Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail

Long distance hikes have a unique character. BPL editor, Don Wilson, shares his perspectives on gear, technique, clothing and philosophy following a lightweight, 6-week section hike of the PCT.

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by Don Wilson | 2006-10-25 03:00:00-06

Introduction

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail - 1
Camp in the desert beneath a Joshua Tree, wearing a Patagonia Micropuff vest for warmth. Desert days were hot, but nights were cold and usually windy.

In 2005, I temporarily abandoned my Backpacking Light editor duties to hike for a month on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), starting at the Mexican border and finishing at the northern end of the Mojave desert. I had a grand time and cemented my addiction to long distance hiking, which I will define here as staying on the trail for a month or more at a time. The daily character of a long hike is fundamentally different from a hike of a week or even two weeks in duration. The beginning and end of a long hike are far enough apart that they don’t interfere with each other. For most of a long hike I am simply living on the trail, with little or no thought to the beginning or the end. The days are relaxed and the regular process of hiking and living outside become routine. I’ve got all the time in the world, and my daily cares are simple: walk, eat, rest, see, think. That state of mind - which I’ve not been able to approach on shorter hikes - is exactly what makes long hikes so enticing to me, and is why I plan to keep taking long hikes for years to come.

This past summer I continued my section hike of the PCT by adding on 6 weeks of north-bound hiking. My PCT hikes have not been exceptional by any standard; I have not hiked the entire trail (yet), I have not shattered any speed records, I have not explored huge tracts of wilderness. I resupplied every 4 to 6 days and followed a pattern that is fairly typical of long distance hikers on the popular trails in the US. I am 46, with a job and a wife and teenage kids. And while these hikes are squarely in the normal category for long hikes, they are not normal to me. They have been filled with challenges stemming from my job and family, feet, health, heat, water, snow and regular assaults on my psyche. To me, they are far more challenging than shorter hikes, but also far more rewarding.

Overcoming the obstacles to doing these hikes has paid dividends that are just not available in my everyday life; to see the sunrise every morning for weeks at a time, to watch the complete cycle of the moon from beneath the clear California night sky, and to share a meal with fellow travelers randomly met along the trail. It cheers me to know that many beautiful long trails are out there, just waiting to be explored. And each offers an opportunity to savor the special rhythms of long distance hiking. 

In this article, I comment on strategies and gear choices and share a bit of flavor from the trail. Perhaps I'll see you during my next long hike.

The Desert

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail - 2
Lunchtime in the middle of the hottest day of my hike. There was no shade to hide in, so I hiked all day to reach the next water source. Note the long, loose clothing (Mountain Hardwear Shirt and Canyon Pants, Outdoor Research Sun Runner hat) and the Coolibar fingerless gloves. They gave me excellent protection from the sun in the blue skies of southern California.

I started this year’s walk in Mojave, California. One hundred fifty miles of desert lay ahead before I would enter the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. Being a desert rat from Tucson, Arizona and experienced desert hiker, I don’t dread the hot desert hiking as much as many other hikers, but it still requires special care. I carried almost 7 liters of water capacity - but could have done with less. Most days had 20 to 30 mile stretches between water sources, sometimes supplemented by unreliable water caches. I am not an extremely fast hiker, but I easily hiked this section in five and a half days, averaging about 27 miles a day. The climbs are moderate, the trail is smooth and the days are long. It becomes surprisingly easy to cover long distances if one is disciplined in their hiking strategy. For me, taking full advantage of the long days is one of the biggest differences in the daily patterns of long and short hikes. On my typical day I was up at 5 am, on the trail before 6, and hiking until about 7 pm. In between I took plenty of rests, sometimes for hours at a time. In the desert I matched my cycle to the heat of the day and targeted my rests and campsites for water sources whenever possible. I tanked up at water sources, then moved quickly to the next one. It was blazing hot in the heat of the day, so a siesta was sometimes in order. The best part of the desert - spectacular night skies. My only real problem in the desert this year was a nasty blister on my left heel. I had not developed such a bad blister in years, and I was not prepared to dress it properly. Duct tape was not enough. But I managed to keep it clean and after a week of pain and suffering I was on the road to recovery.

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail - 3
My heel after day three. Only a fellow hiker can sympathize with how it feels to walk on a blister like this after each rest stop. It healed quickly with the use of Second Skin.

