Thru-Hikers on Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails Should Beware the ‘Ides of October’
Let me please state right up front that trekking to the northern termini of the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail in the states of Maine and Washington are indeed unadulterated beauty. And yes, they are especially gorgeous in the month of October. Having said that, a hiker trekking through those parts in that magnificent autumn month must have at least a cursory awareness of the potential peril. Let me please state right up front that what you have probably heard is correct. The northern forests Why?
Because the crisp, gorgeous days and fabulous vistas can turn into wet, bone-wrenching cold in a heartbeat. And that’s when the game is on. Those of you who have read my Appalachian Trail narrative, Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Appalachian Trail, will recall the nights I spend shivering sleeplessly in my tent while passing through the Hundred Mile Wilderness, the most isolated part of the entire 2,180 mile Appalachian Trail. The risk of hypothermia is ever present.
At the Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff in 2009, speaker after speaker had solemnly advised us to be through by the 1st of October. That was good advice. However, come October 1st, I was still racing as fast as I could through the northern Cascades trying to reach the Canadian border. Furthermore, I was down over 40 pounds; the possibility of getting lost in some really bad weather loomed large. I finally made it to Manning Park in Canada on October 9th; the last five days were one of the most intense experiences of my life. I value it greatly; but I would not want to repeat it.
So I repeat these words: Beware the ides of October. I’m not saying don’t hike through these parts during those times. Rather I just want to say that hikers in northern Maine and northern Washington should have the right equipment and come with their game faces on.
Bill Walker is the author of ‘Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail’. He is also the author of ‘Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail’. Other outdoor narratives include ‘The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago’ and ‘Getting High–The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal’.