Sunday 21 July 2019

Thinking About The Pacific Crest Trail

Castle Crags, July 21, 1982

Thirty-seven years ago today I was on the Pacific Crest Trail in the Castle Crags Wilderness Area in Northern California. I've been thinking about the PCT again as I've just finished reading Tim Voors' The Great Alone about his recent PCT thru-hike. I'll review the book more thoroughly soon but the main thought it leaves me with is how different the views of a long walk can be. My experience was very different to his. Compared with the PCT in 1982 The Crowded Trail would have been a better title for his book! I went for nature, wildness and the freedom of the outdoors. Voors did the same but seems to have most enjoyed the people he met.

Read my account of the PCT along with Voors and I think the contrasts are clear.


  1. I hiked the PCT last year and it was you, Chris, who originally inspired me to hike it! (I read about it for the first time in TGO, in an article written by you).

    Of course in 1982 it was much more of a challenge than in 2018, because now thousands of people hike it and there is so much more information about it and support from trailangels etc. But it is still a fantastic adventure and almost the complete trail incredibly beautiful!

    Before I started, the crowds were really one of my biggest worries because like you, I'm in it for the nature experience. I must have been the only PCT hiker that year who hiked the complete PCT with quite heavy binoculars hanging around my neck (I kept a list of the birds I saw, so already on the first day other hikers gave me the appropriate trailname "Birdman").

    But I'm glad to say that on the PCT you can still avoid a lot of the crowds and enjoy a serene wilderness experience if you want to. Most of the nights I camped alone. Just carry more water and dry-camp somewhere secluded. The great majority of hikers is obsessed with the weight of their pack and therefore always want to camp close to a watersource, so they are easy to avoid. I almost always hiked alone. You will see other people every day, but especially further in you can still walk for hours without seeing other hikers.

    But although I avoided most of the social aspects of the trail, I also have fond memories of many of the people I came across. Hikers in general are a nice bunch! There is a nice vibe because everybody is on the adventure of a lifetime!

    So, while the PCT is definitely more crowded than, say, the Arizona Trail (where sometimes 3 days went by without seeing any other hiker), fortunately I didn't find the PCT annoyingly crowded. It's perhaps my best adventure to date and I still enjoy it every day when I think back about it :)

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the PCT. I've heard from others that it's still possible to hike it in reasonable solitude.

    I carry mini binoculars on all my trips, which amazes some hikers and horrifies others. I wouldn't be without them.