10 Not So Fun Things About Hiking the PCT
The Pacific Crest Trail is majestically beautiful. It roams through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. I get to live in this scenery everyday. It’s a dream. Right? Well not always. There is a lot more that goes into thru hiking than it may seem. Social media (my blog included) does a really good job at showing the positive, idealistic parts of thru hiking. Let me just tell you, it’s hard work. Just like you don’t always want to get out of bed and drive to work in the morning, I don’t always want to climb out of my tent and hike 20+ miles that day. Just like you, I find the energy somewhere deep down inside of me to roll out of my sleeping bag, pack up camp, and begin hiking/hobbling up the trail. Here is a list of 10 not so fun things about thru hiking that you may not see displayed on Instagram or blog posts.
1. Extreme Temperatures
Weather on the PCT can range from extreme heat to extreme cold, even on the same day. The desert can get upwards of 100 degrees during the day and below freezing at night. Don’t let the snow fool ya in the Sierra, it can get pretty dang hot there too. We also had a couple of freezing cold mornings of packing up camp with numb fingertips. Now I’m in northern California and it’s nothing but sweat droplets down my face all day. My shirt is now taking on a different color, stained from my drenching sweat. Salt from my sweat outlines the stains on my clothing. Just trust me, it’s hot and I sweat. A lot.
2. Dirty and Smelly
This brings me to my second point. We are dirty. Very dirty. And smelly. Very smelly. At the end of the day I look down at my legs and wonder, how the heck did I manage to get that dirty?? You would think I roll around in the dirt all day. I try to take a baby wipe bath at night before bed but that barely scrubs the surface. All of this dirt and all of this sweat is smelly. I go a week at a time without showering. Good thing we all smell bad so we can’t smell each other right? We always joke that you can tell when a section hiker is coming because you can smell the Tide pods or the Downy soft from a mile a way.
3. Aches and Pains
Hiking 20+ miles a day with a backpack on is naturally going to lead to aches and pains, but let’s go into detail. I thankfully have not had any blisters but most of my friends and most hikers have struggled with this or continue to struggle. I do, however, have a dead toenail. I know, gross. Just waiting for it to fall off. I also recently acquired poison oak on my feet? Not sure how that happened since I wear tennis shoes all day but hey, just add it to the list. I also suffered a sprained ankle earlier on the trail. It sucked. After some time off trail, it healed quickly. However, the pain has recently started again… it’s not fun walking on a painful foot. I’m getting new shoes in the next town and hoping that this will relieve the pain. Let’s see, what else. Oh yea, my backpack has rubbed the skin on my hips and low back raw. It’s real cute.
Everything out here is a chore. Get to camp, set up tent, change into sleep clothes, blow up air mattress, organize belongings, cook dinner, eat dinner, clean pot, brush teeth, pee, stumble into sleeping bag, sleep. The next morning: wake up, eat breakfast, change into hiking clothes, deflate air mattress, pack food for day, stuff belongings into back pack, climb out of tent, take down tent, poop, hike. I hate blowing up my air mattress. I’ve done it so many times I know exactly how many breaths it takes to inflate. Even donning toe liner socks is a chore, it’s at least a five minute process. The chore I hate the most, however, is filtering water. I drink a lot of water so therefore, I filter a lot of water. I just sit there and squeeze a water bladder through the filter into my bottle. It’s really not that bad but it definitely makes you appreciate being able to get clean water straight from your kitchen sink.
5. Long Water Carries
This leads me to my next point: long water carries. In the desert there were a couple of 20 mile dry, blazing hot stretches, forcing us to carry 5-6 liters of water at a time. Just to put into perspective, one liter of water weighs about 2.2lbs. That’s adding about 13lbs to your backpack that is already weighed down with your belongings. We’ve recently been spoiled with endless water sources through the Sierra, but now we’re in Northern California and the water sources are getting farther apart and more scarce, especially during this unusually hot, dry year.
There is an abundance of wildlife out here. Thankfully, I have not had too many bad encounters with animals out on trail but there are stories. My friend had a squirrel chew through her pack while we were enjoying a nice swim in Deep Creek Hot Springs. Some sort of animal, most likely a marmot, nibbled at my trekking pole handle and ate the entire strap. Supposedly a couple of hikers left their packs on trail and stepped off path to get water and came back only to find that a bear had stolen both their packs. I’ve heard stories of mice chewing through tents in the middle of the night. Last but not least, my friend saw a mountain lion a few nights ago while we were night hiking and we’re less than a mile from camp. Nothing happened but the event definitely shook her up and helped us remember that we need to be vigilant and prepared.
Mosquitoes are such a nuisance that they deserve their own category. So many mosquitoes. I never thought that so many could exist. River crossings are already hard to navigate but try balancing on a slippery rock with a thousand mosquitoes swarming your face so closely it’s almost blinding. You can’t stop moving or they will eat you alive. That’s one good way to hike faster. Inevitably you do have to stop eventually. You then quickly slip on long pants, long sleeves, head net, and maybe even gloves if they’re that bad. Can’t expose a single inch of skin. They will find it. You quickly set up camp and open the tent door for 5 seconds to throw your stuff and yourself inside. Hundreds of them still manage to get inside during those 5 seconds. You then spend the next half hour swatting and killing them. We take bets on how many mosquito corpses are in our tents. This is real life.
8. #2 dilemmas
We all know about the leave no trace principles. The third principle states to dispose of waste properly. That includes bodily waste. This means you need to dig a hole to poop in and then fill it back up. However, what do you do when you’re on granite, rocky terrain and can’t dig a hole? What do you do when you’re on an exposed ridge line with hikers all around you? What do you do when nature suddenly strikes and you simply don’t have enough time to find your poop shovel in your pack and dig a hole. Asking for a friend. These are the things that social media doesn’t shed light on.
Hitching can be fun and exciting but it can also be exhausting and scary. After a long stretch of living in the woods, I’m hungry and smelly. All I want is real food and a shower. The only thing keeping me from those things? A ride from the trailhead to town. Sometimes it takes just a few minutes to get a ride, sometimes it takes an hour. Nothing more humbling than standing out in the hot sun on the side of a road trying to look as nice and clean as possible when in reality you look like a hobo. Thankfully I have never had a bad experience with a hitch, but I know that people can be sketchy and it’s important to be careful. I’ve always hitched with other hikers and we use our best judgement on whether or not to take the ride.
10. Emotional Barriers
Not only is thru hiking physically difficult, but it is also emotionally difficult. Some days are really fun and have beautiful views. Some days are challenging and exhausting. Some days are boring and mundane. There are definitely days when I wish I could be watching TV with my best friends eating a pint of icecream. I miss my friends and family. I miss my bed. I miss Taco Mama. I miss having access to water at any given moment. While we are out here, life continues to pass by back home that we are missing. We’re missing friends weddings, nieces and nephews being born, family vacations, etc. Some of us are struggling with recent breakups, deaths in the family, career decisions, etc. Some days are harder than others, but this is why having a trail family is so important to me. We support each other. We cheer each other up when the going gets tough. We can depend on each other. It’s important to have your own reasons of why you’re doing a thru hike but sometimes it’s easier to have a little help from your friends.
In conclusion, I love hiking the PCT. There are fun things and there are not so fun things. Overall, it is most definitely worth it. Through the blood, sweat, and tears we are getting stronger each day. I’m learning more about myself than ever before. Each challenge is a barrier that we are pushing through and coming out alive on the other side. I believe the saying is when the world gets tough, the tough get going. And we’re going to Canada
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