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Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear on 01/25/2011 13:28:58 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear

Brandon Sanchez
(dharmabumpkin) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Mtns
Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear on 01/25/2011 15:58:15 MST Print View

I really enjoyed this... thanks for making it free.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Outstanding! on 01/25/2011 16:36:09 MST Print View

This is the best article I've read on BPL. I will be heading out on the PCT starting May 22nd so I followed last years hikers very closely. You could see the Vortex of fear in the trail journals and I believe that the abundance of information has accelerated this vortex. I also believe that there are more inexperienced hikers hitting the trail and getting scared off by the stories. I was shocked at the number of people that bailed prior to the Sierras just due to the stories. But the ironic thing is that the snow for most hikers arriving after mid-June was about average. Only the early folks saw increased snow due to the slower melt. I plotted out 25 years of Charlotte Lake snow data expecting to see last year as a monumental year but it just wasn't. But listening to the "vortex" it was record year.

Great story. Thanks

Edited by gg-man on 01/25/2011 16:37:30 MST.

Ed Schmidt
(suttree) - F

Locale: ON, CANADA
Great Trip Report on 01/25/2011 16:44:37 MST Print View

Looking forward to future installments.

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear on 01/25/2011 18:46:22 MST Print View

A very enjoyable and informative article...

William Brown
(MatthewBrown) - F

Locale: Blue Ridge Mtns
hehe on 01/25/2011 18:59:05 MST Print View

I commonly find myself saying, "Well that alone was worth the membership fee" and this article continues the trend.

Thanks for the ride.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
"We're all going to die" on 01/25/2011 19:40:15 MST Print View

On the PCT, every time Yogi's book or the Schaffer guides or another hiker mentioned some perilous section upcoming, my friends and I would all yell in mock horror, "oh no, we're all going to die!" Well, none of us did. In fact, almost all of the trails reported dangers proved to be completely overblown:

Fuller Ridge--we got completely lost and ended up bushwacking straight down the mountain, but we got through. The snow was only an issue because we lost the trail.

The desert--no problem if you watch your water and don't hike during the heat of the afternoon.

Snow in the Sierras--annoying and difficult but far from impossible.

The closure in Glacier Peak--no problem, really.

The bottom line is that there are no insurmountable obstacles on the PCT. Hundreds of people thru-hike every year. Children have done it. Senior citizens have done it. I only wish the guidebooks would be a little bit better about stoking people's fears. It's all doable.

Carsten Jost
(Carsten010) - M
Don´t fear Fuller Ridge on 01/25/2011 19:58:26 MST Print View

In 2006 and 2008 I was warned at the AZPCTKO
that Fuller Ridge would be possible only
with ice axe and at least instep-crampons.

In 2006 I bought instep crampons and got
them send to Idylwild together with my
ice axe. I didn´t need them at all.

Yes there was snow, but it was no problem.

Same thing in 2008 when I heard the same
Fuller Ridge horror stories. Fortunately
this time I just giggled and hiked Fuller
Ridge with no probs just in trail runners.

I think Thruhiking is more about flexibility
and adaptation than anything else. Adapt as you
go and embrace change.

"Damn they don´t have pancakes for breakfast?!"

"Let´s have an extra breakfast burrito!"

Kind regards

->PCT 2008 Campo to Manning
->PCT 2006 Campo to KM

Edited by Carsten010 on 01/25/2011 19:59:21 MST.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear" on 01/25/2011 20:17:44 MST Print View

The first thing that comes to my mind are the creek/river crossings.

I would like to know more about that......

Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Awesome! on 01/25/2011 22:27:25 MST Print View

This article was great. Hopefully there will be more coming. As an aspiring thru-hiker, I love hearing the stories of those who have done it. Fear is only relative and this report further supports that.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Great article on 01/26/2011 03:00:44 MST Print View

I really enjoyed the article. I believe it captures a lot of emotion one feels while on the PCT. I think everyone who starts the trail for the first time is anxious and a bit overwhelmed in the beginning. I was amazed at the number of people I met on the PCT who were backpacking for the first time. Oh, they might have taken their gear out for an overnighter prior to the big hike, but still, it always strikes me as one heck of an introduction to backpacking.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Good Read! on 01/26/2011 03:36:31 MST Print View

Thanks for the well done write up!