One hundred miles into the desert I came to Walker Pass, where the trail crosses a road and a small campground lies just off the trail. It was a very hot day and several other hikers I had met were hoping to spend the heat of the day resting at the campground. When I arrived at the pass there was a note taped to a sign. It said “cold beer” and had an arrow pointing towards a small motor home in the campground. I strolled over and found a paradise for weary desert travelers. Several hikers were sprawled about in various stages of recovery from the sun. Under the shade of a rare tree was a picnic table. Nearby was another table with books and wine bottles strewn about. Two coolers were filled with cold sodas, beer and fruit. On the tables there were chips and salsa and Fig Newtons. The food was provided by the other hikers and the generous woman who lived in the motor home. The pain in my heel quickly melted away. I consumed five cans of Sprite during my 3-hour rest, along with a beer or two. I met several new hikers and we shared exaggerated and outrageous stories of the desert crossing. Some will criticize this aspect of the PCT - the help given to hikers via guidebooks, water caches and trail angels. And any hiker is free to skip or ignore these conveniences, or to hike on trails without these established traditions. But for the vast majority of hikers the social gatherings and occasional surprises are a highlight of hiking the PCT - myself included. Completely refreshed, I hiked alone out of the campground about 5 pm and slept on a ridge among scattered juniper trees. A day and a half later I walked into Kennedy Meadows, the end of the desert section. After only 6 days on the trail I was more than ready to leave the heat behind and get up into the high, snowy Sierras.

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail - 4
Fellow hikers - Paparazzi, Buttercup and Smoky resting and eating at Walker Pass. Note the light colored, loose clothing.

The Mountains

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail - 5
PCT legend Billy Goat (right) helps to pour drinks at the memorial ceremony for No Way Ray. A few days later Billy Goat left the trail for a couple of weeks to attend his 50th high school reunion!

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail - 6
The PCT quickly climbs into the cool Sierras upon leaving Kennedy Meadows.

Arriving at Kennedy Meadows is a milestone on any PCT hike. The trail has entered sagebrush-studded flats by this time. Immediately upon leaving Kennedy Meadows the trail climbs into the mountains, and in less than a day you are walking through alpine forests and lush meadows in the Sierra Nevada. Snow covered peaks loom ahead, just a day or two away.

Can you picture 668 inches of snow? Here’s a hint - that’s over 55 feet. That is how much snow dumped on Mammoth Mountain ski area in the winter of 2005-2006. In nearly 40 years of record keeping at Mammoth Mountain, that is the all time record. Almost 10 feet of snow fell after April 1st. Mammoth lies only a couple of miles off the PCT, right in the middle of the Sierras, and is an indicator of the challenge that faced hikers as they traversed the Sierras this season. At Kennedy Meadows the remaining snowpack was the hot topic of conversation. Cell phones have made it easy for hikers to call back to their friends and give them trail updates. On a sign at the Kennedy Meadows store was an update from Scott Williamson. He had just passed through the central Sierras and was about a week ahead of me. He reported very dangerous rivers and the most snow he had ever seen. Scott has hiked the PCT nine times and in 2004 was the first to yo-yo the PCT in a single season (hiking from Mexico to Canada and back to Mexico). Scott reported that he spent 4 hours looking for a safe crossing of Bear Creek, one of the most notorious river crossings in the Sierras. Scott’s report caused quite a stir among the hikers at Kennedy Meadows. Many hikers were opting to leave the trail, or planning to skip far ahead to avoid the high snows in the Sierras. Others were carrying snowshoes, crampons and even skis. I decided to hook up with other hikers and continue ahead, carrying a Cassin Ghost ice axe as my only snow specific gear.

I happened to be at Kennedy Meadows while a memorial service was being held for a PCT hiker who had died on the trail a month earlier. The hiker was No Way Ray (Ray Echols). Ray had apparently collapsed and slid off a steep section of trail while hiking near Big Bear, several hundred miles to the south. I had not met Ray, but he was well known among PCT hikers and had been on the trail for several years in succession. I did know something of his spirit from his many internet postings on various PCT mailing lists. I had a chance to meet his remarkable wife Alice and to participate in the moving ceremony. At least a hundred people were in attendance, and many hikers had delayed their hikes to attend the memorial. Memories of Ray were shared and we all downed a shot of scotch - Ray’s favorite. Alice asked us all to hoot for Ray when we reached Forrester Pass, the high point of the PCT. It was a solemn event, but I think it reminded most of us how lucky we were to be out on the trail and enjoying life on the PCT.

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail - 7
PCT hiker Sleeping Beauty carries all the essentials as he enters the Sierras - olive oil, Pringles, tortilla chips, Advil (below the olive oil) and crampons. Sleeping Beauty dispensed with a stove and his diet consisted of large quantities of chips and olive oil. As you might surmise from his trail name, he tended to sleep in late.

Within two days of entering the Sierras the trail begins a regular rhythm of crossing high passes at 11,000 to 13,000 feet, then descending into lush valleys filled with cold, rushing rivers before climbing up to another pass. This pattern continues for about 400 miles, at one point going over 230 miles without crossing a road. I made a couple of gear changes in Kennedy Meadows; I switched from the Bozeman Mountain Works Stealth 1 PRO tarp to a Tarptent Squall to give me better protection from mosquitoes and I added an Ursack Hybrid to meet the bear canister regulations. I walked with other hikers for several days in the early part of the Sierras, the first time I had intentionally hiked with a group. 

