17 Jan PCT Pre Hike Survey of Hardship and Suffering
The PCT Pre Hike Survey was sent to the 351 people planning a PCT thru-hike in 2018. In all, 152 people completed the survey.
The PCT Pre Hike Survey consisted of 10 questions having the common theme of outdoor experience and physical preparation. It occurred to me that anyone crazy enough (myself included) to attempt a 2650 mile hike through desert and over mountains might be, let’s say “unique”. As I expected, this appears to be a very adventurous group that is not adverse to hardship and suffering.
Over 44% of those surveyed have been on overnight backpacking trips for over a week, 64% more than 2 nights. This group knows what it is like to smell really bad. Just under 5% of respondents have never backpacked overnight. In my opinion, this small group must be the really courageous ones. They are setting out on a 4 – 6 month wilderness adventure without having had a single night backpacking.
Pack weight is the key factor determining the work needed to hike mile after mile of trail, while physical shape determines how well prepared the hiker is for that work. Over 85% of hikers will have base pack weight under 25 pounds. Clearly, this group understands the importance of keeping weight at a minimum. On the pack weight front, things have improved considerably since 1973 when Bill and Nadean Myer attempted a PCT thru-hike while loaded with 96 and 64 pounds respectively at one point. They didn’t make it. (From Pacific Crest Trail Communicator, Winter 2017 edition – “No Tracks to Follow” by Bill Meyer)
According to the PCT Pre Hike Survey, this is an active and physically prepared group with 60% routinely hiking to help in stay in shape. Running and weightlifting is tied for the 2nd among normal day to day workouts followed closely by Yoga/Stretching. My personal favorites (besides hiking), cycling and High Intensity Interval Training came in at 23 and 20 percent respectively. Be sure to review the responses for “Other” workouts. It covers a wide variety of activities from horseback riding and Jazzercise (my wife does Jazzercise too!) to Snowboarding and Arborist work. Among other activities, climbing/rock climbing seems very popular. I’d like those rock climbers nearby when I climb Forester Pass 🙂
The PCT Pre Hike Survey shows that 40% regularly train at a “Light Exercise” level. The PCT Pre Hike Survey defined “Light Exercise” as exercise 2 – 5 times / 1- 3 hours per week. The CDC recommends 2.5 hours per week of moderate exercise. Approximately 85% of the PCT Class of 2018 reported exercising at or beyond CDC recommendations (Light, Moderate, or Intense). Researchers found that only 5% of Americans walk 53 minutes per day. For the 15% of PCT hikers that report little exercise (less than 2 times per week), you can be sure that once they hit the trail they will be far exceeding all CDC recommendations and in fact, soon become hiking machines.
Several questions were intended to help better understand how much outdoor stress and hardship the PCT Class of 2018 has experienced. The shock of encountering a completely new challenge could be overwhelming for some while for others it could be what is needed for the thrill, inspiration, or feeling of accomplishment that keeps them churning out long miles. Questions covered, cold, isolation, high elevation, and treks across snow. Over 27% have hiked 2 or more continuous days through snow. There were 5 people who hiked a week or longer on snow covered trail. Over 25 percent reported hiking at elevations of 14,000 feet or greater. This is compared to my estimate of 1% of the general population.
Method used to estimate percent of USA residents hiking at 14,000 feet or more.
Some have estimated that 350,000 people per year climb 14’ers in Colorado. Add in Mt. Whitney (23,000 attempts per year) and we are talking about less than 400,000 14’er climbs per year. This is about a tenth of one percent of the US population. I multiplied by 10 to arrive at my guess that 1% of US residents have ever hiked above 14,000 feet.
Extreme cold won’t likely be a big factor in a PCT thru-hike, but it is a big indicator of how much a person has toughed it out in extremes. This is certainly a tough crowd in that 25% of the respondents reported having camped in weather colder than 10 degrees F. Among these, 18 people who had camped in subzero degree Fahrenheit temps. About 25% of respondents had never camped in temps below 30 degrees F. My guess is that they will get their first opportunity to join the below freezing club on their PCT thru-hike.
Moving on from the physical to the mental, I considered how long a person has been alone in the wilderness in a single stretch. Many might not consider this a big deal compared to extreme cold, high elevation climbs, and difficult snow hikes, but perhaps they haven’t tried sleeping all alone with an imagination running wild at every sound heard in the dark. Other than a few hikers I have met, I don’t know anyone else that has spent even one night out alone. Nearly half of all respondents have spent one or more nights alone in the wilderness in a single stretch. There were 15% who were out for four or more nights which is in the territory of starting to have conversations with imaginary people. (Think Wilson in Castaway.)
In summary, the PCT Pre Hike Survey proves that prospective PCT thru-hikers are an adventurous lot! Many have “seen it all” or at least “seen a great deal”. Others may be complete newbies planning to hike their way into shape and learning as they go. The “seen it all” are better prepared for the “shock and awe”, while the newbie’s will have the most amazing adventure of their life.
Thank you to all that participated in the PCT Pre Hike Survey. Have a great hike! I’ll see you on the trail. My start date is March 27th. Please comment and share your views and interpretations of these results.