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Advice sought for wayward backpacker
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Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/13/2011 00:42:51 MDT Print View

I have this situation. Awhile back I saw a posting on Facebook by the Pacific Crest Trail Association announcing the latest section installment of PCT maps. One of the posters wanted to know where he could buy it for his thru-hike. I chimed in that it was a heavy map made more for planning than trail use, and that better alternatives existed.

Well, anyway, we struck up a conversation and it turns out this young man plans to hike southbound along the PCT from Washington-Oregon border to presumably the Mexican-California border. I thought this was an interesting plan, but his knowledge of what he is getting himself into was almost non-existent. Worse, he plans to leave at the end of May, and the snow levels in the Cascades will be very high (we've had a wet, cold spring).

His plan so far? A self-described "survivalist" he plans to "eat grubs" and "hunt for small game" along the trail to sustain himself. He has only $500 or so, and had no plans for resupply over what he could forage and perhaps a little store-bought food. I explained that along several sections of trail there are no real stores, especially early in the season when there is still a lot of snow on the ground. Yet he seems blissfully ignorant of the reality he faces. About 1 in 10 people southbound, and a solo journey with so little experience over very snowy high mountain passes is harrowing for many seasoned hikers.

I sent him a dozen links with the very best information. The PCT List Serve,Message boards, sites that monitor current snow conditions, current trail conditions (which are quite incomplete right now since most are snow covered in the PNW), discussions on caloric intake requirements and of the perils of early season travel. I don't think it's tempered his enthusiasm one bit. He wasn't even aware that a permit is required and I am certain he won't get one.

I have no idea what his skill set includes - based upon what he says, he sounds like he's decently equipped (heavier gear of course) but his statements are not confidence builders. Could he make it through the snow? Sure. But could he get lost? Just about as easy.

I would consider myself a pretty average backpacker, and I am under no illusion that to snow travel at that time of year over the PCT in the Cascades is tough, dangerous business. I sent him plenty of links to Trailjournals that described the hardship of early season snow travel in the PNW. I informed him that fires in the Jefferson wilderness may have resulted in many blowdowns and that travel could be difficult.

Now, I have to ask you all...Any idea how to more effectively get through to this young man? I don't want to see him hurt or lost. I especially don't want to have to search and rescue personnel getting hurt or lost looking for him. Could he make it through that snow? Sure. There is no way $500 is going to get him close to the border - food costs alone will eat that up in no time.

I would love to pass on your suggestions to him.


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/13/2011 00:55:10 MDT Print View

"Any idea how to more effectively get through to this young man? I don't want to see him hurt or lost. I especially don't want to have to search and rescue personnel getting hurt or lost looking for him. Could he make it through that snow? Sure. There is no way $500 is going to get him close to the border - food costs alone will eat that up in no time."

Dirk, don't worry about it.
1. You made a very good effort to point him toward good information.
2. It is possible that he will try to go for about one week and then give up and bail out.
3. It is also possible that he will try to go for about one week, and then his body will be found after the animals. I'm sorry, but that is a harsh reality.
4. It is also possible that he will solicit enough help along the way that he will manage to scrape by, somehow. I have no idea how.
5. He may go halfway, find a job, settle down and have a family.

You are best off giving suggestions to people who seek them and who appreciate them.


Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Bob, thanks for the advice on 05/13/2011 02:06:57 MDT Print View

Bob -

There isn't much I can do except try to give him the best advice. He sent me a note tonight and said he'd read some of the stuff - that is at least a start.

I can appreciate his enthusiasm, and I suspect he will either far surpass my expectations or come to his senses rather quickly. It reminds me of reading a book on ill-fated expeditions - the postmortem always starts with bold predictions and lofty goals, coupled with unbridled enthusiasm and abundant overconfidence.

Worse, though, it's the type of thing that you read about in rescue reports all the time - it's not the first mistake or the second - but a series of mistakes and behaviors that leads to the accident or emergency, each one building on the other.

