The Southbound Scoop: What you need to know about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Southbound.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Southbound: What you need to know.
 
Everyone’s been asking me to write something about going Southbound (SOBO) since there really isn’t much out there on the subject.  Keep in mind that everyone’s experiences are different, and every year is different as well.  In particular, snow conditions vary from year to year and you should do a lot of your own research on current conditions before heading out.  Usually, the beginning of SOBO season is roughly from mid June to mid July or even later depending on snow, and you’ll likely finish your hike anywhere from October to December depending on your speed and start date.
 
Just to start with, I’ll give you a quick summary of why I think hiking Southbound is awesome and why I think more people should do it with some pros and cons, then I’ll go into the more nitty-gritty of planning a SOBO hike.
 
So…. WHY SOBO??
 
Hiking Southbound is great for many reasons:
1. You’re not going to be hiking in huge herd of hikers.  During my SOBO hike, I only met 7 other SOBO hikers (as opposed to 78 Northbounders (NOBOs) I met in one day).
2.  You’ll start your hike in some of the most beautiful scenery, not in the desert.  Let’s face it, more than half of us quit.  If you quit as a NOBO, you will have hiked in the desert, and not up in Northern Washington.  I’m not trying to dis the desert… the desert is awesome in its own ways but really, Northern Washington is more worth your time.
3. Speaking of the desert.  It is much more pleasant to walk through Southern California (“the desert”) in the late fall (late October/ early November) when the days are shorter and cooler.   Plus by then you’ll be hiking 25-30 miles a day, so you won’t spend as many days in the desert as NOBOs do.
4.  You’ll have much more of a “wilderness” experience going SOBO.  None of this fighting over tent space, falling in and out of cliques or worrying about hostels, hotels and trail angels being packed with hikers.  You’ll get a much more personal experience with towns and with Trail Angels.  You won’t need to worry about someone walking up on you while you’re peeing or whatever else you need to do while there’s no coverage.  For those of you East Coast hikers, let me warn you– much of the PCT is pretty “open”. There aren’t many trees or bushes, which is great for views and such, but for finding a spot to dig a hole and minding your business? Not so much.  I often times wondered how NOBOs found any privacy.
5.  You’ll get bugs in Washington, but not so much in Oregon where they’re supposedly worse.  You definitely won’t get bugs in the Sierras, so you’ll be able to enjoy your breaks at the gorgeous lakes up there.
6.  You’ll be following leave-no-trace ethics by not hiking the trail during the most high traffic times (which is normal NOBO season and summer holidays).  During your hike you’ll realize how much impact hikers have on the trail, especially by talking to locals in town about what it is like during NOBO season.
7.  You will always be walking up the northern face (colder and shaded), and down the southern face (hotter, and sunnier).  You’ll appreciate this on hot days.  Carrying an umbrella is helpful since you’ll be walking into the sun most of the time.
 
Hiking Southbound may not be for you if:
1. You’re not ready to hit the ground running.  Unlike going NOBO where you have the desert to “warm up” with, since there is no real time-frame for hiking in the desert, you’ll need to hit the ground running from day one.  Just as it is for Northbounders hiking from the beginning of the Sierras once the snow is manageable until the Canadian border, before the snow hits again in the fall (roughly 2000 miles), you’ll have the same time crunch.  You’ll be hiking in Northern Washington just as the snow is melting up there, and trying to make it through the Sierra before the snow hits again in the fall.  October 1st is a good date to aim to be at Forester Pass.  The only difference is you’ll get to “cool down” with the desert  with no real time restraints, rather than having the desert as a “warm-up.”
2.  You want to hike with groups of people and make lots of friends. If you’re more into the social aspect of the trail, SOBO may not be for you.  You’ll still meet people, but it won’t be the social scene that hiking NOBO probably is.  But maybe you’ll spend less time and money in town as a result.
 
