Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hikers Racing for Canadian Border To Beat Winter”
“Be finished before October 1st,” one ex-hiker after another advised us at the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) Kickoff Party in 2009. It is an understatement to say it proved to be prescient advice.
I arrived at the Canadian border to complete the 2,663 mile journey on October 9th, which was at least two weeks later than desirable. For the last part of the PCT runs through the rugged Northern Cascades which are infamous for not just their jagged terrain, but balky early fall weather. The snow fall totals these regions annually receive is staggering–more than anywhere else in the United States. And it can begin early. Think late September.
We got hit in 2009 in the stretch between Snoqualmie and Skykomish and were facing some truly grim prospects (hunkering down in our tents hoping to wait it out for days), except for I was fortunate to be hiking with a Danish man who took great pride in the map-reading abilities of Scandinavians. He was able to sketch out a route for us that was way off-trail and through the woods. We were on our butts as much as our feet it seemed like. But we made it to the safety of Skykomish and the Dinsmore hostel.
Last year three hikers were rescued by helicopter from an early autumn snowstorm. A fourth hiker, a 25 year-old woman, was trapped in her tent for days as helicopters soared above her unable to find her. Finally, thinking she was done for, she came up with a plan to head down a nearby creek bed, which ultimately led her to a US Forest Service Road, where dozens of rescuers ran right into her.
So fellow hikers, that advice they gave us at the PCT Kickoff–to be finished by October 1st–is darn good. And I’m sure the current crop of 2014 thru-hikers that is now racing north through Oregon has it very much on their mind.
Bill Walker is author of Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also the author of other hiking books including Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail, The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago, and Getting High–The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.