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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