Top 10 Favorite Days on the PCT
There were so many great days out of the 160 that I spent hiking the PCT. How can I only chose 10? After much thought and consideration, the top 10 favorite days are…. Drumroll please…..
1. Mt. Whitney
An 8 mile side trail off the PCT takes you to the summit of the tallest peak in the continental U.S. at 14,595ft. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, donned my headlamp, and set up the mountain to watch the sunrise on the summit. The high altitude leaves you gasping for air. Your muscles are screaming from the oxygen deprivation. Boy, was it worth it. I sat cuddled up with my friends in our sleeping bags and watched the sun rise over the horizon as we sipped hot tea. Watching the alpenglow touch the peaks and ridges below was one of the most beautiful natural creations I have witnessed. I highly recommend all future PCT hikers to hike the extra miles to witness one of the most spectacular views in the country.
2. Goat Rocks Wilderness/Knife’s Edge
It was a beautiful morning. Blue skies with patches of clouds moving quickly over the mountain tops. We meandered our way around the valley as the trail twisted and turned while gradually climbing to the top. Closer and closer to the clouds. I remember as a kid thinking, I want to be in a cloud. I dreamed of floating through fluffy, white clouds pretending to be a bird. Well, my dreams came to a crushing reality that day. Clouds are windy, misty, and cold. The trail follows along a ridge line of scree with a steep drop off to the side, known as Knife’s Edge. Still in shorts, we ran against the wind until we found a wind break behind a rock and changed into warm gear. We sat and enjoyed some hot coffee before continuing. Grey, swirling clouds encircled us as we hiked along the ridge, depriving us of any views. Somewhere along the way, the skies opened up for just a second allowing us to get a glimpse of the valley surrounded by the craggy mountains. Just as quickly as they opened, the clouds closed back up and the winds picked up. Even though we lacked the views, the clouds provided their own sense of eeriness. My friends and I ran along the ridge to warm up but continuously stopped to take in the beauty of Knife’s Edge. It’s not always about the mountain tops and views. Sometimes (most of the time), it’s about the journey.
3. Forester Pass
After about 4-5 days in the Sierra, the trail goes over its first and highest pass on the PCT. The trail flows through a wide valley surrounded by mountains in all directions. The whole time walking up to the base of the mountains you play the game of trying to guess which divot in the range is THE pass. At 13,153 ft, the trail switchbacks its way up to a tiny crevasse that takes you up and over the other side of the mountain range. The reward is so much sweeter when you have to work hard for it. Views of snow capped mountains and frozen lakes surrounded me from all sides. The north face of the mountain was still covered in snow. We donned our micro spikes for the first time on trail and set off descending the snow covered boulder field. Although treacherous in some areas, I was just excited to be hiking through the snow. Remember, this was a very low snow year for the PCT.
4. Yosemite Valley
Man oh man was this a fun day. We took a zero day just for the heck of it. A heat wave had struck the west coast and boy was it hot on that valley floor. We made the best of it though. We rented bikes (hikers hate walking the most) and biked to all of the cool, secret spots that our friend, Link (an old employee in the park), knew about. Because it was so hot, we jumped off our bikes and went swimming in the river every time we crossed a bridge. My favorite adventure that day was cave diving at a place called “The Straw.” We climbed, crawled, and shimmied our way through tight spaces to find the geocache box so we could sign our names saying we conquered the challenge. It was a great day and I think everyone should take time out of their busy lives to explore the beautiful granite rock faces of Yosemite.
5. 24 hour challenge
Now, I know what you’re thinking. The 24 hour challenge day was one of your favorite days?? There is no way you actually had fun that day! Well, I am here to tell you that I actually had a blast that day. The challenge is to see how many miles you can hike in 24 hours. In 24 hours, I hiked 78 miles, sat down twice for 10 minutes each, ate 8,500 calories of pure sugar, and listened to music the whole time (including Move Along by the All American Rejects for one hour straight). I am not sure why, but I was truly having fun the entire time. I’m sure the adrenaline and the endorphins played a role. Not only was I enjoying the actual experience, but the sense of accomplishment after the challenge was also exceptionally rewarding. There is just something special about pushing both your mind and body to their extreme limits. With a little bit of determination (stubbornness) we can push through barriers. We can exceed our goals. We can do hard things.
6. Muir Pass
Another day in the Sierra, another pass. But, this wasn’t just any pass. This was Muir Pass. There is something magical about this pass. I’m not sure how to put it in words but you are just going to have to believe me. The climb was technical with added challenges: rock scrambles, snowy patches, frozen creeks, and heavy winds. The beauty of thawing alpine lakes with snowy peaks cascading all around just gets me every time. Against the wind’s best effort to knock us down, we pushed our way to the top of the pass where we were able to find some protection from the wind in the John Muir Memorial Shelter to eat lunch. My friend and I had a dance party once we got to the top in celebration of this day’s victory.
7. Fall day in Washington
There is nothing quite like seeing Washington in the fall. Reds, oranges, and yellows are painted along the steep slopes of the mountain sides. The flowers and leaves are clinging onto their last bit of life before they are snatched away from winter’s cold clasp. Views of the rugged, volcanic Cascade mountain range loom in the background. Evergreens and lakes are spotted throughout. I remember this day in particular because I hiked mainly alone and I remember simply smiling to myself all day. I just could not get over the beauty of this world.
8. Northern terminus
Talk about a party! Pop the champagne people, we made it to Canada! After hiking nearly 2,650 miles across the country, I finally accomplished my goal. It was a bittersweet, surreal moment. When I have a goal, I want to do nothing but achieve it. However, when the journey to achieve said goal is so much fun, I want to slow down and enjoy it and thus, delaying me accomplishing my goal. This was a hard balance for me throughout the trail. These juxtaposing feelings were definitely present on this final day. We drank champagne, had a dance party, sang songs, and took silly pictures at the terminus. We hooped and hollered and laughed as we hugged each other in congratulations. However, our tears of happiness slowly turned into tears of sadness. Sadness that this amazing chapter in our lives was coming to a close. We really grew into a family and we started to realize that we were about to spread back out over the world. This day was truly an amazing day and I am so happy that I got to share it with all of my best friends.
9. California/Oregon border
After nearly 1,700 miles, we finally made it out of the first state of the PCT. Hallelujah! We danced and started a kick line as Treeboy played his guitar and sang his classic thru hiking tune. We stayed around for a while and created a spirit tunnel for all approaching hikers. You could hear our celebrations all the way from California hehe. This was definitely a huge milestone and we all had smiles glued to our faces. One state down, two more to go.
10. LA aqueduct
A 20 mile stretch out of Hiker Town known for the relentless heat and no water (despite ironically following a pipe full of water). To avoid the heat, my friend, Goose, and I hiked it at night. We strolled along the rusted steel pipe as the sun was setting. Because it was so flat, the hiking was easy. We found ourselves in deep conversations discussing life’s controversial subject matters. Time flew by. Before we knew it, we made it to the next water source before the heat broke out. 10/10 would recommend hiking the aqueduct at night.
Well there you have it folks. It was really hard to just pick 10 days. There were so many good ones. It is also important to remember, however, there were plenty of days out there that were not so fun. Refer to my earlier blog, “10 Not So Fun Things About the PCT,” if you’re interested in knowing more about the unglamorous side of thru hiking. Thru hiking, just like life, is about the ups and downs. But boy, the ups from the trail are just something special.
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