Ryan Linn

Locale: Maine!
Thanks on 01/26/2011 04:42:21 MST Print View

Ryan, that was my hope in writing this (and the next three) article(s). There's way too much fear mongering out there. It's not easy, but it's been done many times before.

Thanks for reading, everybody! Stay tuned in the next few weeks for the rest. And in the meantime, I know many of you have plenty of stories as well...

Jeffrey Jackson
(grcnynhkr) - F

Locale: PNW
Keep them coming... on 01/26/2011 08:23:50 MST Print View

Great info and narrative, especially looking forward to your postings on the Sierras and JMT!!

David Neumann
(idahomtman) - M

Locale: Northern Idaho
The Vortex of Fear on 01/26/2011 08:52:20 MST Print View

Great article. One of the best I've read on the PCT and, more importantly, the "vortex of fear." While it is reasonable to be cautious and listen, you have to analyze the experience of the person providing "advice." If you are experienced and knowledgeable, hike on and wait until you get there to analyze the situation for yourself.

I'm looking forward to the next installments. Thanks.

Michael L
(mpl_35) - MLife

Locale: The Palouse
Re: Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear on 01/26/2011 09:04:23 MST Print View

Very interesting piece and quite well written imo. Thanks for taking the time and effort to write this up.

I have read some other trail journals from people that went through around the same time including somebody who went through right before that fire started up from the cooking stove.

I really enjoy your viewpoint and ideas on the fear and how it spread from hiker to hiker. Great perspective.

John McAlpine
(HairlessApe) - M

Locale: PNW
Fantastic Read! on 01/26/2011 09:06:59 MST Print View

I truly enjoyed your article.

Ryan, Was your Railrider shirt, LS silk and Thermawrap enough to keep you warm?

Anthony Ciccarello
(tchiker) - F
Beautiful pics. on 01/26/2011 09:56:40 MST Print View

Wow photos are amazing and really capture the wonder and beauty of those landscapes. It's a good read too and I see that we still have the Sierra to look forward to. Thanks for sharing all of this with us.

Edited by tchiker on 01/26/2011 10:13:26 MST.

Ryley Breiddal
(ryleyb) - F - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
great stuff on 01/26/2011 11:14:57 MST Print View

This is soooo relevant to my interests - I'm preparing for a CDT hike right now and getting a little bogged down in its version of the vortex. Fortunately, this well timed article along with input from some past CDT hikers has reminded me that back in reality, I'll find a way to get through it all. Probably with a huge smile on my face too!

Jeffrey McConnell
Very nice article on 01/26/2011 11:20:10 MST Print View

Very well done. I'm looking forward to the next installments. I won't be able to do this hike for a while (starting a family), so its fun to read about the experiences of others.

Edited by Catalyst on 01/26/2011 11:21:49 MST.

Kendall Clement
(socalpacker) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
RE: "Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear" on 01/26/2011 14:42:52 MST Print View

Wow! I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. One of my dreams is to hike the PCT. I have been planning it for the last 2 years and it looks like the most extended hike I'll be able to put in is one month straight per year along with weekend and one & two week sections here and there. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, it's nearly impossible to find 6 months off. So, I've decided to do it in sections as my schedule allows starting this year.

Thanks again. That was very inspiring!

Jeff Hollis
(hyperslug) - MLife
Great Article on 01/26/2011 14:55:32 MST Print View

Thank you so much for writing this article, I really enjoyed it. That balancing act between fear and moving forward, too often we choose fear!


Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear on 01/26/2011 15:51:02 MST Print View

That was a very well written report and well illustrated. Thanks for taking the time to put something so nice together.


