mount Whitney,” Girard said. “That was a highlight. The Sierra (are) obviously a highlight too. They’re world class.”
Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail doesn’t mean just walking 20 miles a day; it means walking 20 miles a day with all the gear, clothing, food and water needed in a backpack.
Average pack weights were from 35 to 40 pounds, said Paul Girard, 41, a PCT thru-hiker from Wenatchee, Wash. His partner carried more than 60 pounds along one remote stretch of trail.
So what does a hiker need to do to prepare for such an undertaking?
“You need to commit and save up. Too many skimp on money and it’s ruining their trips,” Girard said.
Hikers resupplied their food in different ways along the trail. Some travel into towns for supplies. Girard said he relied on “food drops” at post offices.
“I get mail drops,” he said. “I have a person at home I can call to send me stuff.”
But the mail drop strategy wasn’t fool proof for August Bochhiet, 40, from Baltimore, Md.
“My mail is lost,” said Bochhiet. “I bought food in Bishop and sent it to Tuolomne and it didn’t show up.”
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