I re-read my post and I guess came across as very worried. Certainly I am guilty of projecting my own values and biases upon this guy's adventure. I am not going to tell anyone they CAN'T do something - there are certainly a ton of people on this website who've undertaken ambitious and amazing adventures. But the ones who are successful, are so in part because of planning and experience. I just don't get the vibe from this young man.

Anyhow, it will be interesting to see how this goes.


carl becker
(carlbecker) - F

Locale: Northern Virginia
Re: Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/13/2011 06:06:41 MDT Print View

Sometimes a young man is 10' tall and bullet proof. Fortunately I survived my youth, just plain lucky I guess. It sounds like a really bad idea. He really should try something shorter and in better weather as a warmup. He may pull it off, some are lucky, he may turn back before he meets Darwin the bear or old man winter up high. He should read "Into Thin Air". Even great climbers get into trouble by not thinking properly.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/13/2011 06:42:10 MDT Print View

You have done what you can. I've done social service volunteer work and the black humor phrase, "no good deed shall go unpunished" comes to mind.

He won't get far going southbound. I was watching the news on clearing the North Cascades Highway and they have accumulations of 65 FEET in places. Of course that includes slides, but still-- it is a record year. I'm wondering if the northbounders are going to have a chance north of the Columbia River this year. Unless he is Superman and has snowshoes, he will posthole out pretty quick. is an excellent resource for trip reports for Washington trails, as is One report I read at nwhikers for the Central Cascades puts the current snowpack at 2200 feet for the Highway 2 area.

Evan McCarthy
(evanrussia) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
People Who Fail to Estimate Their Abilities on 05/13/2011 07:08:43 MDT Print View

I worry about guys likes this. It's really easy to get yourself in trouble out there if you don't have the right experience.

I run a group in the mostly tame mid-Atlantic and I run into problems occasionally with folks who just don't seem to compute what numbers mean and then they try to get in over their heads.

I thought that statements like "20+ mile days" would trigger some sort of honest appraisal of one's ability. But no, sometimes people dream big and fail to understand what they're getting into -- sometimes at the expense of the group.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Young backpacker on 05/13/2011 07:56:12 MDT Print View

Introduce him to a girl. Or boy. Anybody.
Seriously, as the father of boys growing to men, I worry for people like him too. But I think there is no other way for him to learn. Hopefully he looked at some of your advice. And its good to see young people with some ambition. It speaks well of him in my book. Its really cool you were able to give him some advice. If things start going bad, maybe he will think back to his conversations with you and use good sense.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/13/2011 08:12:24 MDT Print View

24 hours out there at the Canadian border this spring and the XBox will calling ;-)

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/13/2011 08:36:20 MDT Print View

Quit worrying about sounding worried, and send him an email and tell him he's crazy. Tell him why you think it would work, and that you recommend not trying. At least if something goes horribly wrong, you'll know that you said not to try in no uncertain terms.

Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
Re: Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/13/2011 11:03:13 MDT Print View

"Any idea how to more effectively get through to this young man?"

Ask him questions.

Terry Trimble
(socal-nomad) - F

Locale: North San Diego county
Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/13/2011 15:57:42 MDT Print View

Send him this he will also need a very expensive fishing/hunting license and fishing in fished out waters of the california sierras is hit and miss. Wild plant collection for food is frowned upon along the PCT.Open fires is prohibited almost all of the california sierras. You use to be able to do this type of stuff in the 1950's and 60's and then it stopped.
Have look in mirrior say to himself he is not Jeremiah Johnson 100 times.
Quit watching that Barefoot nut Cody Lundin on TV.

Edited by socal-nomad on 05/13/2011 16:00:57 MDT.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Advice sought for wayward backpacker" on 05/13/2011 16:15:27 MDT Print View

Here are some questions for him. The "you" is your "wayward backpacker," not you personally!

