Mt Tamalpais from Public Transit

This post is from 2014 and I never published it.  Someone asked about Public Transit backpacking in the Bay Area so I thought I would finally publish it.  Here it is. This trip would be incredibly easy to travel with the map at this link to Marin Mountain Bike Map. Another good map to have is one of Point Reyes National Seashore as it can easily be added on if you have more time. DISCLAIMER: Always check for trail closures.  While publishing this BLOG I found that there were a few trails that I mention that are currently closed.   Maps are essential for dealing with closures on the fly.

Away we go!

A long time ago, on a BART car far far away…

I was not in the mood for hanging around the apartment twiddling my thumbs waiting for my lovely Dormouse to return from her trip visiting family, so I decided to walk out my front door and go for a little 3-day backpacking trip to one of the Bay Area’s most prominent mountains, Mt. Tamalpais.

Mount Tamalpais and Alcatraz across the San Francisco Bay not  far walking

Mount Tamalpais and Alcatraz across the San Francisco Bay

Located in Marin County, Mt. Tamalpais is surrounded by a plethora of public wild lands.  The Marin Headlands, Mt Tamalpais State Park, Muir Woods, Point Reyes National Seashore, and Mt. Tamalpais Watershed all are within less than one day’s walk of the summit.   Mt. Tam as it is known to Bay Area locals, is within view of much of San Francisco and is a fixture of the skyline.  Many people look at the the mountain and think it is far across the bay and requires a painful drive through traffic on the Golden Gate via 19th Ave if you are on the Peninsula or something far worse if you are in the East Bay.  If you live in these areas there is a solution! Make your trip to the mountain a part of your hike.  It is kind of funny how easy it is to get to by transit then walk on foot.  On this and other trips I have made to Mt Tam, I have utilized BART to get to the Embarcadero or Montgomery St stop and then walked from there.

I started the day with another Town Start (the opposite of an alpine start, at 11:30AM) even later than our trip to Henry Coe.  I really had to rush because I knew I had 22 miles to cover to get to Pantoll Ranger Station, where I planned to camp the night (because it is one of the few legal places to camp).  Pantoll is nice because it doesn’t require any reservations and is a purely walk-up campground.

STEP 1: Scenic City Walk to Golden Gate Bridge from Emarcadero or Montgomery St BART Stop (Unlimited Options: Red Inland Option through North Beach, Black Emarcadero Option)

san-francisco-street-map-max

I made my way to BART and got off at the Montgomery St BART station.  I decided to head down Montgomery St to Columbus St because I could get some much needed shade during the rare 80F “heat wave” that we were experiencing in SF that weekend.  I enjoyed my choice because I got to walk past the Pan America Pyramid and through North Beach, skirting Chinatown.  It is easy to see the walk along Embarcadero as welcoming with its wide sidewalks and views of the waterfront, but this way is enjoyable for people-watching and seeing the interesting neighborhoods.

After reaching the end of Columbus I made my way to the In-N-Out on Jefferson St.  I ordered a milkshake so I didn’t have to wait for the delicious made to order burger and so I could walk and consume calories most easily.  I had that shake polished off before going over the hill to Fort Mason.  Now that’s efficiency!  From Fort Mason I past through Marina Green and Crissy Field.  At Crissy Field I saw many wild flowers in bloom.  If you are going through this area make sure you stay closest to the water, as it is much more scenic.  I’ve been doing this wrong for years.

Wildflowers at Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge

Wildflowers at Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge

From Crissy Field the signs were easy to follow to the Golden Gate Bridge.

STEP 2: Walk through Marin Headlands (Options Unlimited) No water after water fountain immediately after Golden Gate Bridge

NPS_marin-headlands-map

After crossing the bridge I picked up water from the water fountain at the overlook parking lot.  This was my last water source until Redwood Creek just short of 11 miles from there.  After downing some water and filling my bottles to the brim I walked down the the catwalk underneath the bridge to the Coastal Trail.   Now I was in the Marin Headlands (map).  The Coastal Trail switchbacks up until you reach a junction with the SCA Trail.  From there I took the straightest path to Pantoll passing by Morning Glory Trail (a great trail to Sausalito giving you a bail option on the way back), to Alta Trail, Bobcat, Marincello into Tennessee Valley.  I’m unsure if Tennessee Valley has drinking water, but you probably could find a spigot if you ask nicely at the horse stables there.  This would make the stretch of 11 miles much more tolerable. Hiking out of Tennessee Valley on the Miwok Trail is quite busy with mountain bikers.  I really don’t like this part of the area, but it is Marin County, where Mountain biking started, so I put up with it.  As it approached 6:30pm, close to Route 1, I came out of a grove of coast live oaks into some scrub and to my surprise I saw the stubby tail of a bobcat before it bolted.  This was only the second bobcat I’d seen while hiking hundreds of miles in the Bay Area.  I was elated.  Here I was a few miles from home seeing cool wildlife.  I walked up to where the cat was and found that I had literally scarred the crap out of it.  I’m guessing this is much more common then I had previously thought when watching this video.

