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What Is The PCT?

What is the PCT? An abbreviation for percentage? Is it the PCT theorem on parity, charge and time inversions? Polychlorinated terphenyl, an industrial chemical? Polycyclohexylenedimethylene terephthalate, a thermoplastic polyester? 

I have absolutely no idea what any of those long winded words mean either. And none of those define the PCT I am thinking of.

What Is The PCT?

Last November when I started to break my ‘good news’ to friends and family that I was going to hike the PCT, I often received blank stares. My extended family is more likely to be found at Disneyland Park than at Badlands National Park. Often times when I call home to share my immediate family’s outdoor adventures such as ice climbing, bouldering, and mountain climbing, I am speaking of uncharted foreign territories to my siblings and parental units.

I remember distinctly as my mother, over the phone, replied to my PCT news with – “How lovely, a little hike,” and asked, would I be done by dinner. I calmly explained I may unfortunately be late since I was going to start my journey at the Mexican border and end by crossing over the Canadian border. The phone stayed eerily silent for a solid two minutes as my mother, as she has done many times before when I present my latest wilderness scheme, debated my sanity and what choices I was making with my life. 

So I am going to back track a little to my original question: 

What Is The Pacific Coast Trail?

The PCT stands for the Pacific Crest Trail. The Pacific Crest Trail was first proposed around 1932 by Pasadena Playhouse founder and chairman of the Mountain League of Los Angeles, Clinton C. Clarke. He envisioned a trail running from the Mexico border up to Canada traveling along the crest of the mountains in California, Oregon, and Washington. The original proposal was his hope to link the existing long distance mountain trails of the John Muir Trail, the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail, the Skyline Trail and the Cascade Crest Trail.

Mr. Clarke championed diligently alongside the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and Ansel Adams to form The Pacific Crest Trail System Conference. Between 1935 and 1938, The Pacific Crest Trail System Conference’s associated groups explored the 2,000 miles of potential trail as they began to plan a route. The trail these hardworking groups first mapped out has been closely followed by the modern PCT route still used today, almost 85 years later. 

In the year 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated the Pacific Crest Trail as a National Scenic Trail with the National Trails System Act. It would take 25 years for the trail to be officially completed to totality in the year 1993. Since designated, The Trust for Public Land has purchased and conserved more than 3,000 acres of land that the Pacific Crest Trail runs through in hopes to create better public recreational access and protect these beautiful lands.

Flash forward to today, PCT’s southern terminus is located at the Mexican border near Campo, California. The trail passes through seven National Parks, 25 National Forests, and three states to end at the Northern terminus at the Canadian border near Manning Park, Washington. When you start the Pacific Crest Trail going NOBO (Northbound) you begin your trek in the scorching desert and travel through the snowy mountain heights.

The highest point of the Pacific Crest Trail is located at Forester Pass with an elevation height of 13,153 feet in the very heart of the breathtaking Sierras. If that height is not high enough for you then you can always decide to add a few more miles to summit the tallest point in the continental USA, Mount Whitney, who stands majestically at a total height of 14,505 feet in elevation. 

What Is The Total Length Of This Journey? 

The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,650 miles (4,265 kilometers) from start to finish. Roughly. I add the caveat ‘roughly’ because the truth is when you start this trek you may find yourself adding miles to reach a nearby town to resupply on food, or subtracting miles when weather, injury, or wildfire diverts your plans for safety. On average, because of wildfires, the trail has official detours put into place by the Pacific Crest Trail Association which will add 10 miles to the total length.

There is a popular saying passed along the class of people who decide to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. This saying is ‘hike you’re own hike’ – because the first lesson the somewhat brutal teacher Mother Nature gives, is she is in charge. In her beautifully unpredictable way. So let go of hard plans and enjoy the walk. 

Sections of the PCT

The PCT starts at Mexican border and ends about 8 miles past the Canadian border at the Northern Terminus.

  • Southern California
    • Campo (mile 0) to Kennedy Meadows (mile 702)
  • Central California
    • Kennedy Meadows (mile 702) to Echo Lake (mile 1.092)
  • Northern California
    • Echo Lake (mile 1.092) to California/Oregon border (mile 1.692)
  • Oregon
    • California/Oregon border (mile 1.692) to Cascade Locks (mile 2.147)
  • Washington
    • Cascade Locks (mile 2.147) to Canadian border (mile 2.652)

The official end is the Northern Terminus and is on the U.S./Canada border, in Pasayten Wilderness next to E. C. Manning Provincial Park

How Long Does It Take To Hike The Pacific Crest Trail? 

On average, the time commitment to complete the PCT is between 4 and 6 months. Any job, any relationships, any housing situations and even any pets you may have in your real life will need to be put on hold while you spend weeks of solitude among where the wild things dwell. On top of the time commitment you will invest in this thru-hike, and contrary to the very popular social media hashtag, #outsideisfree, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is a financial commitment as well.

Financial commitments consist of the inevitable cost of needed hiking gear like tents and trekking poles all the way to resupply boxes with food and clothes for the changing environments. Plus adding any other costs you may have with hotel room breaks to refresh or Uber lifts to town when you can not find a ride – you can plan to invest about $4,000 to $8,000 dollars in total. When budget planning, many hikers will include in their total costs something called the Reentry Fund. The purpose of this nest egg is that the end of the trail is mentally and financially challenging. This money set aside can aid in transitioning back into the working world. 

As you can see from the bare bones of statistics, deciding to hike the PCT is more than a day stroll in the forest. On top of logistically planning this beautiful adventure there are mental and physical strains to be aware of. The Pacific Crest Trail is never described as an easy stroll despite all the life changing effects for the betterment many encourage as reasons to attempt it. Even with these obstacles between 700-800 people will be on the Pacific Crest Trail each year, 63% of them walking until completion. This year I will be one of those thru-hikers. 

Am I excited? Yes. 

Am I terrified? Yes. 

Am I ready? No. 

But who can truly be ready for a journey like this? 

Where to access the Pacific Crest Trail From Orange County

PCT Trail Map

The Southern California stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail from south to north, runs through the Anza Borrego Desert, Cleveland National Forest, through the San Gabriel and San Bernardino ranges near Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead, and into the LA Basin and Mojave Desert.

View a full interactive map of the Pacific Crest Trail here

View a collection of additional PCT Maps

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Kaitlin Musser
Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her tall-one husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they wouldn’t be a forever home for all of them they were able to adopt their daughter buckets and are legal guardians of their son monkey.