PCT vs AT terrain?
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Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
PCT vs AT terrain? on 06/17/2008 09:08:25 MDT Print View

my fiance and I are planning a JMT thru in the next year and we are figuring out the logistics of the trip. Being that our hiking experience outside of the Northeast has been rather limited I was wondering if anyone could shead some light on the difference between PCT and AT terrain. A few months back I ran into a hiker that had done both the PCT and AT and he commented that the daily mileage on the AT is not as high as the PCT which is why I raise this question. Thanks for the input.

Casey Bowden
(clbowden) - MLife

Locale: Berkeley Hills
PCT vs AT terrain? on 06/17/2008 09:14:27 MDT Print View

The JMT is not representative of the PCT! It's well graded (relative to the AT) but constant up, up, up, followed by down, down, down.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
PCT vs AT terrain on 06/17/2008 09:21:21 MDT Print View

Southern Cal. HOT,HOT, HOT desert condtions! Dry sandy desert is completey differant from a hot humid AT sections. Very long waterless stretches. Waterdrops need to be part of your pre-planning. Pray for trail angels.

Dave T
(DaveT) - F
pct vs. at on 06/17/2008 09:58:07 MDT Print View

I've never done the AT, but I've heard lots about it from other hikers. The PCT is a more modern trail, developed with horses in mind as well as hikers, with a real trail "standard" of width and grade, etc. In general it's wide, open, well-marked, and well-graded. It's easy to do big miles on every day (if there isn't snow on it!).

From what I know, the AT is a little older, with lots of PUDs (pointless ups and downs), just a "tougher" trail to do big miles on. Roots, rocks, ups and downs. It sounds like 20 miles is a real long day on the AT sometimes, while 30 is a long day on the PCT.

Other big differences are long stretches without water on the PCT, both potentially in southern California (in the chaparral, coastal sage, and real "desert" areas), some in Northern, and defniitely in Oregon too. However, you don't need water drops of your own or need to rely on those done by trail angels - it's not difficult to carry enough water to get from source to source, and I think it's important to not rely on the water caches - too many bad stories of people relying on them, to find them empty when they arrive. Carry what you need!

Much more relief on the PCT due to the bigger mountains. Also, from what I have heard, a lot more scenery and views. I had a friend say that you see more scenery on the PCT in a week than you see in a month on the AT. They don't call it "the long green tunnel" for nothing. Weather wise they can both be tough, no doubt. The PCT can have rain, snow, super hot and dry, and everything in between - but at least no humidity! In general, you won't see almost any rain all summer on the PCT, unless it's afternoon thunderstorms - as you head towards fall in the Cascades, you can get rained on (or snowed on) a lot... I know we did in 2004.

Another one is that you will be much further between town areas on the PCT in general, especially as you get to OR and WA. There are maybe two shelters in the whole 2700 miles. It seems like more of a "wilderness" experience to my knowledge. As you get further north, the number of hikers can get low and spread out... I know that I hiked for days by myself and sometimes didn't see anyone else the whole day, or just an elk-hunter. Lots more people on the AT, and from what I have heard a lot more people section hiking, partying, kicking it, jumping on and off, etc.

I somewhat agree with Casey about the difference of the JMT section and rest of the PCT (if you don't know, these are the same trail for almost all the JMT's length). I would say that there are plenty of sections on the rest of the PCT that are similar - there are plenty of mountains to go up and back down, both in SoCal and especially in the Cascades. And the section north of Tuloumne Meadows is definitely up and down, hopping canyons. The JMT section is just more dramatic, with above timberline passes and then down into canyons, and then repeat, and then repeat, for 10 days or so. It's amazingly pretty, of course.

towards muir pass on the PCT/JMT:
towards muir


Edited by DaveT on 06/17/2008 10:22:14 MDT.

Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Re: pct vs. at on 06/17/2008 11:05:25 MDT Print View

thanks for the great responses guys. My out west experience was limited to the Grand Canyon. Besides the heat I was amazed at how easy the actualy hiking was. It was actually enjoyable whereas up here in New England it can be downright brutal. Doing 15 miles in certain sections of the White Mountains can be incredibly tiring and slow so I am excited to get out and really move. Please keep this thread going with any and all JMT/PCT info, I really appreciate it.

Dave T
(DaveT) - F
jmt mileage on 06/17/2008 12:36:19 MDT Print View


Also, I'm not sure what you are planning for an itinerary, but I'd say that you can do 15 mile days easily on the JMT. You could do low 20s without too much trouble - just more miles walking every day. There's not too much point to hurry through the High Sierra - when I did the PCT in 2004, we slowed down to perhaps 18 mpd in the Sierra, both because of the elevation and big climbs, but also just because it's so pretty there. I think I did low 20s from Tuolumne Meadows to Tahoe (also often difficult terrain, at least the first few days).

Of course, if you want to do side trips, zero days, resupply over Kearsarge, go to VVR, do a lot of fishing, etc. you'll need more time.


Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Tight JMT timeframe on 06/17/2008 12:53:27 MDT Print View

Hey Dave,
thanks for your insight, I def wish I could afford zero days but I have to fit it into a 2 week trip. We plan to do a 20 mpd pace and maybe a few more on easy days. Since I got out of college I have only had two weeks of vaca off a year and in the next year I will have been with the company long enough to receive a 3rd. So until I reach retirement age in about 39 years when I can really get down to business, 2-3 week hikes will have to do the trick :)

Dave T
(DaveT) - F
Jonathan on 06/17/2008 13:01:28 MDT Print View

As long as you like to hike, 20 mpd is no worries on the JMT. Personally I like to see as much territory as I can when I'm out, so sitting around a lake isn't usually in my plans either. You'll have a fantastic time.

Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Re: Jonathan on 06/17/2008 13:11:26 MDT Print View

yea I agree with you Dave, hopefully someday I will be able to take a more relaxed approach and have the time to explore as well.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
When horsies are a good thing on 06/17/2008 15:21:29 MDT Print View

Having walked on both the PCT and the AT I'll say this - horses can be a good thing - in the case of that the PCT is like a highway in sections. When we do sections I often realize I am not staring at my feet all day like on regular trails. Smoothly done switchbacks, no roots, trees, etc.

So yes, one can do bigger miles easier once the snow is gone.

Of course the 3 states have different terrain as well - the trail tread is different in the North Cascades from the Columbia River. But as I have noticed quite well.....go from the PCT to the old Cascade Crest Trail and back and you fast appreciate how well designed the trail is now :-)

Brett Tucker
(blister-free) - F

Locale: Puertecito ruins
Re: When horsies are a good thing on 06/17/2008 15:39:46 MDT Print View

It's complicated.


Russell Swanson
(rswanson) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
Re: Tight JMT timeframe on 06/17/2008 17:33:49 MDT Print View


Pretty much what you're reading here is pretty accurate. You can really cruise on sections of the PCT, especially along the JMT highway. You know the AT, its boulder to root to boulder to rock to stump....etc. If you can pull 20 mile days on the northeast AT, you should be able to at least equal this on the JMT...if not exceed it by 10-20%.

The one X-Factor with the JMT for you is going to be altitude. It might get you, it might not. Are you hiking N-S from Happy Isles to Whitney? If so, and assuming you're coming straight from the east coast, you'll be at 7-8K elevation fairly quickly. If you're not a purist, skip the climb up out of Yosemite Valley and start Tuolumne. That way you can bum around Yosemite on the first day, do the tourist thing and gawk at the rocks, then spend the night at Tuolumne to 'acclimatize' of sorts.

Due to altitude its a good contingency to plan for a start day of 10-15 miles. Be prepared to feel a bit out of sorts appetite-wise over the first bit...possibly until you're out of Yosemite. Make sure you chug the water over those first few days...good idea to start that a few days before the hike, actually. You'll also sleep a little colder over the first night or so, but probably won't be an issue if you hike July-August, though the heat and bugs might.

