PCT – Pacific Crest Trail, is 2,659 miles long and ranges in elevation from just above sea level at the Oregon & Washington border to 13,153 feet at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The route passes through 25 national forests and 7 national parks. Its midpoint is near Chester CA (near Mnt Lassen), where the Cascade and Sierra mountain ranges meet.
SOBO – Southbound: Direction of travel, begin at the US (WA) & Canada border; hike the PCT and end at the US (CA) & Mexico border.
NOBO – Northbound: Direction of travel, insert at US (CA) & Mexico border; hike the PCT and end at the US (WA) & Canada border.
WALK THROUGH – hiking the entire 2,659 miles of the PCT in one continuous push.
June (TBD), 2017 I will step off the Canada & US border and trek in a southbound SOBO) direction for 2,600 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Upon crossing the US & Mexico border the patrol will change direction of travel and maintain a heading to the final objective, Camp Pendelton. Home of 1st Marine Division and HQ of The Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.
Unfortunately, I cannot give an exact launch date due to weather and conditions. Even though I am leaving in June, snow storms can delay the actual date. Also, the SOBO direction plays hand in hand with departure timing. If not timed correctly, the SOBO direction can put me in the hurt locker quickly. Leave to early in June and get pounded by late season snow storms. Leave to late and hit bone dry conditions in the Anza Borega desert. The challenges I face will be physical, environmental and mental. Because of these challenges a large percentage of PCT “walk through’s” travel in a NOBO direction. Trekking in a NOBO direction allows a hiker to move through the desert (CA) in early spring and arrive in the Cascades (WA) just before the winter storms. I on the other hand, will come out of the north.
DIRECTION OF TRAVEL: SOBO
The significance of my arrival at Camp Pendleton CA is in large part to the reason for traveling in a SOBO direction. But there are many great reasons for traveling in a SOBO direction oppose to the NOBO direction. There will be a minimal group of fellow hikers joining me in this direction. This makes for a more adventurous trek. My wheel house! No one to ask direction, weather, conditions etc. I will be left on my own to successfully move through Washington, Oregon & California. They say once you enter northern California, SOBO hikers begin to meet the NOBO travelers. Next is the beauty of the northern Cascades. Traveling through the high country of the Glacier Peak area may require mountaineering skills, but the glacier travel should be exquisite in its silent beauty. Hitting the Sierra Nevada in about July / August will allow me to lighten my load. Sleeping in a spring bag (25 degree) and a bivy sack along the John Muir Trail (JMT). Dropping all my mountain gear for lighter weight equipment due to warmer traveling conditions. Needless to say I’m hoping to reduced my core pack weight by 4 lbs. By the time I arrive in the desert it will be shorter days and longer nights. But make no mistake October in the high desert can be like a pizza oven. On days like that the patrol will move to night OPS.
PHASE LINE: WASHINGTON
The SOBO direction will have the patrol inserting into the Northern Cascade (WA). Right from the start, I’ll have to navigate through pretty hard conditions. I’m planning on mountain storms and snow travel for the first 400 miles. With that said resupply checkpoints may be non existent. For the first 150 miles I will have to be self contained, in ration mode and out of communication. All due to the mountain conditions in the Cascades. One thing is for certain, I’m guaranteed to hit snow once I gain Glacier Peak Wilderness .
Considering Glacier Peak stands at 10,500 ft, this will be true mountaineering. Some SOBO’rs experience difficult snow travel well beyond Goat Rocks Wilderness. That’s about 400 miles south of Canada. Most of the resupply & mail-drop locations may not be accessible.
An addition crux will be navigating through storms and snow fields of the northern Cascades The PCT is a highway in the summer; but in the spring to early summer, deep snow fields can turn navigation into a game of blind man bluff. Azimuths / declination, map reading and land association are the skills required for mountain passage. Fortunately I was taught land navigation by marines who had to navigate the jungles of Vietnam.