Jim Sweeney
(swimjay) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Advice on 01/26/2011 16:34:34 MST Print View

Unfortunately, when people give advice, or attempt to characterize some possible future for another person, they--usually responsibly--typically give worst-case-scenario characterizations, because no one wants to lead someone else into a bad situation with no fore-warning. (The opposite, in climbing, is called sand-bagging, where one person deliberately minimizes the difficulty of a route another climber is going to attempt, so that, when the climber finds it difficult, he's in awe of the person who--theoretically--found it easy.)

In the National Park System, things are even worse, because rangers don't want to have to come out to rescue you if you get in trouble. So if what you propose to do is at all sketchy, (like going off-trail), they amp up the dangers, and, more subtly, question your preparedness. It's all part of the overhead of humans trying to communicate with each other and not lead each other astray.

Then, as Ryan observed, in a group, things can spiral out of control as this over-cautious advice gets passed back and forth.

Excellent article, one that captures the reality of a long through hike as well as I've ever seen it captured. Thanks, Ryan!!

BTW, what's a bounce box?

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
bounce box on 01/26/2011 16:40:57 MST Print View

It holds extra supplies like batteries and gets bounced up the trail ahead of you to the next or later trail town.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear on 01/26/2011 18:34:13 MST Print View

Great read and really enjoyed your writing, which gives a good sense of what it was like to be there.

Hope that you will be able to write more about this amazing adventure....what you have written so far just leaves me hanging and wanting to know more!


Len Glassner
(lsglass) - MLife

Locale: San Diego
Hyperbole and how to deal with it on 01/26/2011 19:15:10 MST Print View

'Nothing back home in Maine can remotely compare to driving in San Diego, which I can only describe as the scariest driving conditions I’ve ever been in, even including Boston.'

LOL, That's just...well, sounds like fear-mongering and hype to me. I grew up in the mid-west, but I live in San Diego now, I can't see where driving here is any worse than driving in any other big city. But maybe I've developed the skill set to deal with it.

I just find this 'Look at me, I'm smarter than the herd' attitude a little irritating.

Skill also comes into play when the trail is under snow. Ask yourself, do you have the skills? It was a smart move for the author team up with others, so as to ensure a safe passage on difficult terrain, given his self-admitted rusty skills. Teaming up is how a lot of people got through that area last year. If an unprepared hiker blithely marches off thinking 'Don't believe the hype, it'll be easy.', bad things could happen. (Am I fear-mongering?) If you have any doubts, go see for yourself, but be prepared to bail if you're in over your head.

There is usually a grain of truth behind the things that people get concerned about on the PCT. Yes, things get overblown, and what may have been valid at one point in time likely isn't valid a few weeks later, snow-wise. One has to has to try to distill the facts from the fiction, and decide whether they have skills to manage the challenge, or not. In the end, I think it's better that people overestimate difficulties than underestimate and end up screwed.

I find it interesting that the author elected to skip the last half of the hike above Idyllwild, so he 'could get on with hiking' or something to that effect. I assume he didn't apply the same logic to the several hundred miles of snow hiking that remained ahead.

I hiked above Idyllwild in 2008 and 2009, and explored part of that area in 2010. There was essentially no snow to deal with in the first week of May the first two years. Last year at the end of May, it was still all about route-finding. People who hiked the PCT in 2010 faced a lot more snow challenge than the average. Hats off to the 2010 hikers who dealt with that!

Ryan Linn

Locale: Maine!
Re: warmth on 01/26/2011 20:35:33 MST Print View

John, I was a little chilly on some nights with just the thermawrap, railriders, and silks, but never particularly bad. I prefer cold temps, though, so it's hard to say how much insulation you or others would need.

Kendall, there are definite benefits to section hiking... like hitting each section of trail at just the right season (after the snow is gone in the Sierra, during the dry summer in Washington, etc.), and not being in as much of a rush to beat the beginning of winter. I'm already hoping to come back to certain sections for a re-do.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear on 01/27/2011 03:01:34 MST Print View

Enjoyed reading this part, and looking forward to the next one!