Another potential spoiler- UV radiation. It's much more intense when you're exposed above treeline at 10K than it is out here. Don't let your fiancee try to get that rad Cali tan on the hike, like my wife did! Pack sunscreen and cover up the arms/head/neck for sure.

If you're used to hiking the green tunnel like the rest of us right-coasters, you're in for a real treat on the JMT. You guys will be grinning for 14 days straight or your money back.

stephen jennings
(obi96) - F

Locale: Deep in the Green Mountains
PCT/JMT Vs AT on 06/17/2008 20:37:51 MDT Print View

"If you're used to hiking the green tunnel like the rest of us right-coasters, you're in for a real treat on the JMT. You guys will be grinning for 14 days straight or your money back."

Thats a fact. Having had moss virtually start growing on me during wet Long Trail slogs with minimal views, that Cali sunshine along with those Sierra vistas sure does a soul good.

Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Re: PCT/JMT Vs AT on 06/18/2008 05:38:57 MDT Print View

This is great news guys. It is tough when hiking in one area is all you know. I read on this forum about people putting in 30 mile days and I think to myself "How on earth do they do that". Till I met that thru hiker several months back I had not even considered that the terrain could be that different. I was once able to pull out a 27 mile day in the Whites and I thought I was literally going to die. I am glad to hear what I experienced in the Grand Canyon is a good representation of the trail design out there. Now that we know our timeframe is possible, the rest of the planning can start. Thanks guys.

Matthew Swierkowski
(Berserker) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: PCT vs AT terrain? on 06/27/2008 11:10:49 MDT Print View

I hike primarily in the SE, and am currently section hiking the AT. So I am quite familiar with the green tunnel. I also did a trip to the Sierras last year where I was on the PCT for a short stretch. I won't comment on the terrain differences cause that's been covered by people with much more experience than me. All I wanted to add is make sure you give yourself a couple of short easy days to get acclimatized to the altitude. That is definitely something we are not used to "over here". The highest point I went over when I was on the PCT was Glen Pass, and it was a bugger just cause I wasn't used to the altitude. The trail itself was very nicely maintained, but I still felt like I was walking up Everest. After a few days out there and getting fully acclimatized I was able to hike at my normal pace and distance at 10,000' with no affects from the altitude.

Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention the views. It's just like someone else said...the views in the Sierras are jaw dropping and you can see them 99% of the time you are hiking. I seem to remember walking around with a permanent smile on my face the whole time I was there. In contrast, I just did the entire portion of the AT in GA a few weeks ago (total trip was about 91 miles on the AT counting the Approach Trail and about 7 miles in NC), and I can count the amount of vistas where there is actually a view on one hand. And then of course the view is partially obscured by the massive amount of haze from the humidity.

Edited by Berserker on 06/27/2008 11:17:39 MDT.

Jolly Green Giant
(regultr) - MLife

Locale: www.jolly-green-giant.blogspot.com
PCT vs. AT on 06/27/2008 13:00:28 MDT Print View

I've section hiked quite a bit of the AT since it is in my backyard. I lived out west for a few years too and spent time on the PCT and others… although I know them far less then the AT. In a nutshell, the AT is a much harder hike. The path is less pronounced, more overgrown, and it has an abundance of ups and downs which will burn your legs quickly. Being on the east coast, and although others in this thread have said to prepare for rain on the PCT, east coast weather is just more harsh (to me anyway). During summer, the humidity is just plain nasty and it brings out a multitude of bugs that you never knew existed in addition to the afternoon and evening rains/thunderstorms. During the winter, ice and wind chills can be incredible. Out west, without the humidity, the weather is just “different”. I've said this for a long time and I think only people who have been both west and east will understand, but 20 degrees in the east is not the same as in the west. There were days I spent in Colorado in shorts while it was snowing. Out east, cold = cold. To be as confusing as possible though, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming have their own brand of “cold” too. I don’t think I’ve ever been colder or more concerned for my own safety then when up in the mountains of Wyoming when the wind really kicked up.