Week 1 on the PCT

As a New England hiker accustomed to the craggy scrambles and dense forest of the northeast, the first 100 miles of the PCT couldn’t be more alien. Trees (and their holy shade) are sparse, leaving desert dwellers totally exposed to the constantly beating rays of relentless sunlight. The plants that do occupy the landscape look like something from another planet. Yucca plants shoot stalks 8 feet in the air to unfurl an ornate tapestry of pink and white flowers. Bright yellow barrel cactus flowers burst from a crown of long, gently curling whiskers.

New wildfire management techniques that use helicopters instead of water caches, combined with below-average precipitation, have left many long, dry stretches on trail. I’ve carried nearly 10 lbs of water for most of the hike so far, but have also learned to breathe through my nose and break camp before sunrise in order to retain as much moisture as possible. Anything to make that precious liquid last.

Of course, the lack of humidity has its benefits, too! Putting on dry shoes every morning and not smelling like mildew have been pretty dang wonderful.

The trail itself is graded for pack animals and relies heavily on switchbacks to keep the pitch flat. My knees and glutes are grateful for the easy terrain, but a small part of me longs for the mental and physical challenge of high-stepping over rocks and roots.

This yearning is tempered by the insanely beautiful scenery that (unobstructed by trees) remains visible basically constantly. The trail is so easy to navigate, one is free to drink in the desert with all five senses.

Verdant mountains thick with twisting, red manzanita trees are topped with oblong, granite monoliths. The air is perfumed with the spice of sage and the sweet flowers of California lilacs. Sandy forests of pine and oak give way to sandy deserts dotted with juniper and agave as the trail snakes its way north.

The PCT is more crowded than I expected; And has all the trash and unburied human poop that one would expect from a popular hiking trail.

I had naively hoped that the first part of the PCT would be as wild and untamed as the end of the AT was. That I could somehow magically pick up exactly where I left off. Where people had remembered what it was to be truly free. To be truly alive. Concerned with little else besides noticing and appreciating the majesty of creation.

That’s not what I’ve encountered. At least not yet.

Road sounds and conversations about politics are still audible here on trail, traces of the “real” world that, to me, feel as out of place as the used toilet paper tucked in the thorns of the chaparral.

Overall, the first week of the PCT has been pretty dreamy. Gorgeous landscapes and easy miles have made for some pretty spectacular hiking. I know that even deeper wilderness awaits me down the trail, and the thought of it thrills me to the soul. I can’t wait to see what else I will discover out here in the California desert when I get back on trail tomorrow.

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Comments 11

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    Sarah : Apr 5th

    Thanks for a vivid description of your experiences from the first days on the PCT. I have never done a thru hike, but just sections of it. I remember my own thoughts on the presence of “the real world”. Such thoughts perhaps fade as days pass on when doing a real thru hike? But it is a pity that some of those disturbances are made by fellow hikers, as you so literally describe by “the used toilet paper tucked in the thorns of the chaparral”. I think that most of us can make a smile out of occasionally spotting a fellow hiker squatting with a bare bum behind the chaparral. That is part of the game out there. But the sight of used tp is just discouraging, especially as it easily can be avoided.

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      Lacie : Apr 5th

      Thanks for sharing, Sarah! I’m sure that as the trail goes on, people will start shedding their “real world” concerns, I just have to be patient! And yes TP seems to be a problem here, as well as on popular trails in my home of New England. At least back home it will decompose eventually! One person’s trash is a lot different than 100 people’s trash, and the onus falls on us to do something about it. Pretending it doesn’t exist (e.g. Instagram v reality) only allows the problem to persist, in my opinion. We must all, collectively, notice the impact we are having on our outdoor resources to inspire our community to do more to spread the gospel of Leave No Trace and Wilderness Ethics.

      Reply
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        Sarah : Apr 5th

        Thanks for response. I fully agree, and therefore it is just fine that you and others address the cumbersome issues too, and not merely present those glorifying images. Presenting reality does not mean accepting it.

        Reply
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      Wayne : Apr 5th

      Unfortunately we’re forced to dismiss those that don’t “get it”, & selfishly deface nature imposing themselves in a world that demands respect.

      Reply
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    JhonYermo : Apr 5th

    Just a great, well written post. You are bringing up lots of things this CA coot notices constantly. Sometimes I wonder about some hikers. Do they even know what LNT is? Well I am please you are enjoying so much of the PCT and cannot wait for your next posting. This one is great ! Thanks again.

    Reply
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    Jubel : Apr 5th

    The desert is an amazing ecosystem. What has your daily mileage been? How are your feet holding up? Have you been hiking with any other people?

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    Jeff : Apr 5th

    Thanks for posting. I hiked the PCT last year. I feel if one is looking for a more solitary experience, it can be found. The same goes for the group experience if you is willing to go at others pace. Wait for a little while and the less serious people will not be around anymore.

    One thing I really enjoyed on the trail was the real conversation I had with people beyond the chit chat.

    With your experience, the trail should have no major obstacles. I hope it becomes a great experience for you. Good luck.

    Reply
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    Yellow Bear : Apr 5th

    Hey Sun Fox! Recognized you right away from a YouTube video by Hammer, as soon as you mentioned NH as your home. So happy to know that other 2019 AT alum are hiking the PCT this year. I’ll be starting the end of April, so I’ll be a month behind you. But I look forward to reading your posts and getting a heads up on what’s to come. Good luck. I’ve seen you hike the AT and know you’ll do just as great on the PCT.

    Reply
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    Wyn : Apr 5th

    Hi Lacie,

    Thanks for the realistic view of the start of the PCT. I will be giving it a go next year, and I am looking forward to following your progress.

    Good luck and keep up the good work!

    Wyn

    Reply
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    pearwood : Apr 6th

    Love that last photograph. Happy feet!

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    Devil Dog : Apr 6th

    That part about verdant mountains … spiced with sage … dotted with juniper actually put me there. Very well written. Thank you for posting.
    Side note: I am a native new englandier residing in WA. Goat Rocks in WA will remind you of Franconia Ridge and Knife’s Edge on Katahdin. My son and I did the AT in 2018.

    Reply

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