This summer, I set out to hike 650 miles of the PCT through Northern California and Oregon. In the end, I exceeded my expectations in daily mileage, pace, and hiked 150 miles farther than I originally set out to. I wasn’t certain that this hike was possible for me, let alone making an attempt of the full 2,600 mile trail. I am filled with many emotions upon completing our trip including gratitude, excitement, a sense of accomplishment.
After my hike this summer, I feel confident that I could make a solid attempt at a full PCT thru-hike. But, I don’t think I will.
Here are some of my reasons why.
- I appreciate the trail itself more when I experience it in smaller slices. I’m one of those people that likes to research and read about where I’m going (the plants, geological history, etc.). It helps me to be present and engaged with the environment around me and to get excited about what’s to come. I did some of that on our long hike by reading guidebook pages each night or during the day, but it just wasn’t possible to do so to the same degree as when I’m carving out 100-200 miles of trail for each trip.
- I missed my life. I feel passionately about my job and I like my hobbies at home. It was life-affirming to miss all that. These thoughts were more frequent during certain portions of our trip, maybe more so when the stoke on our current surroundings was lower.
- My body definitely took a beating. They don’t call it “hiker hobble” for nothing! I was so happy that my body carried me as far as it did with no major injuries. I’m someone who really lives in my body; it’s why I don’t drink often or much, why I go to sleep at a grandmother-worthy hour, and why I am intentional about my daily movement. I push my body in my front country life (weight lifting, biking, rock climbing, doing Jiu Jitsu, etc.), but my body just feels better in my regular routine when I am able to rest adequately. I’m definitely rehabbing after just 800 miles.
- I get to pick my seasons. The Sky Lakes Wilderness in Oregon would have been incredible if I wasn’t hiking 15-minute miles through the whole thing due to a swarm of blood thirst skeeters. Section hiking gives me the flexibility to take the specific challenges or considerations of that section into account when planning the season I’m going to hike.
All that being said, I do think you miss out on some of the incredible aspects of a hike by doing it in smaller sections. At the end of the day, it all comes down to your personal parameters, goals and expectations.
Some of the things I truly enjoyed about hiking on the PCT for a couple months:
- Community and comradery. Seeing familiar faces and sharing an experience with others fosters a sense of belonging. People are (mostly) encouraging and excited for you on a regular basis. Even as a LASHer (long section-hiker), thru hikers really welcomed us and I met some incredible people along the way.
- Seeing sections of trail I might not otherwise. So, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the section in Oregon between Ashland and Fish Lake. BUT there was also a 5-10 mile section of that trail that was incredible and moments of beauty along the way. I would be less likely to see those sections if I wasn’t hiking a longer distance. I’ll have to be deliberate about experiencing them as we plan future trips.
- Immersing myself in the trail experience. I don’t really have all that much to add to this, other than to say that spending 2 weeks versus 7 weeks on trail is a more immersive experience (just like I’m sure spending 5 months on trail is much different than spending 7 weeks on trail!).
This is in no way meant to discourage anyone from getting out there and doing a thru-hike or a long-section hike. I’m stepping away from my experience incredibly happy that I did it, but also thoughtful about what my future backpacking trips will look like!
I’m curious what others’ pro/con lists look like for thru-hiking/LASHing vs. section-hiking.
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