Mortality on the Pacific Crest Trail

The trail register at the California / Oregon border on the Pacific Crest Trail.

I looked through the trail register at the California/Oregon border on the Pacific Crest Trail. I found a place where hikers listed all of the ways they have died on the Pacific Crest Trail. It was started by Mike [from Canada] and the first eight entries are in his handwriting. However, other hikers saw it and decided to add the ways they ‘died’ on the Pacific Crest Trail, which is why every additional entry is written with different handwriting. Here is my transcription:

7/27/16 Mike [From Canada], You guys, we’ve been through so much together, and I can’t thank you enough for supporting me through all the times I’ve died on the trail. Here’s to all the fearmongers who have pushed me this far!

1. Carried 20 L out of Campo. Died from water overdose
2. Froze Solid at Mt. Laguna
3. Lost in snow on San Jacinto
4. Run over by Ziggy & bear shuttle
5. Slipped off Baden Powell
6. Sunk in quicksand @ walker pass
7. Spent too much money @ kennedy
8. Slipped down ice chute @ forester pass
9. SMOKED POODLE-DOG BUSH, DIED
10. Drunk Piss, lived then tried to seduce a bear – Dead
11. Left Seiad w/ 0 liters of water – Heat Stroke
12. Spent 2 nights in Hikertown – died of exposure
13. Fed chipmunk; was eaten in the night by chipmunks
14. Went to drop a deuce in KM; drowned in PortaJohn
15. Stayed in Etna for two nights – died of boredom
16. Tried to walk under Mount Shasta
17. Kidnapped by “that guy” in Sierra City
18. Too much EVERYTHING @ Casa de Luna
19. Lost too much weight – dead.
20. Shot by a hunter
21. GOT LOST FOR 2dAYS in The SieRRA’s.
22. Narrowly escaped the Lemurians
23. spent too long @border, died of starvation
24. GOT ATTACKED by MARMOTS! Don’t trust them. R& H.
25. Fell down a switchback looking for copper ore
26. Got a blister or two… or a hundred
27. Ate 5 lbs of pancakes @ Seiad… exploded
28. Fall in love
29. Twisted ankle taking photo, hit a rock, fell off cliff
30. Went for water @ lost Creek – fell, died
31. Fell down ice chute @ Sonora Pass
32. ^ so did I!!
33. Breathed in too many of husband’s farts
34. Farted too much (or not enough)
35. Died in the fire before Kennedy Meadows
36. Spent too much time reading the Facebook page -> Heartattack
37. BEARS
38. Asschafe
39. Almost dyha dihadrated before Casa de Luna
40. Lightling storm at Mt. Whitney

I think most people, when they first contemplate hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, ponder on the potential of dying on the trail (rattlesnakes! dehydration! mountain lions! falling off cliffs! etc.). I know I did when I first contemplated it, and a lot people who I talk to about it are also concerned about the potential of death. I think the hikers who put together the list above were responding both to all of the ‘fearmongers’ who expressed their concern about dangers on the trail as well as responding to their own fears. I also appreciate this post by Mac at Halfway Anywhere.

***

Several hikers (they just look like specks in this photo) cross what is reportedly the most dangerous stream crossing on the PCT in Washington. It was not that bad when I was there – I even managed to cross with dry feet – but I can see how this crossing would be a lot more risky in early summer or after a few days of heavy rain.

I know that I am going to die. That knowledge motivates me to do things like hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The knowledge that the trail itself is impermanent (climate change, maintenance failures, erosion, fire closures, etc.) increases the urgency of hiking it while I am still alive to hike it and it is still there.

I can die at home too. Thus, staying at home is not a good strategy for avoiding death.

One of the top causes of death on the Pacific Crest Trail is … being hit by a motor vehicle while crossing a road. Most people do not expect that to be the top causes of death, especially because one rarely has to cross a road with much traffic on the Pacific Crest Trail. However, motor vehicles are so dangerous that even occasional crossings of roads with traffic greatly increase the danger of death on the PCT. However, I think that most people underestimate the risk of being hit by a motor vehicle on the PCT because it is a risk that most people in the United States live with every day. We have been trained to tune it out so that we are not in a constant state of panic as we cross streets.

***

The Dinsmores’ Hiker Haven, Baring, Washington.

I spent two nights at the Dinsmores. The Dinsmores are some of the most famous trail angels on the Pacific Crest Trail – you can learn more about them by reading this recent blog post.

This might be the last year that Andrea Dinsmore hosts hikers (and bikers – they host bikers too). I only saw her a couple times when I was at the Dinsmores, and only for short periods of time, but I felt privileged that I was able to meet such a legend of the PCT. This might be her last year – and she has spent less time with hikers than usual this year – because she has pancreatic cancer.

When I was on the train returning home, I met a couple of hikers who had stayed at the Dinsmores last year. They were shocked when I told them about Andrea’s condition. There was one point when I was sitting at the Dinsmores and I was shedding tears for Andrea.

I know some hikers say that they avoided the Dinsmores because they knew Andrea was sick and they did not want to be a burden. However, one of Andrea’s friends told me that they still wanted hikers to come. The hiking season is Andrea’s favorite time of year, and they do not want to be socially isolated at this time in their lives – they want to continue to participate in the Pacific Crest Trail community.

***

Blooming manzanita bush on Mount Laguna. This is where I met  Chaocui Wang.

This was an especially dangerous summer in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Many thru-hikers skipped the Sierra Nevada for that reason, or did a flip so they hiked in the Sierra Nevada at a safer time. At the Dinsmores’ Hiker Haven, a hiker who hiked through the Sierras told me that, though she did get through the Sierra Nevada unharmed, if she had understood how dangerous it was, she would have skipped it too.

I heard a few hikers went through the Sierra Nevada very early (by ‘very early’ I mean ‘May’). Even though they had to deal with lower temperatures and more snow/ice, I heard it was safer to go very early than to go in June/July, which in most years is when most northbound thru-hikers go through the Sierra Nevada. That is because, if a hiker entered the Sierra Nevada early enough, they could cross the streams on ice bridges. Stream crossings are the most dangerous part of hiking in the Sierra Nevada in early summer.

There is the story of Marcus Mazzaferri, who lost his pack during a dangerous stream crossing, lost all of his gear (including sleeping bag, shelter, and anything he could have used to start a fire), his food, and his glasses (he is near-sighted), and was all alone in the Sierra Nevada while it was still mostly covered with snow, with no way to contact another human being. He was lucky to survive. You can read his story here.

Two thru-hikers drowned in the Sierra Nevada this year – Rika Morita and Chaocui Wang. I first heard about their deaths while I was hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail from other hikers.

I talked to a hiker who had hiked with Chaocui Wang for a while in the Sierra Nevada, though he had split from her before her death. He said that she had told him that she had lied to her family in China – she told them that she had come to the USA for a job, not to hike the PCT. He hoped that she had told her family the truth before she died.

I never met Rika Morita. However, I did meet one Chinese hiker as I was approaching Mount Laguna during my section hike on the San Diego PCT this year. I recall that we were surrounded by manzanita bushes in full bloom, and I think we talked about how many bees were buzzing around us. She was Chaocui Wang.

She died around the time I was crossing the California/Oregon border on the Pacific Crest Trail, where I saw the trail register with the list I transcribed in the opening of this post.

I have a weird feeling when I think back on my encounter with her, now that I know it was about three months before her death and that she was not going to finish her thru-hike or return home. I know that hikers who hiked with her and got to know her rather than just crossed paths with her as I (probably) did must have stronger feelings. The trail community misses and will remember her.

3 thoughts on “Mortality on the Pacific Crest Trail

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