[pct-l] PCT Advice

Barry Teschlog tokencivilian at yahoo.com
Wed May 30 11:31:08 CDT 2018

Friend of a co-worker is going on a thru next year and is asking for advice.  Here's what I'm passing along, based on my experience and observation.
 -         You need to bein good enough shape to do 15 miles / day right from day 1.  Water is scarce and you must be able to hikefrom one source to the next in a reasonable amount of time, else you get soloaded down with water, it slows you even more. Spend the winter / early spring walking with your pack, uphill, bothways  – there is no substitute for thiskind of training.  If you live in a flat area, weight your training pack to be heavier than your trail pack to compensate.  Do stairs for some vertical training.

-         Minimalpractical pack weight is a key.  Notethat is NOT absolute minimum pack weight, but minimal for YOU, and what YOUneed.  There were people with 8 poundpacks, I was at about 16, others were in the low 20’s – all made it toCanada.  The 8 pound guy I knew sleptwarm, didn’t need a ground pad, was ok with bugs, etc.  His kit would have been wrong for me – my 16pounds was the minimum I could get to and meet my other needs (durability,sufficient clothing, etc).
-         Pack weight &hiking speed are positive feedback.  Thatis, a heavy pack, begets and even heavier pack since it slows you down,requiring even more water, food and fuel, which slows you down even more.  Hiking slowly does the same for the same reasons (more water, food, etc).  Heavy bulky tents and sleeping bags take upspace and require a heavier built pack, that weighs more, than a smaller pack(which you could use if your tent, etc was smaller and lighter.)  A lighter pack enables you to move morequickly for the same level of effort, getting from one water source to the nextmore quickly, allowing you to carry less water, which is lighter, and to get tothe next town more quickly, enabling less food, etc.  The cheapest way to save weight in the pack is to not bring an unnecessary item.  Quality down gear is worth the price for the lighter weight, better warmth and smaller volume in the pack  - get a high quality sleeping bag, take care of it, and it'll last you for decades of solid service (which in the end is less expensive than buying and replacing cheap bags).
 - Big miles come from time out of camp, not from walking quickly.  Get up early and get going.  Hike until dinner time, or even later, with dinner being a rest break.

-         Be familiarwith your gear.  Everything you take toCampo, should be well used THIS summer.  Field test everything.  Don’t be that person (I saw them) trying to figure out a new shelter orpiece of gear that first night on the trail. Don’t start with a brand new pack – I watched a guy struggle with a newto him pack that simply didn’t fit.  

-         Do NOT rush upto Kennedy Meadows if you get an early start (e.g. any time in March or even inearly April).  Take zero’s, go slow, doside trips, volunteer a week or two at a Trail Angels place,  etc to adjust your Kennedy Meadows date to beappropriate to the combination of snow conditions and your skill set.  Except for the most experienced, in general,I’d say never before June 1.  But…..don’tbe intimidated by snow either.  A sensible, wellequipped and well trained hiker can get through the Sierra in high snowconditions.  I left KM on June 14 of ahigh snow year and made it through just fine – but I had the skills and gear todo it, plus the motivation to handle the very challenging conditions.  Ignore the panic that others instill in regards to snow.  Impassable to them might be challenging but doable for you.  Conditions change quickly during the melt, so that just a few days can make a huge difference - reports from 3 days ago are out of date, go and put your own eyeballs on the situation and judge for yourself.  That said, check your ego and be ready to turn back if a dispassionate analysis of the conditions shows they are above your skill or comfort level.  Do not get "go fever" - that's what blew up the Challenger and killed the 7 crew.