A few days into the Sierras the trail climbs over Forrester Pass, at 13,200 feet, the highest point on the PCT. It was a cold and icy morning when we climbed toward the pass. Several of us were scattered along the approach when fellow hiker John hit a patch of blue ice on perfectly flat terrain and spun around for several seconds, legs flying, arms spinning, doing a least two revolutions before he regained control without falling. Spontaneous applause ensued. The trail was buried beneath the snow for a couple of miles before we got to the pass. The snow was hard packed and icy as we began the final, steep climb, and I was glad to have my ice ax. I was also pleased to be above tree line in the sparse and clean high mountain environment. We were soon on top and celebrating, offering a series of whoops for No Way Ray. From the summit, we could see that the way down the north side was filled with snow as far as we could see. No part of the trail was visible for at least two miles. Tracks of other hikers led down the slope for a while, but soon dispersed. We slid and laughed our way down the snow and eventually found the trail as it began to peak out of the snow now and again.

This pattern of climbs, snow and valleys continued for the remainder of my hike. One of the more exciting days was the climb over Muir Pass. This pass collects more snow than any other locale on the trail. By this point I was hiking and camping alone, seeing only a handful of people each day. Muir Pass is 11,955 feet high and I hit my first snow at 9600 feet, still 4 miles from the pass. Portions of the trail weave though a complex series of small canyons, and this quickly became the most challenging navigation of the hike. The trail was completely buried and footprints melted so fast that they were nowhere to be found. The scariest parts of the climb were the mandatory crossings of several snow bridges. Roaring water could be heard below as I tiptoed my way across the snow, arms spread wide. Upon reaching the top of the pass I was greeted by another snow filled valley, with all its lakes still frozen over. I found it all rather bizarre, as this was in mid-July, with mostly sunny weather and very warm days. Working my way down the pass in the heat of the afternoon was exhausting; slipping and sliding and punching through the snow on many occasions. It took me several more hours to reach solid ground. I was pleased to reach the green valley below where I collapsed into a sleep that not even a pizza could disturb.

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail - 8
The author (left) with fellow hikers Dave and Becky on top of 13, 200 foot Forrester Pass, the highest point on the PCT. We paused for this photo and gave a hoot for No Way Ray as requested by his widow. From our clothing, you can see that my lightweight approach to mountain hiking varied from Dave and Becky’s more traditional approach. I continued in desert hiking clothing - including ankle height socks from Injinji and Montrail Continental Divide shoes - and supplemented with the Patagonia Micropuff vest for cooler hiking conditions.


For several more weeks I continued north, nearly always alone, seeing other hikers mostly in resupply towns. I crossed hundreds of cold streams, including the dreaded Bear Creek. Arriving at Bear Creek several days after climbing Muir Pass, I decided to cross directly at the trail. It looked horrifying, but I searched upstream and then downstream and couldn’t find a better location. I waded in and was fine until mid-stream. The thigh deep water was raging and splashing over large boulders. I had a few moments of sheer terror as I nearly fell while navigating around a large boulder. But I recovered and reached the other side with a numb lower body and a smile on my face. The Sierras are so consistently beautiful that is easy to become nonchalant among the ridges, cascades and high altitude meadows. But as the end of my hike neared and the reunion with my family grew closer, I savored every day even as I looked forward to better food, a soft bed and a warm hug. I’ll be back to finish the trail to Canada. But in the meantime I am content to know that out there on the horizon the rest of the trail awaits, alluring and quiet and always headed north.

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail - 9

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail - 10

Climbing up and over Muir Pass was one of the more challenging days on my hike.

The view north from the top of Muir Pass in mid-July 2006. The frozen lakes in the top center of the photo are 2 miles away. The trail was buried in snow for about 4 miles on the north side of Muir Pass.

Long Distance Hiking Notes

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail - 11
Caught by a cold storm at high altitude in the northern Sierra, I raced down into the valley after being pelted by cold rain and hail.

How does a month-long, or longer, hike differ from a short hike? There are many good sources for answers to this question in books and in cyberspace. Here are a few less obvious observations based on my experience.

