I found it hard to fall asleep last night, probably because I only walked 10 miles, had a late morning and got to camp with three hours of daylight remaining. The other reason was the stars were so vibrant that I couldn’t stop watching them and thinking to myself how lucky I was to be lying in the middle of the wilderness, totally alone, snuggled in my sleeping bag with such a natural silence surrounding me.
If you told me five years ago when I learned about the PCT from Ladybug that I would be in the situation I was last night I never would have believed you. I’d barely ever gone hiking before and I’d certainly never camped overnight in the wilderness without a car full of supplies and other people surrounding me.
What I love about this trail is that the people it attracts are just ordinary people looking for adventure, a way to escape, or an experience that will change their life. Of course there are some hard core hiking enthusiasts out here, but everyone I’ve met is still learning something new each and every day. Whether it’s navigation, gear, food or maintaining your own physical condition, no one has all elements figured out just yet.
There is so much information and advice out there for people preparing long distance hikes like the PCT. It’s definitely overwhelming, and when you start from little experience like myself it’s hard to know where to even begin. At the end of the trail I plan to write a full review on gear and pass on the lessons I learned from my experience. Everyone’s preferences are different, but there’s definitely some commonalities that the majority of hikers will agree on.
Yesterday while I was hiking I thought I should start making some notes on what has been important and worked for me so far on the trail so here it goes…
I started the trail will 250 pages of printed maps created by Halfmile. I ditched these at the kickoff because I already had them downloaded as PDFs on my PCTHYOH app. This app is awesome. You’ll need a few days and good wifi to cache all of the maps, water report and other links conveniently captured in a single app. The other app I swear by is Halfmile’s PCT app. So far I haven’t needed any other tool to guide me through the trail. The other app I do have is Guthook’s Hiking Guides separated into SoCal, Sierras, NorCal, Oregon and Washington. This app is great if you find yourself off trail and need to find your way back because you use it just like Google maps and follow the blue GPS dot back to the trail. If you like looking at detailed maps this may not work for you, but if you simply want to go in the right direction and avoid getting lost this is more than enough. Generally the trail is marked incredibly well. You don’t need cell reception to get a GPS signal so it’s worked for me everywhere so far.
This one is tricky, and I’ll go into more detail after the hike, but at the moment this is what I carry:
– ULA Catalyst backpack
– Tarptent Moment one person tent
– Thermarest Z-lite sleeping pad
– Piece of Tyvek for a ground sheet
– Suntactics solar panel
– iPhone 4S and charger
– Black Diamond hiking poles
– Stuff sack for dinner and breakfast food
– Stuff sack for lunch and snacks
– 4L MSR hydration bladder
– 1L Platypus foldable bottle
– 1L Gatorade bottle
– Caldera Cone stove with the plastic casing for bowl and cup
– Titanium 600ml cooking pot from Cadera
– HEET to fuel stove (1 bottle should last 7 days boiling water twice a day)
– Stuff sack with clothes I’m not wearing
– First aid including sunscreen, deet, toothbrush and paste, pocket knife, blister care, medication, etc
– Pee bandana (yes for peeing)
– Wet wipes (you can never have too many)
– Yogi’s notes, data book notes and printed permits
– Fake Crocs for camp shoes
– Camera and charger
– Small purse with cash and credit cards
– Passport and drivers license
– Muk Muk key ring
– Peacock key ring (from Katie & Amy)
I think that’s about it. I’ll go into more detail on clothing and first aid later on in the trip or afterwards.
I have a dedicated food page and I haven’t changed much at all from what is in my resupply boxes. I still haven’t got lunch correct, only carrying tortillas and peanut butter and some sticks of string cheese and salami. It does the job but I have lost a lot of weight on this trip and probably need something a little more hearty in the middle of the day.
Other lessons learned:
– Water is what guides your entire day. The water report for Southern California is a fantastic resource. It doesn’t continue past mile 740 something so I will need to rely on Yogi’s notes/data book/Halfmile’s app/Guthook’s app. Will let you know what works best when I figure it out myself.
– There are lots of other hikers on this trail. I’ve only had one day where I didn’t bump into another hiker.
– Shitting in the woods is not scary (although UB would probably beg to differ)
– There are many additional camping spots than what is listed on Halfmile’s maps or app. The only places you REALLY can’t camp is when you’re on a ridge heading up or down a mountain. Even then you’ll sometimes stumble across a gem.
– The trail IS well graded but there are lots of sharp rocks. If you have tender feet like me hiking boots may not be a bad option. I see quite a few hikers who swear by them.
– I was so thankful that I started the trail early and have remained somewhat ahead of the pack. Especially in a dry year I think this is a smart way to go as I’m worried about water for the folks behind me. You may also struggle with accommodation in some towns if 80 people arrive on the same day!
– Being smelly and dirty is awesome because it’s completely accepted. I still wear deodorant, even though I smell horrifically anyway, it keeps me sane.
– It’s great having a balance of hiking and camping on your own and with other hikers. This seems to happen naturally but I feel the most connected with the trail and the wilderness when I’m travelling solo. (I have more energy and I hike a lot faster when I’m with other hikers though).
– Trail angels and trail magic still overwhelms me. The fact that people go out of their way and spend their own money to make your trip more comfortable and enjoyable is astonishing.
– Hiking 20 miles a day is not what I would call fun, but the events that occur around it and the satisfaction of completing each day makes it worth while.
The reason I’ve taken the time to record these notes is because I discovered this morning that UB hurt his knee yesterday and camped about 10 miles back. Dingo and Mud said he was pretty down so I’ve decided to stay put where I camped and wait for him. I’m hoping his knee is in better shape today so that he can at least reach this spot. I’ve been asking every hiker that has passed me today for an update but all of them haven’t seen him since yesterday. I hope he’s doing alright and that I’ll see him coming down the trail soon.