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Traversing Trails: Introduction to the Pacific Crest Trail

Traversing Trails: Introduction to the Pacific Crest Trail

By Rachael Medina
Staff Writer August 13, 2019

Beige dirt trails extend in either direction as far as the eye can see, traversing every type of landscape, from arid deserts to snowy mountain passes. A heavy pack stores everything you will need out on the trail; a tent and a sleeping bag are strapped haphazardly to the bottom, a jug of water is bungee corded to the side, and it takes an all-out wrestling match to wrangle the pack from its seated position on the ground to the hunched, not-quite-vertical position it assumes on your back. Hunger now comes with a vengeance, as 10- and 20-mile days have become a regular pastime—and sanitation is taking on a whole new, lax meaning. Regardless of the challenging circumstances, this journey on the Pacific Crest Trail is entirely mind over matter. 

The Pacific Crest Trail stretches for roughly 2,600 miles, taking hikers on a challenging yet scenic trek through California, Oregon, and Washington. 

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About the Pacific Crest Trail

Preparing to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) can quickly feel overwhelming between all the budgeting, packing, and (over)planning. While there is no single right way to get ready to hit the trails, there are a few things to keep in mind.

The PCT extends approximately 2,600 miles from the Mexican border to Canada, though the exact mileage changes annually to accommodate for better scenery, to allow for improved treadway, and to move the trail away from dangerous conditions such as wildfires. Traversing the entire distance takes most hikers between four and six months, but some highly experienced thru-hikers have been known to finish the trail in as little as two months. 

The trail will take you through about 60 major mountain passes and past the three deepest lakes in the country. If you shorten the trip to only the California portion, you will see just one of these lakes but will still hike approximately 1,691.7 miles—more than half of the PCT’s entire span. Starting at the California-Mexico border allows you to travel through the entire state and also provides the comforts of a less-harrowing journey; approximately 90 percent of the trail’s thru-hikers choose to go northward because the weather and additional logistics are less challenging than traveling south. 

Hiking the PCT is an incredibly rewarding experience, but it requires significant preparations, making it anything but a spontaneous adventure. Stay tuned for the next installment to see if you have what it takes to embark on this journey.

Staff Writer
Rachael Medina

Staff Writer Rachael Medina

Rachael Medina is the senior content writer and operations manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests o…

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