SNOW:
Before you start the trail: check snowtel: http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/ and pct website: http://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/maps-and-guidebooks/ for current snow conditions.  I recommend not starting your hike until after the level of snow at Harts Pass has reached 0 inches.  I’d even wait a while after that.  Don’t think this’ll mean you won’t be hiking on snow.  No matter how late you start, you’ll be hiking on snow.  If you get going once the level at Harts Pass reaches 0 inches, the passes you’ll be going over for the next several hundred miles will be completely covered in snow, and unless you have some significant snow experience, or you’re simply not afraid of death or heights, you’ll probably have a few “what the fuck am I doing!?” moments.  So prepare for it.  Also, make sure the road to Harts Pass is open before you drive out there.  The people at Mazama at Goats Beard can help you figure that out.
 
Keep in mind that every year is different when it comes to snow, and a low snow year in the Sierra often times means a high year in the Cascades and visa verse.  It helps to talk to locals- preferably hikers.  Ranger stations have limited knowledge for some reason, and we’ve gotten some bad advice.  Talk to Andrea Dinsmore, the Trail Angel in Northern Washington.  She’s not a hiker, but she’ll know if it’s a high snow year or a low one.  From her experience hosting hikers, and being involved in search and rescue she’ll be able to give you some basic advise.
 
In a normal or high snow year, I would recommend the following gear: ice axe, crampons or microspikes (don’t go with yak-tracks or anything else that’s only really for walking on icy sidewalks), GPS, compass, map, and personal locator beacon.  If you want specific recommendations, let me know, but any and all of these could save your life on the snow.  Also, learn some snow skills before you get out there.  There is no use having an ice axe if you have no idea how to use it.  Google “self arrest” and watch some videos then go out and practice on a snowy slope.  You will need the skills before you have a good chance to practice them on trail.  The Northern Cascades are very rugged and actually quite different from the Sierra, and you’ll want to have practiced in a safe environment before you show up.  Here’s a good learning video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94QFImjdEAo.  Learn to walk in crampons or microspikes- in particular, learn to kick steps.  Learn to self belay.  There are great videos on all these techniques.  Learn about cornices, snow/ice bridges and post-holing.  As you gain experience on snow, you’ll slowly learn how different snow feels beneath you.  The snow will be harder in the morning and softer in the afternoon. You’re more likely to post-hole through soft snow, and you can injure yourself on rocks, sticks, etc that are under the snow.
 
In Northern Washington you’ll spend a significant amount of time traversing steep slopes and avalanche chutes covered in snow. You’ll be looking hundreds and sometimes almost a thousand feet down on one side and kicking steps into the mountain and you’ll be holding your ice axe in your uphill hand and your trekking pole in your downhill hand.  Estimate that hiking in snow will take you twice as long as normal hiking.  If you’re walking on 50-100% snow, you should plan for 10 to 15 mile days.  Best to plan for 10 miles a day when it comes to food.  The one thing in your favor here is the sunlight.  You’ll be starting your hike at the peak of the summer with the most amount of daylight, and you’ll need it!  Luckily your appetite won’t kick in for the first week or two, so you’ll get away with carrying a little less than you would otherwise, but nonetheless, you should over-pack on food, because that will be your limiting factor.  Many people going southbound in 2014 had to push hard to make it through the Glacier Peak Wilderness before they ran out of food.  We just underestimated the snow.  I never thought it could take me 15 or 16 hours to go 11 miles.  Kicking steps takes time, and navigating takes time too.  Once you get past the snow, you will be done with the hardest part of the trail.  Once you hit solid ground, it’ll feel like you’re floating along watching the beautiful scenery go by and you’ll be loving your thru-hike.
 
Starting the trail:
 
First of all you’ll need to get to the beginning of the trail, which is at the Canadian border.  There are practically speaking two ways of doing this, but legally speaking only one.  You can either hike north from Harts Pass or Route 20 (Rainy Pass) to the border to start your southbound hike, or enter from Manning Park in Canada.  It it illegal to enter into the United States from Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail, and at least one hiker has wound up in jail for attempting this… not a great way to start your hike.  For that reason I recommend starting at Harts Pass.  To start your hike, go to Seattle, and find someone willing to drive you to Hart’s Pass, then hike north to the border.  If it’s a high snow year consider alternatives.  Hiking on the PCT isn’t the only way to hike from Canada to Mexico.  A great low elevation alternative is to hike along Ross Lake to reach the Canadian Border.  Then you can follow Panther Creek Trail and Thunder Creek Trail going over Park Creek Pass, which will have snow on it.  A map will be your friend here.  Get permits with the local ranger stations here because you’ll be in a National Park, and you’re required to have them.  Stash food at route 20 (we did so in a bear canister), then your next resupply will be in Stehekin.  It’s a short distance from route 20 to Stehekin (2-3 days at most), and if you used one, you can mail your bear canister home at Stehekin.
 