  1. Your gear list is not fixed. On a long hike with somewhat regular access to civilization you can and will change your gear list as you go. This can happen at outfitters in towns, or via mail drops. So don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t obsess over gear choices too much. The longer your hike, the more this is true. For a complete thru-hike of several months, many people use a long list of different gear options as conditions change and experience develops.
  2. One thing you should obsess over is your feet and your shoes. The vast majority of hikers will at some point struggle with pain, blisters, stress fractures or other maladies of the feet. Many people will battle with their feet for weeks or months, and it can be very discouraging. Learn all you can about foot care before your hike and be diligent about dealing with problems right away. Rest when you need it, especially early in a long hike. There will be a few mutants on the trail with no foot problems. Treat them with scorn. Foot care and health is the second most common topic of conversation on the trail. (The most common topic, by far, is food.)
  3. It is important to stay in contact with your family and friends, but some of the modern communication options will add to your pack weight and can take up a lot of your time. This includes Pocketmail, web sites, journals, cell phones, satellite phones, digital camera memory, battery chargers, etc. Think carefully about this and do what is best for your hiking experience. I found that a simple pen and paper journal, not published or emailed, was more enjoyable and in tune with my goals. Don’t let your hike become entertainment for others. Many people come to dread the dozens of obligatory emails, or feel like the public face of the hike becomes too important and detracts from the experience. Stay in touch, but make the experience what is best for you.
  4. Be prepared for repairs. On a short hike, a piece of gear may occasionally break, but on a long hike things will wear out. Be ready to sew, tape, pad and improvise to keep things working. Learn a little bit about sewing by hand. Bring plenty of duct tape. Just as with your feet, deal with gear related problems and repairs as soon as possible, before they develop into larger problems.

Gear Notes

Overall

Although the PCT is well known for spawning much innovation in lightweight hiking, I was once again surprised at the heavy packs carried by most PCT hikers. Typical base pack weights were 18-20 pounds, with quite a few hikers carrying much heavier packs. I am not a SuperUltraLight hiker like other Backpacking Light staffers, but I was very comfortable with the gear I carried and still my base pack weight was less than 11 pounds for the desert section of the hike and less than 13 pounds for the mountains. I think many PCT hikers would significantly improve their comfort and ability to hike high mileage days with a handful of lighter gear choices.

Shelter

I carried a Bozeman Mountain Works Stealth 1 PRO tarp in the desert, along with a Tyvek groundsheet. But the skies were clear and I never set up my tarp in 2005 or 2006. In the Sierras I switched to a Tarptent Squall, mainly for improved bug protection. July in the Sierras, especially in a heavy snow year, can produce mind-numbing quantities of mosquitoes. My Squall is a 2003 model and is still in good condition. Total shelter weight: 17 ounces with the BMW tarp or 25 ounces with the Tarptent.

Sleeping System

This year I carried a Western Mountaineering Summerlite. The Summerlite is a new product and is the lightest, fully baffled mummy bag offered by Western Mountaineering. My bag is a long length, and weighs in at 21 ounces (nearly 22 oz with stuff sack). The regular length bag, made for people up to 6 feet tall, is 2 ounces lighter. The Summerlite is rated to 32 degrees, but can go well below freezing with some extra clothing. On a few cold nights I wore my vest or jacket in the bag and was never cold. I estimate that my coldest nights were just below freezing, perhaps 30 degrees Fahrenheit. The Summerlite features 0.9 oz/yd2 extremelite fabric and a full-length zipper. There is no collar, but a reasonable hood with a pull closure. Western Mountaineering gives it a stated loft of 4 inches, which is a bit conservative. I was very pleased with this bag. It is 9 ounces lighter than the bag I used in 2005, but was still plenty warm even at high altitudes. It held up well and the zipper performed reliably. The Summerlite is the perfect three-season bag for me. Expect a full review of the Summerlite in the next few months.

The luxury item for my trek was an extra sleeping pad. I carried a three-quarter length Cascade Designs Z-Rest pad, along with a Bozeman Mountain Works TorsoLite inflatable pad. I could have saved 10 ounces by carrying a single pad, but my hips and back were much happier this way.

Pack

I carried a Six Moon Designs Starlite in both 2005 and 2006. This is a functional, high capacity pack designed for long distance hiking. It has a zippered pocket that fits a Z-rest pad to provide frame-like support. I found this pack very comfortable, even when carrying loads over 30 pounds. The Starlite has a large side pocket that will fit most ultralight tents and two other large mesh pockets. I had trouble with the shoulder straps in 2005. They began to show signs of stress at the joint between the upper part of the strap and the pack. Ron Moak, the proprietor of Six Moon Designs, replaced my straps and pack in 2006 and I had no further troubles. I could carry 8 or 9 days worth of food in the Starlite, along with all of my other gear without too much difficulty. Still, I worried about this pack’s durability. I treated it carefully, being careful not too drop it or swing it around too much when it was fully loaded. I would consider a different pack choice in future long distance hikes. Total weight for my pack is 23 ounces. Six Moon Designs has recently released an updated version that has an extra pocket, new hip belt pockets and an updated design for the pad pocket.