-         Start slow andtake lots of zero’s early on.  I zeroed 2days for the kick off at mile 43, and zeroed in Warner Springs, Idyllwild (oneeach from Pines to Palms and again from Devi’s Slide), Big Bear, Wrightwood,Agua Dulce (double) and Mojave.  WalkerPass / Lake Isabella was the first town stop without a zero.  This allowed my body to adjust to the rigorsof the trail and I avoided the all too common early overuse injuries of peoplewho went too fast, too soon.
-         There is nosubstitute for solid land navigation skills with map and compass.  Apps like Guthook and Halfmile are great,right up until your phone dies (smashed in a fall, dunked in a creek crossing,battery dies, etc, etc, etc).  Paper mapin a ziplock bag and compass are far more robust.  If you don’t know how to map and compass nav,learn.  Orienteering is an excellent wayto do this.  Electronic nav also dumbsdown hikers – witnessed is the person staring at their phone / GPS trying tofind the trail under the snow, when if they’d simply have looked, they’d seenit 15 feet over there.  Keep the head up,looking out of the cockpit, so to speak, instead of staring at theinstruments.  If you do this and payattention, you’ll develop a 6th sense of “where would they have putthe trail” having been an observer of where they did put the trail the previousseveral hundred miles.  Head up andactively navigating = situational awareness. Relying exclusively on an app = lost if it breaks.
-         This hike is80% mental, 15% physical and 5% logistical. Keep your head in the game if Canada is your goal.  Along those lines, don’t even think of Canadauntil you get to Washington.  My way ofmentally not getting overwhelmed was to set short and mid-term goals so thateach day made noticeable progress toward those goals.  Short term was always the same – get to thenext town stop (typically 3-6 days away) and all the goodness that entailed – foodon a plate, a bed, shower and clean clothes. Mid-term goals were, in order: Get to Agua Dulce (about 1 month or so, the transition period to thetrail), get to Kennedy Meadows (done with the desert and gateway to the highSierra).  Get to South Lake Tahoe(through the high Sierra).  Get to halfway (Chester).  Get the heck out ofCalifornia.  Orgeon is a mid-term goalunto itself.  And finally at CascadeLocks, you are allowed to think of Canada.
-         Staying healthyis paramount.  Managing blisters andchafe early on is critical.  Propernutrition (vitamins, minerals, protein, caloric intake) is a must else yourbody will break down (lots of drops from the Sierra to half way from those thatnever get their nutrition right – they’ve been running on reserves, but by thatpoint in a hike, reserves are exhausted). 2nd breakfast and 2nd lunch help you to eat enough.  Sanitation and hygiene is critical to avoid giardia and othertransmissible disease.  Don’t be cheap onshoes – replace them regularly (e.g. every 450 miles or so) to help avoid stress fractures in the feet.  Expect to burn through 5-6 pair.
-         “Plans areuseless, but planning is indispensable” – Eisenhower.  This applies to the trail.  Have a plan, have a realistic time line, butdon’t be a slave to it.  Reality willdictate what you will do out on the trail. The planning will inform you of your options once you get there.  It will also inform you if you’re makingreasonable progress (note that SOME schedule pressure is a good thing, once youclear the Sierra – it’s motivating.  Don’tdilly-dally, else you’ll be caught by snow in Washington).  Be flexible and adaptable – if something isn’tworking, change.
-         Budget:  Have enough money for the hike.  I’d recommend a minimum of $5,000.  It stinks when the forecast is for 3 days ofsteady rain and you don’t have the funds to afford a couple extra nights in ahotel to wait it out.  Be frugal, but notcheap on the trail – share hotel rooms with other hikers, but pay the innkeeperthe extra person charges (it is still way less expensive sharing a room vs solo)  – don’t sneak people in to the rooms.  That would make for ill will for futurehikers.  If you don't have enough money, some combination of delaying the hike, getting a 2nd or 3rd job, sell your iCrap, quit spending so much pre-hike will get you enough.  Don't forget to set aside money to get back on your feet once you get home post hike.  2 months expenses is advisable.

-         You will neverbe so dirty as you will be hiking the desert, or other dry areas of the traillike Nor Cal.   See above in re hygiene –do your best to manage this.
 - Spot / inReach and similar devices are for actual, immediately life threatening emergencies only.  Your first response should be to suck it up and self rescue, not push the help button.  Half rations are an option if you're behind schedule on a section.  Don't be a fool and go out into a fall Washington storm thinking SAR can save your butt if you push the help button.  Choppers don't fly in snow and you could be a frozen corpse by the time it clears enough for them to get to you.

-         Beindependent.  Don’t rely on others fornavigation, gear, etc.  That doesn’t meanyou can’t occasionally ask others for things, but don’t be that person that isconstantly asking to borrow others water treatment, or hike with other peoplesince you can’t navigate.  

-         Go your ownpace.  Never, never, never try and keepup with someone that is faster than you – that is the road to injury.
-         Listen to yourbody – if you need a break, take it.  Ifyou need a zero, take it.  It’s fasterthan having to take time off for an injury.
-         Life is neverso simple as on a thru hike.  Wake upwith the dawn, hike north, go to sleep with the darkness.  Wash, rinse, repeat.
-         The second halfof the trail in distance will take considerably less time than the first half.  There are a few reasons for this – you’realready in trail shape so you’re going full speed vs the initial weeks ofcoming up to speed.  You don’t have thehigh Sierra to slow you down.  Oregon isvery fast.  I took a slightly longer thanaverage of 161 days to get from Campo to Canada.  I didn’t get to Chester until day 93.  It was only 68 more days from there to Canada.  On day 81, I was a couple of days out ofSouth Lake Tahoe.
-         “Embrace thebrutality”.  Coined for the CDT, but thespirit is applicable to the PCT.  FromP-Mags - “Now, there seems to be some confusion over the meaning of thisstatement.  It is not for braggingrights, or to say how difficult the CDT may be or to make the trail out to bemiserable.  It is what a sarcastic, bluntEast Coast guy says to another sarcastic, blunt East Coast guy.  Namely: Suck it up. Quit your whining. Takethe trail experience for what it is. Enjoy it all.”
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