Bugs and rodents:
 
The worst bugs you’ll encounter on the PCT are mosquitoes.  There are many types along the PCT, and you’ll slowly learn their behaviors as you move from one type of mosquitoes territory to another.  The clouds of mosquitoes will start with you in Northern Washington.  They basically hatch right out of the snow.  You’ll be concentrating on kicking a step and not falling several hundred feet to your death, and suddenly you’ll hear “bzzzzzzz….” in your ear.  If you have a bug phobia now’s probably the time to start practicing meditation.  At least the mosquitoes in Washington are relatively slow compared to the ones in Oregon.  You have a chance in outrunning them, particularly once you hit solid ground.  The ones in Oregon can land on you while you’re at a dead out sprint, I’m not kidding you.  And wind?  No problem.  They’ll find you in 50 mph gusts.  Then in Southern Oregon you’ll meet another bread that aren’t as fast as their Central Oregon relatives, but for what they lack in speed, they make up for in size.  You’ll be slightly afraid of squishing these pterodactyl-like mosquitoes for the mess that they will leave behind.  Luckily by the time you hit the Sierra, there will be not a mosquito in sight, and you can dilly-dally at lakes taking thousands of pictures.
Also a note on mice – we were told by locals that mice would be a big problem in the Cascades of Washington.  For the most part, they weren’t since we were on snow, but when we got to lower elevation, Dirt Stew was kept up by them running on the tent netting above his head.  There is dense vegetation here, so tent sites are quite established.  Some people have had mice chew through their tents and/or food bags.
 
Weather:
 
Although you’ll be starting with snow on the ground, it won’t be as cold as winter hiking.  In late June early July up in Washington it could get down to roughly freezing, but that’s about as low as it will get.  You may wind up camping on snow, and my recommendation is to cut a few small pieces of blue foam (the kind you find at Walmart), and put those pieces under your butt and shoulders to insulate you from the snow.  Use these in conjunction with your normal sleeping pad.  You can also use these pieces to wrap your crampons in during the day.  Most likely it will be fairly warm during the day, and as a result you’ll be watching the snow melt.  We had a week or more in the 90’s and got completely sun burnt by hiking on the snow in bright sunshine.  Beware of this!  Sunscreen SPF 50 was not even enough.  Sunglasses, sunscreen, and eventually covering every square inch in clothing became absolutely necessary.
 
Through Central Oregon and Northern California our 10 and 20 degree sleeping bags were too warm, and if we had decided to switch to lighter ones, this would have been the right time to do so.  If I had done this, I would maybe have sent my lighter sleeping bag to Crater Lake, and then sent it back in favor of the warmer one at Truckee or Sierra City.
 
If you’re a normal hiker, I think you’ll do fine with a 20 degree bag for the whole trail.  The coldest temperatures for our hike happened in the High Sierra in mid to late September.  It went below freezing almost every night, probably into the low 20’s (just a guess, I didn’t have a thermometer).  I’m always cold, so I choose a 10 degree bag, and I know some who sleep more on the warm side who got away with a 30 degree bag.  I would send any extra warm clothing to Tuolumne Meadows, and then send it home again at Kennedy Meadows South.  I was happy to have an extra down jacket for this section.
 
We wound up keeping our warmer clothing through the desert because we did not know what to expect, but it did not get below freezing for us in the desert.  We were slightly ahead of the southbound “herd” and for some behind us, it did get slightly cooler, and in some of the higher mountains of the desert it could easily snow in late October or early November.  We finished our hike in early November, and never saw snow in the desert.  You can expect some hot sections where the trail is low in elevation (e.g Cajon Pass, and hiking along the Aquaduct), but there is also plenty of high elevation hiking in the desert which doesn’t really feel like desert at all and will be a refreshing change.
 
