Starting in Campo, California, and running up the entire western coast of the United States into British Columbia is a long-distance hiking and equestrian trail known as the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. At a whopping 2,653 miles, this trail is not for the lighthearted, with its different elevation levels ranging from just above sea level to 13,153 feet at Forester Pass, and its vastly different weather patterns. This trail goes through 25 national forests and seven national parks!
To really know what the experience of hiking such a difficult trail is like, we asked a Pacific Crest Trail hiker - Mark Via - several questions about his time on the PCT so that any avid hiker thinking of taking on the challenge can be a bit more prepared!
Q: What part of the trail did you like best? Which did you dislike?
Mark Via: “My favorite section was the High Sierra! For about 300 miles the PCT runs concurrently with the John Muir Trail through some of the most pristine alpine terrain in the country. It was my first time ever seeing an environment like that, and it was breathtaking. I even summited Mt Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous US!
Northern California was tough for me. The wildfire season during 2018 was one of the worst in recent memory and the smoke from it was my constant companion from Yosemite to the Oregon border. Reduced lung capacity and lack of views combined with some lonely sections where I didn't encounter other hikers for days at a time made NorCal the closest I got to quitting.”
Q: What tools did you feel were essential?
MV: “Besides the obvious things like a tent, backpack and sleeping bag, my stove was the biggest thing I could not live without. Some hikers choose to forgo hot food and I gave it a shot for a week or so, but I found it just wasn't for me. I love having a hot meal to look forward to at the end of the day.”
Q: How many miles?
MV: “While I hiked, the official trail length was 2,652 miles; but due to reroutes it changes year to year! Due to some fire closures and schedule constraints, I ended up hiking around 2,400 PCT miles, but I honestly have no idea how far I walked in total.”
Q: Was there anything about your adventure that stands out as extremely difficult?
MV: “The first few weeks were a bit of an adjustment period. It was challenging learning how to hike 20 miles a day in 100+ degree desert weather, but once I got the hang of hiking all day there's nothing particularly difficult about a thru-hike. I think anyone who is in average physical shape can do it if they want to, but you must have the mental strength to keep going even when you're hungry or cold or hurting.”
Q: What surprised you the most about the experience?
MV: “I was surprised to discover how much luck plays into your chances of completing a thru-hike. All PCT hopefuls know the statistic that only 1 in 4 people who set off to hike from Mexico to Canada will make it all the way there; but prior to hitting the trail I assumed that it was only the strongest hikers who made the cut. In reality, there is so much that's out of your control - things such as injuries, trail closures, and life-threatening weather. You can be prepared physically, mentally, and financially, and still have your hike unexpectedly cut-short by factors out of your control. I consider myself very fortunate that I could finish.”
Q: Is there a story that stands out that is either funny or interesting?
MV: “Too many to list! The strongest memories I have are of the friends I made. Snow White the wild Canadian who adopted a kitten and carried it to Canada. Merman from Ireland who swam in every body of water he came across, even if it was a 40-degree glacial lake. Pops, Jukebox, and Photo-Op, who I hiked the desert with and who I later managed to catch up to at the Washington border. It was a summer that lasted a year, every day was packed with excitement.”
Q: Did you have trouble with the change in altitude?
MV: “Yes, living my whole life in Ohio, at 700 feet elevation, did nothing to prepare me for the mountains of California! Around 8,000 feet up is when I started to get short of breath, and some sections of the trail go to over 12,000 feet of elevation! The trail up Mt. Whitney was probably the toughest 8 miles I've ever hiked.”
Q: If you did it again, would you do anything different? What would you keep the same?
MV: “I would give myself more time. Since I had to finish my college classes first, I had a relatively late start date and had to race against winter in northern Washington. I would have liked to be able to take my time and see more things along the way, but I had to hike high-mileage days consistently.”
Q: Do you recommend doing it?
MV: “Yes! I don't think five months of hiking is something most people have the stomach for, but if it sounds like something you want to do, I encourage you to give it a try! If you find out it's not for you, it's easy to get back to civilization. But you may regret not doing it when you have the chance!”
Q: If someone wanted to do it, what would you tell them they should do experience-wise? What would you warn them about?
MV: “I don't think I would make any specific recommendations. Everyone's hike is unique because of the people they meet and the things they decide to do and that's what makes a thru-hike special. A common saying on the trail is, "Hike Your Own Hike," which means that the trail can be whatever you want it to be!”
There you have it! We hope this answers any questions you may have about hiking this amazing trail from Mexico all the way to Canada. And of course, since you ARE reading this on the SuperBungee Cord site, we’d be remiss if we didn’t advocate for the use of our pretty-remarkable heavy duty bungee cords that fit compactly into your backpack or knapsack and can even be worn as belts or straps, yet stretch to 6X their relaxed length for all sorts of amazing applications on the trail and at the campsite.
Whether you need to set-up a rain-proof shelter on the trail during an unexpected downpour, create a critter-proof sleeping zone around your tent, reinforce the strength of that tent, make a clothesline for drying clothes you’ve just washed at a watering hole, tie-down any supplies you choose to leave outside of your tent at night, or even create a warning barricade for future hikers against a damaged section of trail – SuperBungee offers resilient, strong bungee cords that make for great hiking partners. Our 12-inch bungee cords stretch to five and a half feet, our 20-inch bungee cord stretches to nearly nine feet; our 32-inch bungee cords reach to a whopping 14 feet in length with their strong, steel-core, plastic-covered Titan hooks attached!
For utility needs along your journey, with many unexpected variables to encounter, leaving home with SuperBungee Cords is simply a smart maneuver for hikers amateur and experienced! Happy hiking!