Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Completed Pacific Crest Trail, Sept 7, 11:10 am

A long time coming, but we finally reached the monument marking the Canada-US border. Our first segment of the trail was in 1989, but we have done the majority of it since 2004, in a couple of 200 to 300 mile trips each year. This year we decided we didn't know how long we could keep doing this, so did the last 470 miles in one 5 1/2 week trip. It's way too much stuff to put in a single blog post, so I'll just post from time to time on whatever comes to mind about the trip.

One is that Washington weather is different, particularly northern Washington. If I lived up there I would have to rethink my gear for wet conditions. We had rain and snow, which we've experienced before, but never with days on end with no sun or wind to dry things out. Our waterproof socks made things comfortable as long as we could start the day with dry liners, but by the end of five days, all socks were wet, tent was wet, fleece was a little damp, down bag a little damp and we were a little weather stressed. If I were to repeat this section, I'd have a couple more pairs of socks, more turkey bags to keep things dry, and I would be more careful about keeping things dry. In general, our rain gear worked well. We had Marmot rain pants, a rain parka, and also a packa - a poncho with sleeves and a hump. With those and the waterproof socks we could walk through the soaking wet vegetation and still stay warm and dry. Making and breaking camp in the rain required the most care to keep dry.

The country is spectacular, truly worthy of national park status. The first half of Washington is sort of rolling ups and downs, but after Snoqualmie Pass, big ups and downs, i.e. 3000 feet or more. Lots of long traverses on slopes exceeding 50 degrees. I'd say some were 70, but didn't measure. Lots where it would be very bad to step off the edge of the trail. You could go miles with no spot flat enough to put a tent down, and sometimes this was a problem. This whole part of the state is prone to trail and bridge washouts due to floods from snow and glacier fed rivers. Milk Creek was a spot where the bridge washed out repeatedly, so they just installed a new bridge, I think by helicopter, several miles downstream of the old one. We planned to camp there, and arrived near dark. Another couple was already there, setting their tent up on one end of the bridge - no camp spots for miles either direction. We set ours up at the other end, and then another hiker arrived, absolutely beat, and set his tent up in the middle of the bridge. Lesson: look carefully at the topo map for flattening contours before deciding you can camp somewhere. Ridgetops and shoulders of hills are likely spots.


  1. Ralph, congrats on finishing the PCT, and I really like your method of doing it in chunks.

    I've met people doing it all in one season and they don't seem to have much time to stop and smell the roses.

  2. John, there's something to be said for both approaches. In some ways, it would be nice to just do it and have it over with. I think its more physically demanding to section hike it. You have to spend that three or four weeks to get your trail legs over and over again. In Washington, we were really pressed to do 15 miles a day. The Thru-hikers could easily do 25.