Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Six Misconceptions about the Pacific Crest Trail

The more I learn about backpacking, the more I realize how different it is from car-camping. I’ve posted some FAQ about the PCT here and here, but I thought it might also be useful to mention some misconceptions that I’ve heard (or thought myself). Be sure to let me know if I miss any!

What we won't be doing
1. We’ll be sitting around a campfire every night. I love campfires. The crackling sound, the toasting of various junk food items, the awkward renditions of Kum-ba-ya in which no one can remember the verses… honestly, this is the stuff of dreams. Sadly, however, there are multiple problems with campfires when you’re backpacking. First of all, California has this annoying habit of catching on fire. Especially since this is a dry year, we’ll be lucky if we are allowed to even light our camp-stove anywhere along the trail. Second, campfires require wood, and since we can’t carry our own firewood, we’d have to scavenge from the local forest (if we’re in one), thus robbing the ecosystem of rotting logs and/or live branches. If too many people do this, eventually all the trees will get stripped and the forest will be ruined. So alas, we probably won’t make a campfire until we hit Oregon, and maybe not even then.

2. We’ll wear heavy-duty hiking boots. Until pretty recently, heavy hiking boots were considered a must for backpacking. However, the majority of people who do long-distance hikes now wear trail runners (a sturdy athletic shoe with good tread). That’s what we’ll be doing.

Some of Zach's shoes
3. We’ll hang our food in a tree to keep it safe from grizzly bears. First of all, there are no grizzly bears on the PCT (this fact was a huge relief to me when I discovered it a couple months ago!). While hanging your food is standard procedure in most places, in Yosemite Valley, where we’ll be hiking, it is discouraged because the black bears often hurt themselves attempting to get the food. Instead, we’ll be using bear canisters— sturdy plastic containers that you leave on the ground in plain view a few hundred feet away from your tent. The bear will find it, attempt to open it, give up, and (hopefully) leave you alone.

4. We won’t bring toilet paper. We will bring toilet paper. I’m not that hardcore.

5. Cell phones are useful in case of emergency. We’ll be bringing a cell phone for its GPS capabilities (and for the Internet when we have Wi-Fi in town), but a phone is basically worthless as an emergency tool when you’re in the backcountry. We won’t have reception 90% of the time, so it’s unwise to rely on it. 

6. We’ll hike with a group for safety’s sake. Many people have asked me if we’re going to stick together with a group, but we’re not planning to. I’m sure we’ll run into a bunch of people, but honestly, the solitude is part of the experience. We don’t have to worry about grizzlies or bull moose, and have minimal worries about mountain lions (don’t worry, they always pounce for the neck, and our backpacks cover our necks). We have no fear of crime— we’ll be out in the middle of nowhere where it’s not worth it for a criminal to make the trek. We’ll keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and black bears, but mostly we just have to worry about blisters and sprains, scrapes and twisted ankles. In short, I’m not afraid of facing anything on the trail with just the two of us. I’m confident that we’ll be fine.


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