Southbounding the PCT, Part 5: The Last Words
It’s officially SOBO season. The Hart’s Pass Snotel plot hit zero last week, the clarion call to those striking out on the path to Mexico. With no time to spare (the author apologizes), here are some bits of collected advice and wisdom from the Class of 2017 to those who come next.
What advice or information do you wish you’d had before starting your hike?
Righteous: I wish I had known how hard the last 700 miles would be on my feet. I figured I was set, since I had long ago developed the plastic-like casing of calluses thru-hikers are so well known for. Boy howdy, was I wrong. I had one pair of hiking socks and the same pair of shoes all the way from Chester. The hot, sandy trails laughed mercilessly at the destruction of my protective layer, rewarding me with throbbing, puffy, red feet at the end of each day.
Smurf: Don’t listen to Facebook and do watch how much money you spend in towns; it adds up fast! Also, don’t send yourself food outside of four to five specific resupply towns. It’s just much easier to buy as you go.
Kirby: Always use designated fire alternatives or reroutes.
Per Bear: Two drops of bleach to a liter of water if the water is unsafe. Get the big Sawyer Squeeze, not the little one (it’s super slow).
Cockblock Moses: All hiking Facebook groups are basically fearmongering from people who have no idea what the fuck they are talking about.
All Day Err Day: Lots of people get sick on the food in Lancaster; be careful what you order there.
Badger: I researched a lot beforehand, and it paid off. There wasn’t anything that really surprised me. The one thing I wish I would’ve known a bit more about were which towns to stop in (e.g., Bishop) and which to avoid (e.g., Bucks Lake Resort). It’d also be helpful to have a guide for which towns present the most challenging hitches, as that can add a day or more to your overall journey. The one thing I will say is that if you do a thorough job preparing–physically, logistically, and skills-wise– don’t let the online attempts at fearmongering get the best of you. The first stretch of trail ended up being far easier than what I had read from people’s reports.
What was the most useful advice somebody gave you?
Righteous: Take eight days of food into the Glacier Peak Wilderness. I only took a pretty light seven-day diet, and it fell short. I got bailed out with a huge bag of trail mix from a mountaineering party. Those who start later and don’t face as much snow probably won’t take that long, but the terrain is punishing and the scenery worth soaking in. In short, basically, don’t underestimate the difficulty of Glacier Peak at the beginning of your hike.
Smurf: Stop and enjoy it, like really take in the places that you’re walking through every once and awhile. So much of the time you’re just making miles; it’s good to stop take them in occasionally.
Kirby: Be safe. The trail is not worth dying over.
Per Bear: Don’t send yourself food and other stuff. I didn’t plan at all, which gave me flexibility and also allowed me to not stress about food shipments in advance. With the cost of shipping packages it may not even be financially beneficial to send in advance. I didn’t have any issues getting food. Even in the Sierra.
Also, wear a hiking shirt with a collar and sleeves you can roll up. I had never worn a shirt like that before but it saved me countless times from sun, bugs, and fluctuating temperatures.
All Day Err Day: You can cash in at the Muir Trail Ranch hiker box.
Badger: Knowing to start at least one week after Hart’s Pass reaches zero snow. We left about ten days after this happened, and our timing was perfect, as groups that left even a week before us had a much more challenging time through Glacier Peak Wilderness.
What are your favorite SOBO-specific or general PCT resources?
Righteous: Why Go Southbound was both helpful and encouraging. In a healthy bipartisan comparison, Francis Tapon lays out unique pros and cons for hikers in either direction. The perks of going SOBO they mention spoke to me, and helped affirm my decision. Mags also has a lot of good things to say about going south, and has useful information and more links in his Quick and Dirty Guide to the PCT.
Smurf: Halfwayanywhere.com’s surveys were easily the best resource online. Otherwise, if you can talk to someone who’s done a thru-hike before it’s invaluable. Talking to a PCT SOBO of 2016 made me feel much better about my plan before heading out. Thanks Tessa @ Feathered Friends in Seattle.
Kirby: Neemor’s vlog about his SOBO thr- hike and Thru-hiking Will Break Your Heart.
Per Bear: Guthook’s PCT app. It was my primary resource for everything.
Cockblock Moses: Macs surveys.
All Day Err Day: Neemor made some good videos on his SOBO hike.
Badger: SOBO specific- Pctsouthbound.com and the PCT 2017 SOBO FB group. General- Maggie Wallace’s PCT Resupply Guide https://thetrek.co/pacific-crest-trail/pacific-crest-trail-resupply-guide/
And Guthook’s PCT Guide.
Special bonus words from the editor himself.
Get into really good shape before hitting the trail. Even in low snow years, you’re still likely going to face a relatively short weather window. Hitting the trail in good shape will not only make you better prepared to achieve your goal of finishing the trail in time, but it will really decrease the amount of physical, and thus, mental stress you encounter through Washington, which can be an ass-kicker if you’re a couch potato. Spend as much time on foot before leaving as possible. Bonus points for adding weight. Bonus points for adding weight and getting on the trail. Aim for at least ten miles per day in the month (or more) leading up to your hike.
Have a plan for the bugs. They can ruin your experience if unprepared. Wear bug clothing (i.e., InsectShield) and/or carry deet. Deet is awful, but the only thing worse than using deet is not having it when you need it.
Get your gear dialed in. Have a former thru-hiker give you a shakedown before leaving. Don’t skimp on your big three items. Get your base weight down to 12 pounds or less. Find a trail runner that works with your feet. Be ready for temperatures as low as 20 and as high as 100 (or more).
Focus on your nutrition. The short weather window will require a lot of big-mile days. Accomplishing this eating only junk is a recipe for disaster. Eat a lot of healthy fats and quality proteins. Add a superfood powder to your daily ritual. Take curcumin instead of Advil. Carry an electrolyte powder through the hotter sections of the trail, primarily through Northern California and the desert, but also pretty much everywhere except the High Sierra. Peep my PCT diet overview if you want a starting point.
I hope this has been helpful and inspiring for you, future PCT SOBO. Enjoy the adventure. When asked for her final thoughts on the matter, Kirby put it best:
IT WAS WORTH IT.
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