Social Media – The New PCT Bible

Is Social Media Hurting the PCT?

In the year 2013 the Pacific Crest Trail Association issued 1,879 permits. Jump ahead to just five years later in the year 2018 and that permit number increased to 7,313 issued in total. That is roughly an increase of 6,000 people acquiring permits, guys. 6,000! And when you dare to think about 20 years ago in the PCT history when the hiking classes averaged in the 20s; the influx of bodies on the trail is staggering.

When I look at these statistics and when I use my google thumbs to scroll across the wide world of web, I am hit quite hard in the “duh” forehead as to the cause of this growth in numbers of people now committing themselves to this Pacific Crest Trail journey.


What you are reading right now.


The lovely connecting world of social media.

Cloud outlines
That Movie

In the past week I have encountered two separate people refer to the Reese Witherspoon movie Wild in conversations circling my departure to being the PCT. I would smile and shrug as asked, “Well, did you see that movie?” I respond shyly, and almost ashamed to admit, that no, I in fact had not seen this iconic movie about apparently my future life. With one fatal swoop I destroy the conversation and snuff out commonality of joy. What is the movie Wild?

In the year 2014 an autobiographical adventure drama based off the trail trash popular memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, hit the big screens. The reception was popular with both the Rotten Tomatoes and the New York Times. As well as nominated for 21 awards; even snagging the win for Outstanding Locations in a Contemporary Film; OK, I admit that win is not really that impressive. But a win is a win in my book!

Side note: 100% of the movie was shot in Oregon except a one-day shoot in the Mojave Desert. Which if you think about it the increase in permits resulted in travelers falling in love with Oregon’s PCT sections more than the more popular Sierra jaunt. I guess my point is proven accurate—PNW is best.

But back to the topic at hand.

This movie made a cinematic impact on how culture viewed hiking, backpacking, and the thru-hiking challenge. Suddenly seeing images of Reese Witherspoon hauling an incredibly large backpack and still looking put together and priceless was the image of trail trash. Yes, the memoir highlights Cheryl Strayed’s battles with mental health and sobriety, but Hollywood has a product to sell and beauty moves Hollywood Hills after all.

The result can not be denied when you see just how many new permits are being requested. The trail is crowded. Really crowded.

Kennedy meadows
Do It for the Gram

After the book. After the movie. An arguably more impactful resource may be the much larger driving force sending people to the trail. You guessed it. The beloved friend-enemy-love-it-hate-it social media.

The hashtag #pct has over 426k public posts. #pct2020 has over 6.4k. That is a tremendous amount of tags that will continue to increase with every single second. The hashtags help connect travelers interested in thru-hiking, and for me personally, connecting with other PCT hopefuls in my class. And if you click on any of the various PCT hashtags you will not be disappointed in the images that will flood your squares. From camping beneath an incredible sunrise to walking above the clouds among mountain giants, the imagery in these collections is insanely enticing.

Yes, people will share hardships as well such as frozen socks and blisters but the happy mood far surpasses any trail reality hidden among the flowerscapes.

I worry that I too am caught up in this romance novel with the PCT marketing. I believe I will not mind the bug bites because each day will be a walk on this epic journey that will forever bring smiles to my very soul. But is it truly like that? Logically I understand it is not. I just will ignore that trail chatter as I slam my thumb to click on yet anther YouTube video of happy, skipping trekkers showing me I will find my worth and happiness somewhere along the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Friendly Fire

What is my point?

Are more people out a bad thing?

We see popular movements that connect mental health to outdoor activities. We see hundreds of social media groups being created to promote outside activity in groups. Retreats, opt outside movements, and combating childhood obesity campaigns are all extremely positive outcomes of people being enticed to spend hours frolicking in the great outdoors. Why would I dare to suggest it is anything negative? In a society glued to televisions and tablets, any motivation to disconnect to connect to nature should be celebrated.

Well, I highlight the half-empty glass because there are real negative impacts.


Bat caves
If you set the
Leave No Trace foundation on the shelf, assuming everyone is loyal to its practices, there is still damage being done simply by walking. Yes, walking. Honestly, anyone who has hiked on a popular scenic trail in a mountain area can see the degradation that can be produced by high numbers of people in a fragile environment. Vegetation is trampled, erosion is increased, wildlife is frightened away. Pets will leave predatory scents as they mark territories in various ways. And how often have you seen a misplaced glove or tiny shred of wrapper among a tree branch. I doubt it is intentional but people are beautifully flawed humans after all.

With movies, books, YouTube, vlogs and blogs sharing the message to #optoutside then I also challenge those carrying the torch to remind all of us that we are in fact visitors in this wilderness. I myself will be brushing up on ways to impact less as well as familiar myself with ways to stay safe. If every five PCT posts had a tidbit on trail etiquette we perhaps can start a even better movement that Reese Witherspoon did with Wild.

Who is in?

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Comments 3

  • Allie Donaldson : Feb 23rd

    I am! This year, I plan to encourage as many hikers as possible to be true to the hikertrash title and pick up the trash along the trail and to focus on trash stories rather than milages. Thank you so much for talking about impact, it really is a problem we needmore focus on. Keep it up!

    • Kaitlin Musser : Feb 23rd

      Thank you and that’s a aaaamazing idea. I hope to met you!!


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