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear on 01/27/2011 04:14:53 MST Print View

Last year I learned (a bit late) to answer fellow hikers with what they should hear instead of directly answering their questions.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear" on 01/27/2011 05:27:49 MST Print View


Thanks for putting this labor of love together, very much hoping for future installments of your journey on the PCT.

Dennis Phelan
(dennisphelan) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Hiking Through Hyperbole: the vortex of fear article on 01/27/2011 14:03:08 MST Print View

I want to add my name to the long list of people who are enjoying your article. Having followed many hickers who did this at the same time you did and meeting many of them when I was hiking a section in Oregon (where I live)this summer; I know there will be several interesting experiences ahead. Thanks for writing a great article.

Dennis Phelan

Monty Montana
(TarasBulba) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear on 01/27/2011 19:51:40 MST Print View

Since not too far down the road I'll be in a position to take the time off for an adventure such as yours, I really appreciate your insights and impressions and look forward to the other installments. Good job!

Joseph Johnson
(jjohn06) - M
Fear and the PCT on 01/27/2011 20:12:57 MST Print View


Absolutely fabulous article. I too hiked the PCT last year and you very well describe much of my feelings toward PCT community. Both while hiking, and since, I have been very frustrated and even angry with that community. Certainly, fellow and former hikers meant well, but in all I think the PCT community did a great disservice to hikers. Fear-mongering was rampant: you needed a gps, crampons, etc. I was definitely present when so-called experts announced that one needed mountaineering experience for Fuller Ridge. Many people hiked around, or skipped sections of trail, without ever checking out conditions themselves.

I certainly have no problems with hikers bypassing sections of trail, depending on conditions, comfort level, their own goals, etc. My concern and my problems is that fear and misinformation was so common that parts of the trail were never even examined by many hikers. Furthermore, it is my opinion (despite my complete lack of desert, snow, and altitude experience) that every concern was blown way out of proportion.

I, as far as I know, was with the first group to traverse the Sierra in the 2010 nobo season, and the hiking was tough; really tough. We left Kennedy Meadows Mat 30th and didn't regularly see trail until after Belden, somewhere around July 4th. It was continuous, very slow, methodical map and compass work for 500+ miles. It was tough, exhausting, but by no means impossible. It has, in fact, been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I feel that is is something many people opted out of because of constant fear-mongering.

My major concern is that people, with the air of authority, speculated on conditions and convinced many hikers not to hike certain areas- Fuller Ridge, Baden-Powell, the JMT, etc. There were many ill-advised flip-flops that avoided no snow at all. Everyone, it seemed, was willing to believe that certain areas were impossible, or just down-right dangerous. I don't think I ever once heard anyone recommend to cautiously explore an area and decide for yourself. To me that is the greatest lesson I learned on the PCT. You can listen and evaluate advise, but that is certainly not a substitute for your own first-hand examination of conditions. Check it out for yourself, and if you are out of your comfort zone, you can always turn around.

Now that I got that of my chest I can work on a "This what they said; This is what we saw" segment for AZDPCTKO

Joe Johnson

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
The Vortex of Fear on 01/28/2011 05:44:49 MST Print View

Buenos Dias, What a great afternoon read! I hope you get to cover or publish ALL of your PCT sections in the future.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
vortex of fear on 01/28/2011 08:31:20 MST Print View

Well done sir! Excellent exploration of an interesting issue.

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
Hiking the PCT on 01/28/2011 14:19:42 MST Print View

It's a great article and entertaining to read. Much of it I found to be true for my hike. I thru-hiked the PCT in 2009 but had sectioned a few pieces of it prior to that. The whole fear thing is so true; especially about Fuller Ridge and the snow levels of the High Sierra (no matter how little snow fell that year). People talk their fear up and it feeds on itself until people are skipping or flipping around while missing some great trail that was in no way as bad as they thought. Never take comfort in the fears of others. The best advice I ever heard from a former thru-hiker prior to my hike is go look at the mountain for yourself and then decide. That said, unlike some, I never felt that the organizers of the ADZPCTKO training sessions were fear mongering. But maybe because I have some experience with the areas in questoin prior to my hike, I took their warnings and cautions differently then someone who was already nervous about the whole thing.