Cook Kit

Most PCT hikers use an alcohol stove, and I did as well. Alcohol fuel is the easiest to get in PCT trail towns, and many suppliers carry it specifically for hikers. Using an alcohol stove eliminates the need to ship yourself fuel canisters and generally simplifies resupply when in towns. The rest of my kit consisted of an Evernew 1.5 liter pot, titanium foil windscreen, Lexan spoon and a homemade pot stand. My kit works fine for simple meals that require boiling water, but is not effective for any cooking options requiring flame control. A slightly heavier stove would give you more control and more cooking options. Total weight was 8 ounces.

Shoes

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail - 12
Montrail Continental Divides. This pair had approximately 600 miles on them at the time the photo was taken. I found the sole had reasonable traction for snow hiking. Mine were soaking wet almost every day and dried very rapidly. Quick drying, breathable shoes are a must on the PCT.

Last year I used Montrail Hardrocks, and this year I switched to Montrail Continental Divides. The Continental Divides are more breathable and have a wider toe box than the Hardrocks. Highly breathable shoes are important all along the PCT to keep your feet as dry as possible. In the desert you should dry out your feet at every rest stop, and you should clean them at every water source. You will be amazed at how dirty your feet will get in dusty conditions with breathable shoes. Clean and dry your feet at every opportunity in the desert. In the mountains most hikers will wear their shoes at many stream crossings each day, so rapid drying becomes even more critical. Some hikers wore gaiters in the mountains, but I chose to stick with my same sock/shoe combo as in the desert. I did get plenty of snow in my shoes, but my feet were soaked anyway, so it didn’t bother me. I dried my feet and shoes completely at night, but got used to having wet feet all day, every day. In a drier year, this wouldn’t be such a problem. I did develop a bad blister this year, which is rare for me. I think I may have had my shoes laced too loosely early in the trip, giving my heel a little too much wiggle room. The durability and quality of all Montrail shoes I have used has been excellent.

Socks

Socks are an important part of foot health, and are the subject of much discussion among long distance hikers. My standard sock has been lightweight New Balance running socks, but this year I experimented with Injinji Tetrasoks. The Tetrasoks I used were the Performance series, which are 70% Coolmax (a proprietary polyester), 25% Lycra and 5% spandex. Tetrasoks are a toe sock, with individual compartments for each toe. I was suspicious of these as a gimmick item, but they have found popularity among long distance runners, so I decided to give them a try. Many other PCT hikers were using these socks this year, while I saw no one with them in 2005. The biggest complaint with the Tetrasoks was lack of durability. Some people said they wore out a pair in only a few days of hiking. I had no such problem and did not wear out any pairs after about 200 miles of hiking on each pair I carried. There was universal consensus among the hikers I spoke with that these socks virtually eliminate blisters on your toes. I had absolutely zero toe blisters this year. It does take a little extra patience to put the Tetrasoks on and take them off. Early on in my hike I switched to using the Tetrasoks as my sock of choice over standard running socks.

Clothing

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail - 13
Coolibar Fingerless gloves. These were a new item for me this year. I wouldn’t hike on the southern portion of the PCT without some sort of sun protection for your hands, especially if you are using trekking poles.

I wear a loose, long sleeved shirt and long pants, even when hiking in the desert. The sun on the PCT is strong and cloudy days are rare, so I’d advise all PCT hikers to be careful about sun protection. My shirt and pants are nylon and both are from Mountain Hardwear. Last year my hands got fried from long days in the sun. Use of trekking poles exposes your hands to far more sun than almost any other part of your body. This year I looked around for some sun gloves and found the Coolibar Fingerless glove. These are light, breathable and surprisingly comfortable on hot days. They will be a regular part of my clothing for all future desert hiking.

I also wore an Outdoor Research Sun Runner hat. The Sun Runner has a drape that covers your neck and the sides of your face, but is removable so you don’t have to look like Lawrence of Arabia all of the time. The drape has a drawcord so you can cinch it up in windy conditions.

I carried a GoLite Virga rainwear top. The Virga was a prototype model and is lighter than the production Virga that is now available from GoLite. I also used this as a windshirt on several occasions. I did not carry a separate windshirt this year, figuring the Virga would do double duty. This worked fine in the mostly good weather that I saw on the PCT. In nastier conditions it might pay to carry a windshirt also.

My primary insulation garments were a Patagonia Micropuff vest and a Western Mountaineering Flight jacket. That’s a lot of insulation, but 20 years of living in the desert has made me a cold weather wimp. The Micropuff vest is a versatile layer and I donned it several times on most days. The Flight jacket is deliciously warm and makes a luxurious pillow when not needed as insulation.

I carried shorts, but wore them primarily for swimming, and in town when I was washing my other clothing.

