It probably surprises nobody who has been reading this blog in the past year that I am planning to go do another long trip on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
This spring, I plan to walk approximately 550 miles from Walker Pass to Warner Springs/Barrel Spring (I am undecided on whether I will end in Warner Springs or Barrel Spring, but they are only about 10 miles apart from each other, but I definitely intend to end my hike in a place called ‘Spring(s)’ this spring). Walker Pass is technically in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and is the southernmost road crossing of the Sierra, and is in Kern County. Barrel Spring is where I started my hike last spring, and is in San Diego county.
Last year was an exceptionally wet year in Southern California. When I was in Campo, one of the locals commented that they had never seen Campo Creek still flowing at the end of April before (it was flowing quite well, in fact). There was also a snowstorm in early May last year. By contrast, this looks like it’s going to be a drought year, though even in drought years it can snow in May (i.e. it is very possible that I will encounter a snowstorm).
Some things will make this hike different from both my hike last year in San Diego and my 500+ mile hike through Washington:
– Off-peak season – so far, I have only hiked the PCT during peak hiking season. However, because I am going southbound, and I am starting at the gateway to the Sierra, for the first couple weeks I will be hiking during the off-season. For example, I estimate it will take me about 6 days to walk from Walker Pass to Tehachapi Pass (my first resupply point). This is a section of the PCT which is unpopular with anyone who is not trying to hike at least a large portion of the PCT, and I will be there before the thru-hikers are there. Since somebody has been updating the PCT Water Report this year, there are a few people out there, but I might not see them. Maybe I will run into the very few people who hike this trail before the thru-hiker tsunami, or maybe I will not see a single person other than myself for five days. If I run into other people, that would be awesome (assuming they do not have harmful intentions). If I go five days without seeing another human – that will be tough for me psychologically.
Though I am most concerned about the psychological impact of not seeing any people, there is also the practical aspect that I will be cut off from the hiker grapevine. The hiker grapevine is an amazing (albeit unreliable) source of useful information, but without other hikers, there is no grapevine. On the other hand, once I get far enough south to meet the northbound thru-hikers, I will receive an abundance of information, just as I did last year.
Then again, I underestimated how many hikers I was going to run into in Washington, so I may be underestimating again. If so, great.
– Water – did I mention that this is looking like a drought year? Also, Walker Pass to Tehachapi Pass is the driest section on the entire PCT. It contains the infamous 40+ mile stretch between reliable water sources (and that is no doubt one reason this section is so unpopular). I’m hoping there will be some unreliable water sources (though, of course, I’m not going to rely on them), and that the temperatures will be lower (because I am starting in Walker Pass, and thus getting there earlier), but even with some unreliable water sources and milder temperatures, it’s going to be rough. So far, the longest waterless stretch I’ve hiked on the PCT was 14 (downhill) miles.
(grumbling: I keep reading things like ‘ZOMG, hikers in the 70s and 80s managed to hike the PCT without water caches/water reports/blah blah blah, and they did just fine, hikers today are so spoiled.’ Yes, but in the 70s and 80s, the trail was not complete, and the ~temporary~ PCT between Tehachapi Pass and Walker Pass went through an area which had more water sources than what became the permanent PCT. The trail planners must have had a compelling reason to route the permanent PCT through such a dry area, though I don’t know what that reason is).
– Snow. One of the things which is harder about hiking the Southern California PCT (compared to the Sierra PCT, the Oregon PCT, or the Washington PCT) is that one day you could be hiking on a hot day through a waterless stretch in the desert, and the next day you could be freezing your ass off as you exhaust yourself slowly making way through some @$#@$^# snow (the Northern California PCT can also be challenging like this). Even a section hiker myself has trouble timing my trip because of this problem (given that I don’t want to do short sections). By choosing the time I did, I was making a bet that this would be a low snow year, and it looks like I’m winning my bet.
That said, there are a few areas where I am worried that I may run into snow on trail. I have chosen to take microspikes (which I have never used before, but whatever) but I am not going to take GPS. If I can’t figure it out with a map and compass, I’ll turn around. There are some infamous problem areas (I’m looking at you, Mt. Baden-Powell and Fuller Ridge) where I will take alternate routes if the snow is impeding my travel.
When I am out there (which is not quite yet), this blog will continue to update with scheduled posts I wrote in advance, but I will be very slow to respond to comments.
I’m not sure what will happen during this hike, but I doubt it will be boring. Okay, maybe I will be a little bored after seeing endless chaparral, but I will probably be too exhausted to be bored by anything.