In late May, a trickle of trekkers begins to flow through the Intermountain area. This is the beginning of a stream of hikers making their way on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
The PCT is a 2,659 mile long trail from the U.S. border with Mexico just south of Campo, California to the Canada–US border on the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia. It passes through 25 national forests and 7 national parks.
The PCT was conceived by Clinton Churchill Clarke in 1932 and received official status as a National Scenic Trail in 1968 under the National Trails System Act of 1968. The trail was officially completed in 1993.
Thru hikers are those who make the journey all the way from Campo to the Canadian border. One of the first things that they do as they join the PCT community is choose colorful trail names by which they will be known throughout their journey.
The journey takes about five months. Hikers generally begin the first part of their journey through the desert of Southern California in April. In order to make it to Canada by late September, they need to establish a steady pace. The pace varies with each hiker but generally averages between 20 and 25 miles a day. A few energetic hikers hike up to 30 miles a day. Sometimes the hikers take a “zero” day to rest. On “nero” days, the hikers take it easy and don’t hike the full pace that they have set.
One of the sayings of the trail is “It’s not the miles, but the smiles.”
But it’s not all smiles. Even in the spring, the first part of the journey through the desert is hot. Many suffer from blisters. People develop strategies to beat the heat, often resting during the hottest part of the day and hiking at night.
The next leg of the trek is through the Sierras. Depending on the snow pack, each year is different. During the drought, the trail was passable early. Last year, there was more snow, which caused a log jam in the southern Sierras as people waited for the snow to melt. Streams were high and perilous to cross. The early hikers had to cross miles of snow and camp in the cold.
Some hikers, like the Brit Family Robinson, decided to “skip hike,” renting a car to drive north.
The Brit Family Robinson had two of the youngest hikers on the trail last year, Pippy Longstocking, age 12 and Captain Obvious, age 10. Their father Christopher is an international trail guide who has hiked in the Himalayas, Mongolia, Alaska, and the Andes.
Other hikers, waiting for the snow to melt, congregated in towns and camps to rest and socialize. One 63 year-0ld hiker, Desert Steve from Henderson, Nevada, took the opportunity to go home and rest for two weeks before continuing on.
Once the trail becomes passable, the backlogged flow of hikers streams through the Sierras. The highest altitude on the trail is 13,153 feet as it passes though Forester Pass.
After passing over the Sierras, the trail meets the Cascade Mountain range near Chester, California. This is the midpoint of the journey. Crossing over Mt. Lassen the hikers enter the Pit River Watershed area as they descend to Hat Creek at Old Station. Old Station Post Office is one of the places that hikers can pick up resupply packages sent to them from friends and family.
The flow of hikers through the Intermountain area reaches its crest in July and early August. By that time the summer heat has hit our area. From Old Station, hikers transverse a thirty mile waterless stretch across Hat Creek Ridge to Cassel lake. This is one of the hottest driest stretches of the PCT.
Last year during the hot spell, a trail angel, Coppertone, set up his trailer on top of the ridge, where the trail crosses Bidwell Road to supply the hikers with water, fresh fruit, and ice cream floats. Coppertone is well known for his “trail magic.” He takes his trailer and sets up at locations all the way to Canada to minister to the hikers.
Trail angels are important benefactors of the PCT. Angels provide food and water stashes, camping sites and lodging, rides to and from the trail and other help. Another saying is “The trail provides.”
After crossing Hat Creek Ridge, the hikers come to Baum Lake. They can rest and get water at the Crystal Lake Fish Hatchery across the road.
Then the trail goes on to cross Hwy 299 where many hikers catch rides into Burney. Burney is a convenient place for hikers to rest, resupply, pick up packages, or even meet friends and relatives mid trail. Safeway, Dollar General, MacDonald’s, and Gepetto’s are some of the most popular stops. Some hikers like to take a day off to refresh and stay at local motels such as Burney Lodging.
Burney has a lot of trail angels. People have learned to recognize the large packs that PCT hikers carry to differentiate them from other hitchhikers. From late July into early August not a day goes by that one doesn’t see hikers walking along the highway, frequenting the restaurants and stores, or sitting outside Burney lodging.
Many locals enjoy meeting the hikers and giving them rides. PCT season provides an opportunity to meet and talk with people from across the country and all around the world.
One hiker from Israel named Animal Style left his Brooks Cascadia 11 Trail-Running shoes in a man named Bob’s truck when he got a ride into Burney. Animal Style was desperate. Good shoes are a necessity on a 2500 mile hike through rough terrain. After hours of searching, he was able to locate Bob and call him on the phone. Bob had returned home to Bieber but he drove all the way back to Burney to make sure that Animal Style had his shoes.
Ages of the hikers last year ranged from 9 years old to senior citizens. Most of the hikers are young college educated adventurers. Many have just finished school and are taking the opportunity to take the hike before beginning their careers or going on to graduate school.
One older hiker who came through last year was Donaju from Holywood, Northern Ireland. Donaju said he was a Royal Irish Ranger who had done eleven tours in Afghanistan. He had also served in a number of other hot spots. He was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for the Wounded Warriors.
Several families hiked the trail together last year. Some seniors are taking a break to reflect on their life. Some hike for the challenge. Some hike to experience the diverse natural beauty and wildlife. In addition to thru hikers there are also local hikers and section hikers.
Section hikers hike only one section of the hike in a year. Then another year they may hike another section until they have hiked the entire trail.
One hiker named Sky Eyes said, ““When you hike the trail, you become a part of the Pacific Crest Trail family,” he said. “You meet different people from all over the world. You hike together with some of them. You camp together. You share food. Relationships are deeper than in normal life because you’re free from all of the business of the world. Everybody has the same needs.”
Some couples have met on the trail and later gotten married.
Since 2014 traffic on the trail has grown tremendously. Sky Eyes said that over 14,000 people hiked the trail last year. One of the reasons more people are hiking is the release of the movie Wild starring Reese Witherspoon in December 2014. The movie is based on the 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed that reached No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
We are fortunate to have the world pass through Pit River country on the PCT. After crossing Hwy 299, the trail progresses though the woods to Lake Britton and Burney Falls Park. The park has a campground frequented by many hikers.
Leaving the Park, the trail goes for a ways down Pit River Canyon and up to Rock Creek Falls. Then the trail heads northwest to Dunsmuir and then north for many more adventures in the Oregon and Washington Cascades.
Get ready, PCT season is coming.