Unlocking the Secrets of Hiking the PCT

The PCT has been an enigma to me for many years. How do people walk 2,600 miles, feed themselves, and carry all their gear around for five months?

The few attempts I’ve had on multiday trips in the UK have had many failures, which I’ve learned from, but nonetheless, I’ve felt in awe of how people can accomplish the entire thru-hike and then talk about it as though it was just a walk in the park. What did these people know or do that I didn’t?

So here are a few things I’ve picked up in my first few weeks on the PCT, which have mainly been desert. I’m sure there will be a part two by the end of my thru-hike!

Wake up early.
Desert heat, shorter daylight hours, and me generally walking slower than some others means I haven’t been achieving my target daily mileage. When I add in a 4.30 a.m. alarm, I’m on trail by five a.m. with my head torch and felt very happy with how many miles I can get in before lunch.

Five a.m. sunrise walk.

Eat lots.
I’ve lost all the weight I put on during the month leading to my start date. I’m now feeling my entire body ache because I haven’t been eating enough. I enjoy talking to everyone on trail about their diets and I’ve picked up more of a snack-as-I-go habit, which means I’m normally grazing on something on top of main meals. My energy levels have now come back.

Water, electrolytes, vitamin water, or whatever you find in town. My 4-6 liters of water was going straight through me but I’ve increased my electrolyte intake and feel more hydrated. Drinking a lot at night, first thing in the morning, and whenever I’m resting by a water source also helps boost water intake.

Water source at Mikes Place.

Deal with the pain.
Yes, there are serious injuries that take people off trail but understanding your body to know if you are aching from a 20 mile day or if you are about to get something more serious is so important. Either way, deal with it and keeping going or rest.

Be fit or committed.
People talk a lot about training pre-PCT. I’m a runner and it’s definitely helped build thick skin on my feet and stronger legs. Most people are in reasonable shape when they hit the trail, or at least the ones that are ambitious with their daily miles are. There are of course all shapes, ages, and sizes on trail and I love how inclusive everyone is. It’s a massive undertaking to walk 2,600 miles. Regardless of physique, commitment and mental strength play a big part.

Make friends
The best way to keep spirits high and to feel part of something. I’ve been seeing the same people for weeks and it’s great to have this hiker community around you. Plus it makes town days a lot more fun!

Take it easy and enjoy the present
I’m a planner, I like to know what’s coming and how I can prepare myself but on the PCT nothing goes to plan. I’m starting to enjoy living in the moment and not stressing about all the things I have no control over. If I plan too much ahead I miss what is right here with me now; amazing people and nature.

Rest in the shade.
I’ve had a few non-hiking friends laugh at how many clothes I’m wearing in the desert. The truth is without sun protection it will be very uncomfortable to hike with sunburn and sunstroke. Resting in the shade and avoiding sunburn have done me well.

Be content and selfish.
This trail is something to enjoy singularly as well as with others, but I think it’s best to remember why you are hiking and stay true to that.

Descending Mount San Jacinto.

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