There is no doubt that hiking the PCT is going to be a daunting task, but for me, all the preparation and planning is proving to be even worse. I have always been allergic to detailed planning; In general I prefer to have a loose idea of what I am going to do and then modify my plans on the fly as required. For better or for worse, since this is the approach I have always taken, I’m taking the same approach with the PCT. The amount of preparation required for a 5 month endeavor is turning out to be massive, and I am finding it to be quite labor intensive. Just to get my loose plan in place has taken a tremendous amount of time and energy,
Now that the planning phase for my hike is complete, I’m going to attempt to share with you everything I learned along the way. And when my hike is over, the intent is to make a follow up post about my planning: what worked and what didn’t, and what I would do differently given the opportunity.
There are quite a few challenges I encountered while planning. The main hurdle for me was that all of the information needed had to be piecemealed together; there wasn’t a one stop shop for everything you needed to know. This means that I had to do quite a bit of research before the planning even started. While not a particularly difficult thing to do on its own, there were a couple of unique challenges associated with doing the research. The first was that I basically had no idea whether or not the source I was referencing was reliable. Over time, the number of people that have hiked the PCT has grown significantly. In the last decade we have seen an explosion in both the number of people hiking, as well as the number of people completing the trail. This means that there are now far more sources to draw from compared to previous years. But this is a double edged sword. Now that there is so much data available at one’s fingertips, I didn’t have to go too far to find conflicting statements. This was true for nearly anything on the trail. Many sources of information were people’s personal recollections of what they went through during their hike. These experiences were viewed through the lens of their skill levels, hiking comfort, year-over-year trail conditions etc., and often did not map perfectly to my own circumstances. Wading through this and finding resources that I felt good about was difficult.
While not perfect, the collection of documents and resources below are what I have selected to plan and execute my hike. I have tried to exclude any sources that are solely personal, like blogs or video logs.
Personal logistics document
This document is self-generated, and is the ultimate output of all of my extensive reading, culling and planning. It outlines when and where I will stop, as well as my resupply strategy.
Even though this document is carefully crafted and tailored, I am prepared (and expecting) to throw it out the window. Everything I have read says that you need to be adaptable while on your hike, and I plan to be as flexible as possible. Fires, varying trail conditions, injuries, and general disarray make it basically impossible to stick to a set plan. I have set up the file to be parametric, which will allow me to spontaneously change things as needed. Adding and removing stops, changing daily mileage, and altering resupply strategy are all fairly straightforward within this document. In addition, you’ll note that I won’t be sending any hiker boxes to resupply locations prior to the hike – everything will be done while on the trail. This allows me to retain optionality in stop locations at the cost of some additional labor while on the trail. Given the severity of the current winter, a ‘living document’ felt like the best course of action, as I may decide to skip or flip-flop certain sections.
The town guide maintained here is an indispensable piece of information. Knowing where I can and cannot resupply is a big deal. It also has quite a bit of detail about what the town has to offer besides actual supplies. Knowing when I’ll be able to stay in a hostel or get some wifi will be key for my sanity. This document is something that is maintained by a single person, but it appears to be reputable as I have seen it referenced by a few others. The owner has also hiked the PCT 5 (!!!!) times, making them somewhat of an authority.
This document is a big deal, particularly for the Southern California portion of the trail. The site is basically the go-to link for water information on the PCT. They maintain and distribute a living document that outlines all water sources on the PCT. They do this by aggregating information from people on the trail, and updating the document every few days. It allows them to deliver the best possible information to hikers. This is one of my lifelines on the trail; I doubt I would have the courage to do the hike without this.
PCT Snow conditions
This is the source I will be using to decide where to send my snow gear. My ice axe, crampons, and extra layers will add a few pounds to my pack, so making sure I am not carrying them unnecessarily is important. In addition, I may end up skipping sections of the Sierras due to snow conditions, and this source will allow me to make an informed decision.
Craig’s PCT planner
This is the de facto best way to plan your PCT hike. It has been used by many hikers throughout the years and is a great way to figure out where you are going to resupply. I ultimately decided not to use this planner, but instead make something sustainable(??), in order to gain as much familiarity as possible with my plan. I referenced this planner quite a few times while making my own.
PCT 2019 Facbook group
This Facebook group is exclusive to people hiking the Trail in 2019. It offers a great way for people to coordinate, communicate, and provide real time feedback about trail conditions. While not something I used to generate my plan, it is something I will be monitoring often throughout my hike
PCT Trail Angels Group
This Facebook group is meant to be a communication forum between the PCT trail angels and the hikers. At some point I’m going to be in a bind and will need to ask for help. This is the place to do it.
Guthook is an app for your phone that allows users to post real-time information about the trail. It is the app to use for finding campsites, locating water sources, figuring out where you are in relation to the trail, and getting notified about trail closures. PCTA.org reports that roughly 70% of the trail has cell reception. But guthook allows you to download the maps and the associated information beforehand, which can be reference later (even when you don’t have reception)
There is quite a bit of ‘life stuff’ that needs to be done before leaving for a hike. This checklist provides good scaffolding for everything you need to do to put your life on pause for ~6 months. I used this list to build an action items tracker to make sure I didn’t leave anything undone before my hike