Why Walk The Pacific Crest Trail?

by Astrid Callomon

The Call Of The Wild:

Moss

Lush moss-filled forests on the Washington State section of the PCT. Photo: Israh Goodall.

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,661 mile hiking trail, starting in Mexico and ending in Canada. To continuously hike the whole trail in one long attempt is called through-hiking. I through-hiked the whole trail this year, starting in April as the deserts warmed before the greatest heat, and finishing in September before the first snow. As an outdoors woman, before I left I wondered excitedly on the things I would experience – I felt I already knew enough to ‘survive’ in the outdoors, but I pondered on what little intricate gems I would be shown by being in the wild and being in it for the next five months. Would it be very different from a week in the Lake District? Oh yes it would.

The Desert

The trail begins in the desert chaparral at the Mexican border. 702 miles of arid beautiful land lay ahead. Water is scarce and the desert is certainly not flat.
PCT desert Mexico

The desert - arid and certainly not flat. Photo: Israh Goodall

Further, through the San Jacinto Mountains, crossing the western arm of the Mojave dessert, there is beauty and magic to be found here: Sleeping under Joshua Trees; the stars and the fullest of moons; waking to golden, glowing sunrises; the short sharp crunching sounds of hard sands under your feet; coyotes, foxes, lizards and snakes.
Desert Sun. Photo: Israh Goodall.

Desert Sun. Photo: Israh Goodall.

For my partner and I, there rose the challenge and excitement of the next water source, a trickling creek or tiny spring – water was our biggest focus – it determined our mileage for the day and therefore the weight of our packs. We hiked stretches 33 miles long, with no guarantee of the next water source running - we took some chances. It was here in the desert that we were introduced to ‘trail angels’ and their ‘trail magic’ - wonderful, generous people who each year take the time and make huge efforts to provide the most welcome gifts to those hikers attempting the PCT. Some offer beds, laundry, a meal or showers. Some leave caches in the middle of a wild ‘nowhere’, occasionally with surprises: soda, apples, oranges and water (the most welcome gift in the desert). The kindness and generosity I experienced this year on the PCT, was like nothing I have ever felt. If your faith in human nature is dwindling or has been savaged, it is a sure way to restore it. This alone, is reason enough for me to have made this journey. On the trail, the simplest offerings: a carrot from or a fresh tomato from a day hiker, become the most precious of gifts. Not to mention the daily treasures of your wild surroundings. We woke and walked early, to witness the sunrises and to walk in the cool of the morning. We took long breaks in the harsh heat of the day and walked again later, when it was cooler. Starting in the desert is wise – it’s the hardest stretch in many ways – but luckily, you don’t realise this until you have left its arid regions behind.

Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada. Photo: Israh Goodall

The trail continues to follow the spine of the mountains heading north. Out of the desert we climbed into the Sierra Nevada, and water was everywhere. It was a fairy tale.
River in Sierra Nevada

After the desert, this was a fairy tale. Photo: Israh Goodall

We were now walking 20-plus miles each day. Our packs got 3lbs heavier, with the weight of the bear can we (legally) had to carry. It contained all our food with a bear-proof lid. There was a new careful nightly routine, a triangle of three different sites; one for cooking food, one for sleeping, and one for locking away and storing food. If the bears smell the food you cooked (which they will) at least they wont find you, or your food! We saw many bears too.
View of Sierra Nevada from inside tent

Camping in the Sierra Nevada. Photo: Israh Goodall.

Sierra bathing. Photo: Astrid Callomon.

Sierra bathing. Photo: Astrid Callomon.

We could walk throughout the day now the weather was more bearable and the large pine trees created big shades to walk and rest under. We were slowed by the raging torrent rivers and excursions up and down the banks to find a safe crossing point. Sometimes a careful rock hop would see you across, or a precariously balanced log, sometimes our shoes would have to come off and the river came up to our waist. We could swim and wash in the Alpine lakes - refreshing and rewarding nectar. Having walked throughout the day we could end our hike earlier so to have time to just sit and be still with the mountains. The PCT links up with the John Muir Trail (JMT) at Mount Whitney, an optional side trip for PCT hikers – which we chose to take. At 14,505 ft (4,421 m), it is the highest mountain in the lower 49 states, not including Hawaii and Alaska. Moving through the fabled Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park it was here we reached the highest point of the trail Forester Pass – which looks impassable from below - where a narrow snow shute takes you over the pass. Here begins the first of many precarious snowy passes to negotiate.
Crossing snow high up in the Sierra. Photo: Israh Goodall.

Crossing snow high up in the Sierra. Photo: Israh Goodall.

We followed the JMT until Tuolumne Meadows, just outside of Yosemite - another optional side trip! Bugs, bears, birds and chipmunks were our companions.

Into Oregon

Northern California Cascades

Cascades, Northern California. Photo: Israh Goodall.

