Tough Year for Thru-Hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail
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Friday, August 12, 2011Fewer hikers expected to finish Pacific Crest Trail this year
By Dylan Silver
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Copyright 2011 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. August, 12 2011 9:47 am
Fewer hikers expected to finish Pacific Crest Trail this year
Tahoe Daily Tribune
Snow still covers a section of the Pacific Crest Trail near South Lake Tahoe in late June.
Photo courtesy of Mountain EducationWith a long-lasting snowpack up high and an extra short window for success, this year has been especially tough for the intrepid few who planned to trek the entire 2,650-mile span of the Pacific Crest Trail.
“We don’t expect as high a success rate as normal,” said Jack Haskel, a trail information specialist for the Pacific Crest Trail Association. “It’s quite likely that the success rate this year is far, far below normal.”
Many hikers have already quit, while others have been slowed down to the point that finishing would take them into winter, Haskel said. Others are “flip-flopping” or hiking different sections of the trail in order to avoid bad conditions.
Most of the thru-hikers, or people hiking the entire length, have already passed through the Lake Tahoe region, pushing forward to drier trails farther north. This stretch of the trail, mile 1,100 to mile 1,160, is somewhat less challenging than Sonora and Cottonwood passes just a few days back. But with snow still at higher elevations throughout the Sierra Nevada, nothing is easy on the PCT.
“Last year we had about 160 percent of normal (snowpack) for May 1. This year the snowpack was at 200 percent.” said Ned Tibbits, who runs Mountain Education, a South Lake Tahoe-based wilderness safety and survival school. “This means PCT thru-hikers will lose the trail under snow at about mile 736 and not see it again until somewhere in Northern California, Oregon, or Washington.”
In late July, Melanie Clark, came to South Lake Tahoe from San Jose to visit a friend who’d made it to the area on the PCT. She gave several hikers a ride to town from the trail’s intersection with Highway 50 near Echo Summit.
“Many hikers were pretty beat up and needed to rest and heal,” she said via e-mail. “This has been an extremely strenuous year with all the snow.”
Snow is the single biggest challenge for thru-hikers, Haskel said. It can cause falls and injuries, as well as posing dangers like sinkholes.
“It’s also more trying mentally,” Haskel said. “A very large part of a successful thru-hike is the mental aspect. Walking on extensive snow isn’t always fun and it can even be disheartening.”
Most thru-hikers begin the trail in Campo, Calif., near the Mexico border, in late April and plan on finishing at the trail’s Northern end, near the Canadian border, by the end of September. Each year around 300 people attempt a thru-hike. Normally, about 180 people finish.
Last season, 174 people finished. The Pacific Crest Trail Association’s website only lists two that have finished in 2011. But with more than a month to go before colder temperatures and stormy weather set in, there is still hope. Noah Strycker, an Oregon resident, has been on the trail for 84 days and just finished the California portion of the hike.
“There are at least 25 thrus spread out ahead and dozens more following in the next few