Water:
 
All PCT hikers worry about water.  For Southbounders, water starts becoming an issue in Oregon and continues through parts of Northern California, and then again in Southern California.  Water sources during the summer of 2014 were particularly unpredictable because of the drought conditions.  Data seemed often times unreliable, and “seasonal” water was sometimes running while rivers and streams were not.  My suggestion is to try to carry enough water to make it two water sources away, although this isn’t always feasible, and many UL hikers resent carrying too much water.  But I have to say, it really sucks when you run out of water and then you reach a dry water source.  After the Sierra, the Water Report becomes your bible.   Print out the latest version in each town you get to.  The website is www.pctwater.com.  Once you get to the desert, you’ll find water relatively easy to deal with because of the Water Report, having already done 30 mile water-less stretches.  I seriously think water is more of an issue for NOBO’s because they’re starting their hike in the desert and fighting for resources.
 
Sierra Resupply
 
On your South Bound hike, depending on your hiking speed, some places in the Sierras may close down before you reach them.  Definitely call in advance to find out the closing dates of Kennedy Meadows North, Tuolumne Meadows, Vermillion Valley Resort, Muir Ranch, and Kennedy Meadows South.  The closing dates vary from year to year, and also are affected by snow.  An early snow storm may cause them to close early.  It is not impossible to through-hike without these resupply stops.  You can hike out at Mammoth/ Reds Meadow, Whitney Portal (you need a permit), and Independence/Kearsarge Pass regardless of time of year.
 
If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know.  I’m going to convert this blog post into a page on this website, and the more information the better.  When we did research for our hike, information was very limited.  We had no idea where we’d find the mosquitoes, and so we sent bug netting to Oregon.  Thank goodness for Andrea Dinsmore and her collection of old gear.  We also surveyed the Southbounders we met along the way to try to determine what the desert would be like.  We had imagined that it would get very very cold at night, but in fact it never did.  I really hope that more people decide to go Southbound.  With increasing numbers of hikers on the trail, it only makes sense to spread ourselves out and minimize our impact on the trail.
Here is another resource for Southbounders made by 2016 hikers:  https://www.pctsouthbound.com/
Happy Trails!
Random picture from Sierra

Random picture from Sierra

Advertisements

63 thoughts on “The Southbound Scoop: What you need to know about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Southbound.

  1. Hey Dormouse,
    You mentioned your 10 degree bag and I’m currently in the process of ordering mine, but having never camped in snow. I am a cold sleeper and am worried about warmth, and maybe considering a 0 degree quilt instead. How did you feel with your bag in the snow? Do you think it’s be better to just bring more layers? Is a zero overkill?

    Liked by 1 person

    • DuckyDuck, rather than more insulation on top ( 0 degree bag) more insulation between you and the snow would be more beneficial. An extra thick or second sleeping pad greatly helps to keep one warm while on snow or frozen ground. ’til later, Jon (Gandalf)

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think a 10 degree bag is sufficient. I would concern myself with the R value of the pad you’re sleeping on though, since that insulates you from the cold of the snow much more than a sleeping bag will. Your sleeping bag will be compressed beneath you, and so all the insulation will have to come from your sleeping pad. I kind of wish I knew that myself ahead of time, but I didn’t really think about it. hope that helps.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello there, I’m planning to go sobo and I want to avoid the snow risks. I want to start early May 2017. Would you suggest me to get on the trail closed to Seattle or maybe Portland Or ? It’s not really important to the starting point and the finishing point. Thanks !
    ps. I’m Canadian, don’t really want to extend the winter season 🙂

    Like

    • Hi Rob. In early May, there could easily be snow on many parts of the trail. This is not a good time to start SOBO, and certainly not from Seattle or Portland OR. Your best be would probably be to hike the desert section of the PCT, or maybe a low elevation section of Oregon or Northern CA, but keep an eye on elevation, because you could easily hit snow almost anywhere that time of year. Best of luck.

