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Planning caveats for a 2013 long hike... with little preparation
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Matthew Naylor

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Planning caveats for a 2013 long hike... with little preparation on 02/16/2013 15:33:57 MST Print View

My wife and I are trying to make a PCT thruhike happen this year, but I will not know when we will be free to do so until about 1-1.5 months ahead of time. This is dependent upon a current project's success (yay) or failure (keep working through summer). Once my project is successful, I will need about 1-1.5 months to be able to finish things up and arrange a move from the east cost to the west coast.

So we have a variety of backup plans to accommodate our dreams
1) PCT, NOBO, early May departure
2) PCT, SOBO, mid-June departure
3) JMT, late summer departure
4) become lifelong opportunistic section hikers

While I have most of the necessary gear (link to the gear list below), I'm posting this message to solicit big-picture help on how to plan for these various options. While I would appreciate any related wisdom, I can predict a few relevant categories:

1) Paperwork
-- I'm aware of NOBO border crossing papers, and some sort of PCT permit... how far ahead of time do these need to be submitted? Is there anything needed for the JMT?

2) Food
-- Because of not having time or capacity to do much pre-trip food preparation, we will plan on purchasing food during town stops. We are picky about our food, though, so I would expect to take extra time off when there's a good supermarket to send things ahead.

3) Gear / Shoes
-- Same thing for purchasing replacement gear and shoes... we will only be able to do this in well-equipped towns.

4) Unpredictable Caveats
-- Considering that we won't have much time to prepare in the days before the trail (we will likely jump on the trail a couple days after moving to CA), is there anything that we should be wary of? Common mistakes, especially for two people distracted and worn out by moving?

5) Physical Prep
-- Most of our training will be distance running; we currently don't have real mountains near us for training, or the free time for several-hour hikes. We realize this will slow our early progress as our bodies adapt.

Any rambling wisdom that you might have would be appreciated. I am moderately experienced on multi-day backpacking trips, but have never experienced a thru-hike.

Many thanks!

My related gear list is here:

Elizabeth Tracy
(mariposa) - M

Locale: Outside
section hiking on 02/21/2013 11:59:47 MST Print View

If you can't get started till late summer, you could do a very long section hike or two.

For JMT permit, get a walk-in. You will need to arrive in Yosemite and apply on the morning of Day 1 for a walk-in on Day 2, starting southbound from either Happy Isles (the official start) or Tuolumne Meadows (if you aren't a purist and don't mind cutting out the Happy Isles - Tuolumne section of the JMT which many of us don't consider too interesting). That same permit will also entitle you to spend the night after Day 1 in a backpacker's campground anywhere in Yosemite, for $5.

Permit going JMT northbound from Whitney Portal, rather than southbound from Yosemite, would be much harder to get. If you do want to go northbound for some reason, you could try for an entry at Cottonwood Pass or New Army Pass (not far south from Whitney) and that way you'd see a bit of nice country before joining the JMT. An entry at Cottonwood or New Army would still allow you to climb Whitney, only it'd be from the backside/westside. Permits at, search for "Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permits."

Personally I much prefer the southbound direction (starting in Yosemite). Terrain on northern half of JMT is easier and elevations are more modest, building your strength and acclimatizing for the harder stuff down south.

Consider the "Best of SEKI" loop as a JMT alternative. Posted recently as a separate thread here. That might not be the best one to start with though, as there is a lot of vertical and high elevation stuff right off the bat.

You could also consider doing a 4-6 week hike, such as: All of Washington State; cherry-picked sections of Oregon & Washington; or continuing northbound from Tuolumne Meadows along the PCT after completing the JMT.

I do not recommend the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT). JMHO but on the "spectacular" scale it is way below the JMT, or nice PCT sections up north such as Snoqualmie-Stevens or Jefferson Park. On the TRT you will see day-hikers every day, and mountain bikers on some. To me it felt like a constant reminder how close I still was to civilization.

I hope you're not planning to pay for rent in CA while you're off hiking? Monthly rents are pretty high in most places in this state. Cheaper to put stuff into storage, and then seek a rental to start at the conclusion of your hiking adventures.

- Elizabeth

Dirk R
Re: Planing caveats for a 2013 long hike on 02/23/2013 23:44:53 MST Print View

Matt -

You and your wife sound like the perfect candidates for a long-distance hike. I would preface with everything I say that planning and knowledge is very helpful. As your hike progresses, you will be surprised how well you adapt and your plans change. After several weeks on the trail, you will have figured out things 90 percent of what you need to know.

