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PCT Gear Planning by Section

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Planning for weather can be a challenge, especially when you’re looking at a 5 month long journey on the PCT. To simplify this problem, I have broken the trail up into sections with a similar climate. Those sections are: The Desert, Sierra Mountains, Northern Cali/Oregon, and Washington. Each has their own climate and weather challenges.

Note: I hiked North Bound (NoBo) from mid-April (4.14.18) to early-September (9.7.18).

The Desert: Campo (mile 0) – Kennedy Meadows South (mile 709). Most people think it’s dry and hot. Depending on when you are hiking there, this can be true, however it can also be frigidly cold! The biggest concerns in this section are sun protection and finding water! It can get cold at night, especially early in the season (I saw a night with 19 degrees F on Mount Laguna on my 3rd day and it snowed on Mt San Jacinto). I saw 1 day of rain (2 hours total), and it only went below freezing at night twice.

  • Leave at home: Snow Gear, Rain Pants, BearCan
  • Bring with you: Rain Jacket (always carry just in case, can double as extra warm layer), Sun Protection – Hat, Sunscreen, Umbrella*, Solar Panel*, Extra Water Reservoirs (enough to carry 6 liters max)

PCT So-Cal Backpacking Gear List

The Sierras: Kennedy Meadows South (mile 702) – South Lake Tahoe (mile 1090). Welcome to the big mountains! You will be traveling at 10,000 ft on average for quite a while. The sun is still intense at high elevations so don’t send that hat home yet. The biggest concern in this section is going over the snow covered passes. Rule of thumb: June 1st is the earliest you should head north of Kennedy Meadows South. I had all my snow gear sent to me at Kennedy Meadows South plus some required food protection. Bear canisters are required between Kennedy Meadows South (mile 702) and Sonora Pass (mile 1017). The mosquitoes are SEVERELY horrible north of Tuolumne Meadows so bring a bug net (I just used my buff) and bug spray (I went without). Warning: DEET will eat your gear if you accidentally spill it on yourself. DEET is straight poison but there are alternatives to it (like Repel); this all a personal call. They finally let up a bit as you near Sonora Pass. I never saw rain, nights were below freezing  only 3-4 times.

  • Leave at home: Extra water reservoirs (only really need 2-4 liter capacity, water is abundant!)
  • Bring with you: Rain Jacket (always have just in case, can double as extra warm layer), BearCan (required), Ice Axe, Microspikes, Rain Pants (wore these when it was really cold), Wool Beanie, Wool Gloves (it’s cold as crap in the mornings!), Bug Net*, Insect Repellent*

PCT Sierras Backpacking Gear List

Northern Cali + Oregon: South Lake Tahoe (mile 1090) – Cascade Locks (mile 2147). Congrats! You made it through the Sierras, now it’s time to plunge into the forest in Nor-Cal. Surprisingly the highest temperatures I saw on trail (in the 100s) were in Nor-Cali near Hat Creek Rim. People were so warm they sent their sleeping bags home and got quilts (I troopered through with my 1 bag cause it’s all I’ve got!). I sent home all my snow gear from South Lake Tahoe in my Bearcan (11$ as opposed to 25$ at North Kennedy Meadows). Bear canisters are required in Lassen Volcanic National Park (mile 1343-1363). You can avoid the Lassen requirement by hiking through the area in 1 day (it’s 20 miles and you’ll be cranking by mile 1343). You’ll start to get near forest fire season by this point. I fought the smoke by covering my face with a buff, others opted for the facemask (your choice).  Oregon had more relaxed accumulated elevation gain so you’ll be cranking through the whole state of OR in just 2-3 weeks. Never saw rain, nights were only in the 30s once in Oregon at higher elevations.

  • Leave at home: BearCan, Ice Axe, Microspikes, Rain Pants, Solar Panel (not enough light – tree coverage from forest hiking).
  • Bring with you: Rain Jacket (always have just in case, can double as extra warm layer), Extra Water Reservoirs (4-5 liter capacity is good as there are some dry sections), Sun Protection – Hat, Sunscreen, Umbrella (for sun)*

PCT Nor-Cal + OR Backpacking Gear List

Washington: Cascade Locks (mile 2147) – Canadian Border (mile 2652). Bring on the rain! Now that you have crossed the Bridge of the Gods, it’s time to get used to big elevation gain again. Washington was true to its reputation, with rain and forest fires. Send yourself your rain pants again and be prepared to be wet. Hopefully the forest fires are dying down with the onset of rain but you’ll still have some trail closures, it’s just how it goes.