Trekking Poles

The PCT is pretty tough on trekking poles. I saw many hikers carrying mangled, completely ruined and bent aluminum poles. The slippery snow was the usual culprit, as hikers would slip and fall onto their poles. Lots of cross-country walking on loose talus and difficult, rocky stream crossings were also tough on trekking poles. Would a carbon fiber pole hold up to this type of abuse? Mine did. I carried a single pair of Komperdell C3 Airshock Men’s carbon fiber poles. These are three-section collapsible poles that also have anti-shock technology. I managed to avoid falling on my poles, despite falling down on the snow many times. My poles performed flawlessly. I can’t think of a better test for poles than hiking the Sierras during a year of heavy snow.

Camera

My Canon Powershot SD 300 has been my constant companion for the past couple of years. It weighs only 8 ounces, including extra batteries, extra memory and the compact Lowe camera case that I attach to my hip belt. The SD 300 is a 3 megapixel version that has many features for the more advanced photographer. Current versions offer even more features and resolution. My favorite feature is the sturdy, high quality aluminum body. I leave mine attached to my hip belt and drag it across the ground several times a day. Dust and a little moisture - no problem. But I am careful to pack in into a dry bag at all dicey stream crossings.

Gear List

Gear List for Summer Pacific Crest Trail
Clothing Worn While Hiking Weight
Function Style/Rationale Item Ounces Grams
hiking hat ballcap style with drape Outdoor Research Sun Runner hat 2.9 82
sunglasses snow and sun protection sunglasses 1.1 31
hiking shirt long sleeve Mountain Hardwear Shirt 5.7 162
hiking pants long pants Mountain Hardwear Canyon Pants 11.0 312
underwear synthetic boxers Patagonia Silkweight Capilene boxers 3.0 85
hiking socks synthetic toe socks Injinji Performance Tetrasoks 1.8 51
hiking shoes lightweight and breathable Montrail Continental Divide Shoes with Montrail Inserts (size 12.5) 17.7 502
watch feature packed Suunto Observer Titanium Watch 2.4 68
gloves sun protection Coolibar Fingerless Gloves 1.7 48
Other Items Worn or Carried Weight
Function Style/Rationale Item Ounces Grams
trekking poles carbon fiber collapsible Komperdell C3 Airshock Trekking Poles 13.6 386
Other Clothing Weight
Function Style/Rationale Item Ounces Grams
long underwear bivy warmth Patagonia Silkweight Capilene Bottom's 5.7 5.7
nylon shorts lightweight running shorts 3.6 3.6
fleece hat nighttime warmth REI Windstopper Fleece Hat 1.8 1.8
insulated gloves light and warm PossumDown Gloves 1.9 1.9
socks light and thin extra socks (3 pairs) 5.7 5.7
insulated vest versatility Patagonia Micropuff Vest 6.7 6.7
insulated jacket extra warmth Western Mountaineering Flight Jacket 13.2 13.2
rainwear rain and wind protection GoLite Virga 6.0 6.0
Shelter and Sleep System Weight
Function Style/Rationale Item Ounces Grams
shelter tarp Bozeman Mountain Works Stealth 1 PRO tarp 10.8 10.8
stakes aluminum stakes
3.1 3.1
ground cloth ground protection Tyvek groundcloth 9' x 3' 5.5 5.5
sleeping bag long and light Western Mountaineering Summerlite sleeping bag 21.7 21.7
sleeping pad inflatable, torso length Bozeman Mountain Works TorsoLite pad 10.0 10.0
sleeping pad foam Cascade Designs Z-rest pad (3/4 length) 10.2 10.2
Packing Weight
Function Style/Rationale Item Ounces Grams
backpack frameless Six Moon Designs Starlite 23.0 23.0
packing organization multiple sizes assorted stuff sacks 2.2 2.2
Cooking and Water Weight
Function Style/Rationale Item Ounces Grams
cook kit alcohol stove and other gear Evernew 1.5 L pot, sponge, pot stand, windscreen, spoon, stove, lighter 8.1 230
water treatment chemical treatment Aqua Mira 2.0 57
water storage 6.5 liters total, plastic
Platypus, Gatorade and others
4.4 125
Other Essentials Weight
Function Style/Rationale Item Ounces Grams
camera digital, small and light Canon SD 300 with case and extra memory/batteries 8.0 227
first aid and repair light and simple self-assembled kit 4.3 122
personal hygiene light and simple soap, alcohol gel, toilet paper, Deet 3.0 85
utilities light and simple headlamp, pen, paper, guidebook sections, maps, knife, matches 4.9 139
personal id and financial credit card, ATM Card, calling card, contact list, cash, driver's license, permit 1.4 40
Added in Mountains Weight
Function Style/Rationale Item Ounces Grams
shelter tarptent for mosquito protection
Tarptent Virga (dropped tarp and groundsheet) 23.0 652
food storage light Ursack Hybrid 20.0 567
ice ax snow safety Cassin Ghost ice ax 9.0 255
Overall Weight Summary
Weight Summary pounds kilograms
Total Worn or Carried While Hiking 3.1 1.4
Total Base Weight in Pack (desert) 10.5 4.8
Total Base Weight in Pack (mountains) 12.7 5.8
Full Skin out Base Weight (desert) 13.6 6.2
Full Skin out Base Weight (mountains) 15.8 7.2

Citation

"Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail," by Don Wilson. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/summer_on_the_pacific_crest_trail.html, 2006-10-25 03:00:00-06.

