It’s like Bag End on September 20

Also, I’m testing the new! improved! WordPress phone app for uploading pics.  

Things seem to be in order. I think.


Differences, or “What Has Gone Before”

The Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail are alike in that the word “Trail” shows up in both of them.

The AT is a 2200-mile obstacle course. The PCT, at 2600 miles, is an actual trail most of the time — graded for horses. On the AT, the trail goes directly up and over every stinking mountain it can twist and wrap and contort itself over, sometimes at slopes that should justifiably require climbing equipment; the PCT has switchbacks.

I saw a lot of snow at the beginning and end of the AT because of my poorly chosen early start date. The PCT has its snow in the middle — the Sierra… but you have to be finished before the deep stuff starts flying in the Cascades in Washington in September. So you can’t start too early, and you can’t stay too long. You’re a guest for a much shorter window.

The first 700 miles of the PCT are desert intermixed with high mountains. I could see brutally high temperatures during the day with frigid temperatures at night. And snow. You can’t really switch your gear around to minimize weight, like you can on the AT. You’re stuck with that ten-degree sleeping bag even in the Mojave. (But that’s likely a good thing, because the desert can be freezing at night.)

The AT is a wet trail (arboreal rainforest, in fact). Hiking on the AT is like being hugged by your own personal sponge. Everything is damp, all the time. The PCT is a dry trail. It’s apparently like being blasted by your own personal hair dryer. We’ll see.

The AT has black bears and moose and deer and some snakes and the occasional porcupine. The PCT has black bears and a slither-ton of rattlesnakes and something adorably groundhoggish called a marmot. (In Philadelphia, we lack the marmot.) And perhaps deer and goats. And mice. And the occasional wild cougar.

Water is an issue on the PCT in California. Sometimes you have to carry seven or eight liters (a whopping fourteen or sixteen pounds!) On the AT, one time I had to carry three liters, and you wouldn’t believe how much whining and complaining I did about that. Loudly. To myself, alone in the woods. The usual water carry, though, was a liter, liter and a half — a pitiful two pounds.

Resupply points are farther apart and farther from the trail than on the AT. Sometimes you have to hitch 15 or 20 or 30 miles to get to a town for groceries, whereas on the AT, towns are very close to the trail and easy to get to. You could literally stub your toe on a town every couple of days on the AT. (Well, OK, not literally. But you know what I mean.)

The AT has terrifying stream crossings. The Sierra section of the PCT has more terrifying stream crossings per day than you see on the entire AT — a lot of them involving snow. Yay.

There are shelters on the AT. Shelters and privies, roughly every eight to ten miles. I didn’t sleep in the shelters except where it was required, but I did tend to pitch my tent there, because, you know — a handy daily goal, nice flat spaces for a tent, and people. And I tried to poop on the privy-to-privy system when possible just for the luxury of sitting down for thirty squalid seconds. But there are no shelters or privies on the PCT. It’s just backcountry out there. All al fresco sleeping and pooping. Hopefully not at the same time.

It used to be that while thousands of people attempted the AT every year, only 400 attempted the PCT. Nowadays, thousands of people also attempt the PCT, so I’m anticipating plenty of trail culture and company. Go, Wild.


The hamsters be jittering

I’m engaging in the usual pre-hike jitters and navel gazing and hamster wheeling. It’s been too cold to train much (not to mention the record snowfall a couple of weeks ago), and my conditioning has lapsed. I did eight miles yesterday and I’m sore.

Then again, frankly, you can’t really mitigate the suffering by doing any of the suffering ahead of time, anyway. You get out there, and you just have to find a way to be at peace with the suffering. Which I was not, at all, on the AT. I went into it without really understanding what I was getting myself into. This time, I do know — so I’m nervous. I’m nervous that I won’t be able to do this. That I won’t be able to finish. That I’ll once again have the humbling and awful feeling of having six-hundred hikers blow past me within the first ninety days.

The Appalachian Trail was wonderful and horrible and blissful, and it was a remarkable blessing and achievement and gift to be able to do the whole trail (or, as my friends would sing, “Two-thousand, one-hundred, eighty-five miles”!). The goal this time is to try, try, try to do the whole thing NOBO. “No flips, no skips,” as they say. Which means, for all intents and purposes, 25 miles per day — roughly double my mileage on the AT. The PCT is longer, and the hiking window is only five months or so. None of this “just stay out until you’re done” stuff.

El Niño isn’t helping. Snow levels are above average, with the worst of the winter yet to come. That has a deep effect on travel through the middle of the trail — the High Sierra. The beautiful, dangerous, snowy part, with its rushing stream crossings and its peaks with their heavy white blankets down to their knees. Whitney, the highest point in the Lower 48. I have to take an ice axe, and know how to use it. I have to take crampons. This, of course, follows the first 700 miles of desert, including a chunk of the Mojave. The extremes boggle.

But so much beauty. So much. That much beauty — I think it can shatter you. Splinter you in a way that the pieces can never be put back in precisely the same order. Humpty Dumpty. I want to be shattered that way. By beauty. By beauty and silence and majesty. I miss being above treeline.

We’ll see. I’ll be fine if I end up having to do it over two years. I’ll be thrilled, in fact. But really, I’d like to do it in one.

But I’m taking it one day at a time.