Thursday, January 19, 2017

PCT Section A Itinerary

Here's my PCT Section A plan for March 2017. This is right at the beginning of the season when thru-hikers start their hikes, so I'll get to meet them as they go past (and any thru-hiker who is in any shape at all to actually hike from Mexico to Canada will be passing me). I won't be in good shape when I start this hike, and I'm sure that some of the early days on the trail are going to hurt.

  • Day 0: Border to Mile 4.3 (4.3 miles)
    • The first 20.6 miles of the PCT have almost no water. There's a stream at mile 4.3 that dries up early in the season. If it's flowing in early March, I think it would be great to start the hike in the afternoon and just do a short first day to the stream and camp there.
  • Day 1: Mile 4.3 to Hauser Creek (11.7 miles)
    • Hauser Creek is at mile 16. It dries up in early spring but I'm told if it's dry you can hang a left (east) and hike along the bottom of the canyon to find water about a mile and a half away.
  • Day 2: Hauser Creek to Boulder Oaks (10.4 miles)
    • Just 4.6 miles after Hauser Creek is Lake Morena. It's a nice campground with water and a store nearby. Another 4 miles takes you to S1, Sunrise Highway. There might be water there in the early spring, but if not, cross under the highway and walk a few more flat miles along Cottonwood Creek to Boulder Oaks campground. Last year in late May there was still a muddy puddle of water left but nothing more. But Boulder Oaks at mile 26.5 has running water.
  • Day 3: Boulder Oaks to Long Canyon (9.6 miles)
    • From Boulder Oaks, which is near the 8 freeway, you begin the climb up Mt Laguna. I've only done the first 2.1 miles to Kitchen Creek, which are not steep. There's water in several places, Kitchen Creek Falls, Kitchen Creek Rd, and the Cibbet Flats campground near Fred Canyon Rd. But if Long Canyon creek is flowing at mile 38.1, I'd like to make it to there for the day.
  • Day 4: Long Canyon to Penny Pines (10.8 mi)
    • Resupply at Mt Laguna, then hike to Penny Pines at mile 48.9.
  • Day 5: Penny Pines to Rodriguez Spur Truck Trail (8.9 miles plus another mile off trail to water)
    • This section is pretty low on water. There's a cache at Pioneer Mall at mile 52.7 and then a few other options for water that are pretty far off trail. At this point, the trail is descending from Mt Laguna into the desert.
  • Day 6: Rodriguez Spur Truck Trail to Scissors Crossing or San Felipe creek (8.8 miles or 9.2 miles)
    • Scissors Crossing, at mile 76.4, is where you can hitch a ride to Julian. I think I'd prefer to do that if possible, and I'll have to do that if San Felipe creek is dry. Julian's a fun town in the mountains known for its pie. The other option if San Felipe creek has water is to camp there.
  • Day 7:Nearo in Julian (~4 miles)
    • I plan to spend most of the day in Julian and then get a bit of hiking done in the evening when it's cool to put me closer to the Third Gate water cache. There's 14 miles between Scissors Crossing and the Third Gate and little to no water in between. That would be a long day for me, especially in the desert heat. I'd prefer to break it up - and add pie.
  • Day 8: Hike to the Third Gate (10 miles)
    • The Third Gate is a very reliable water cache at mile 91.
  • Day 9: Third Gate to Barrel Spring (10.2 miles)
    • This bit finally takes you out of the desert toward Warner Springs. near Barrel Spring in March before. It's definitely not desert.

