There are many resources to consult in preparing for a long distance thru-hike. In the case of the PCT, most everyone will agree that aside from the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA), one of the best places to start is with the Yogi’s Pacific Crest Trail Handbook by Jackie McDonnell. The first half of this handbook is a collection of different opinions, advice and tips on how to successfully complete a PCT thru-hike, including sections on clothing, gear, resupply and weather conditions, to name a few topics. The second half of the book is a town guide, providing information about resupply locations and what each town stop has for purchasing food, dining, lodging, showers, ATM, internet and fuel. Yogi’s handbook is an essential tool. It is also designed to complement HalfMile’s PCT Maps.
HalfMile’s PCT Maps are also a great resource and a must-have in a PCTer’s pack. Many hikers choose not to carry paper maps because of the weight and the availability of smartphone apps that provide basically the same mapping information. However, electronics fail, loose battery, get wet or get lost and papers maps are a wise backup that carry their value in weight. Halfmile’s maps, in particular, provide additional great information regarding campsites, water resources and alternate routes for known trail closures. I would encourage a thru-hiker to use these paper maps in conjunction with the electronic mapping sources that are quite popular and reliable for the PCT. These apps are fantastic tools that can be utilized from most any smartphone device. The most popular are Guthook’s PCT Guide and HalfMile’s PCT. Guthook and Halfmile apps basically plot your GPS location on the trail and determine your mile location. The app can help you identify campsites and water sources as well as indications of whether you are staying on trail, an especially useful asset when the trail is covered in snow. Gia GPS Topo Maps is also very useful as this app will provide a larger area of map coverage that is of great importance if an emergency bailout to the nearest trailhead or town is needed.
The next most crucial tool in planning a PCT thru-hike would be the use of Craig’s PCT Planner. This is a web-based planning program that utilizes “data points for trip calculation and data plots.” Basically, this is the program you want to use to create your itinerary timeline and resupply locations. I used it to determine the approximate number of days I would be on trail between town resupply points and this helped me determine in advance approximately how many days worth of food I would need to carry in my pack for each section of trail.
With food worked out, the next concern is water. Do not fear, DoubleTap’s PCT Water Report is here! On this website is a PDF file that can be downloaded or printed and lists all locations on the PCT where water can be obtained. The water sources are identified by PCT mile markers and also indicates the quality of the source and the quantity.
The world would not be complete if I did not include a mention for social media. So get on to your Facebook account and search for the PCT group. There is a group for each class by year, meaning currently there is a page for the Class of 2017 PCTers. Be forewarned, however. The page can get obnoxious in may ways. Take from it what you can and leave the rest. There is a lot of useful information here about gear, clothing and food choices.
Also, many people have blogged about their personal experiences on PCT thru-hikes in the past. These blogs are a great source of information for trail conditions and emotional and physical experiences. There is one blog in particular that I highly recommend. Check out Walking with Wired. This woman has hiked thousands of miles of trail and her accounts are factual and honest. She is a fantastic source and I am currently following her adventures in Tasmania as I type.
Lastly, I want to touch upon two specific educational resources. I highly recommend that anyone planning an extended period of time in a wilderness setting should take a wilderness first aid course. Often times these courses are offered in conjunction with local outdoor retail stores, such as REI. A couple weeks ago, two friends and I took a NOLS Wilderness First Aid Course thru REI. It was held at the beautiful TreePeople Conference Center at Mulholland Drive & Coldwater Canyon in LA. The full 2-day course was intimidating at times but the knowledge we left with was amazing. The next course I will be taking will actually be right on the PCT! Just as I enter the southern Sierra section, I will be meeting up with Ned Tibbits and his organization, Mountain Education. This course is unique in that the group meets right on the PCT footpath and literally hikes with you for the first 6 days through the Sierra. The class group size is limited to 8 members. Over the course of those 6 days, the group receives snow skills instruction on how to stay safe and smart while traveling on snow, including how to deal with high stream crossings. Self arrest and safe glissading are also covered along with proper use of crampons and a whippet pole. With the record snowfall of this year, it is without a doubt that I will be dealing with some challenging snow conditions and I therefore concluded it was essential to brush up on my winter snow skills with this course. I’m looking forward to learning a lot of valuable information and also gaining some confident and trustworthy hiking partners to brave the remaining Sierra section with!
Time is a flyin’….can’t believe I will start this crazy and amazing journey in 1 month! Stay tuned…