Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff Party Is a Great Way to Start
“I would definitely go to the Kickoff.”
Time after time, when I asked ex PCT-hikers for advice, that was the first thing they suggested. They were referring to the annual Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff Party held every year on the last weekend in April in Lake Morena County State Park in the southern California desert. The PCTactually begins at the Mexican border; Lake Morena State Park is 21 miles north of the border.
Thru-hikers traditionally hike to the park, and arrive on a Friday. This year the Kickoff will be April 26-28. Those arriving (in 2009 we arrived on a cold, windswept night in the desert) can expect hot food to be ready, prepared by ex thru-hikers. In fact, food and beverages will be plentiful all weekend, which is nice, considering that hikers can expect to hemorrhage weight throughout their journey. Readers of my PCT narrative, Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, will probably recall a photo of me that generated some controversy. I had lost 45 pounds by the time of the photo and looked emaciated. Some (including my mother) said I shouldn’t have put the photo in because it would deter future hikers from attempting the PCT.
“People want to go hiking,” my mother argued. “Not to Auschwitz.” But the point is that at the Kickoff the ex thru-hikers feed the current year’s class like stuffed hogs, which is exactly what you need before embarking on a journey that will require many more calories than you can possibly consume.
But that is not even the main reason to attend the Kickoff. Ex thru-hikers give the current year’s class seminars on such crucial topics as snow levels in the ‘High Sierra’, current water reports in the desert, and dealing with bears (bear canisters). Better yet, these seminars are not givenin the cover-your-ass language of a travel brochure, but rather with the bark off. I still rememberone presenter talking about the virtues of hiking at night in the desert.
“What about cougars; they’re supposedly all over the place at night?” one person asked him.
“But think about it,” the presenter reasoned. “Here comes something six feet off the groundwith a headlamp shining off the top of him (her). Is that cougar gonna’ look at that and think’here is my next meal'”
The logic seemed impregnable and nobody challenged him. In fact, many of is hiked at night inthe desert, despite all the cougars, snakes, and scorpions that roam around under the dark.A final reason to attend the Kickoff is it is tailor made for developing hiking partners from theget-go. That Sunday morning thru-hikers fan out into the desert for a 2,600 mile plus journey.Believe me, solitude is part of the bargain; but it’s nice that you at least have the opportunityto meet some people early on. Our year, in fact, some people stayed with people they met atthe Kickoff for large parts of the journey (two couples who met on the PCT have since gotten married).
Yes, the Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff is one of the marquee events in the outdoor community and Ihighly recommend it. And in the wake of Cheryl Strayed’s new bestseller, ‘Wild–From Lost toFound on the Pacific Crest Trail, the number of participants should be at record levels. It’s allto be savored.
Bill Walker is the author of Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail, The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago, and Getting High–the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.