18 Dec PCT Thru-Hike – Top 3 Challenges
Short of actual experience, one of the best ways to prepare for a PCT thru-hike is by reading PCT thru-hiker blogs. (Read on for some of the best of these stories from 2017.) Among other useful information, blogs will make you familiar with the hazards and challenges of hiking the PCT. However trail hardened you may be, you will likely have a rude wake-up call at some point during a thru-hike. Short of actually living it, reading other’s stories can help set expectations, perhaps reducing the shock of unexpected challenges.
The blogs from the PCT Class of 2017 will make anyone planning a PCT thru-hike take pause. In 2017 many hikers faced fearful challenges, near-disasters, and just downright mental and physical suffering. As miserable as that sounds, no PCT thru-hike bloggers that I followed said it wasn’t worth it.
The following are the top 3 PCT thru-hike challenges with supporting excerpts from a few of the best blogs written by the PCT Class of 2017. To check out these and many other PCT thru-hike blogs, go to Pacific Crest Trail Association and look under “Discover the Trail” for a link to “Trail Journals“. (PCTA has currently dropped its blog directory. No info on whether it will return.) If you have a good PCT 2017 blog or worst pct experience “challenge story” to share, then reply using a comment. All of us Class of 2018 PCT Thru-Hikers would love to hear it.
As told by thru-hiking bloggers
Mosquitoes, Heat, Personal Battles, and other Honorable Mentions
Many worthy extreme challenges of thru-hiking in 2017 didn’t make the top 3 list. Indeed, in such a tough year, many bloggers failed to mention some pretty credible challenges. Little room was given to mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can drive you right off the trail, but I guess all things are relative. It was an extreme year for heat with bloggers making many mentions of heat. There was relentless wind in Southern California that some bloggers mentioned. A few hiking bloggers dealt with personal battles of injury, chronic stomach issues, and in more than a few cases, hangovers from recurring visits to town drinking establishments et-al.
“We were prepared with head nets, 100% deet, and clothes doused in permethrin.
Our first encounter with these little blood suckers came in the early morning when I needed what I call 2nd breakfast. We stopped so I could eat and the mosquitoes came out of nowhere. We put on our head nets, which makes eating difficult and I quickly shoved food under my head net and into my mouth” Nobo Hobos, nobohobos.wordpress.com
Number 3 – PCT Thru-hike Challenge
Exhaustion with miles upon miles of snow-covered trail
Walking in snow is exhausting and a PCT Thru-Hike Top pain in the #$*. In 2017, there was very little respite from the relentless day in and day out walking across mounds of snow, sun cups, slush, and the like. Long hikes across the hard scalloped surface of suncups are hard on the hiker’s feet and legs. Expect to slow Wayyyy…. down while working very long hard days to cover about half the distance you are accustomed to walking.
There were many blog reports of timing high mountain pass crossings for early morning in order to avoid softer snow on steep climbs. The snow-covered trail also meant that most of the time, hikers were off-trail. Hikers had to frequently refer to their Guthook App (Trail map and GPS) in order to avoid veering too far from the trail. Multiple blogs recounted stories of hikers having to traverse across dangerous slopes after climbing off-trail routes while attempting passes. With switchbacks laying feet beneath the snow, the chosen route was often straight up the pass. For many, there were footsteps to follow, but some bloggers had to cut a few steps with their ice axes. Given the snow cover, there was a lot of glissading down the backside of passes.
“All went we until the last traverse when I kicked a step too close to a rock face and post holed through (the snow melts from underneath near rocks, trees etc and an apparent solid surface ca have a massive hole underneath) that what happened I was only stopped from falling all the way down what looked like a small crevasse by a nub of rock which my foot hit. I did smash my unmentionables on the ice edge but managed to climb out with the aid of my axe.” PCT Adventure, http://pctadventure17.wordpress.com
Number 2 – PCT Thru-Hike Challenge
High Water Crossings
With a record snow year in 2017 followed by warm weather, rivers and creeks were over the banks and very dangerous. Backpacker magazine featured a story of a lone thru-hiker losing his backpack and supplies when he was washed down a creek. One of the bloggers I followed very nearly lost her life when swept down a stream. There were many stories of close calls and impossible crossings. Sadly, 2 thru-hikers died drowned in 2017.
“More river wades and the fifth day on the trot with wet feet all day – but boy was it worth it – you have to be there to fully experience the majesty of the surroundings and the backdrop of high altitude lakes and snow capped peaks.” PCT Adventure, http://pctadventure17.wordpress.com
From Jenn Hikes , Day 67 Tuolomne River is Raging
“By the time I got to the middle I could barely move my feet without fear of losing balance and I had nowhere to brace my poles to help steady myself. Colton turned to look at me and yelled “watch out, it’s fast there,” and started to turn back around to finish the ford to which I screamed “wait!” He forded back over to me and grabbed my arm to give me enough balance to cross.
