I thought I’d share with everyone my top fears with regards to our southbound PCT thru-hike.
There are a lot of reasons why I fear the weather. The weather can present really big obstacles when you’re living outside. I think my biggest weather fear has to do with snow. I have never hiked long miles in snow, and because Dirt Stew and I are hiking Southbound, we will be starting in the state of Washington with snow. We can expect several hundred miles of snow. We recently purchased CAMP Corsa ice axes off Ebay, and once they arrive in the mail, we will need to learn how to use them. We have also purchased Kahtoola Microspikes, which attach to your shoes. We have thought about purchasing real cramp-ons, but so far we have decided against it.
When Dirt Stew and I hiked the Appalachian Trail, we did not even consider navigation. The trail is well marked, and there are many hikers, should you get lost. If we were hiking the PCT northbound, I would likely also not worry too much about navigation. However, starting in Washington as a southbounder, there will be very few of us, and it will be very unlikely for us to bump into any day hikers until we are out of the snow. Since the trail itself will be covered in snow it will be hard to find without footsteps to follow. I am very afraid of losing the trail in snow and being completely lost in the middle of nowhere without enough food, and no way to find our way back. I toyed with the idea of getting an emergency locator beacon (PLB) so that we could get help if we got completely lost and ran out of food (after reading some horror stories of hikers in previous years). Just for reference, when I researched PLB’s the best one I found was ACR ResQLink+. Finally, however, I decided that it makes much more sense to stay found (have a tool for navigation rather than just for emergency purposes). A PLB will only be useful if you want a search and rescue team complete with helicopters to come find you in the wilderness. Instead, I decided a GPS unit would be more useful. If we became lost, and we no longer knew where we were relative to our maps, we could switch on a GPS unit to be able to self-locate. The GPS model we settled on was the Garmin e-Trex 30 because it was very light weight, and also had an altimeter/barometer.
3. Mountain Lions
In terms of wild life, I am most terrified of mountain lions. I’m not crazy about coming face to face with a bear either, but having hiked in bear country most my life, I have come to think of them more as large raccoons rather than a man-eating predator. I know I’d be “lucky” to see a Mountain Lion, but still the idea gives me the chills. Mountain Lions are real hunters, and some ways mountain lions are nice predators. If you were to be killed by a mountain lion, chances are you wouldn’t know it until it was too late. Mountain lions stalk their prey trying to avoid detection, and pounce when they sense a weakness. They tend to go for the back of the neck to break the spine instantly and they tend to be effective killers. They are not afraid, like most bears are. I have heard terrifying stories of hikers being stalked by mountain lions that refuse to leave the area well into the night. We decided that if we did in fact find ourselves being stalked by a Mountain Lion, we would sit back to back (probably in our tent, if possible) with our poles in our hands, and wait until the night is over, or the mountain lions lost interest. Since chances are we will never encounter a mountain lion, hopefully this scenario will never play out.
Southern California is a desert, and so finding water can be like finding gold. There are long long stretches on the PCT where there are no water sources. Just glancing through one of the data books, I saw many 30+mile sections without water. Plus, 2013 was one of the driest years on record for California, so some of the water sources on the map may actually have become bone dry. I am incredibly scared of running out of water in the desert. Again, this becomes slightly more scary as a southbounder. Northbounders have the advantage that there are many more of them, and news travels fast. Also, “trail angels” (people who help out hikers out of the kindness of their hearts), often put jugs of water at road crossings, but they are more likely to concentrate on helping the large crowd of north bound hikers. By the time we reach southern California, there will only be a handful of Southbound hikers left, and we are likely to be quite spread out. As the summer progresses, the water in the desert dries up more and more, and by the time we reach the Mexican border, the water levels will likely be at their lowest. We plan on taking roughly 6L capacity each for the desert section of the trail.
5. Foot pain
My limiting factor has always been my feet. My legs could hike forever, but my feet will hurt so much, I’ll be limping in pain. There were days on the Appalachian trail when I had tears in my eyes for the last mile or two before reaching camp at the end of a long day. Our longest day on the Appalachian Trail was only 26 miles. I hope to be able to walk more miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. I think walking at a faster pace, and with both a lighter pack, and lighter shoes should help significantly. On the Appalachian Trail, I hiked most of the trail with KEEN boots, but for the Pacific Crest Trail, I am starting with Brooks trail runners, which weigh much less. I hope the expression “a pound on your foot is like five pounds on your back” turns out to hold true for me and my feet.