However, experiences from one person to another and from one year to another can be completely different so you can't apply one's persons experiences from their hike to your own except only in the most general terms. In contrast to the author's hike, in 2009 for SoCal, I normally carried about 4.5L of water and twice carried 6L and was glad for it. However, I also held my daily mileage down in comparison to the author. I never exceeded 20miles before leaving Cajon Pass at the I-15 and only twice went over 24miles before Kennedy Meadows. Slower pace means you need more water between sources. I didn't feel the need to do 25+ mile days until I left Lake Tahoe in mid July.

And it does sometimes rain in sunny SoCal. Most of the time, it is sunny, but not all the time. The year I hiked, I know someone who became hypothermic in SoCal in late May after hiking in a rain storm who had no raingear/packcover or shelter. They and all their gear was soaked. Fortunately some fishermen had a car nearby. Other years have caught hikers in the San Gabriel mountains in snow while other hikers a few days ahead only saw a few clouds. So its important to be flexible in your preperations and expectations. You may have a completely different set of experiences then someone just a week ahead.

Edited by Miner on 01/28/2011 14:35:07 MST.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: The Vortex of Fear on 01/28/2011 16:45:54 MST Print View

Great story and the info about the vortex of fear is spot-on. The fear-mongering can get so outrageous that to even dare to say that it's not as bad as everyone is saying leads to cries of how irresponsible it is to encourage newbies to be unprepared!

The flip-side of going out and seeing for yourself is that sometimes you go out and see for yourself and don't like what you see. That happened to me in 2009 in the Tuolumne Meadows area (I was not a thru hiker). No problem though. I just did an alternate route, an option that is available to any thru-hiker. It's always better to go see and decide for yourself.

Dug Shelby
(Pittsburgh) - F

Locale: Bay Area
Fantastically fun & informative! on 01/28/2011 21:32:22 MST Print View

Mr. Linn, well done!

Seems like I echoe most everyone elses comments about your article. Your writing style is intelligent, easy to read and enjoyable, you're neither self-deprecating nor do you puff your chest up. Beautiful.

I'm hiking NoBo this year, late late April. My attitude towards the hike has and will continue to be "Forward." I don't want to skip, flip-flop, or miss any section. If things sound tough I'll continue, and see it with my own eyes, and do my very best to assess everything in context with my physical condition and skills/abilities. Thank you for your affirming view on this. My feeling is, that if I wanted something slightly tiring but fun, I'd take my three pre-teen nieces to Disneyland. If I expect a challenge of much more magnitude, which I can look back on and be proud of, I'll hike every mile of the PCT.

I look forward to someday combining the two: hiking the PCT with my nieces, then hitting Disneyland to celebrate! :)

Looking forward to more Ryan, and deep thanks for your time & effort.


Jared Slucter
(jslucter) - F

Locale: CA
Vortex of Fear on 01/28/2011 23:29:27 MST Print View

Guthook! A fine piece of writing. I'm looking forward to the next installments.


Ryan Linn

Locale: Maine!
Re: Fantastically fun & informative! on 01/29/2011 10:23:26 MST Print View

Dug, have a great time on the hike this year, but don't forget once you get out there to stay flexible. I'm with you in that I prefer to hike continuously, but I certainly don't think that's the only way. My tone may have implied that I think the people who flip-flopped did the wrong thing, but that was just something I personally didn't want to do. I don't begrudge others their decisions, only the people who pushed them toward those decisions with overblown stories.

As for hiking every mile and not missing anything, it's a good goal to have. In the end, though, I don't think it's about not missing a single inch of trail, but more about not missing any opportunities. I missed Fuller Ridge and Baden-Powell, and as you'll see in the coming sections of the article I also missed a bit in Oregon. I decided it was more important to have a good time than to not miss any trail.