The trail moves through the Northern California Cascades and into Oregon with its stately trees and clear waters. More swimming. We were now walking 25-30plus mile days. Oregon soon turns volcanic, when the unmatched view at Crater Lake is revealed, and crossing beautiful brutal lava fields is a timely reminder that your body is fragile and one loose rock could mean the end of your journey. Striking, snow-capped peaks tower around you – every moment, every day.
Crater Lake, Oregon

Stunning views over Crater Lake, Oregon. Photo: Israh Goodall.

It is possible, for most of the hike to resupply with food along the way. In some rare instances the trail will lead you into a small and often very beautiful town. More often you will be met with a road and can hitch to town. For some remote locations, we sent ourselves food packages ahead.
PCT food resupply

Food resupply. Photo: Israh Goodall.

Washington State

Into Washington State. The temperature drops. The water freezes. The mist comes in.
Misty mountains in Washington State

The mist of Washington State. Photo: Israh Goodall.

If I had seen a fairy in Washington – I would have felt no surprise. The greenest green moss you have ever seen, and the coolest clearest water to drink. Sunsets that feel as though the world is ending…
Washington sunset

Apocalyptic sunsets! Photo: Israh Goodall.

A high snowy arresting ridge-top sees you out and drops you down into a clear cut line through the trees which stretches high up to the mountains either side of you – the Canadian border.
Astrid Callomon and Israh Goodall at the end of the PCT in Canada

The author and partner at the end of the PCT.

So, Why Would You Walk The Pacific Crest Trail?

I could write much a shorter piece than this on why you wouldn’t. The route itself is made up of many individual trails, which were in existence long before the proposal of a border-to-border route. A thought on which I found I would often dwell while hiking. We were following in the footsteps of so many before us. Natives, cowboys, miners, traders, bandits and adventurers, all walked the path I was now following. The Pacific Crest Trail was a physical, personal, mental, and emotional challenge. Facing extremes of the heat and the cold, the wet and the dry, igniting a relationship with myself and with nature, with my thoughts and surroundings, to be the fittest I have ever been, to adventure…. There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society, where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar: I love not man the less, but Nature more, (Byron)

 

This is the first in a series of three articles for the Frontier Bushcraft blog. Look out for the next article in the coming weeks. Which long-distance hiking route or extended journey do you aspire to taking one day? Let us know in the comments below.
The following two tabs change content below.

Astrid Callomon

Born and raised in the remote mountainous region of Suffolk, Astrid is a dyed-in-the-wool outdoors woman. Educated and qualified in mountain leadership, scuba diving, rock climbing, canoeing and kayaking, life preservation and many more daring and dangerous pursuits, she's an outdoor instructor and expedition leader. Astrid's also been known to attend the occasional Frontier Bushcraft course.

 

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

George Saw

Truly amazing, beautiful, inspiring, and perhaps a little intimidating! I can only begin to imagine all the stories you must have from your journey.
Next year my girlfriend and I will be hiking from John O’Groats to Lands End – End to end of the UK, to raise money for The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.
https://www.facebook.com/walkingtheuk

Reply

sean fagan

Wow! and wow again. Beautifully written account of an epic journey. A massive well done Astrid (what a cool name) and to your partner. And great idea Paul to host this story on your website. Desert, mountains, snow and forest…on one trip!…sigh…

Reply

Nick Hand

Congratulations Astrid
Beautiful images and words, an amazing journey. I love the idea of people leaving little gifts of food in the desert.

Reply

eddie johnson

Dear Astrid,

I have met you when you were littler, I believe along with your brother you were a ‘steward’ on a bus trip to an underground bunker. The film shown on the bus was an excerpt from ‘survivors’, I wonder if that’s what made you such a determined survivalist. Anyway congratulations, the prose was nearly as beautiful as the pictures, you’re Mum and Dad will be proud of you,

Eddie J.

Reply

Astrid

Thank you all for your lovely kindness…

Eddie, I remember that trip! Survivors is the inspiration for my adventures, and my whole life. I adore it. And have watched it countless times, every year!

Nick Hand you are my hero.

Thank you Sean, and George – I will be following your journey! I biked the end to end on a vintage machine in 2009, a glorious ride but an even better walk I should think!

Love to all

Reply

Stella Macpherson

Astrid, It made my day to read this. A wonderful account of a true adventure. The photos had me exclaiming out loud!

I was on the Surviviors bus trip too! And I will never forget that it was you who introduced me to Survivors when you were 12. Hot chocolate, blankets, and rabbits and cabbage!

The PCT is a piece of cake really. All you have to do is the ‘Greg Face’ 🙂

Reply

Richard Tiley

What an amazing and inspirational adventure! Congratulations, Astrid, on a phenomenal achievement. It has spurred me on to follow suit, though I may have to break it up into sections! Wonderful!

Reply

Nati quiro

Thanks so much for such a touching piece. It´s so inspiring to feel that we humans are able re-connect with nature in such a beautiful way; that we are made of adventure and that adventure is there for all of us (women and men). Thank you, thank you for sharing your experience!

