Planning a Thru-Hike as a Member of the PCT’s 1.6%

Who am I, anyway?

Not to brag, but I’m a member of the 1%.

Well, probably not the 1% of which you are thinking; I will be a member of the 1% of thru-hikers younger than 20. To be completely honest with you, that statistic is actually closer to 1.6%. But even that could be way off—it’s just a number that Mac of Halfway Anywhere extrapolated from a survey 502 PCT hikers.¹

My name is Sam Cooper, and I am an 18-year-old PCT hopeful and senior in high school from Los Angeles. I’m here to give you the lowdown on life as a 1.6%-er.

Convincing the Parents

There’s a running joke in my family that I am most closely related to two of my uncles—one of whom is an uncle-in-law, and the other of whom was adopted. The members of my immediate family are what I like to call indoors enthusiasts (e.g., they don’t enjoy the beach because sand gets everywhere, and they’d rather take a spin class then go for a bike ride outside). Luckily, my school has an incredible outdoor education department, from which I have acquired all of my skills.

But even though my parents have never been camping, they were receptive to my plans when I first dropped the thru-hiking bombshell two years ago. As time passed, my plans solidified, and my parents’ trust in me did as well. I have agreed to a few of their criteria, however: I must take a self-defense course, I must carry a GPS tracking device, and I must keep in contact with them throughout the journey.

I can safely say that my parents are some of the best around. They have not only have permitted me to thru-hike but also stood behind my decision whenever necessary. I’m eternally grateful to them for that. (Thank you, mom and dad—I hope you’re reading this!)

I hang out in my PCT tent (TarpTent Aeon Li) after setting it up for the first time.

Working It Out with my School

“How are you leaving school in late April, Sam?” Great question, reader. See, my high school has a senior project period² that begins at the end of April. Because my project is slightly outside the norm, it took months of negotiations to work out a deal with my school’s administration. Presently, I will leave for PCT the day our senior projects period begins and return from the trail for one day to present to my classmates.


“Colliding black holes send ripples through the space-time fabric of the Universe.”³ That’s a quote from NASA, but it’s also an apt description of what happens when one simultaneously plans for a thru-hike and completes college applications. I really wouldn’t recommend it. To anyone.

However, if presented with the unique opportunity to hike the PCT directly after high school, I would argue that combining the two black holes is worth it. My December was stressful. I spent my time writing countless essays and balancing out the stress of college decisions with PCT planning. As of Feb. 2, I am done with the college process. I currently plan to take a gap year so that I can fit the PCT into my schedule. Once I’m off trail, I will get my EMT and work in ambulances for the next few months. Come August 2020, I’ll find my way to Brunswick, ME, where I’ll begin my first semester as a Bowdoin College Polar Bear.

So, What’s Next?

Another fantastic question, reader. Presently, I’m fending off impending seniorosis,ª slogging through my homework, and training to the best of my ability. When the end of April finally arrives, I’ll be on trail. I can’t wait to meet the other 98.4% of you.


A member of the 1.6%



² A three-week period without classes during which seniors can do something productive (try out an internship, learn a life skill, etc.). At the end of the three weeks, students present their projects to the school.


ª Fun fact: the misnomer “senioritis” implies a swelling of the senior. Seniorosis means a condition of the senior.

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Comments 7

  • ʞɔɐſ : Feb 27th

    Wow that’s sounds amazing! So excited to hear more!! Great job and good luck Sam!

  • Riva : Feb 28th

    Love it!! Can’t wait to see you kill the PCT 🙂

  • Mark Cooper : Mar 1st

    Sam- Have the best time ever. Be safe, work hard, get stronger mentally, and rest easy. We love you and if you need anything, just call.

  • Josh Johnson : Mar 1st

    Nice! Good luck out there. It will be it’s own learning experience, I’m sure ? Hopefully by the time you hit college you will be a PCT grad ?

  • Davida : Mar 5th

    Ayo Sam Im a young thru-hiker too.

    AT class of 2020, then college class of 2024 *assuming I graduate and get to MI*.
    Good luck, and keep updating about your adventures.

  • Jim Glantz : Apr 5th

    Hi Sam, I’m your dad’s friend Jim. I can’t wait to see your pictures.

    (Oh, and I agree your parents are the coolest ever! You’re a lucky guy!)
    Also, please be safe… 🙂


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