Planning for our PCT section hike has been one of the best learning experiences of my life. Before this trip, the longest backpacking adventure that I had organized was for a couple of nights over a long weekend. Let me tell you, planning and preparing for a 300+ mile and 30-day hike through NorCal and Oregon was a whole different animal.
This was going to require transportation to and from the trail, route planning, multiple permits, and over 4 weeks of food prepared ahead of time and shipped to resupply points along the trail.
I was overwhelmed to say the least. Majority of these things I had never even done before, but with right now being the best time to hike the PCT, I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
It Was a Logistics Nightmare
Our first challenge was deciding where we wanted to hike. We knew we wanted to be on the trail for at least 30 days and decided that hiking about 10 miles a day (pretty modest by thru hiking standards) would give us enough time to cover a pretty sizable distance while also giving us the opportunity to take our time and enjoy.
From there, we used a pretty handy map and a little math to find a perfect 323 mile stretch from Dunsmuir, CA to Crater Lake, OR.
Next, we had to figure out how to get to the trail head and what to do once we finish. This is made more difficult by the fact that these are some pretty remote locations. If you have two cars, this is easy: just leave one at your end point and then you both drive down to trail head. For us, only having one car meant that we would have to get creative.
We thought of just about every option possible and used almost every single one of them:
- Public Transportation (Google Transit): Buses and trains
- Have a nice friend or Trail Angel drive you
- Private Transportation
- Walking – ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ We might as well get used to it
Once we were finally confident that we could get to and from the trail without getting stranded at one end, it was time to plan our route.
Planning the Route:
Turns out, theres more to planning a route than deciding what trail you want to hike and following the signs to the end. For this PCT section hike we had to figure out things like where the most ideal camp sites for each night is, how to divvy up milage from day-to-day so we can make it to town without running out of supplies, where the reliable water sources are, and where along the route we can ship resupply boxes.
While the PCT is a pretty well traveled trail, we will be some of the first to travel along this section at this time of the season and we’re not exactly sure what it’s going to look like once we get out there. With that being said, we’ve used a few different resources to familiarize ourselves with the trail and get a better idea of what to expect.
Books: Lucky for us, there are some great books out there on PCT section hiking. They’ve got maps, detailed trail descriptions, camp sites and directions to the best water sources. Without these books, I’d be feeling pretty ill-equipped and unprepared. The two we’ve been using are specific to the PCT sections in NorCal and Oregon:
Online Maps – We’ve mostly used these to give us a big picture over view and bird’s eye view of our route. Although there are some pretty detailed online maps as well.
- Google Maps
- Halfmile’s PCT Maps
GPS Apps – We’ll be using these along the trail to spot check and keep us on the right path. I’ll have to report back on how well they actually work later.
Here’s a brief overview of what our route itinerary looks like (each section ends at a resupply point):
- Section 1: Dunsmuir, CA to Etna, CA – 7 Days, 98 Miles
- Section 2: Etna, CA to Seiad Valley, CA – 5 Days, 56 Miles
- Section 3: Seiad Valley, CA to Callahan’s, OR – 5 Days, 64 Miles
- Section 4: Callahan’s, OR to Fish Lake, OR – 4 Days, 55 Miles
- Section 5: Fish Lake, OR to Crater Lake, OR – 7 Days, 50 Miles
Weather – Predicting the Unpredictable
After all that was said and done; after we had organized the logistics, planned our route and figured out the correct permits to apply for, we had to do it all over again. Twice. Little did I know, mountain trails along this section of the PCT could still be snow bound well into the months of June and July – making them considerably more difficult to hike and navigate.
We had originally planned to section hike through Washington, then had to push our plans south to Oregon, and finally settled on our current itinerary starting in NorCal and ending in Oregon – 3rd times the charm. Could we have done it? Possibly, but there’s no way predicting when the snow is going to melt off and our cartoon bubble of a PCT section hike didn’t include trudging through miles of snow covered trail, so we adjusted our plans accordingly.
Hats off to all of the weather people out there, Mother Nature can be a tough one to predict.
Regardless of where you are hiking, it’s best to get a full understand of the possible weather and trail conditions. Know your skill level, know what you’re comfortable with and don’t forget to have a backup plan.
Here are a couple of the best resources for checking snow and trail conditions:
One of the best parts about section hiking the PCT is that we get to eat about 4,000 – 5,000 calories a day of pretty much anything we want. The hard part is actually trying to prepare that amount of food for an entire month.
What does one eat when you’re on a plant based diet, consuming enough food for two people, and your cooking options are limited to boiling water?
- Dehydrated meals
- A lot of oatmeal
- Instant Soups
- Minute Rice/Quinoa
- Trail mix
- Protein bars
- Peanut butter
Buying prepackaged dehydrated meals can start to get a bit expensive, but luckily for us we managed to get our hands on a dehydrator. This has allowed us to get a little more creative with our meals and while making sure that everything we are eating along the trail is healthy and nutritious.
All-in-all, preparing for this month long trip through NorCal and Oregon has been an incredible learning experience. With the planning in its final phases, its amazing to see it all start to come together. Who would’ve known a couple people with very minimal backpacking experience could successfully plan all of this?
Do I expect the plan to be perfect? Of course not. I’m sure there’s things I’ve missed and some things I won’t realized I’ve missed until it’s too late and we’re already on the trail, but that’s where we learn to adapt and make do; it’s all a part of the learning experience and how we grow as adventurers.