      Like

  3. Thanks for the details for us SOBO’ders! I like your advice concerning the start date of zero snow at Harts Pass. I was wondering about trail permits…Can I put down our planned start date, and leave depending on conditions? If we get late snow in the Cascades, we may end up flip flopping, starting No. of the Sierras NOBO, and then continue later SOBO. We plan on leaving the 2nd or 3rd week of June, 2017.

    Do you know when you’ll be finishing the wild-fire portion of the PCT? I have property in Chelan County, and am there often. Let me know if you need transportation help.
    -Carol

    Like

    • Hi Carol, Back in 2014 when I hiked the PCT, the permit system didn’t exist. I wasn’t even aware that you needed to get a particular date for SOBO hikes these days either– are you sure that’s true? My guess though would be that the PCTA would prefer you to be safe, so leaving based on conditions makes the most sense. The section that we’re going to be finishing up this year will be through the Marble Wilderness in Northern California. It doesn’t sound like your property is around there, unless I’m mistaken? I”m guessing we’ll be hiking that section in September, but it’s not set in stone yet. Best of luck with your hike this year!

      Like

    • .
      When SOBOs are applying for their Thru Permits there is no way to know when the snow levels will allow for a southbound hike and SOBOs are only guessing as to dates and everyone knows it. If you’re forced to flip due to safety factors…. well to did the best you can and again everyone knows it. Changes happen to most hikers.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Dormouse,
    Thanks for the great beta. My daughter (17) and I hiked the JMT last year, and now we’re hooked. Plan is to start PCT west of Mt Hood and hike to northern terminus this summer. We have about a month to do it. Would prefer to start early as possible due to work.
    Any guestimate on when we might start our section hike, considering snow in the Cascades? We have snow gear and experience climbing 14’ers–enough to hate mile after mile postholing.
    Thanks

    Like

    • Hi Mike, this depends a lot on the snow levels once we get into June, but I would say that a start date of July 1st would be roughly appropriate. The snow doesn’t melt much faster down near Mount Hood than it does up in near the Canadian Border. I would still take crampons and ice axes at that time. Take a look at the maps and see where the high elevations are. Particularly over 6000ft. Good luck! Postholing is not all you have to worry about- the slopes are very steep in some areas, and falling is the bigger concern.

      Like

  5. Great post!
    I’m wanting to section the entirety of Oregon next year just after the eclipse.
    This would mean I would be starting in the Gorge at the end of August.
    I was originally going to do the Sierras a month before, but would rather head back home (i’m from portland, originally) for the eclipse and drag some friends onto the trial with me.

    That seems like a fine time for both snow pack and bugs, though water might be an issue. Though it sounds like it always is in oregon…
    Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.
    Thanks for the info!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like a great plan! Especially since the bugs will be mostly gone. You’ll have some dry stretches, but you’ll be fine– I recently found out that they’ve extended the water report to cover the whole trail, so you shouldn’t have any surprises. Happy trails!

      Like

  6. Hi there. Thanks for such a great write up about SOBOs. I’m wanting to start at hearts pass in a week or two and I am looking for a ride from Seattle out to the trail. Do you know of anyone I could contact to drive me out? I’m more than happy to pay for their gas and time. I’m flying in from the Midwest and need a little help getting started.

    Thanks in advance!!

    Josh

    Like

  7. Thank you so, so much for this blog! I discovered and read the entire PCT blog a few months back as my boyfriend and I have been getting ready for our southbound trip this summer. I literally teared up when you got to the end because I felt so proud of you, even though you guys are total strangers. The blog was well written and so helpful and this Southbound Scoop page is a real gift. It was really fun to follow along on your amazing journey and I can’t thank you enough for trailblazing for the rest of us Southbounders!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi, I was planning on starting the PCT trail going southbound at Hart’s Pass on June 23rd. Do you think I need to start later than the date I originally chose based on snow levels? I’m hoping I can start on this date due to time constraints.

    Like

  9. Thanks for this write up! Question: did you guys wear hiking boots or trail runners for the snowy sections in Northern Washington? I have some experience with winter hiking in the White Mountains of NH, but I’ve always worn hiking boots since it is so cold and the weather is so bad there. However for the thru hike I’m hoping not to wear boots but I’m wondering if that is feasible for the snowy sections.