Bobcat in Marin Headlands

Much less interesting than a picture of a Bobcat. At least you can see it’s fresh.

map-Mt-Tam-topo-600

After crossing Route 1 I was in Mt Tamalpais State Park.  I would continue on Miwok Trail climbing up to Pantoll Ranger Station.  After crossing Muir Woods road I went up a combination of Deer Park Fire Road and the Dipsea Trail.  After going up Dipsea, I went over to Stapleveldt Trail to dip down into the upper part of Muir Woods then up to Pantoll (walking through Muir Woods main entrance/redwood grove on the way back helps avoid the crowds if you leave early).  The other longer way on TCC Trail has less elevation loss and gain if you are feeling tired at the end of the day.  I made it to Pantoll at 7:00pm and was pleased to sit down and relax.  I paid for a spot in the hike/bike-in site ($5/person 2014) and was surprised to see another tent there. In the past Dormouse and I have been the only ones at that site.  I set up my tent and hunkered down in the tent away from the wind and ate some cold rehydrated chili.  I was satisfied with the spicy, delicious, and quickly prepared meal.  I spent the rest of the night hanging out with my campsite mates.

Step 3: Mount Tam Walk from Stinson

I woke up around 6:15am.  I got my gear together, ate a granola bar and walked down Steep Ravine Trail.  I found the trail nice with plentiful vegetation, including wonderful California bay trees which provided shade.   A nice change from the long shade-less stretches of the Headlands.

Columbine in Steep Ravine

Columbines were all along the route. Pretty good for low light and using my trekking pole as a monopod (Ultrapod)

Stinson Beach time to go up Mt Tam

Stinson Beach time to go up Mt Tam

From Stinson Beach I climbed up Matt Davis Trail (at end of the street with the fire house on the corner.)  It’s a reasonably steep climb up the trail to the Coastal Trail which takes you out of the Douglas Fir/ Oak forest of Matt Davis to coastal grassland.

Hiking on Coastal Trail for the north approach to Mt Tam

Hiking on Coastal Trail for the northern approach to Mt Tam

At Camp Fire Road I took a turn north to cross the road so I could make my way to Cataract Falls.  Having such a dry couple of years, the falls were unfortunately a dud.  But in the wet season the falls are a great site.

Instead of turning back like many do when they reach the falls, I headed east on High Marsh Trail.  High Marsh Trail is great because it crosses a bunch of headwaters for streams going into Alpine Lake.  My enjoyment was multiplied by not seeing one person for several hours until I got on International Trail to Eastcrest Blvd and the Peak.  The north side of Mt Tam is really secluded if you like getting away from the crowds.

View from Mt Tamalpais

View from Mt Tamalpais

Heading down from the top I went down Fern Creek Trail to towards Throckmorton Fire Station.  A brief road walk on Panoramic Highway got me to Panoramic Trail which is just a path next to the road.  From there I could take the Ocean View and Lost Trail back down into Muir Woods.  While in Muir Woods I decided to go up Fern Creek Trail (yes the same creek, different trail.)  I was very surprised by how scenic and tranquil it was (and I was there on a free weekend!).  Definitely, make the extra effort to go up it if you have the time.  All my pictures really do not capture the scene, unfortunately.  Racing through the crowds I made my way to Muir Woods Road to catch the Miwok Trail back out to the Headlands.  I actually misread the map thinking that there was no coastal escape from Mt Tamalpais State Park to the Headlands (this can be done by taking Redwood Creek Trail to Muir Beach and road walking to Green Gulch Trail).

Mountain Lion Kill

As a result of this mistake, I got to see fresh Mountain lion kill where I was less than 24 hours ago!

As a result of this mistake, I got to see fresh Mountain lion kill where I was less than 24 hours ago!  I nervously walked away from the kill thinking at least the cat probably isn’t hungry anymore.  After that scare I made a bee-line for the coast to hike a different trail from the way in and enjoyed the clear views.