Reply

Beth Hipwell

Amazing! What an incredible adventure and I love to hear every word about it! x

Reply

Hoda Sepehrara

Reading this article. .and looking at those stunning photographs makes me feel so blessed and unbelievably excited to be alive and so incredibly inspired by both you and Israh. .well done for paving the path for all others to follow. Beautifully written piece..Make sure you write more! Xxx

Reply

nell benney

what a beautiful and inspiring piece and person! makes me want to (foolhardily) attempt it, big loves Xx

Reply

Sophie Redman

Wonderful words and pictures that give those who would never attempt this (definitely me) a sense of adventure and the journeys people can make. Inspiring!

Reply

Katie Morriss

Thank you for doing this….. this adventure……because it shines out of you, as do all of your adventures. I am the blessed one for being able to see you shine. X

Reply

Sarah

I want to go now! It sounds so amazing. Your article is so interesting. Can’t wait to see more pics. You both should be so proud of yourselves. Amazing!

Reply

Kirkland Baptie

Dear Astrid,

Thank you so much for sharing your adventure with us all. It was truly an inspirational read. I am completely in awe of your punishing daily regime. From these few photos I can see you will be a changed woman, the wilderness will have now enveloped you in it’s magical cloak and I fear you shall never escape it’s power of enchantment. Bless you. I hope that if you write a book about this adventure that you give us a heads up on this site so we can at least enjoy the crumbs from the table so to speak.

My kindest and most admiring wishes,

Kirkland

Reply

Kate Willis

A beautiful and inspiring article from one of the most amazing and courageous women I know. Definitely worth a read if you need a little get-up-and-go injected into your life! Makes me want to jump up and do it myself, although I might need to get much much fitter than I am!! Astrid Callomon and Israh Goodall you are true trail-blazers in this world, and I am blessed to have you in my life. Keep writing Asti, I want to hear it all! xxx

Reply

Peter Callomon

Well I guess I had be the first of our family to pitch up!!! Having done a few treks and cycle trips in various parts of the world what you have done Asti is no mean feat! (although sometimes you probably thought it was being mean to your feet!)

Welcome home and I can’t wait to see you so that all beans can be spilled.

Love, Peter, Vivienne, Lydia and Verity Callomon xxxx

Reply

Charlotte Bulman

Beautifully, beautifully written. You set the scene, tone and atmosphere so well. Can’t wait to read the next instalment! I think you should perhaps write a book after this. Your style of narrative makes me want to cosy up by a fire with a lovely glass of red and read all about the excitement, magic and wonder of such adventures from the safety of my armchair. Stunning photos as well. What a fantastic eye Israh Goodall!

Reply

Stephen Walker

A wonderful trip, with many challenges, no doubt. Love the photographs too. You both came through it and how much better for the experience. Well done, ladies!

Reply

Leena

Amazing Photography…truly inspirational writing…a thrilling read…could almost walk the path with you…Looking forward to the next instalment.

Reply

Courtney

What a journey and what a fantastic journey reading! Beautifully explored and written.

Reply

Tom Potter

What a great article, from a fantastic individual. The feat in itself impressive, to say the least, and a wonderfully written account, with some rather nice pictures. An incredible achievement from you Astrid, a continuous inspiration and trailblazer.

Reply

Brandan

I was so excited to find this site. One of my highlight memories from 2013 here at Callahan’s was getting the two of you tomatoes. One of my prouder moments. Great photo’s and described perfectly. I envy you both. Hope we can have you here again. B

Reply

Astrid

BRANDON!

This has made my day !

How did you find this?!

You getting me tomatoes was a definite DEFINITE highlight for me too.

YOU were a definite highlight for us – you were so kind….

Thank you so much for your support -the entrance to Oregon was made more spectacular for having met you along the way.

Warmest of hugs to you!

Astrid

Reply

Hans

A great and inspiring story! Well done on the through hike and you can be very proud of yourselfs.

regards
Hans

Reply

Andrew Casey

Great article Astrid! Very inspirational. What an adventure!

Reply

Menna

hello Astrid.

Congratulations of finish the PCT!

I am so inspired by your story!

I live in wales and a friend of mine showed me your story and I loved it! your wright with such passion, I just want to read more. While I was reading your beautiful story I thought to myself why am I just reading about it, why cant I do it and live it and have the experience of a lifetime, see what you have seen with my own eyes and feel what it would be like to be free.

I do have a question for you, did you feel scared that you mite not be able to finish the PCT?

your sincerely,

Menna

Reply

Mahesh

That must be a great experience as well as inspiring for others to take up the challenge.

The most touched part of your blog is the generosity of strangers donating food supplies.

Reply

Haplo Drevlin

What was your pack out list? I am a novice bushcrafter, and hope to be able to use some of those skills to lighten my load out there.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Back to home page