    Like

  10. Thanks for the great info! Any thoughts on how late is too late to hike SoCal? I am interested in section hiking the desert, but wonder about water supply. Thanks again!

    Like

    • Honestly, I don’t think there is such a thing as too late. You can check the water report and see the water supply, but since there aren’t too many people hiking in the fall/winter, the caches are actually more reliable. My only concern would be snow at higher elevations, like San Jacinto Mt.

      Like

      • Thanks. I re-read your above article and your point about treacherous snow didn’t really sink in the first time. Now I’m a little bothered. We were planning on hiking north from Stevens Pass in mid July, to Manning Park. We are experienced backpackers, but have no experience with crampons or an ice ax. I am all for learning, but I’m starting to wonder if we are biting off too much. Heavy snowpack this year; maybe this time just start north from Hart’s Pass?

        Like

      • I’m a bit confused by your comment. You want to start at Hart’s Pass and hike north to the border? You’ll hit snow for sure. If you’re experienced backpackers, I think you’ll be able to learn to use an ice axe and crampons. Just expect snow travel to go slow, and expect to have a few nervous moments.

        Like

      • Yes, starting at Hart’s Pass and returning. Sort of an introduction to navigating snow-covered peaks and hiking longer distances. Here were things you shared that got my attention:

        “unless you have some significant snow experience, or you’re simply not afraid of death or heights, you’ll probably have a few “what the fuck am I doing!?” moments. and You’ll be looking hundreds and sometimes almost a thousand feet down on one side and kicking steps into the mountain and you’ll be holding your ice axe in your uphill hand and your trekking pole in your downhill hand.”

        An outdoor education program is holding a five or six day class on how to traverse from Hart’s Pass to the border, and back again, in the snow. It is $500 per person, so with two of us, I am trying to decide if it is worth it.

        Given the problem with entering the US from Canada, this would allow us to start with one section at least. I’m thinking about finishing in Stehekin, taking the boat to Chelan, and (still) trying to figure out transportation from there.

        Any thoughts? I appreciate your advice. Your blog is well-written. Thanks for all the time you put into it.

        Like

      • Hey Michael, I’m going to give you an honest answer here. I was approached before my thru-hike about a snow skills course since I also had basically no snow experience. The course started at 10 days, and slowly became 3 days due to “suggested donation costs”. They set the date for that course several months in advance, and I decided in the end not to attend, and instead do some of my own training on some snowy slopes in Tahoe. When it came time for the course to start, I was very glad that I had not signed up because the weather for the week that it started did not look good. I was glad to have the flexibility to wait one more week. The course went out in white out conditions and eventually one member of the group slid down a very steep traverse and was not able to stop. He had to be helicoptered out with broken ribs. Going out with a snow course does not at all guarantee your safety. You are better off using your own judgment. Honestly, I felt bad for the rest of the group, most of who wound up quitting on their SOBO thru-hikes. They were fear-mongered into taking the course. It doesn’t take more than a day to learn the skills you need, and with the resources on the internet these days, you can learn them on your own. That is just my personal experience and opinion. I would really just wait as long as you feel comfortable to start the section you are interested in doing– wait like a week after Hart’s Pass has a snow level of 0 inches, and practice using an ice axe before you go. When you’re out there, use your own best judgement. Best of luck, it’s not as bad as you think… but yes, you will have some “wtf” moments…

        Like

      • Thank you so very much. That is not only what I need to know, but it confirms my gut feel. I really appreciate it.

        Like

      • I don’t think I have the ability to go back and edit other people’s comments. The best I could do is delete a post, I believe. Maybe you have that ability on your end? (not sure)…

        Like

  11. Hi all
    I am gearing up for a SoBo thru hike on the PCT this year (2016) too.
    If any one wants to discuss things you can contact me k.kae@live.com
    I am Looking for any help for a successful thru hike! Thanks.

    Like

  12. Pingback: Why Sobo? – where we exist

  13. Hi there,
    I’ve been planning on hiking the PCT NOBO for about two years and recently have had an interest in hiking SOBO this upcoming summer. How much money would you say you spent for the whole experience without the needed gear? For food, stays, etc. I really loved all of your information and look forward to learning more from you!