In the morning after another windy night, I went into the Tennessee Valley to get some much needed freshwater.  From there I continued down the Coastal Trail past old army batteries through Rodeo Beach on my way back to the Golden Gate.

Along the way I passed a sign for Slacker Ridge a trail so small it is barely noticeable on the map.

Slacker Ridge: I'm surprised no one has mentioned it to me

Slacker Ridge: I’m surprised no one has mentioned it to me

After Slacker Ridge, the Golden Gate and BART were my destination.  I crossed the bridge, taking time to look out for sea life in the cold waters below.  I spotted a few sea lions here and there.  In the past we have seen porpoises and diving pelicans.  Walking down the Embarcadero was an excellent conclusion to my trip through the Marin Wilderness.

Other Extension Options:

Marin Municipal Water District Land  has tons of trails that can link Mt Tam to Point Reyes

Point Reyes is huge and you don’t have to use your imagination to hike here.

Other transit Options:

Marin Stagecoach from Tam Junction to Stinson Beach (Base of

Golden Gate Transit can significantly reduce your San Francisco Hiking

The Historic F Line can drop you off at Fisherman’s Wharf from Embarcadero BART

The Ferry to Sausalito can drop you off at BART after a walk down Morning Sun Trail into town

Do you have any Bay Area backpacking trips using public transit?  Let me know in the comments.

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Review of Gossamer Gear “The Two” Tent

This review of The Two tent is based on three weeks of continuous use while hiking Benton MacKaye Trail in November.  Click Here for a summary of the Benton MacKaye Trail.  Click Here for the full list of specifications of this tent.
Pros:
– Packs small and is easily compressible.  We could shove it around other items rather than stack it on top of other items. It was almost like the tent wasn’t in my pack.  The stuff sack is quite large to allow for this kind of packing.
– The tent is really light.  At 29 oz, this is one of the lightest two person tents on the market.  I was worried that the material would let heavy rain penetrate, but during a heavy rain storm we were perfectly dry inside.  We used the bathtub floor without a ground sheet, and had no holes or tears.
– Affordable! At $389 this tent is not nearly as expensive as other ultra light tents.
– Sets up really easily and quickly.  Simply stake out the corners (we added additional elastic pullouts for the bathtub floor stake points- saving an additional 4 stakes) then extend poles to the max and stake out the vestibule sides.  Done!  Could easily be set up in less than 5 minutes if it were raining.
– Adjusting tension was really easy.  It was easy to adjust the tension on the doors while keeping the tension of the rest of the tent properly set.
– Tons of headroom and spacious.  We had no problem doing things at the same time with enough elbow space.  Other tents we have had to take turns moving around.  With The Two we could both sit up in the tent at the same time. If you know me this means a lot.  John tents to flail about through much of life.
– Gigantic vestibules.  In a light rain with no wind, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could leave both doors open.
-Large interior mesh pockets for storing things, and a nice clothes line for hanging things from inside the tent.
– Warm!  Despite its large size, this tent was warm– on cold nights, it was easily 5-10 degrees warmer inside the tent than outside.
– Reflective lines for the guy lines were really a nice touch.  we’ve gotten tents with no lines included and having reflective lines is really nice. The lines also came with plastic tension adjusters which made even the guy lines easy to adjust.  Really nice touch.
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Watching the sunset from inside The Two

Cons:
– This shelter is a single-walled shelter.  Condensation is a problem, and site selection is very important. Camping next to a stream on a cool night could result in a lot of condensation on the inside of your tent. Camping in an area with good air circulation like a ridge top is probably a better choice.
– John is 6’4″ (193 cm) and this tent was just barely the right size for him… which made it the wrong size for him when inside his sleeping bag on top of a sleeping pad while rolling around in his sleep.  When there was condensation in the tent, his sleeping bag would be waterlogged at the feet, even when he tried to put some gear between him and the tent.
– Proper ventilation was hard to achieve in the cold and humid conditions we were hiking in. In a low humidity environment like the American west, this should not be an issue.
– The loops used to fasten the door open are made out of the same material as the tent, which is thin, slippery and hard to feel for, especially with gloves on.  It would have been better if these were made of elastic instead.
– The spaciousness of the tent comes with some drawbacks.  The walls are large, and can easily act as sails when there is a lot of wind- even when they are guyed out.  The one wind storm we were in, the tent was flapping hard against our feet (even Christine couldn’t avoid the walls of the tent, at 5ft 5in).  We didn’t have the tent perfectly guyed in that situation, but sometimes that’s hard to achieve.
– The tent size also limits the number of campsites one could choose, however if you make sure at least the floor of the tent is on flat ground, you can improvise somewhat with how the rest of the tent fits in a campsite.
– The fabric used for the guy lines could be more durable. Probably my fault: One night I decided to guy out the head of the tent upwards rather than out to the side and the material for the guy-line connection tore.
– The mesh around the interior pockets also tore slightly.
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Final Thoughts: Benton MacKaye Trail Potential Appalachian Trail Alternate

