Pacific Crest Trail Offers Great Section Hikes
Given the magnificence of the 2,663 mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in its entirety, it is no surprise that there are many great section hikes also available. First though, you must decide which part of the Mexico-Canada traverse you wish to embed yourself in. There are basically four options:
1. The desert 2. The ‘High Sierra’ 3. southern Oregon 4. northern Cascades
The first option would be the most contrarian, for the simple reason that thru-hikers consider the desert something to just survive through. Having said that, the lipstick sunsets in the desert are inimitable and the terrain has its own brand of ‘saline beauty’.
The High Sierra is the most well-known section of the PCT. Starting at Kennedy Meadows at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas, the hiker climbs steadily for days, eventually reaching the very highest points in the entire American mainland. The region has an almost ethereal quality to it that stays with the hiker. In fact, despite having trekked extensively in the Himalayas, the High Sierra is the most gorgeous piece of real estate I have ever had the privilege to behold. Mount Whitney–elevation 14,494 feet–is a side trail off the PCT, but most thru-hikers take a day off to do it. Of course, snow can be a big issue, depending on the time of year. But if you are section hiking you have the option of traversing the High Sierra in August when almost all the snow will be gone. Thru-hikers are forced to go into the High Sierra in late June when conditions are usually still quite sketchy. Personally, I was scared to death covering both Mount Whitney and Forrester’s Pass (Note: read Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail).
Oregon is the flattest part of the PCT and this is where thru-hikers have traditionally reached deep to do their biggest miles. A great section hike would be to walk from the counter-culture city of Ashland (Shakespearean street plays) to Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States. This is a march of approximately 100 miles and can be done in five days.
The northern Cascades have their own brand of rugged bleakness that is hard to forget.This region reminded me of the White Mountains on the Appalachian Trail. It is considerably more craggy and inclined than the rest of the PCT. Fortunately, the denizens of the Evergreen State seem to have a fierce love of the outdoors inculcated in them. If they didn’t they probably would have never chosen to live in Washington to begin with. The trek from Skykomish to Stehekin, over Glaciar Pass, is especially intense and beautiful.
The Appalachian Trail, of course, has reams of section hikers because the trail lies within one day’s drive of almost half the U.S. population. The PCT is, indeed, different in this regard. But many people in the West can probably get to one of the above four locations in reasonable time and embed themselves for a stretch in this great national scenic trail.
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, as well as The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago. These are all available in paperback and Kindle form from Amazon.com. Walker, who is nearly 7-feet tall, is currently working on a whimsical book on the subject of height.