    Like

  14. Great information! There is so little info about southbound PCT hikes and this probably the best resource going right now. My wife and I hike the PCT sobo in 2014 as well though we were in front of you guys. We have also hiked northbound before and the two trips could not be any more different. One misconception that we had going into our sobo hike was that it would be a more solitary hike. This could not be further from the truth. We saw a lot more people southbound than northbound. Washington and southern California were the only places that we we were not consistently bombarded by other hikers. To top it off we were treated like crap by most of the nobos. A solitary experience is not a good reason to hike the PCT south! One thing that you might want to add in your list of gear items for Washington is a pair of neoprene socks. We found these to be very helpful in keeping our feet comfortable. We did not use microspikes as I don’t find them that useful. We used our ice axes extensively though and I think that it is important to be able to put both free hands on the axe if you have to self arrest. In other words do not hike with a pole in your other hand. We used either poles or axes but never both. The biggest recommendation I have for a prospective southbounder is not to attempt it unless you have experience traveling on snow and preferably experience with a previous long hike. A southbound pct trip is hard! Check out our cheesy youtube slide show at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwVknpY_J40
    Thanks again for this information and feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

    Mike and Kam Watkins

    Like

    • Hey Mike and Kam! I LOVED your cheesy youtube slide show. Thanks so much for sharing that, it brought back lots of fond memories. I will definitely take some of your suggestions and add them to the page. I really appreciate your insight. What year did you hike Northbound? We also found a lot of nobos unpleasant, but I think we did a good job of camouflaging ourselves as weekenders most of the time. Keep in touch! -Dormouse

      Like

      • Hi! Thanks for writing up all this. Super helpful. I’m hoping to do a thru-hike this summer. Leaning toward southbound but I want to learn more about the realistic time frame I’d be looking at… I’ll have multiple hiking partners throughout the trip and they won’t all be up for 25 miles per day. I’d love to talk more with any/all of you (Dormouse, Watkins) if you’d be up for it. Can you access my email or do I need to post it here?

        Like

    • Hi Mike and Kam! I’ve been debating going SOBO, but my biggest concern is that with the snow still in Washington, I’d be missing out on some beautiful scenery, and that things would be starting to die off by the end of the hike in October or November. How did things compare scenery wise between your NOBO and SOBO hikes? Also, being in the coldest areas in the summer and the warmest areas in the fall, did you find that it was often too cold to swim? Passing by beautiful lakes and rivers and not being able to jump in seems like it would be devastating!

      Thanks!
      –Dawn

      Like

  15. Hey Dormouse, first of all a huge thank you for all this valuable SoBo-information that you provide on your blog.
    I am currently planning a thru-hike in 2016 and I did a lot of research, which was mainly dedicated to the “usual” NoBo-thru-hike. After reading yor blog a SoBo-thru became more and more compelling, but I would have a few questions.
    In one of your answers to a reader-comment you mentioned that it would be futile to plan an exact starting date in advance, due to the snow conditions in the Cascades. My problem is, that I´m from Germany and so it would be impossible for me to delay my start for weeks after I´m in the US. Is there a reasonably dependable time-frame in which it seems possible to at least predict if it´s a high, low or normal snow year (not the precise conditions, but a general information)?
    My next two questions concern the resupply strategy. Obviously most hikers sent resupply boxes to all stops in Washington, how many weeks in advance do I have to mail them – i.e. to Stehekin – to reliably pick it up?
    Was it in some areas possible – i.e. NoCal, Northern Sierra – to succesfully resupply at least partly out of hiker boxes?
    And last but not least: did you still find trail angel-maintained water cahes in the desert, or did you rely completely on the “natural” water sources?
    I would be extremely grateful, if you could find the time to answer some of my questions! Thank you in advance, best regards,

    Marco

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Marco!
      Great questions. Here’s what I think- Low snow year: June 15th. Normal snow year: July 1. High snow year: July 15. Also, if you book a flight too early, you can always explore Olympic National Park, or the low elevation portions of Cascade National Park!

