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Hiking Through Hyperbole: The Vortex of Fear
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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.