Everyone has a different philosophy on how to hike, though, and I think it's most important to stay true to your own ideals, rather than let anyone tell you how to do things. As Sean said in the earlier post, everyone has a wildly different experience on the same trail, so what one person (me or others) says about the trail may be completely different even a few days later (the next section of the article, which should come out next week, touches on this a little).


Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
Good advice on 01/29/2011 15:32:02 MST Print View

And just a plain good read. Ryan, I appreciated all you had to say and the level of thought and style you put into it. I'll most likely never have the chance to a do a complete through hike, but I do aspire to walk some sections with a friend who'd really like to do it. Bookmarking this article will help when we decide to start making that happen. I sent hime a link to it as well and bet that he'll quite enjoy it too. Thanks for making your experience come alive on the page. And thanks for putting some perspective on the hype. It really is all about the current conditions and one's own skill set. Others anecdotal comments and experience are meant to be taken with a grain of sale and in light of, well, the current conditions and one's own skill set. Ryan, I really do look forward to your next installment.

NOTE to BPL staff: this is first rate content and well worth the annual -m charge. Oh, and this article is no charge. Way to go BPL. Reelem' in.

Ed Engel
(Doorknob) - F

Locale: West of what you think is west
Enjoyable Reading on 01/29/2011 18:26:25 MST Print View

I enjoyed reading this part of your PCT hike. It brings back warm memories of my 1981 PCT hike. The information available now days has certainly changed since 1981. I remember leaving Campo and meeting 2 brothers from England doing the hike, they had tuna helper and canned tuna for their dinners for the entire trip (I do not know how far they made it). The people you meet along the way make the trip special.

Dennis Phelan
(dennisphelan) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
your pack weight on 01/31/2011 16:14:55 MST Print View

I already said how much I like you article, but I am equally impressed by your pack base weight of 11 pounds. I didn't see any change of clothes (underware, socks, short sleeve shirt...) did you keep the same clothes on all the time? I didn't see any towel, pot scrubbing devices or personal items - comb, soap. You seem to have traveled very light for a thru-hiker.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
re on 01/31/2011 17:01:26 MST Print View

Three months wearing the same underwear


Ryan Linn

Locale: Maine!
Re: your pack weight on 01/31/2011 21:01:15 MST Print View

I spent too much time on the BPL forums in the year before I hiked :)

No changes of clothes-- just extra layers. I eventually picked up extra sets of socks after Kennedy Meadows. Underwear... well, it's not on the "clothing worn" list. It's hot in that desert!

The town stops provided more than enough for my laundry and showering needs. I did look a little funny in towns wearing my driducks and rain wrap while doing laundry, but what are through-hikers (or backpackers in general) if not funny looking?

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Couple more thoughts on 02/01/2011 00:12:53 MST Print View

I read this article again, and I suppose some of the fear is born from possibly the greatest perception changer, namely the weather. I hike often in the Cascades and honestly, I can think of a lot of great days spent hiking around amid blue skies and pleasant temperatures. I can also remember more than a handful when the weather was particularly bad, the winds blowing, hard rains/driving snow and thinking to myself, "What am I doing out here?" Amazing how a familiar trail can suddenly seem rather foreboding.

All it takes is for a person to have one near-fall on an icy slope and that slope is deemed as dangerous. I think the same holds true for the PCT - people have a scary experience, and suddenly it becomes gospel. And of course, I think most hikers are a bit guilty of distorting the facts - how your remember things is influenced by so many factors, I think we'd be disappointed to see our "heroic adventures" played back to us. Thus, the stories of close calls move up and down the trail, changing along the way until it doesn't resemble anything like the actual incident.

As the author noted, he hiked the trail during a particularly snowy year, when temperatures in SoCal were mild. A year before temperatures were over 100 degrees in some sections. I guarantee the perception of those sections were completely different depending upon the year. He cruised through SoCal in 2010, and as Miner noted, the thought of doing 25 mile days from the start seemed out of reach for all but the most heat-resistant hiker in 2009. Conversely, the 2010 crowd dealt with a huge snowpack, creating a whole set of challenges that the class of 2009 didn't have to tackle.