  • Leave at home: BearCan, Ice Axe, Microspikes, Solar Panel (not enough light – tree coverage form forest hiking),
  • Bring with you: Rain Jacket, Rain Pants, Reservoirs (2-4 liter capacity is all you’ll need), Umbrella (for rain)*

PCT WA Backpacking Gear List

Good luck out there! The right gear can be the difference between an enjoyable trek and a miserable one!

*I never personally used the equipment with (*), however I saw many hikers on trail with it.

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Curiosity – The power that propels you

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Mica Mountain, AZT (AZ)

Curiosity is a funny thing. What’s over that’s ridge? What’s past that chute? What’s just around the bend in the trail? What can you see from the peak? A rustle of leaves just feet away behind a bush, a rattle from an unseen snake, a rock wall staring you in the face standing between you and a peak. What’s that? Can I make it? How far can I go?

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The Grand Canyon, South Rim (AZ)

I remember looking at buttes in the Grand Canyon and thinking “I wonder if anyone has ever been up there.” I sometimes thought about what it would look like if you could paint the canyon with neon footsteps where humans have been since the canyon formed. It would be an awesome sight to see. How many people have stood where I have stood, touched the rocks I’ve touched, been the places I’ve been. Lastly, where has no one been, can I get there? The unknown; it’s the definition of adventure.

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Take another look, maybe you will see something new – Estrella Mountains (AZ)

There is always something else to learn, always a new adventure to have. If you get to the end of your fulfillment in one medium/discipline you push to the next or find a new way to push the current medium/discipline to a new level. Find something new to try, hone your craft, become better, explore, share your experience. There are so many places to see, experience, and there is no reason for you to ever run out. If you find yourself complacent, take a step back, appreciate what you love, and re-evaluate what is important. Remember that no matter how hard you try you can never fully know everything there is to know, there is a beauty in that. So be curious, it is a power that can propel you.

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Pain and Push – your Will can take you there

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Overlooking “The Devils Corkscrew” – Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon

Suffering is something everyone talks about on the trail. There is a physical and mental limit to what you can push the human body. Everyone has their own limit, in every class of adventurer. Some people hit a mile and they can’t push further, some people hit 100 and are ready to go some more.

I have done some endurance related hiking in the past; pushes through long days, head lamp strapped on going into the night because the sun set and you’re still on the trail working. Starting before the sun is up to make sure to give yourself that chance to reach summit, or your target of the day.

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“The Granaries” Found at the bottom of Nankoweap Trail in the Grand Canyon

I remember when I first started hiking I heard about people night hiking, I thought to myself, “that’s the stupidest thing ever!” I was only hiking a few miles at a time in the beginning. As I pushed into bigger and longer hikes it became apparent that attempting to accomplish 20+ miles days, at a hikers pace, one would be forced into the night. Headlamps became a necessity and it expanded my comfort zone. It’s funny how the mind can expand and the body adapt.

These bigger hikes, with big gain, sometimes into higher altitudes, made me realize that there were many of my own limits that were challenged and my comfort zone grew it many ways. On many treks I just remember feeling worked, miserable, stomach turning, unable to consume food. Physical limits had been met, red lining the whole way, gas tank on empty, mind going to places it’s never been, wanting to quite, give up, seeing things that weren’t there.

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Mount Lemon Dirty Thirty – Long way back down

A lot of that goes away when you realize that the only person that can get you to the finish is yourself. No one can hike your hike for you; sometimes it’s a head down, grind on, one foot in front of the other push to finish. But even if you’re the only one that can get you out, its nice to have a friend trekking with you. Sharing the same pain, some of my best friends I have were made while out suffering together.

