Things I Wish I’d Known Before Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

Going into a thru-hike with no prior long-distance hiking experience means there are a lot of unknowns. From how much food to bring  to whether to buy all your shoes ahead of time, there’s a lot of trial and error involved for first-time backpackers. After completing his 2017 southbound thru-hike of the PCT, Dan reflected on some of the things he wished he knew before starting.

Things I Wish I’d Known Before Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

1. How cold it can get in the mountains in late September/early October and how to be ready for it

In 2017 we got snowed on in late September in the Sierra and faced some temperatures in the mid-teens. There’s not enough discussion on how to stay safe if you do end up caught in some snow. Since the PCT, I’ve learned that if you bring just a few more items of clothing and a fire-starting kit, you can actually enjoy an early-season snow rather than be terrified and cold like we were.

2. How to deal with early-season snow, even as a beginner

In even a moderately high snow year there will be sensationalism online about the snow conditions, southbound starts, or Sierra entry dates. It seems like some people will lead you to believe that you can’t hike the PCT without years of mountaineering experience. This is nonsense. Yes, early-season hiking carries some additional risk, but with a little knowledge and ideally a bit of practice, it’s totally possible to hike the PCT without snow experience.

3. The impact of fire closures on a thru-hike

Chances are, you will hit a fire closure on a PCT thru-hike. When that happens, you will have two options: walk the detour around the fire closure (possibly on sketchy highways), or hitch around the closures and then come back and section hike those sections at a later time. Something you can do to prepare ahead of time is decide how you’re going to handle fire closures when they come up. Are you going to skip ahead of the portions of trail that are closed? Or are you going to walk the detour around the fire closure.




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