Finally, the PCT also attracts its share of rather inexperienced hikers. It's a big adventure, and so to the inexperienced, and perhaps unskilled, some of the challenges seem rather foreboding until one does them a couple of times. That probably contributes the "vortex of fear" a bit.

Finally, I found the talks at the Kick Off to be informative, especially those in regards to the Sierra. The Sierra backcountry expert spoke of expected snow conditions and challenges in the mountains. He also touched upon hiker accidents and deaths. The purpose was not to stoke fears but rather to reinforce the necessity to respect the terrain and particularly the power of moving water (steam crossings) and the importance of keeping upright (aka...the most successful self-arrest technique is making dang sure you don't need to perform a self-arrest.) I think people left that talk better informed, and as a result, probably were a bit more careful.

That much said, I really enjoyed the article. I look forward to the next installment!

Rakesh Malik

Locale: Cascadia
Re: Fear and the PCT on 02/02/2011 12:49:14 MST Print View

"My concern and my problems is that fear and misinformation was so common that parts of the trail were never even examined by many hikers. Furthermore, it is my opinion (despite my complete lack of desert, snow, and altitude experience) that every concern was blown way out of proportion."

It's the "Here Be Dragons" syndrome, I think. I suppose it's more commonly referred to as "fear of the unknown" but it does get the point across. It's the reason that the best horror films let you guess at what the big, scary thing really is, rather than just showing it to you: if you don't know, you'll make something up, and what you make up will almost invariably be scarier (to you) than anything the director can dream up.

Anyway... beyond that I just wanted to chime in with gratitude for a great article. I'm hoping to hike the PCT some day, but due to being a photographer, I'll probably end up section hiking it; I don't think that I'm capable of through-hiking it -- there will be too many things to photograph ;)

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Well done, Guthook on 05/27/2011 09:48:44 MDT Print View

Good writing and awesome photos. You make a lot of good points.

A thru-hike is never exactly the way you think it's going to be. It will be harder in some ways, and easier in others. Many people find a thru-hike was one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives. Just as many find that thru-hiking isn't nearly as much fun as they thought it was going to be.

Flexibility is absolutely key. In the last few months I've read some trail journals of fellow PCT hikers who hiked the trail last summer and it's amazing how people experienced the same stretch of trail under similar conditions in very different ways. I remember one hiker last summer saying "I LOVE the rain" as she headed into Washington. And she meant it. I heard far more people cursing the rain. A sensible, positive attitude goes a long way.

It's important to recognize the very real risks of the trail. Two thru-hikers have lost their lives in the last 6 seasons or so, one by falling and another after becoming lost and likely succumbing to hypothermia. I personally hiked with two people who nearly died during stream crossings last summer. That's not an exaggeration. Still, if you are careful enough, stream crossings are just part of the adventure. This is great advice on fording. There were some very close calls on steep, snowy slopes, too. There have already been medivacs of PCT thru-hikers this year as there were last year and most years. Unfortunately PCT hikers have often started wildfires. The hyperbole commonly works both ways and has a lot to do with the attitudes of the speaker and the perceptions of the listener.

This page has some interesting stats gathered about backcountry deaths in 2010. Not surprisingly, it shows falling, getting lost (usually unprepared people succumbing to hypothermia) and drowning are the biggest risks. There are plenty of opportunities for all three on the PCT.

Despite the very real potential risks, all the PCT's dangers and hardships can be reduced to near zero if you know yourself, have the appropriate basic skills, and use good judgment.

Guthook, I really enjoyed your article and the comments.

"To dream anything that you want to dream. That is the beauty of the human mind. To do anything that you want to do. That is the strength of the human will. To trust yourself to test your limits. That is the courage to succeed." Bernard Edmond

Edited by Colter on 05/27/2011 09:52:27 MDT.

Jim Sweeney
(swimjay) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Fording on 05/27/2011 10:29:21 MDT Print View

Second Buck's link to the excellent discussion on fording. Fording two or more abreast had never occurred to me, but makes excellent sense, particularly when there are people of varying levels of experience and strength in ones party.