  • Day 10: Barrel Spring to Warner Springs (8.2 miles)
    • This last part of section A is flat, easy, and lovely. I've hiked there in March before. There are green meadows and you might seem some cows (which are a good reason to filter your water). At the end, you'll reach the wonderful Warner Springs community center that is very good to PCT hikers. It's a 1.2 miles hitch or hike into town from the fire station at the end of Section A.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

PCT Resources

If you're going to hike any part of the PCT (or all of it) there are a number of resources that are your friends. Here they are:

  1. Permits: You need three permits to hike the whole trail.
    • A hiking permit if you are hiking 500 or more miles on the trail (you'll need to get permits for only the area(s) you are hiking in if you are hiking less than 500 miles on the trail).
    • A California fire permit to use any fire in California, even just your cookstove.
    • A Candian entry permit if you are going all the way to the trail's Northern Terminus in Manning Park.
  2. Halfmile's maps: All of the maps you need for the entire trail, printable on normal sized paper. These are nice topos with campsites and water and other waypoints marked. They include pretty much any information you need like addresses for resupply locations all in one spot. And they are free. Get them here.
  3. More goodies from Halfmile are below.
  4. Postholer's data: Another major source of data and maps is Postholer.
  5. This site is a crowdsourced effort to provide up to date water information, particularly for parts of the trail that are very dry. Find it here.
  6. A guide to trail towns: There are several trail town guides available, including some books for purchase, but this one is available online for free.
  7. Craig's PCT Planner: This allows you to put in when and where you're starting, where you are going to resupply, how fast you hike, and how far you are going, and it tells you when you'll arrive at each location. It's a handy way to figure out how much food to put in each resupply and when to send them to each location. Find it here
  8. Weather Reports: There are two available. The first might have better information but the second offers weather for more locations.
  9. The PCTA: The Pacific Crest Trail Association provides permits to anyone hiking over 500 miles. They also do a lot of great work on the trail, and provide info about the trail. Find them here.
  10. Facebook PCT Groups: Each class of PCT hikers has its own group. Search for PCT Class of 20xx and you'll find the year you're looking for. This is an amazing resource where you can connect with thru-hikers, section hikers, former hikers, and trail angels. You can ask them anything, and find answers you didn't know you needed to questions you didn't think to ask.
  11. A list of trail angels: There are lots of wonderful people dedicated to helping you along the way and you can find a list of them here. You can also find some trail angels through the PCT Facebook group
  12. Highway Intersections: This map shows where highways intersect the PCT. It is helpful if you are looking for where to start or end a hike, or where to get off the trail.
  13. Books:
    • Yogi's PCT Handbook is the book I've seen recommended by PCT hikers.
    • The Wilderness Press guides are the books I have (SoCal, NorCal, and WA/OR. I mainly use them for the data, which I typed into a spreadsheet. Now I just refer to the spreadsheet instead of the books. If that's all you want, you can just get their data book.
    • If you are new to backpacking, I recommend Wilderness Basics. It's written by the San Diego Sierra Club and it's the book I used to learn how to hike and backpack. The perk to using this book is that the authors base their knowledge on the places San Diegans hike most: the chaparral, mountains, and desert of SoCal and the Sierras. In other words, the exact terrain you are hiking for the first 1000 or so miles of your hike.
  14. LighterPack: Less important but still useful is the site LighterPack, which allows you to post a gear list and then try different scenarios to see how you can lighten your pack. You can also share your gear list and ask others to make recommendations.
  15. Apps: There are a number of apps people use for the PCT. I've got Guthook although my phone (T-Mobile) gets no reception on most of the trail so it doesn't do me a ton of good. It works well as a map but the GPS feature doesn't work at all. The nice thing is that Guthook has water reports, and since so many other hikers use it, it may be a better source of updated info than At the very least, you'll get the most complete info if you check both of them.

PCT Section A Here I Come!

As winter drags on in Wisconsin, I find myself increasingly fat and depressed. I've bought bigger pants but if I get even one size bigger I'll be in plus sizes. Plus, the largest women's sizes are made for tall, big women, not short, fat women. The proportions are all wrong. And I was feeling the depression just dragging me down, making me unable to do anything.