      For mail drops, if you mail priority I would have the boxes mailed at least 3 days before you plan on arriving at a certain stop. Most places hold mail for 30 days, but that varies based on location.

      In some of NorCal and the Sierras, yes, it was possible to find some food in hiker boxes. We never depended on it though.

      In the desert, there were definitely still Trail Angel stocked water caches. In fact, I think it is easier for Trail Angels to maintain the caches in the SOBO season because there are so few of us. Why not start looking at the water report now and see how the water sources do for the remainder of 2015? That would give you a good idea of what next year will look like as well. http://www.pctwater.com

      Best of luck!
      -Dormouse

      Like

      • Thank you so much for your answers Dormouse, this is very helpful for me! Especially the idea of checking this fall´s water reports is great.
        I think I definitely will go for the SoBo next year, it just sounds awesome, especially avoiding the ever-bigger herd and probably deal with less rain. Two last things: would you recommend carrying an ice-ax and micro-spikes in a low snow year too? And where did you pick up your bear canister?
        I hope you two will be able to take on another great hike in the future (maybe the CDT or PNT?), Happy Trails,

        Marco

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Marco, It seems like this year (being a low snow year) people did fine without microspikes and ice axes if they didn’t leave too early. It really depends on when you leave given the snow year. Even in a high snow year you probably won’t need that stuff if you left on Aug 1st for example. Just keep an eye on the Snowtel and possibly the Facebook SOBO pages and other forums for discussing current conditions. Best of luck!

        Like

      • Hey, thanks again for taking your time and answering my questions, you for sure inspired another SoBo-hiker! I don´t want to bother you too much, but I would have one last question, if you don´t find the time, no problem. How did you get to Harts Pass or any other trailhead you used – from Seattle?
        I just read in your blog about your hip problems and the upcoming surgery: I wish you all the best for that and hope that you will recover as soon as possible! Thanks again!

        Marco

        Like

      • Hey, we were able to stay with a Trail Angel named Jon Belcher (he is on Facebook, and you should be able to connect with him there). He has often been willing to host a few SOBO hikers and sometimes even give them a ride in return for gas money if it works with his own hiking schedule. In fact, he has also commented on this post, so you may just be able to connect here on WordPress.
        Thanks for the best wishes on the surgery. I’m hoping it will put me back in a position of being able to do long hikes again within a year or two. 🙂

        Like

  16. Hi, Thanks for the great description! My dream is to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and I’m seriously thinking about going southbound. From your experience, would you recommend using backcountry skis or snowshoes on the snow-covered Washington section?

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, the terrain is too steep, so you won’t find snow shoes useful. I also think skis wouldn’t be that useful, but I’m not as sure. Best is crampons or similar. That being said, I haven’t used back country skis before, so I’m not sure what kind of terrain they are useful in.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Hi!

    Thanks for the great info. I am contemplating doing the pct trail alone next year and the southbound journey is sounding more and more appealing to me except i am a relatively amateur hiker and haven’t had any experience in snow. I live in australia, so decent snow for practicing in is limited. What are my chances of success do you think? Is the challenfe of the northbound hike sufficient for a first attempt?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d say go for the southbound hike! You can always delay your start slightly to allow the snow to melt (this year it seems like there is almost no snow compared to last). Once you hit snow, you can allow for a number of hours to practice self arrest, and you will quickly learn to walk on snow. Just watch some videos beforehand. I honestly think most people attempting a sobo hike have little to no experience on snow. Some decide to it’s too much, but many make it through.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I am thinking about going SOBO next year as well. Hoping that this year won’t be a big snowfall year in the cascades, I enjoy the snow but sound like it could complicated the beginning of the trail.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Great info, well written, and (from a “local”) very accurate.
    A note for added info is that Rt 20 and Rainy Pass are the same and from there to Stehekin is all a gradual down hill easy (if without snow) hike.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that’s useful information- and some people may decide simply to start at route 20 and head south from there. However, this only keeps you out of the snow until Stehekin, and two days south from there and you’ll be in the toughest section, section K. In particular, section K page 8 (of halfmile’s maps) was a killer.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s