Now that we’re home from the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT), I’ve had some time to think about what useful information I could impart on others regarding this trail.

Here are my final thoughts:

I think the BMT is an excellent choice as an alternate for the first ~300 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT), especially for folks with prior backpacking experience as well as folks looking for a little more solitude at the beginning or end their thru-hike.

The BMT easily intersects the AT at the beginning (Springer Mountain), in the middle (Fontana Dam), and at the end Davenport Gap, so you can pick and choose your route.  I really think more long distance hikers should consider using this trail instead of the AT because of how crowded that section of the AT is during thru-hiker season.

The BMT is definitely a bit more difficult than the AT, but I think it was more of what we would have been looking for at the beginning of our AT hike.  There are practically no thru-hikers (we met only one), and not even many section/day hikers in many of the areas, depending on the season.  I think we would have enjoyed the solitude of this trail instead of the abundantly crowded beginning of the AT during thru-hiker season.

The BMT was better marked and somewhat better maintained that I expected, but in all honesty, expectations were quite low.  In some sections it’s well enough marked that you don’t need a map, but you definitely will in some of the less well maintained sections.

Given the blackberry bushes and green briers along with other weeds, I wouldn’t recommend this trail in season (late spring through early fall).  There are enough sections that would be completely overgrown to make the hiking less than enjoyable during the normal hiking season, and probably quite a bit harder to follow as well.  I recommend either early spring, late fall or a winter thru-hike– which lines up well with AT thru-hiker seasons in that area.

The easiest sections were northern GA (basically the first 100 miles of trail), and the Smoky Mountains (basically the last 100 miles of trail).  In both of these sections, you can up your mileage and even do some night hiking if you’re so inclined.  In the middle 100 miles, the trail was overgrown, narrow, harder to follow, significantly harder in terms of steepness, and I would not recommend trying to night hike, unless you enjoy wandering around lost in the woods at night.

Water was not an issue.  The longest stretch without water was maybe 10 miles at most (Topoco Lodge to Fontana Dam), but more commonly 5-7 miles at most, and often times you’re crossing many streams in a valley for half the day.  There are at least 3 stream fords, all in the Smokies, but there may be more if there has been any significant rain.

Camping spots are not all over the place like on the AT, sometimes you have to be a bit more creative about finding a spot.  A map is somewhat handy for this to find where there are gaps, or somewhat flat spots to aim for.  There are two shelters on the trail, one in Cherry Log, GA, and one in the Smokies (Laurel Gap Shelter).

The BMT is quite remote, and resupply options can be limited in the off season.  Depending on how many resupply points you plan on, I would definitely send a box to yourself at the Reliance Fly and Tackle and Fontana Dam Village (the front desk, not the post office).  These spots are easy walking distance off the trail, and are roughly well spaced if you only need to resupply every ~100 miles.  If you need more resupply points, you can hitchhike into Blue Ridge (50 miles in) for a full resupply, send a box to Coker Creek Welcome Center (3 mile walk off trail- hitchhiking is not an option), send a box to Topoco Lodge (on trail), or hitchhike into Cherokee for a full resupply.

We finished the trail in 20 days, averaging about 15 miles a day.  I think this is a fairly cushy pace for someone who is used to long distance hiking– it definitely could be done faster.  We did meet someone going less than 10 miles a day, so there are enough resupply points to make a slower pace feasible too.

In terms of weather, we got really lucky.  No snow, no freezing rain, only two small storms, and they both happened when we were already in our tent for the night.  There is at least one section where I would be worried to be stuck there with snow or ice, and that’s the trail between Topoco Lodge and the Hangover in Joyce Kilmer.  I think if there was snow, we would have gotten completely lost.  I’m sure there are other sections that would also be sketchy, but this one stands out in my mind.