In the past, the answer for me to both of these problems was: hike! Well, where can I hike? I suppose around here I'd have to get snowshoes. OK, that can be done. I looked at the options. They bored me. I couldn't make myself get out of bed and drive to the trailhead only to walk around a boring 2 mile circle or whatever it was in the snow. And driving further or hiking further sounded even less appealing. In the end, I just walked the 4 miles to my favorite coffee shop. It wasn't a hike and it involved walking along a road with no sidewalk. I brought my bear spray along not for bears but for potential muggers and rapists. I did it twice. It was cold and it sucked.

I pulled out a map of the midwest and looked for anywhere good to hike at all. Northern Wisconsin? Maybe there would be wolves or moose or something. What about Minnesota's Boundary Waters? There are definitely wolves and moose and beavers there. I'd need snow shoes. I checked the weather report. It was -4 during the day.

What about the Great Smoky Mountains? An 11 hour drive. Doable in a day. Good weather. Trails without snow. Real mountains. Sign me up.

So I went. I hiked a few miles along the AT. It was cloudy and muddy and wet. I slipped and fell and hurt my knee. I had prepaid my hotel so I spent the rest of my time there just driving around the park and getting to know the area. It was pretty. It was a lot nicer than Wisconsin. The area just outside the park was a nightmare though. It was tourist hell. With my knee not better enough to hike on yet, I drove home a day early.

But the Smokies are a real option for me. I have class only two days a week this semester. I could drive down, spend three days there, drive back, and not even miss class.

The thing is, it was so muddy, I couldn't even imagine pitching my tent in all that mud. I know they have shelters on the AT to stay in but you have to reserve them. I like more flexibility than that when I backpack.

I considered all of my options for spring break. The Rockies and Sierras will be covered in snow. The AT just doesn't excite me. I even looked up the Inca Trail, hoping that the cost of the airfare could be outweighed by inexpensive hiking on the trail. (Turns out it isn't, because you can't really hike it without paying a guide or tour company.) In the end, the best option was to just go home. Go home to San Diego.

And in San Diego, the best option in March is to hike the PCT. Because if I do that I won't need a hotel or a car. A bus takes you to Campo to start, and, well, I'll figure out how to get from Warner Springs back to San Diego at the end somehow. And it will be wildflower season! And it's supposed to be a banner year for wildflowers in the Anza Borrego Desert!

So, I'm in. I'm doing it. I booked the flight.

I've got just two weeks in San Diego, so I pulled out my PCT spreadsheet to see how far I could get. I think I can do all of Section A but no more. I looked over the PCT water website (helpfully named I looked at when the real PCT thru-hikers are starting. A few are starting before March 15, but most are starting March 15 or later. I'll have company on the trail. They'll be going faster than me, but we'll end up camping in many of the same places. I don't mind hiking alone but I do prefer to camp with others.

I made that decision a few days ago and it's like electricity is running through my veins ever since. The creeping depression is gone. Just like that. Gone. I'm still fat, but at least one problem is solved. I've even been dreaming about hiking.

I have a hunch the surge of adrenaline running through me is not a good thing for my health. I would bet my therapist would tell me to calm the fuck down and let my body learn what it feels like to just be OK. Not excited in a good way (hiking!) or excited in a bad way (stress). Just calm and OK. And, yeah, I'd like to get there. Right now I'm honestly too excited to focus on my homework and that's a bit of a problem. But at least now I can get out of bed. At least now all of my actions have a goal, and that goal is 109 miles of beautiful, wonderful trail in my favorite place in the world.

I'll post my plans on here in the upcoming days. There's a certain amount that just can't be planned until it's clear where there is and isn't water along these 109 miles. There are some seasonal creeks that dry up some time in early spring, and there are faucets in campgrounds that are turned off in the winter. There doesn't seem to be a sweet spot where both seasonal creeks will be flowing and the campground faucets are all on. Thank goodness for the PCT Water website. As of now, I have a few contingency plans based on what is happening with the water in early to mid March when I hike through. But I'll share those with you in another post.