"Have you checked current snow levels on the Washington Snotel sites near the PCT ( If you're leaving in late May, all that snow has only two weeks to melt. Next week is once again forecast to be cold and damp, with more snow accumulation at high altitudes.

"Have you checked the latest avalanche danger? The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center ( is still issuing avalanche warnings even though their normal "season" has been over for several weeks. Last year (also a late-melting-snowpack year) they were issuing warnings of extreme danger into June. Do you know how to assess avalanche danger and how to avoid hazardous areas?

"Have you seen the photos from the Washington Department of Transportation which is trying hard to get the North Cascades Highway (WA 20) open by Memorial Day (a month later than normal)? That's a low point on the northern part of Washington's PCT. Farther south, the WSDOT does not expect to open Chinook Pass (on the PCT near Mt. Rainier) open until some time in June. It's usually open between early May and Memorial Day.

"The trail will be under many feet of snow (the Harts Pass Snotel currently has 10 feet) and is unfindable until at least mid-June in a normal year, which this isn't. Do you have navigation experience in those conditions? A GPS? Gear for traveling over deep snow? Do you have an ice axe and experience using it to cross steep snowy slopes?

"You cannot hunt small game in Washington (and all other states) without a license, and only in the proper season. The same is true for fishing. Do you have the appropriate licenses and knowledge of the seasons and regulations?

"Are you aware how much time and energy it takes to find sufficient food in the wild? That is time you won't be hiking. To be sure of completing the hike, you need to get through the Sierra by early October at the latest. It is generally accepted that you need to average about 20 miles per day to do this. Are you sure you can find enough food to meet your energy needs and still hike 10 to 12 hour days?"

If your wayward would-be thru-hiker doesn't pay attention to this, there's really nothing more you can do. If he is determined to try for a Darwin award, there's no way to stop him.

Edited by hikinggranny on 05/13/2011 16:19:49 MDT.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/13/2011 17:24:47 MDT Print View

"I would love to pass on your suggestions to him."

In a year like this, I'd bet he'll either bail or become a problem for SAR within a week. You seem to have tried a lot of indirect ways of leading him to this conclusion, with little apparent success. At this point, I'd just tell him that something to this effect is the considered opinion of a substantial number of experienced backpackers, and let it go at that. Some people have a death wish impervious to reality, and he may be one of them.

Jason Torres
(burytherails) - F

Locale: Texas
young backpacker.."walk through hell in gasoline trousers" on 05/13/2011 18:13:21 MDT Print View

+1 to Andy. Ask questions:

A saying comes to mind "when I was young I could walk through hell in gasoline trousers.."- a friend of mine Melvin (sax player)

Trying to talk him out of it will only give him more courage.

Asking questions will not always get a response but trust he will think about it.

"living off the land and eating grubs" sounds stoic but in practice is extremely difficult. This will involve so much energy, time..and luck

I have a friend that graduated forest recon, special forces. To pass, they drop you in the forest and you must survive two weeks with only a knife while the rangers and forest recon instructors track you. Almost all fail. These are men that know what they are doing, much less a young man with limited knowledge.

into the wild read is not a bad idea also.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/13/2011 23:32:25 MDT Print View

Carl, Dale, Evan, Ben, Sarah, Joe, Andy, Terry, MaryD, Tom and Jason -

Thank you all for sharing your perspective and concern. I am glad to report that my new friend isn't planning to start on the Canadian border, but at Cascade Locks, Oregon, the lowest point on the trail. He plans to hike south from this point toward Mexico beginning at the end of the month. The only reason I think he is starting in Oregon is because he lacks the funds to get to Canada, which really means he doesn't have the money to finish the trail, but that's another problem.

However, that is the only good news I can report thus far. I sent him a long email filled with question after question to at least make him examine his trail readiness. I used all of your suggestions, saving the "are you nuts?" argument for a later email in the event logic and reasoning fails to win the day. He lives on the east side of the Cascades near Sisters, Oregon, and thus, lacks perspective of the difference in climate he will face. The east side of the Cascades, particularly in this area, is much drier and sunnier than the west side of the range. Nor does he seem to appreciate the fact that at the base lodge of Mt. Hood (which he will be hiking towards), the snow is more than 10 feet deep, and this point is more than 2,300 feet LOWER than the high point through Oregon (which he will be hiking towards soon after leaving Hood).