My favorite sections of the BMT included Big Frog Wilderness, walking along the Hiwassee River, Joyce Kilmer, and the section of the Smoky Mountains where the trail moves away from Fontana Lake.

Please let us know if you have any questions about the BMT, and we’ll be happy to try to answer!

Trail Magic & Leave No Trace: A Hiker’s Responsibility

There are many articles and blogs about Leave No Trace Ethics with respect to Thru-Hiking.  They all have important information, but I often feel like they miss an important point.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this into a debate about how to wipe your butt.  If that is really what you are looking for, just go to any of the PCT Facebook groups and ask about how people dig a hole.  It will surely start a lively debate.

 What I feel is missing from most Leave No Trace articles is a mention of what a hiker should do when they encounter trail magic.  Many of the articles I have seen place the burden of responsibility on the trail angels.  Many articles ask individuals not to leave trail magic, but to personally hand someone their little piece of heaven.  This is fair and I fully support this opinion.  Unattended food can be eaten by wildlife, which can cause problem animals that will expect food from humans.

Still trail magic is left along the long distance trails.  So, what’s a hiker to do?  The answer is obvious, consume something tasty.  What happens then?  This is where I used to stop thinking and continue on, satisfied having just eaten a honey bun or pop tart.  Free calories.  LIFE. IS. GOOD.  But it doesn’t end there.  What happens with the trash you just accumulated?  You know, the empty can of soda or candy bar wrapper.

Here are possibilities and let us imagine the magic is in a ice chest so that small animals do not get into the food:  I have put these in order of worst Leave No Trace practices to best.

1. Hitch into town and “piggy back” off the existing trail magic by putting your own treats there for other hikers to enjoy.
2. Leave the wrapper generated by consuming trail magic in the ice chest along with the past few day’s worth of trash, wrappers, and old fuel cannisters there as well.
3. Leave the wrapper generated by consuming trail magic in the ice chest.
4. Consume your caloric prize as you walk away with its associated trash.
5. Eat your treat and walk away with the trash generated by you and a little more trash from the cache.

6. Walk away with the whole cooler and deposit all the magic into a hiker box in town so that animals don’t get into it.

Trail Magic Gone Wrong

Trail Magic Gone Wrong (PCTA.org)

The first scenario is terrible, as cases like this can easily get out of control and just turn into something that resembles a garbage heap.  The second can result in an overflowing ice chest with garbage winding up far from the source.  The third, I believe, is the most common practice.  The fourth through sixth are what I would like people to consider standard practice to reduce impact.  These behaviors will also eventually lead to a cleaner trail!  Obviously walking away with the whole cooler is a bit extreme, but in some circumstances, I have been motivated to given the snowball effect of some trail magic.

While thru-hiking, you look to other hikers to see what is socially acceptable.  Just because something is common practice does not mean it is the right thing to do.  Not much thought goes into these small choices because hikers are tired, hungry, dirty, smelly, and trying to make X more miles before the end of the day.  We are so grateful to get calories that we didn’t carry 20 or more miles.  Little thought is put into these fleeting but impactful decisions of what to do with the trash.

Just look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  In order to think critically of how to handle the situation, you need to be quite high on this theoretical pyramid, probably around the level of self-actualization.  All your other needs have to be met before you can think on that level.

A pyramid representing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

A pyramid representing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

You might think, “But disposing of that trash is not my responsibility!  The trail angel who left the trail magic should come back and pick it up!”

This is not necessarily what happens.  You cannot be sure that someone will take the remains of trail magic.  Sometimes people are only by the trail for the weekend and really want to help thru-hikers, and so they leave something without the intention of taking the trash away later on.  Trail angels might see “drive-by trail magic” as helping hikers, when in fact they are also creating a situation where trash is left in the woods.  This is especially true if thru-hikers do not take responsibility for the trash that they have willingly generated by eating the food.

I hope this article will help hikers think about how to handle different situations with regards to trail magic. Just remember, you are directly involved in how the wilderness is perceived by everyone who visits after you. It is your responsibility to make sure someone visiting nature for the first time sees the world for its beauty and not as a garbage can.  On many city streets, people are paid to pick up trash.  In the wilderness, we are all responsible.

Wherever you are on the Leave No Trace spectrum, please help inform other hikers who might be too hungry or tired to make the best decision.

How do you handle encounters with trail magic?  What have you done when you encounter a large amount of trash possibly from old trail magic?  Please share your ideas so that we can all discuss how to practically tackle this problem.

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