My 800 Mile Hike Showed Me That a Thru-Hike Was Possible, But Here’s Why I Won’t Do It

This summer, I set out to hike 650 miles of the PCT through Northern California and Oregon. In the end, I exceeded my expectations in daily mileage, pace, and hiked 150 miles farther than I originally set out to. I wasn’t certain that this hike was possible for me, let alone making an attempt of the full 2,600 mile trail. I am filled with many emotions upon completing our trip including gratitude, excitement, a sense of accomplishment. 

After my hike this summer, I feel confident that I could make a solid attempt at a full PCT thru-hike. But, I don’t think I will.

Here are some of my reasons why. 

  • I appreciate the trail itself more when I experience it in smaller slices. I’m one of those people that likes to research and read about where I’m going (the plants, geological history, etc.). It helps me to be present and engaged with the environment around me and to get excited about what’s to come. I did some of that on our long hike by reading guidebook pages each night or during the day, but it just wasn’t possible to do so to the same degree as when I’m carving out 100-200 miles of trail for each trip. 
  • I missed my life. I feel passionately about my job and I like my hobbies at home. It was life-affirming to miss all that. These thoughts were more frequent during certain portions of our trip, maybe more so when the stoke on our current surroundings was lower. 
  • My body definitely took a beating. They don’t call it “hiker hobble” for nothing! I was so happy that my body carried me as far as it did with no major injuries. I’m someone who really lives in my body; it’s why I don’t drink often or much, why I go to sleep at a grandmother-worthy hour, and why I am intentional about my daily movement. I push my body in my front country life (weight lifting, biking, rock climbing, doing Jiu Jitsu, etc.), but my body just feels better in my regular routine when I am able to rest adequately. I’m definitely rehabbing after just 800 miles. 
  • I get to pick my seasons. The Sky Lakes Wilderness in Oregon would have been incredible if I wasn’t hiking 15-minute miles through the whole thing due to a swarm of blood thirst skeeters. Section hiking gives me the flexibility to take the specific challenges or considerations of that section into account when planning the season I’m going to hike. 

All that being said, I do think you miss out on some of the incredible aspects of a hike by doing it in smaller sections. At the end of the day, it all comes down to your personal parameters, goals and expectations.

Some of the things I truly enjoyed about hiking on the PCT for a couple months: 

  • Community and comradery. Seeing familiar faces and sharing an experience with others fosters a sense of belonging. People are (mostly) encouraging and excited for you on a regular basis. Even as a LASHer (long section-hiker), thru hikers really welcomed us and I met some incredible people along the way. 
  • Seeing sections of trail I might not otherwise. So, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the section in Oregon between Ashland and Fish Lake. BUT there was also a 5-10 mile section of that trail that was incredible and moments of beauty along the way. I would be less likely to see those sections if I wasn’t hiking a longer distance. I’ll have to be deliberate about experiencing them as we plan future trips. 
  • Immersing myself in the trail experience. I don’t really have all that much to add to this, other than to say that spending 2 weeks versus 7 weeks on trail is a more immersive experience (just like I’m sure spending 5 months on trail is much different than spending 7 weeks on trail!). 

This is in no way meant to discourage anyone from getting out there and doing a thru-hike or a long-section hike. I’m stepping away from my experience incredibly happy that I did it, but also thoughtful about what my future backpacking trips will look like! 

I’m curious what others’ pro/con lists look like for thru-hiking/LASHing vs. section-hiking. 

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Comments 8

  • Hari "Afghan" Ganesan : Sep 10th

    Hi Karly,

    Your writing reflects 100% of my views about section hiking the PCT. I’ve been doing stretches in Washington PCT for last 3 summers (1 to 2 weeks) in early to mid August. Just came back from 2 weeks after doing section J and 30 miles from Rainy Pass to Hart’s Pass. Absolutely stunning hiking adventure awaits for your future summers north of Bridge of Gods to the northern terminus. I’ll be doing whole Oregon next summer from Ashland to Columbia River. I certainly enjoy the snow free mid to late summer months with wild flower meadows packed with huckle, salmon, thimble and blue berries. I had nothing but great experience and comradery of the fellow section and thru hikers both on the trail and at the camp sites. Great way to spend few weeks every year experiencing the simplicity of the trail life with like minded trail crowd in one of the most beautiful mountain trails on planet earth. Looking forward to next summer already. Happy ? !


    Afghan (?)

    • Karly Huff : Sep 12th


      It sounds like you have some fun adventures coming up! I agree that the trail community has been wonderful, including in years past when we’ve been section-hiking portions of CA. We ended up hiking halfway through Washington to Snoqualmie Pass and those sections were incredibly beautiful. I’m looking forward to retiring to complete the sections north of there in future years!

      Happy trails, Whisper

  • Lil Bear : Sep 11th

    Love your post, it was so relatable I had to comment. I’m on year 4 of hiking the AT. I did a couple of long sections – 580 miles and 900 miles each, and a bunch of shorter sections too. I’m about 400 miles from completing it. Since 2019 my opinion has totally changed. So much of what is out there online about these trails involves thru hiking and I felt like I wasn’t fully doing it like these other people if I wasn’t thru hiking and worried I also wouldn’t have that same motivation of “completion” just by doing sections when they got tough. Now I’ve realized I love sections in their own way because I get excited to enjoy the woods as much as possible, rather than pushing miles and being excited for town. Just seeing the state my body was in after that 900 mile section, I’m not sure I’d want to put it through a full thru hike when I can still get the immersion of sections while remaining healthy. Doing sections doesn’t make me “less than” for not doing a thru hike, as I now realize. It’s given me multiple years of experience on the same trail and I can keep my job and other aspects of my life in tact that I enjoy while continuing to go on section hikes indefinitely. I could relate to so much of what you said and wanted to spread some love for section hiking!

    • Karly Huff : Sep 12th

      I’m so glad it resonated. It sounds like you’ve gotten out there for some pretty incredible trips on the AT!

  • Jhony : Sep 11th

    EXACTLY what I needed to know. Thank you so very much for writing this. Now I feel much better about what is right for me on the trail. And I have zero regrets now about what I am choosing how I want to hike.
    I am in indebted.
    Thank YOU

    • Karly Huff : Sep 12th

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you enjoy your future adventures — whatever they look like!

  • marsh : Sep 13th

    Thru hiking is like roller skating thru the Louvre.


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