An Eventful First Day on the PCT

March 26, 2024

Waking up at CLEEF

I’m not a morning person. Papa Bear said he’d be flipping pancakes at 6 am and most people planned to get up around then. I secretly wanted to ask “what is the latest the pancakes will still be available?”.

After a fitful night of sleep with wind, rain, and nerves, I woke at 6 am to the sound of others unzipping their sleeping bags and tents. I could hear the soft rain on my tent and debated falling back asleep, but instead opted to join my classmates for breakfast. I got dressed and forced myself to leave the comfort of my sleeping bag.

Papa Bear flipping the promised pancakes bright and early at 6 am.


As promised, Papa Bear had the pancakes on the griddle. There was also a selection of coffee, tea, waffles, bagels, all the nut butters and syrups you could want, and fresh fruit. It was delightful.


Base weight

After a few cups of coffee, it was time to face the realities of packing up camp. We lamented the extra pound of water weight from the rain that was soaked into our tents as we rolled them up. We then packed our backpacks for the first time.

I had practiced packing my bag at home and felt pretty comfortable with where I wanted everything to go. My wet rain fly was strapped onto the top so that it could be laid out to dry later when the sun came out.

I carried my bag back to the picnic tables under the CLEEF shelter and then watched everyone else fiddle around with their packs. I watched some people pull out extra food or gear they didn’t need and package boxes to either send home or send ahead to themselves on trail. We had conversations about how many water bottles to bring and how full to fill those bottles. I watched some people learn to roll up their tent and pack their bag for the very first time.

Then began the weighing. Conveniently, CLEEF has a scale with a hook just for this purpose. Some bags tipped the scales all the way to the 40 pound mark while others were nearly half that. I found myself at 27 pounds, which I was pretty happy with.

The PCT emblem on a backpack hang tag.

In the midst of all this, officials with the PCTA showed up right at CLEEF to give out the famed hangtags. They gave a short talk on LNT, checked your permit, and then awarded you the PCT emblem to hang on your pack. The hangtag is in no way required to be hiking the PCT, but it is a status symbol to display to the world.


Setting off at the Southern Terminus

They really mean it when they say border of Mexico.

Finally, it was time for me to walk to the Southern Terminus and set off on this thing! The terminus marker is just yards away from the wall separating the U.S. and Mexico. There was some construction going on, a group of about 20 migrants who appeared to have recently crossed, and some border patrol in the area. All of this on top of the 50 or so hikers starting the PCT that day made for a busy spot.

The Southern Terminus pillars!

I took way too many photos, signed the log book, and cracked a beer to celebrate the start of my PCT journey!

1 mile down, only 2,649 more to go.

There was no more putting it off, it was finally time to start heading North. One foot in front of the other, the mile 1 marker came up quick, I took a selfie with it and continued on.


The Green Californian Desert

There has been so much rain in the last month or so that the “desert” is way greener than I expected. The plants are new and unfamiliar to me so I pulled my phone out to snap a picture every half a mile or so. The huge benefit to the rain is that the seasonal water sources are flowing strong, so there are no long water carries.

The weather was very pleasant and the miles came pretty easy. I leap frogged with a few people I had stayed the night with at CLEEF and met a couple new friends along the way. Everything went smoothly and exactly as I expected for the first 8 miles.

Terrain varied on day 1, but overall the desert was beautifully green.

I took a late lunch break with some guys who all started the PCT last year, and they’re back this year to hopefully do the whole thing in one continual path. We had a little bit of incline ahead of us so I watched as Bulldog, Gadget, Smooth, Scott, and Dave headed out before me.

The switchback to change the day

A few switchbacks later, I caught up to them all huddled in a group around a new man I had never seen before. We all came to learn that this was Rick, it was also his first day on the PCT, and he was stopped on the top of this ridge because he had just pulled a muscle in his lower back attempting to pick his pack up.

We took a look at his pack, and honestly, it was easy to see how he had thrown his back out trying to pick it up. The backpack itself was large and packed to the top. And every little strap or mesh or pocket had something tied or strapped to it on the outside as well.

A photo of Rick and his pack, which already had a couple items removed from it.

He was in so much pain that he was about ready to throw his gear over the ridge and give up his hike. We decided to call and arrange for a ride to get Rick evacuated off the PCT, and in the meantime, we would split his extra gear amongst ourselves to help get him out.

As we began disassembling Rick’s pack to split up the gear, one stuff sack was tied on so well that Smooth asked for a knife. We all went fumbling for our pocket knives before Rick said “oh here!” and pulled out a 6” dagger in a leather case. This confirmed our guess that Rick had never heard the word “ultralight” before.

Eventually, we lightened his load and added a few pounds each to our own and set out as a group. We were hopeful we would cross a dirt road in just a mile or two where a ride would be available to get Rick out. A while later, we learned that this wouldn’t be possible until mile 14.


The Split Up

Trudging along slowly as a group for a few miles, we made it to mile 11.4. This was a nice flat spot with room for numerous tents, many of which were already claimed. The 5 older guys I had met at lunch had decided to end their day 1 hike here. I suggested that Rick do the same, camp for the night and see how his back feels in the morning. But he was not comfortable enough to set up camp and stay the night, he simply wanted off trail.

Rick’s black duffel bag strapped to the top of my pack.

I wasn’t planning to stop at 11.4 that night anyway, and there was still a few hours of sun left, so I decided to hike Rick all the way out to his evacuation spot. The guys helped me pile a few more pounds in the form of Rick’s duffel bag onto the top of my pack, and then the 2 of us set out.


Just me and you

Rick is a very nice man. He hails from Eugene, so the two of us tried to connect on both being from Oregon. We discussed the preparation we had done for this hike and the goals we have of going far. I encouraged Rick to get off trail, assess his gear and get rid of all the unnecessary items he had to lighten his pack and help his body in the long run.

Just before 6 pm, we made it to the dirt road at mile 14. Papa Bear had just pulled up in the getaway car to rescue Rick. I handed Rick the rest of his gear, and he gave me a hug in return. We said goodbye and wished each other luck on the rest of our journeys. 

Mile 14 is the first good spot for evacuation. Apparently, they have placed this red button here for convenience if you find yourself in that position.

Back on my own

I then caught up to friends from CLEEF, Chris and Philosopher. The three of us walked a little more than a mile down to Hauser Creek to set up our camps for night 1. Quite a few people were already set up down there, and I had a great story to tell as we ate dinner together.

Overall, I had a wonderful first day in my PCT journey. I attempted to keep track of all the people I met, and I think I already made 20 new friends between CLEEF and day 1. I went to bed feeling sufficiently tired, and thankful for the people, views, and stories I was already collecting.

My first PCT tent pitch down at Hauser Creek.

A note to Rick

Rick, if you read this – I hope you are feeling much better and I hope you are back on trail! I can’t wait to see you catch up to me on trail. The PCT has been a dream for most of us for many years, and I hope yours gets to be lived out to the fullest. I hope you don’t mind me sharing your story on this platform. It’s just that it is as much my day 1 story as it is yours. Injury can happen to any of us, and I hope if it’s ever my turn that people would’ve done the same for me.

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Comments 2

  • Travis Taylor : Apr 9th

    Sounds just like you to be so kind and give others a hand. I enjoy your detailed posts. Keep up the good work.

  • Jeff Greene : Apr 9th

    A good deed on the first day should be a good omen! Best of luck to you!


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