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Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail
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Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail on 10/24/2006 23:22:21 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Notes from the Field: Summer on the Pacific Crest Trail

Alfred Lemire
(atkeys91) - F
Bad photo ID on 10/25/2006 09:30:53 MDT Print View

Please kill this comment after it's read. A photo caption has "PCT legend Billy Goat (right) helps to pour drinks at the memorial ceremony for No Way Ray." Think that Billy Goat is on the left, because Don Wilson's copy refers to No Way Ray as "he," and the person on the right in the photo is male; the one on the left is female.

So Billy Goat must be on the left. This happens. Perhaps the print got reversed, somehow.

Adam McFarren
(amcfarre) - F
Re: Bad photo ID on 10/25/2006 09:38:37 MDT Print View

The memorial ceremony is for No Way Ray, not the drinks.

-adam

Alfred Lemire
(atkeys91) - F
And the Florida Trail? on 10/25/2006 10:04:53 MDT Print View

On a substantive note, the well-written article cautioned this reader to think again about his plans to hike on the Florida Trail this winter. Perhaps a Capielne T-shirt and shorts, terrific for the tree-shaded trails of the Northeast, won't be so good in sunny Florida, where the trail won't be almost continuous forest. One reads articles to learn new things and I did.

Randy Brissey
(rbrissey) - M

Locale: Redondo Beach, CA
Start Dates on 10/25/2006 13:43:54 MDT Print View

Hello Don,

I would like to know when you started the summer 2006 trip. I live in southern california and am thinking of doing the desert crossing in april during my schools vacation. Would it be possible to see a date vs location for the trip?

Randy Brissey

Nicholas Couis
(nichoco) - MLife
Which MHW shirt did you use on 10/25/2006 17:11:58 MDT Print View

Hi Don, Which MHW shirt did you use for your trip.Thanks, lots of good info.

Don Wilson
(don) - MLife

Locale: Koyukuk River, Alaska
Questions and Comment Response on 10/25/2006 22:59:37 MDT Print View

Hi everyone -

Thanks for the comments and questions.

Yes, Adam is correct re the photo ID. Sorry if that was confusing.

Alfred - yes, living in the desert has made me very sun conscious. It's wise to cover up, I think. And with today's clothing you can stay plenty cool even in miserable heat.

Randy - I started on June 12th in Mojave. April would be a better time to do the desert crossing. More flowers and cooler weather. But April is too early if you are also heading into the Sierras.

Nicholas - My MHW shirt is one I have had for a long time, so unfortunately I don't know the model same. And they no longer make that specific model. But they do make some other good choices - like the Canyon and Compass. I prefer to get these shirts nice and baggy for hot weather, so I get an XL.

Cheers,
Don

Adam Kilpatrick
(oysters) - MLife

Locale: South Australia
PCT from mojave onwards on 10/25/2006 23:52:31 MDT Print View

Don, thanks for such an insightful trip report.

I am toying with taking a year off post Uni and getting a round the world ticket, starting October 2007. Its highly likely I will stop in LA on the way through to the UK and Europe-my main targets.

I was thinking of doing about two or three weeks of walking on the PCT. I won't have time to do anymore-I'll need to be in Europe afterwards.

Would love to do the Desert section you just described, plus Get to Forester Pass. Once I have reaced the pass I will head down off the trail ASAP and get back to LA.

Being an Aussie I am not familiar with the logistics of this venture.

I will bring an Ice Axe from Aus for the Sierras, I'll just carry it through the desert with me. Is this Desert the one with Joshua Tree National Park, is it earlier on the trail, or am I getting confused with CDT? I'd like to visit Joshua tree if possible. I'll need to leave a heap of gear somewhere secure, probably in LA or in one of the towns on the route back. Does your tent need to be capable of handling snowloading for this section of the PCT? Also, is mid-late October too late for this trip-will the weather be getting too extreme in the Sierra without extensive Mountaineering gear and experience? I am an ace in Deserts, but don't have any experience yet on ice.

Anyone got any suggestions?

Sorry if i should have posted this one elsewhere but I figured that while we are on the topic...

