Climate Change and Preparing for the PCT

At the Mercy of the Earth

In nearing the end of my final preparation stages for necessary gear, resupply plans and other logistics, I have found myself on an emotional roller-coaster. My day to day is full of many highs of excitement and anticipation to start my first thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as a lot of nerves and stress surrounding what it is going to take to pull this (hopefully not) once-in-a-lifetime journey off. As a first time thru-hiker, there are a lot of things to think about, but as a recent grad with a degree in Environmental Science, much of my passion and meaning in life revolves around our beloved planet Earth – that planet whirling around in space that we are all existing on and interacting with. In fact, our interactions with it are driving us into a place where Mother Earth is starting to fight back and telling us that we can’t go on living in the way that we are. This is coming in the form of many wide scale natural disasters (one of Earth’s ways of communicating), including huge wild fires,  and excessive or non-existent water output. These two are what have been on my mind, and I’m sure is on most other hikers minds as we set off hiking, whilst becoming at the mercy of the trail and its surroundings.

Excessive Water

So lets talk about it. As the years continue to pass, thru-hikers on any trail must be aware of what is possibly looming in the future. As a southbound thru-hiker, the window of time to make a continuous thru-hike of the PCT is already on average ~20 days shorter (~130 days) than that of a northbound thru-hiker (~150 days). This, paired with the higher than average snow pack in the Cascade mountain range, in both Washington and Oregon, pushes the safe possible starting dates further into the season, and therefore squeezes the time frame to get through the Sierras even smaller.


After the Sierras, comes the Desert. For southbound thru-hikers, the water sources are fewer since it is the end of the hiking season, and less water is available. This is due to the second 20-year drought in a row in California, which has created a lot of water scarcity. This is also due to the expansive population boom in civilization taking water from major rivers that historically created a better and more robust biosphere with soil where water could be better retained.


The Reality

Yes, I know that the word “wildfire” strikes a bit of discomfort and anxiety from within, and there’s a lot of problems surrounding the issue. But lets take it for what it is. Part of climate change is that at some points in the year in certain regions, temperatures spike, and create really dry conditions, keeping in mind that approximately 85% of wildfires are caused by irresponsible people. Last year, most of the California PCT sections were closed at one point due to fire closures, and many in Washington and Oregon. In 2022, they are kind of inevitable at this point.

The Silver Lining?

But is there a silver lining you might ask? I would argue that there might be. A south-bounder is still able to complete a full thru-hike, but the likelihood of getting rerouted due to a wildfire is high. But remember, the hiking window is already so small. What if a fire in southern Oregon or NorCal actually makes the ability to complete the Sierras at a reasonable season possible? This scenario (for me at least) might actually take some pressure off and could possibly take on some of that “more relaxed pace” during the last ~1000 miles of so.

I know I know. This isn’t my ideal situation either, but going into the trail, I want my days to be spent in the present, enjoying whatever the trail has to offer – the good, the bad, and everything in between. If this means coming to better accept that there are huge things that are out of my control, so be it. At least I was able to do at least one of things I set out on this trail to do — Enjoy my time and place on this Earth at each passing moment.

Being in the Present

Trying to keep the trees this green!

After all, the Pacific Crest Trail is not just a physical trail. It is also an internal path that leads us to learn more about ourselves, who we are, and creates a space to be fully present. Although Climate Change has very large and widespread implications, the Pacific Crest Trail is a dirt path, no matter how short or far one can travel on it, that provides a better perspective about what matters in life. For me, whether or not a wildfire takes me off trail, or causes me to choose a flip-flop or complete it at a different point in time (versus a continuous route), the circumstances on trail will most likely deepen my understanding and likelihood to keep fighting for this planet afterwards. Whichever path the trail conditions take, I am ready to create understanding, meaning, and a deeper passion for what is at stake in our battle to decrease our impact on the Earth, and its Climate, the only home we have.

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