The Growing Popularity of the Pacific Crest Trail
The Summer issue of the Pacific Crest Trail Communicator had some eye-opening statistics. In 1997 the Pacific Crest Trail Association (governing body of the PCT) issued 16 thru-hiking permits. This year, however, by April 15th it had issued 1,211 to thru-hikers and thru-riders (equestrians) for the 2013 hiking season. The trail could now fairly be said to be wildly popular. And there is no reason to think this trend won’t continue. No, the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail narrative) will never have the numbers that the Appalachian Trail has, because the AT is America’s trail of the masses and closer to many of our nation’s population centers. But it is destined to occupy a bigger role in the American consciousness. The question is why?
Cheryl Strayed’s vivid PCT narrative, Wild–From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, obviously has played a role in this upsurge. Her book highlighted some of the challenges, agonies, and wonders of the PCT experience. Although, it knocked my own book, Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, from its perch as the top-selling PCT book, I am a fan of Mrs. Strayed and we have communicated by blog and Twitter. Heck, truth be told, the popularity of her book has actually increased sales of my own. Thank you, Cheryl! Wild is an especially compelling story for independent women, who can identify with the lonely struggle Mrs. Strayed undertook out there. In fact, the PCT reports that the sharpest increase in traffic has been amongst women.
That all said, my guess is that there are even more profound reasons for the steady increase in the number of PCT hikers. For starters, the PCT may well be the world’s most gorgeous and diverse footpath. The variety of terrain, ranging from the stark and implacable desert, to the ethereal majesty of the ‘High Sierra’, to the rugged bleakness of the northern Cascade range, is bound to stir the soul of most any mortal. Needless to say, this is not lost on any of the people who hike out there. Word travels fast on the hiking community. I learned about the PCT while thru-hiking the AT. In fact, the glories of the PCT are thus that it has now become virtually a rite of passage amongtst AT thru-hikers to then begin planning a similar hike on the PCT.
The Appalachian Trail will always be America’s most popular hiking trail. And personally, I would never say anything bad about this journey through the world’s greatest remaining hardwood forest, as well as its unmatchable trail community. But the Pacific Crest Trail is looking more and more like the trail of the future.
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.