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  • Emily Hayes

Things I didn't know about the PCT

First published on The Trek in April 2022.

I’m at Idyllwild off mile 151 of the PCT. After hiking the desert for 9 days on trail, I’ve learnt a lot about what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ve been really surprised about a lot of things. I’ve spent the last 2 years preparing myself for the snow, being alone, carrying a heavy backpack, understanding how many miles I can walk or how much food I can carry. I’ve spent hours reading blogs and watching vlogs to understand what goes on when hiking the PCT but as an English resident there are so many gaps in my knowledge of long distance hiking trails in the USA. Here’s a summary of some things I didn’t know but I’ve learnt very quickly while hiking on my first 2 weeks.

The Desert is HOT AND COLD

The desert is so much more beautiful than I ever imagined but it is HOT AND COLD. Starting in March coming from England where the weather has been cold has it has been a big temperature change for my body to adjust to. I’ve now got used to the heat somewhat. Sweating up those hills with a heavy pack has been hard but then as soon as you make camp late afternoon, it’s necessary to start thinking about getting warm again as the temperature can dip below freezing. I can’t even imagine how challenging it would be to start the PCT in May when there is higher temperature and less water.

You need to carry so much water

You need a lot more water than I had initially planned for, add in the need for a hiking strategy for the next water source, you have yourself a daily challenge. Some people carry upto 6 liters, I’m embarrassed that I thought I’d be fine with 2 liters. I’ve now been carrying 4 liters and I’ve been quite diligent at knowing when I’ll next be getting water.

Hygiene is important Hygiene has been a big factor in adding to my comfort levels. I wouldn’t consider myself an ultralight weight backpacker but I have compromised on some basics like not packing wet wipes or a designated toilet bag. I’ve spent my previous hiking trips in Scotland where I’ve never felt the dry dusty desert heat so I was quite unprepared for my toilet trips on the PCT. I won’t share too much more but wet wipes are definitely needed and there’s been a few times that my kula pee cloth has had to be used for things other than pee! Don’t forget a poop scoop is an essential item, I’ve also added in a dark coloured bag to pack out used toilet tissue. I’ve suffered from a little bum chafe and some embarrassing stories because I haven’t got my hygiene in-check yet!

Food in grocery stores is better than hoped. Food availability and costs have been interesting so far. I’ve stopped for food supply at Lake Morena, Mount Laguna, Julian and now Idyllwild. I’ve been impressed with the variety and value of grocery stores in Julian and managed to keep to my planned hiker diet but some places have been really overpriced. Being flexible with my food resupply was something I was expecting but the variety of options here are great! I’ll check in 5 months later to confirm if I still think the same.

PCT hikers are so friendly

People are super friendly and there are all sorts of people out here. I couldn’t even imagine what trail culture would feel like until I got here. There is so much positivity, support and generousity here. For the last 2 weeks it’s been hard to be alone and I haven’t wanted to be because I’ve wanted to get to know everyone. I had prepared to be alone as that’s the way I do things but it’s felt very natural mingling with everyone and hiking with others.

Gear and miles, hike your own hike. People do not hike long distances to start. You have to take it easy. No one can start with 20 mile days and not get injuries. I’ve seen about 50% of hikers suffer from injuries already. Also, ultralight backpackers don’t really exist in the majority of hikers and I think more people need to share this!

Switchbacks are driving me crazy Switchbacks and the steepness of the mountains have really surprised me, it might be stupid to not have known this but those back and forth paths make up the miles so the progress seems a bit slow and disheartening when you go over a mountain just to come back to the road you saw 5 hours earlier.

The last 2 weeks have been a fun and steep learning curve but I’m glad I set off at Campo with a flexible mindset. I’m still feeling great and very excited for what’s to come on trail.

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