Alternatives to Through Hiking

For some people battling late season snow, then high streams, then mosquitos, then forest fires, then early season snow, is the height of adventure and challenge of the PCT. So they try to do it all in one year in one continuous northbound hike. If they are successful, then they might step up to the greater challenge of doing it all in one year in one continuous southbound hike. After that comes the CDT.

A day-hiking approach mostly works from Mexico up to about Horseshoe Meadows, mostly hiking both directions in the same trip, and thus covering about ten miles up and down in the same day, then retreating to a campground or motel. Dayhiking back and forth avoids overnight backcountry camping, and in southern California, that means loads are much reduced and water management becomes much less problematic. This approach also eliminates car shuttle problems and keeps the planning and hiking effort much less concentrated than required for through-hikers who want to do it all in one year, or one-state hikers who over the course of a month will require resupply two to four times, or section hikers who can by frugal living manage most of the thirty sections one at a time without resupply.

Not amenable to the day-hiking approach are the long wilderness stretches from Cottonwood Pass to Devils Postpile - 160 miles - and around Glacier Peak - 102 miles. The last stretch from Harts Pass to Manning Lodge is 39 miles for northbounders, and 78 miles for southbounders, who no longer can start at Manning as I did.

Southbound Northbound

But I thought of something that is not exactly a through-hike, but a one season way to do the whole PCT, that works even better by splitting over two years.

The idea is to go southbound, meeting the northbound through hikers several times, while getting better conditions than they will get for Mt San Jacinto, the High Sierra, and the North Cascades. The North Cascades are in August rather than October. The High Sierra is in August rather than June. The main risk factor is Oregon forest fires in September and October.

But to avoid possible serious legal consequences, crossing the border has to be northbound - hence starting at Harts Pass and hiking to Manning, even though shuttling would be much simpler heading southbound from Manning.

The plan encompasses one zero day for each of 30 sections - each section averages 90 miles. Extra zero days in transit allow for visiting home (San Jose), resupply, and paying bills. A rigorous pace of 20 miles per day, every hiking day, is required. Hikers (like me, now) that can't sustain that pace had better plan on taking two years.

The dates below are based on a traditional ADZPCTKO on April 27 (the 2013 date). There might not be any more of those.

Begin End Hiking
Begin End Miles Mileage per
hiking day
18 Apr 18 Apr home
in transit
151 Pines-to-Palms Hwy
19 Apr 26 Apr 7 1 151 Pines-to-Palms Hwy 21 Lake Morena 130 19
27 Apr 27 Apr 0 1 Lake Morena ADZPCTKO
28 Apr 28 Apr 1 0 21 Lake Morena 0 Campo 21 21
29 Apr 1 May 0 3 0 Campo
in transit
703 Kennedy Meadows South -703
2 May 6 Jun 29 6 703 Kennedy Meadows South 151 Pines-to-Palms Hwy 552 19
7 Jun 8 Jun 0 2 151 Pines-to-Palms Hwy
in transit
1780 Fish Lake -1629
8 Jun 10 Aug 53 11 1780 Fish Lake 703 Kennedy Meadows South 1077 20
11 Aug 15 Aug 0 5 703 Kennedy Meadows South
in transit
2627 Harts Pass -1924
16 Aug 17 Aug 2 0 2627 Harts Pass 2666 Manning Park 39 20
18 Aug 18 Aug 0 1 2666 Manning Park
in transit
2627 Harts Pass -39
19 Aug 8 Oct 42 9 2627 Harts Pass 1780 Fish Lake 847 20
9 Oct 9 Oct 1780 Fish Lake
in transit
TOTALS 134 39 2666

To reduce transportation challenges, Pines-to-Palms/Paradise Cafe, Kennedy Meadows South, Fish Lake, or Harts Pass could be respectively Warner Springs, Tehachapi, Callahans, or Rainy Pass.

Other people would rather enjoy each part of the trail in something like its best season, even if they have to split it up over multiple years. You could do southern California in May and June of one year, and one each of central California, northern California, Oregon, and Washington in August of the next four years.

A two year plan would be southern California from Campo to I-15 in May of the first year, and from I-15 to Kennedy Meadows South in May of the second year; central and northern California in August and September of the first year, Washington and Oregon in August and September of the second year.