If you’ve recently been motivated by the blockbuster movie Wild, staring Reese Witherspoon, to hike the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Mexico to Canada, you’re not alone, but the National Forest Service is saying to get in line – a long line.
Because of the success of the dramatic movie depicting Cheryl Strayed’s self-defining pilgrimage on the PCT, aspiring thru-hikers have flocked to Campo, a small town east of San Diego on the Mexican border to follow in Strayed’s and Witherspoon’s footsteps. This record setting influx of hikers has crowded the trail and the campsites on the southern leg of the trail. In an effort to reduce the human impact on the sensitive desert ecosystems of the southernmost part of the PCT, the Forest Service has instituted an unprecedented permitting system for the popular trail.
The new online permitting system will only issue permits for 50 thru-hikers a day. Those that want to apply for a permit can go to the Pacific Crest Trail Association permit site. The instructions say that a calendar on the permit page will let you check which days still have permits available. On the day that I checked the site, the calendar was not functional, and it was impossible to tell what days were still available to start the hike. Perspective thru-hikers beware; the permit process is new and reacting to an overflow of hikers, so expect major issues… by midsummer, Campo could look more like Burning Man than a place to start your life-affirming hike.
Bob Woods, North Cascades Regional Director of the Pacific Crest Trail Association, believes the movie has created an increased awareness of the trail that will result in record breaking use in the next few years. Woods emphasizes the Association’s mission to protect the trail experience for all of its users, “It is about the journey, not the destination,” says Woods. Hikers worried about crowds on the southern leg can always start the journey on Washington’s less crowded northern portion of the trail, recommends Woods.
Washington’s northern leg of the PCT is 500 miles from the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River to Monument 78 on to the Canadian border. This section boasts some of the most beautiful and dramatic views of the entire trail. Hikers will cross several high passes spying the State’s famous glacier capped volcanoes then descend into mountain valleys full of colorful wildflowers.
If it seems like the PCT has been getting a lot of press lately, it has. Besides the critically acclaimed movie Wild, Seattle native and Shorecrest graduate Joe McConaughy recently set the record for the fastest supported thru-hike (endurance run) of the PCT. McConaughy completed the journey in just 53 days, averaging 55 miles a day and losing nearly 20lbs in the effort.
Five things to know before doing the PCT:
1. The Pacific Crest Trail Association is a great resource for information and for connecting with the PCT hiking community, find them at pcta.org.
2. Permitting can be tricky, particularly in California – do I really need a campfire permit? Plan early and know the rules so that you don’t get delayed or fined. Learn more about permits at pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits.
3. Natural disasters effect parts of the trail causing detours and closures – be sure to get the latest trail status at pcta.org/discover-the-trail/trail-conditions-and-closures.
4. The PCT is a strenuous hike – get in shape before you go so that you can enjoy the views and the spiritual rejuvenation of nature. Find personalized trekking workouts by Transformational Journeys at desktotrek.com.
5. Food can be a problem on a long hike – learn how to plan your resupply at pcta.org/discover-the-trail/long-distance-hiking/resupply. The folks at Plan Your Hike list all of the route resupply points and offer great advice on everything PCT, check them out at planyourhike.com.