When we got to the other side we were both completely out of breath and so sketched out that we just crossed that. If I could have slipped, I would have been ripped downstream instantly and thrown into a crazy current and went right over Tuolumne Falls.” we reached the next bridge crossing only to find the exact same thing as the first…. a ramp underwater.”
“…We were able to use a tree branch to hang onto to get across, but the water was chest high and pulling at us hard. We crossed over the bridge and I almost screamed when I got to the other side and saw an even worse scene. The water was speeding down our exit and was crashing waves up onto the rock we were supposed to get off on. The water was much deeper and there was nothing to hang onto. But there was no turning back.
“I was instantly up to my chest in the current and didn’t have nearly enough strength our weight to push against it. Colton grabbed my arm and helped drag me to the rocks. I tried pulling myself up them, but my body was frozen from the icy water. I slipped and hit my head hard on a rock. I screamed and forced my body up the rocks scraping my legs up as I went.
“We could not believe how sketchy these two bridges were. And these are bridges that are normally fully above water. We asked where they were going and they said they were heading back. They said they had spent an entire day trying to cross the next two creeks ahead of us which are supposed to be average on the difficulty scale. They had had to hike two miles upstream on the first one to cross a snow bridge that was almost gone and another three miles upstream on the next one to find a log that was icy and too unsafe for most of the group to cross. They said the water up to these points was a complete raging river with absolutely nowhere you could cross without being taken downstream. They showed us videos and it looked like a deathtrap.”
“I shimmied across the broken bridge and when I got to the end, one of the guys threw me a rope with a caribeaner and said to clip it on and he would pull me to shore once it got too deep. I clipped it on and started walking down the stone ramp and instantly was hit with the current. I knew if I took another step I would be hurling downstream. I was terrified that the other guy wouldn’t be able to pull me in. He yelled that it was the only way, just to step off and he would pull me in. I shuffled once more, my feet completely lost all traction and I was up to my head in water. He did just what he said and pulled me in and just like that I was fine. Freezing and soaking wet, but fine.” Jenn Hikes, jennhikes.wordpress.com
From “I almost drowned today…“
“Suddenly I was swept away by the water and caught on a nest of young trees in the middle of the creek. I still had both poles in my hands but I couldn’t stand because the force of the water was pushing so hard on me. I could barely move an inch. Plus I now had the weight of a soaking wet pack on my back as I am plastered to the little trees holding on for dear life to their branches. ……. DG, on the other side of the creek, wanted to come get me but there was no way. I was stuck in the middle of a fiercely rushing creek and he couldn’t make it to me. My hands were slipping on the branches. ……. I was becoming really scared because if I lost my grip I knew I was heading down the raging white water creek with no definitive safe way out. Even as I held on, i couldn’t move. I was stuck! I yelled to DG that I was scared. Really scared. He looked scared. The water was so much more powerful than I could fight against. Finally my fingers let go of the branches and I was swept away down the creek. I was terrified and literally fighting to survive as I was tossed and turned upside down in the narrow, rushing, tumbling white water area of the creek. I kept waiting for my body to be thrown against the rocks and each time they did and it didn’t take me completely down I bought another second. Another moment to keep my hands up and reaching for anything to grab or hold on to stop me from being pulled down the creek and against more rocks. My head was being forced under and I thought I might drown. I kept reaching out for anything to grasp onto to save myself from drowning or hitting my head. Somewhere between 200 and 300 feet down the creek I managed to grab some branches on the bank. In a complete and utter state of shock that I have never before experienced, I pulled myself to a standing position and saw Rob on the other side. ….. ran down the creek bank, scared as hell, and was so relieved to see me safe. I had no energy to move and barely mustered what was left to lay my body on the snow shelf on the edge of the creek, legs still in the water. DG was yelling for me to get out, take my wet clothes off and get warm.” Modern Gypsy Tales, moderngypsytales.wordpress.com
Number 1 – PCT Thru-hike Challenge
It was a difficult call between high water and forest fire for choosing the top rank. I never read blogs with accounts of close calls with a forest fire, but there was plenty of smoke and fire. Forest fire forced more people to change plans and skip sections. Really committed thru-hikers suffer mental anguish over the thought of skipping sections, after all, the goal is to walk the entire trail. After the effort of hiking hundreds and thousands of miles, the thru-hiker nightmare is being forced to cut the hike short.
From PCT Oregon Holy Smoke.
“I described our experience through Oregon to someone, as if we were players in the Hunger Games. To sum it up, we spent a lot of our time running from forest fires, eating wild huckleberries and killing swarms of tracker jacker-esk mosquitos. Every evening lightning storm inevitably turned into another fire nearby, sometimes just a few hundred feet off the PCT and the sound of circling helicopters, who were just getting to the area to assess the scale of the fire, was not an uncommon sound. You can’t even tell where the smoke is coming from because it all blends together creating this cloud of smoke all around us. We were privy to running down the trail away from the smoke in those situations…” Alexa McRoberts, www.alexamcroberts.com