In the early spring, the northern Cascades can be deep in snow and ice. With that said, these conditions may require either snow shoes, touring skis with skins, and or crampons with an ice arrest tool. Avalanche caution will be another concern. The heating and cooling of the mountain slopes can cause “plates” of snow to separate and bring me with it. Because of this, I’ll be taking another avalanche navigation and survival course. Moving out of the high country of the Cascades, the next terrain hazard will be rivers and fast moving creeks. A heavy snow season in the mountains means one thing down hill. Raging snow melt creating hazardous river crossings.
So other than the swarms of mosquitoes and massive conifers down on the trail, Oregon “should be” pleasant. Should be..
PHASE LINE: OREGON
For the most part the PCT through Oregon is pretty forested with tall conifers and ground cover. It has been said its pretty boring. The only indication of enemy activity are the mosquitoes who attack and ambush PCT through hikers. Once the patrol crosses the Bridge of the Gods its the first
transition into the forested Cascades, I will have crossed the mighty Columbia River; with the first of 3 states behind me. Continuing on through the Mount Hood area is consider one of the most scenic sections of the PCT. A full day of travel and wildflowers should get the patrol to another Oregon scenic area called Jefferson Park.
In central Oregon the patrol will start with the Belknap Crater (6,872 ft.) Then onto the 8,744 ft volcanic peak (Diamond Peak) and Cowhorn mountain (7,664 ft) with a view above the tree line. Keep in mind Central Oregon has very few views above the tree line. Most of the scenery on this section of the PCT will have the patrol moving through lodge pole & ponderosa pines. The abundance of these trees will will give the urgency for this patrol leader to maintain a 30 mile a day pace.
Crossing into southern Oregon will be marked by the patrol crossing through the Windigo Pass. Soon after the “lightning rod” of the Cascades becomes visible. Mount Thielsen (9,182 ft) pointy summit stands as the vanguard for SOBO hikers entering southern Oregon. Then onto Crater Lake National Park, the 5th largest National Park in the US. Also another volcanic area. The amateur geologist in me is very excited. After a well deserved harbor site (camp rest and refit) its onto the 7 Lakes Basin. Off our eastern flank the patrol will pass by Devils Peak (7,582 ft.) while entering the Sky Lakes Wilderness. Very few peaks exist in this area but the high country of the California Sierra Nevada is about to change that.
PHASE LINE: CALIFORNIA
The shift between southern Oregon and northern California is almost unnoticeable some say. As long as I can leave the sparrow size mosquitoes behind I will call it noticeable. Northern California will offer the Mt Shasta, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, and the John Muir Wilderness. All of these area’s have there unique beauty and caution.
Once in California I will have to navigate the 211 miles of the Klamath Mountains. This area is commonly referred to as “The Big Bend”. And believe it or not, this same area has been known for Yeti sightings…. Big Foot… The highest summits in this area of operation are Mount Eddy (9,025 ft), Thompson Peak (9,345 ft) in the Trinity Alps. Then onto the Siskiyou Mountains. Leaving the Trinity Alps the patrol will move onto the Shasta Trinity National Forest. This is the largest National Forest in the state of California. A whopping 2,210,485 acres! As I walk the PCT Mount Shasta comes into view. Mount Shasta stands at 14,179 ft and is the 2nd highest peak in the Cascades (yes the patrol will still be in the Cascades) and 5th tallest in the state of California. Oh yeah.. It is still considered an active volcano.Mt Shasta is known throughout the world as a test piece for larger 8000 m summits. I on the other hand will not test the summit of this volcano.
Once Shasta is in our rear view I will enter Lassen National Forest. Another volcanic area that has seen recent activity (eruption in 1915). Mnt Lassen is the begining of volcanic chain I will travel through the Sierra. The next portion of the PCT will bring me close to an area that I call home. The Desolation Wilderness. The Crystal Range is within the wilderness area, with Pyramid Peak as the highest point in the range and the wilderness at 9,985 feet in elevation. Among the many waterfalls within the wilderness is Horsetail Falls. One of my favorites located just west of the town of Strawberry CA, and a favorite climbing area called Lovers Leap.