Don Wilson
(don) - MLife

Locale: Koyukuk River, Alaska
PCT in October on 10/26/2006 08:04:05 MDT Print View

Adam -

That section of the PCT from Mojave to Forrester Pass is a nice section if you like the desert. But it will be late in the season and fresh, heavy snow is certainly possible in October. By October most of the snow from the previous winter will have melted, so new snow will be your primary concern. It is unlikely you will need an ice ax at all unless fresh snow hits.

The trail does not cross thru Joshua Tree National Park at all. The park is much further south and east. It is well worth visiting Joshua Tree though - it is one of my favorite places on the planet.

Don

Edited by don on 10/26/2006 20:53:58 MDT.

Frank Deland
(rambler) - M

Locale: On the AT in VA
Thanks on 10/27/2006 07:46:34 MDT Print View

I really enjoyed this article. Especially interesting were the comparison of multi-day to shorter hikes. Having read Cindy Ross and others, I did not realize that group companionship could be found on the PCT as it prevails on the AT. I now have to work on my wife on getting a month away to hike alone. I gave up on the Starlite pack a few years ago even though I liked having the shoulder straps with all the pockets. The shoulder straps were just not adjsutable enough, and I found the pack carrying too low over my butt. Altough I e-mailed my concerns to the website, I never got a response. I also think one of the advantages to low cut footwear is that they have just that much less material covering the foot that can chaffe and cause blisters. As I read in a book on footcare, it is not a matter of if you get blisters, but when! Luckily, the only thing I've ever needed from my first aid gear is stuff for foot care. Keep these articles coming. The opinions about gear are just an added bonus. Thanks, Don.

Edited by rambler on 10/27/2006 07:47:48 MDT.

Adam Kilpatrick
(oysters) - MLife

Locale: South Australia
Re: PCT in October on 10/27/2006 17:40:59 MDT Print View

Thanks for the reply Don!

I later found a couple of sites on Joshua Tree, so now I am more orientated!

Good to hear about the ice axe. I guess I would just have to make sure my tent is capable of withstanding the odd snow load.

I think I will definitely keep your 6 week trip on the cards as I determine the viability of an overseas trip.

Thanks Don!

Don Wilson
(don) - MLife

Locale: Koyukuk River, Alaska
Re: Thanks on 10/27/2006 22:56:31 MDT Print View

Hi Frank -

Yes, you will be able to spend time with other hikers, especially in the southern portion of the PCT. During May and June hikers are all packed into a fairly small span of time. If you hike on the southern portion of the PCT when it is not "thru hiker season", then you will not see many other hikers. Even so, the number of hikers is far less than on the AT. Most days I saw very few hikers, maybe a few every day, but hikers tended to congregate at water sources to camp for the night. So it is easy to camp with others in many places, but also easy to be alone if you prefer.

Don

Randy Brissey
(rbrissey) - M

Locale: Redondo Beach, CA
Food and Weight on 10/29/2006 08:21:32 MST Print View

Hello Don,

One of the things that I am interested in with your experience of 6 weeks is the food aspect of it. How much lighter did you finish the trip compared to the start? The longest that I have been on the trail has been 30 days and when the group I was with hit a road crossing or supply point we ate everything. Did you consciously know that by being resupplied every 4-6 days keep your "on-the-trail food weight" lower and then "stock-up" in towns?
I keep rereading over some of the "endurance hikers" notes and see recurring theme where they are planning to lose three-forths to one and a quarter pounds per day. One guy reported a loss of 25 pounds in his 19 day record attempt.
These guys are starting ahead of the game (body fat wise) whereas a leaner backpacker has to carry more to offset.

Randy

Don Wilson
(don) - MLife

Locale: Koyukuk River, Alaska
Re: Food and Weight on 10/29/2006 19:42:25 MST Print View

Hi Randy -

I am a pretty lean guy - 6 feet 4 inches, but only 175 pounds. In fact, I'm beyond lean and just downright skinny. It's hard for me to put on extra weight, though I guess that's a blessing most of the time.

So I was careful to carry a lot of food becuase I did not want to lose weight on the trail. I generally carried at least 2 and a half pounds per day, sometimes quite a bit more. As the hike progressed, I added more and more food to my pack. And of course I ate a ton of food when I was in town. I carried a lot of high fat foods such as peanut butter, sausages and olive oil. A typical dinner on the trail was an entire 8 ounce summer sausage, several ounces of trail mix, a 6 ounce package of Lipton dinners and maybe a few Pringles or other chips. That adds up to about 1600 calories just for dinner.

I can't believe I ate so much sausage on the trail. I just found I had a craving for them and I found them very filling.

At home I am almost a total vegetarian, but things change when you get on the trail.

My motto - carry a lot of food and eat it all!

When I got off the trail I had lost maybe 4 or 5 pounds. It only took me a few days to put that back on.

Don