I would think that these facts alone would be persuasive if it weren't for the fact he was 21 years old and full of enthusiasm and machismo. I agree, that the male at this age is rarely deterred by facts, statistics and common sense. I know I wasn't swayed by the truth as much as I was by my own motivations.

i suspect he will counter the snow warnings with the "they cross the snow in the Sierra in June" retort. Hence, explaining that all snow is not created equal, especially when trail conditions can very much suck.

That much said, I did a little research and ran across people who did hike out of Oregon during that period. A few made it but had real hardships early. Most waited until it melted out more, heading south in July instead of June.

Anyhow, I will keep you all informed. I hope to convince him to wait until early July, better weather, more fun, that sort of thing.

Thank you all for your terrific input and support!


Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/14/2011 00:23:03 MDT Print View

+1 for Bob's post.

Learn the hard way. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes we make it out a better person.

Patrick S
(xpatrickxad) - F

Locale: Upper East TN
Re: Re: Re: Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/14/2011 10:16:43 MDT Print View

I've encountered a good number of similar people on the AT. The talk of dangers sometimes only make them more gung ho for adventure. Even in the mid-Atlantic sections of the AT where its not exactly the wilderness these people tended to last 1-3 nights before they bailed.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/14/2011 15:37:08 MDT Print View

That's much better that he's starting at Cascade Locks. If he's starting in the next 2 weeks, he won't get very far, but at least civilization is a lot closer for retreat. He certainly won't get near Wahtum Lake (4,000 ft. in a north-facing basin with heavy old-growth forest) for probably another month, unless we suddenly get a horrendous hot spell. At least he'll learn a lot and is less likely to win a Darwin Award doing so.

Per trip reports on, current snow levels in the Gorge are right around 3,000 feet. If he takes the Eagle Creek Trail (taken by most thru-hikers), at least he'll have a scenic day out and a scenic day for retreat. If he goes up the PCT, he'll hit deep snow a lot sooner.

Living close to the Three Sisters Wilderness, you'd think he'd know better! I wonder if he's tried to drive to McKenzie Pass lately!

I personally would ignore him at this point; he's obviously going to have to learn from experience and at least now has a less isolated environment in which to do so.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Advice sought for wayward backpacker on 05/15/2011 00:50:39 MDT Print View

Mary, that's good to know. I will pass it on to him. I hope he goes Eagle Creek - like you said, it's a nice hike and chances are he might run into a few other hikers who can tell him conditions ahead. But I agree, given where he lives, he should know better. I recall retreating off the pass in cold and rain, got down to the Sisters area and amazed at how warm and dry it was - I think he's under the perception that the mountains won't be quite so inhospitable.

I am trying to convince him that a delay might be in order - he would have more fun, that sort of thing.

In light of all this, the tragic story of the man being found dead in his sleeping pad apparently after being snowed in on a forest service road...he survived 70 days before dying.

I would think this would give my friend a few minutes to consider, since it was a good distance from the crest.

Thank you again for the information.


Steve Larson

Locale: Wallowa Lake
Wary on 05/15/2011 09:45:12 MDT Print View

First, great info on hiking links posted by a number of you folks in this post. Bookmarked for later reference. Thanks.

While I wish the young fella all the best, and everyone all the best, if money to make his trip a success comes into play, stop communication. From what I can tell, this looks to be an internet based relationship. It is at least as possible that the communications are based upon reasons other than learning about hiking the PCT under impossible conditions.

Proceeding in good faith is wonderful, but by backing good faith with the rule of 'No Money' safe guards those of good hearts from those who are not.

Again, best wishes to the young fella.