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  • Emily Hayes

Things I didn't know about the PCT - Part 2

First published on The Trek in September 2022.

I’ve now finished hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I was able to finish at the border of Canada one way or another! Following on from one of my first blogs, here’s part 2, post PCT hike.

1. Once you have reached the Northern Terminus you still have to walk a lot of miles back! In the end a lot of hikers couldn’t make it to the Northern Terminus in 2022 because of wild fire closures but if we had, there would have been about 30 miles of hiking back on trail to catch a ride to a town.

2. The trail is not for those scared of heights. The narrow trails on ridges high up on mountains did not change throughout the PCT. Washington continued to offer this experience with Knifes Edge Ridge and other beautiful trails in Goat Rocks Wilderness and Glacier Peak Wilderness.

3. A lot of insects want to bite you for a lot of weeks.

I knew nothing about black flies! Why do so many insects want to bite me?! As if mosquitos aren’t enough! Black flies, mosquitos and something that looks like a house-fly-bumble-bee, wasp like things, red ants.. etc etc they all want to bite me. It gets bad for a few days and some level of flapping about angrily and cursing is seen a lot on trail.

4. Wild fire trail closures are chaotic.

Closures happen quickly and hikers are forced to re-plan quickly or find a bail out point while on trail. 2022 was a disruptive year for fire closures, sadly the McKinney fire caused hiker evacuations and 100 miles of trail closure, followed by closures in Oregon and then of course the northern terminus closure.

Information about fires comes on the 11th hour and a lot of hikers are not equipped with much knowledge to make alternate plans.

5. The best trail magic is the unexpected. The kindness of strangers in unexpected places has been the most wonderful pick-me-up on trail. Meals, lifts and places to stay have presented themselves magically when we’ve needed them most.

6. Snow can still be a challenge in Oregon and Washington. Because of my limited knowledge of American weather, I’d assumed snow only existed in the Sierra before June. Snow settles all through Oregon and Washington and can be presenting challenges well into the summer months.

7. Camping on trail is rarely beautiful. In the end I was too exhausted to find those dreamy camp spots you see on Instagram. I pitched my tent on the dirt in a forest as the sun was going down most nights. For me, most of Oregon and Washington was dark forested campsites. I had to keep walking past the places with views to stay on top of my mileage.

8. Expect to walk through a burnt forest at least a few times every week. Such a saddening experience that I never became used to; walking through desolate lands of burnt out forests. From the start at San Jacinto mountains and all the way up into Washington state there was 100s of miles of land that had been burnt to the ground from previous fires. Get used to it if you are walking the PCT in the future because this is part of the trail now.

9. Blow down trees are everywhere. Being from the UK we rarely see forests with so many trees fallen to the ground. Severe storms will bring a few trees down every so often but not to the extent I’ve seen on trail. I’ve walked over, under, around and scrambled over multiple enormous fallen trees. I hadn’t heard the phrase “blow down” before I was on trail but it became a common term used every day.

10. Washington does look postcard perfect.

This state delivered everything I expected (except the northern terminus), with prominent snow capped mountains, wild meadow flowers and lush green forest.

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