Given the parameters you specified, I think you will have little trouble adapting.

The NOBO permit into Canada needs to be submitted fairly early, if memory serves correct. But I would just submit a request with say, an Oct 1st timetable of getting across the border. It's a guesstimate at best anyhow. Nobody was standing there in 2009 when I crossed. Nobody ever asked for the papers, period, although technically you are supposed to turn them in.

The PCTA ( issues permits for the PCT. They will issue a permit for any trip on the PCT of at least 500 miles, if you entertain a section hike. This includes the JMT if it is part of a trip at least 500 miles.

For the JMT, the earlier you can plan, the better. The trick is getting permits SOBO out of Yosemite. Northbound permits are easier to obtain, although I am not a fan of hiking up Whitney Portal. It's a slog to the top of Whitney and while pretty, it is a tough climb if you don't have any experience at altitude.

As far as planning and logistics here are my thoughts...

Starting May northbound....not an issue at all. It might be warmer, but a lot of people start a bit later. It can be hot some years, cooler others. I wouldn't worry about not having a lot of mountain experience, you will adapt. Just go slow the first couple of week and before you know it, you will be gaining miles. It's not a race, it's a journey, and the first 500 miles will feel like they take forever to complete. I guarantee when you get to the border to Washington state and see that it is about 500 miles to the end, you'll think, "No problem. A piece of cake."

As for food, you can largely buy along the route. However, you are NOT traveling through the part of California that believes in healthy food. The towns are generally small and have their share of places that deal in hearty (e.g. bacon-infused breakfasts), pizza joints and greasy spoons. If you are really picky, (or like me, a recent plant-based diet convert), it will be tougher. You can do it, but the further north you travel, the fewer opportunities you will have to visit big grocery stores near the trail. The question is how picky are you and will your tastes change? I will submit your tastes will change, and that's one reason why you may want to avoid mailing food instead of buying in town. You will likely need to mail some food to either post offices or stores/lodging that accepts packages in some instances (such as Kennedy Meadows in the Sierra).

On Gear? Well, shoes can be replaced pretty easily. Carry a smart phone and you can order online. Just be sure that you notify your financial institution/credit card company that they should expect charges along your route and that the shoe source / sporting goods place will ship to addresses that are not your home address. Some of these sites block this out of fear of credit card fraud. Generally speaking, the more established sites won't do this. Whatever you do, don't buy all of your shoes before your trip. Your feet may swell, this is common. I went from a 9.5 to a 11 during my trip.

Tips? Less is more. People generally pack far too much stuff; it's getting better but the amount of gear sent home after the first couple of days on the PCT (or the AT, for that matter) is staggering.

If it gets hot in SoCal and you are having problems adapting,get up early, hike until 11 a.m. or noon, find a place to hunker down near shade and water, take a break to 4 p.m. or so, and then hike the evening. We did this when temps routinely reached the high 90s / low 100s and am thankful I did. Evening hiking was much more pleasant. The mantra of 10 (miles) by 10 (a.m.) was common on such days.

I think the biggest issue people have is the feeling that they need to bust out miles right off the go. Just take it easy. You don't have to hike 20-25 miles right out the gate. If you can, great! If you want to go easier, not a big deal. Your body and feet will thank you for not stomping on the accelerator the minute your hike starts. The thing that will make you fall behind schedule are not these 15-mile days. Taking a lot of zero days (as in zero miles - rest days), while highly recommended, can and result in some consternation once the weather turns up north. You will have wished that you had not taken so many zeros and gotten north a bit faster, especially when greeted by cold rain or snow. (Honestly, September in Washington is generally fairly nice - but October can turn quickly). But zeros are fun, and necessary to recharge the batteries and give your feet a break. It is just easy to dawdle around and find that you need to make good time. (On this note, you will get faster as the trip goes on. MUCH faster. I got to the halfway point on Aug 1st. It took me more than three months to get there. It took only 2.5 months to finish the second half. And i was slow and dawdled.)

Most important advice - don't quit without giving it some thought. If you are having a bad day, or a couple of days, go into town and rest up. It's amazing how your view will change after a hot meal, a warm shower and clean sheets. Town at first can be great, but after a bit, I always found myself for pining for the trail again.