The PCT will take the patrol through the Echo Lakes ski resort and through another pass called the Carson Pass. Once I cross Hwy 4 I will bring the patrol through Ebbets Pass (8,731 ft) and onto the Carson Iceberg wilderness (my backyard). The Carson Iceberg Wilderness varies in elevation. Between 4,800 to 11,792. The travel will take the patrol through high Sierra country and low lands covered with lodge pole and Jeffery pine, aspen sierra Juniper. From the Iceberg I will cross over the Sonora Pass (9,624 ft), which in my opinion is the gateway to the real meat and potatoes of the Sierra Nevada.
The Emigrant Wilderness is the buffer between Yosemite National Park and the Toiyabe Wilderness. The Emigrant is a glaciated landscape of scenic beauty. At night during a full moon this area gives the feeling of being on the moon. Granite everywhere means navigation skills maybe required.
This section of the PCT will have the patrol traveling over Leavitt Peak at 11,570 ft while skirting the Emigrant Wilderness. From the summit of Leavitt you can almost make out Tower Peak to the south east and the Yosemite border to the south. Trekking through volcanic talus, high sierra peaks (Sierra Crest 10,640, Leavitt’s eastern ridge 10,880) will get me close to the Yosemite border.
Once the patrol crosses the Yosemite National Park border I will have arrived in Tuolumne Meadows. The patrol is now 942 miles from the Mexico border, and a little over 1,700 miles from the Canada border.Yosemite contains nearly 70 miles of the PCT. The trail’s highest point in the park is 11,056 ft, at the Donohue Pass.
Within a short period of time I’ll move the patrol into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. This area is probably my favorite area in the Sierras, and my personal playground. The beauty of this wilderness boundry is beyond words. The range of light will make a non believer a believer. The center piece to this area is the Mnt Ritter range. (13,143 ft). Also included in this range is Banner Peak (12,942 ft) and the Minarets. Amongst the Minarets, Clyde Minaret (12,270 ft) is a personal favorite solo climb. If any of my climbing buddies are reading this, time my arrival in the Mammoth area and lets climb Clyde and maybe the Crystal Crag. Speaking of Mammoth…
I am planning to spend at least 3 days in Mammoth CA doing a refit and rest. Mammoth is a great area for PCT’rs to pick up specialty equipment for the next section of the trail. Mammoth CA is one of the most scenic area’s along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. There are many natural wonders that ring this area of “fire”. Mammoth Mt is considered an active volcano and there are many active features that prove this point. One of these volcanic icons are the natural hot springs in the area. One of my favorite area’s to rest my battered and bloody feet. Also the massive basalt columns called Devils Post Pile where created by volcanic upheaval. These formations where created by lava flow millions of years ago. Needless to say, Mammoth Lakes has a great deal of geological history attached to it creation. From Mammoth Lakes the patrol will gain the John Muir Wilderness. The John Muir Wilderness (JMW) is massive. The JMW contains nearly 600 miles of hiking trails. It is the second most visited wilderness in the United States.
The trail is 211 miles long and runs (mostly in conjunction with the PCT) from Yosemite Valley to Mt Whitney, in California. Winding through the famed Sierra Nevada, the JMT visits some of the crown jewels of America’s park system: Yosemite, John Muir and Ansel Adams Wildernesses, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. The John Muir Trail section of the Pacific Crest Trail will mark you forever.
The Mohave has become part of the ‘vortex of fear’ along the PCT. Every year a stream of scary stories filters its way through the PCT hiking community spreading fear Chinese whispers. The Mojave is an extremely hot, water-less section and we’d be at the mercy of the infamous Mojave Green rattlesnake. A snake so venomous that one strike will kill a man in seconds.