People have a fantasy in their head about trails, treks, and adventures; they idolize it in a way. I think many of those fantasies are born from the curiosity or the need to feel accomplishment of hitting the target and the memory of all the pain it took to get you there vanishes. No matter what the challenge, the cold, the distance, the difficulty, the pain, it’s the will that gets you there. Don’t give up, push a little further, you can make it, your will can take you there. See you all out there on the trail!

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Ascending the North Rim, looking back to the return trek
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Squaw (Piestewa) Peak, Trail #300 – AZ (11.28.15)

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Trail in the sunset

Squaw (Piestewa) Peak is a great place to hike. It gets straight to work with its summit trail climbing 1100 feet in just 1.2 miles. If you’re a grinder and looking for good gain in short distance within the city limits, look no further.

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Trail in the sunset light

The trail itself is much like the surrounding desert, rugged and tough. A years worth of trips to the peak will surely make quick work of any hiking boot you could throw at it. Sharp rocks jetting up reminiscent of Superman’s home world krypton create and line the trail to the summit.

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View of lower peak from the true peak

I headed up the jagged trail with friends chilled from the 40 degree morning in shorts and a hoody. We quickly climbed hoping for sunrise to warm us, but the lazy autumn sun took its sweet time. We were all cold, but warmed as we pushed faster towards the top.

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View Camelback Mountain from the peak

About one quarter the way up I placed my foot on a rock up push up and continue on,  as I did my toe slipped from the rock face. With my hands in my hoody for warmth, I wasn’t much in the way of being able to catch myself. My left hip and soon my head slammed into the trail which was once beneath my feet. Startled by the swiftness of the fall, I jumped up and threw my hat back on my head and continued to push. The group all checked on me: Trail 1, Mike = 0. A little bloody, my bruised head reminded me to appreciate the trail and respect nature because it doesn’t always give hugs.

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Looking north from the peak

I love hiking, I love standing on a desert peak looking out across the expansive views of the southwest. Get outside, go explore, these aren’t the padded trails of the Northwest but they can be just as beautiful. See you on the trail!

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360 view from the peak

HIKE INFO: http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=122

 

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Monsoon on Squaw Peak – AZ (8.31.15)

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Monsoon rolls across the Valley of the Sun (click to enlarge)

I started hiking Squaw Peak (Piestewa Peak) just before sunset. As I started up I didn’t notice the Monsoon quickly rolling in from the east, my main focus was hitting the peak before summit. I hiked as fast as I could, focusing on the sun as it fell just beyond the mountains to the west. Minutes after the sun set I gained the peak. When I finally looked back to get a full view, I was taken back by what can only be described as one epic sky.

The wave of rain and dust from the monsoon rushed across the valley swallowing the light from the sunset like some hungry bottomless monster. What a sight! Lighting surged through the cloud on rapid fire like a brain firing neutrons, i knew it was time to roll! I bolted down the mountain in a hurry trying to reach my truck before the downpour reached me. Rain in the desert is a rare incredible event, one of the only times the desert gets its thirst quenched. The monsoon would give life to the once seemingly dead wildlife browned from the summer sun. Everything here has evolved to survive, adapt to such a harsh environment. Its truly incredible to see such a beautiful thing happen. Another awesome day on the mountain!!

HIKE INFO:

http://goatmanmike.com/2014/11/piestawa-peak-squaw-peak-11-10-14/

http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=122

 

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South Mountain – Hidden Valley Figure Eight (5.7.15)

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Peering back at the city from South Mountain

There is something about South Mountain Phoenix City Park that I just love. Just minutes from phoenix you can feel secluded, away from the hassle and bustle of the city, but still be close enough to peer back and appreciate whats in your back yard. South Mountain is the largest municipal city parks in the county, home to a ton of official trails, and plenty of un-official ones. South Mountain is a Choose Your Own Adventure best kept hiking secret in the Phoenix Valley. And I really dont mind it that way, get outside, live a little! Your mind and body will thank you.

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Panorama looking back at the city (click enlarge)

Hike Info: http://hikearizona.com/gps=854

  • Weather: Hi mid 80s, Low in the low 80s, bluebird skys
  • Water: 0.5 liters
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Distance: 4.6 miles loop
  • Accumulated Gain: 1,200 feet

 

 

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