Have fun! My view of hiking long distances evolved a lot as I went up the trail. More than once I called home and told my wife, "IF I ever talk about doing this again, you can shoot me." But you know, now that I am done, all I want to do is another long distance hike! Hiking is a lot like life, you have your good days, you have your bad days, you have those epic days. You will forget the bad days and will generally carry sweet memories of the places you visited and the people you met along the way.



Edited by Dirk on 02/24/2013 03:07:36 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Planing caveats for a 2013 long hike on 02/24/2013 02:08:47 MST Print View

> your tastes will change, and that's one reason why you may want to avoid mailing food

> notify your financial institution/credit card company that they should expect charges
> along your route

> don't buy all of your shoes before your trip. Your feet may swell, this is common.
> I went from a 9.5 to a 11 during my trip.
Very true.

> Just take it easy. You don't have to hike 20-25 miles right out the gate.

> you will get faster as the trip goes on. MUCH faster.
Oh yes. So don't push it at the start.

> If you are having a bad day, or a couple of days, go into town and rest up.
Good idea. It can make a huge difference. And so do large icecream sundaes.
And look after your wife! (She, in turn, will look after you.)


Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Re: Planing caveats for a 2013 long hike on 02/24/2013 02:11:43 MST Print View

>And look after your wife! (She, in turn, will look after you.)

This is good advice. Both off and on the trail.

Dirk R
The MOST important thing on 02/24/2013 03:03:44 MST Print View

+1000 on the advice offered by Roger and Travis

"And look after your wife! (She, in turn, will look after you.)"

Well stated, my friends, well stated.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
My two cents. on 02/24/2013 05:33:33 MST Print View

NoBo in may is very feasible. I actually think if you are ok with less people it might be the idle time. Mid June SoBo is much more iffy. You would have to monitor the snow in Wa. Every year hikers start SoBO too early and bail out.

Another option to consider is to put together you own "thru hike" I know there are easily a thousand miles of Sierra hiking that could be pulled together and done in a season.

Finally, while I very successfully used mail drops I wouldn't in your situation. I spent weeks pulling together the packages. It worked in my case because I had an enormous variety of foods, 17 different dinners alone. It saved my precious time on the trail and I had the time Pretrip.

Matthew Naylor

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Re: Re: Re: Planing caveats for a 2013 long hike on 02/24/2013 07:36:33 MST Print View

Thanks for the wisdom folks.

It's hard not knowing whether this will work out our not, but it is comforting to know that there are a variety of options, and that we don't have to be perfectly boxed and planned before departure.

We are pro-meat, but would like to avoid processed and sugary foods as much as possible... the prospect of restocking at gas stations and other minimally-stocked markets is not appealing.

Also, our family is in California so no, we won't plan on dealing with rent... just convincing them to hold all our stuff for a few months :-)

We also have three flights to fit in between all of this; two weddings (mid May, mid June) and a family reunion (mid August). This may necessitate cutting part of the trail (probably northern CA a few days before Ashland, picking up again in Ashland). Interestingly, the June wedding is in the Seattle area, which makes a SOBO start somewhat strategic if the snow isn't severe...

And yes, affirmative, proper care of the lady is the highest priority on the list :-)


Edited by mrnlegato on 02/24/2013 07:40:19 MST.

Matthew Naylor

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
skipping the first 2 weeks for a late May start on 03/04/2013 13:07:52 MST Print View

After reading some other posts on BPL from people starting mid-May previous years, and our summer wedding schedule, I'm considering an alternate (abbreviated) hike starting in Idyllwild:

5/20 -- 6/6: Idyllwild -- Aqua Dulce / Acton (2.5 weeks)
6/7 -- 6/12: wedding travels
6/13 -- 8/10: Tehachapi -- northern CA (Belden SP)
8/11 -- 8/19: reunion travels
8/20 -- end: Ashland -- Manning Park

Assuming we can find a friend to assist us getting around in Southern CA (our family is available in northern CA), it seems like this would
1) give our bodies time to get in shape before Sierras
2) give a bit more trail community involvement than SOBO
3) avoid some of the especially difficult hot stretches
4) still appreciate much of the desert beauty
5) negate the extra challenge of N. Cascades snow if we were to start SOBO 6/15 without conditioned bodies


Edited by mrnlegato on 03/04/2013 13:08:25 MST.