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PCT 2023: Reflections and Lessons

PCT 2023: Reflections and Lessons

When I started my thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, I only had an inkling of an idea for what was in store. What I experienced blew me away. From the desert with its abundant wildflowers littering the gradient of browns, reds and oranges to the High Sierra in late May with daily alpenglow as the sunlight curtained the snow covered peaks; from lake-lined trails in Oregon to immense volcanos towering over the Trail throughout Washington; from alpine lakes and granite walls in the snow-free Sierra to golden larches as the season changed yet again in the North Cascades. The views didn’t cease. I met open-hearted folks in every trail town. I connected with hundreds of hikers, each on a personal mission to complete the Pacific Crest Trail–and this year, that looked different for everyone.

I started the Pacific Crest Trail in Campo, California on March 26. My hiking partner, Journey Man, and I intended to hike north as long as we could before snow or wildfires would interrupt our progress. We hiked north until Kearsarge Pass in the High Sierra, exiting there to Bishop, California. From there, we skipped up 622.3 miles to Burney, California with the intention of avoiding the trudge through the snowpack. We hiked north from Burney, intending on reaching the Canadian border before flipping back down to cover our missed miles. A tendon injury stopped me at Snoqualmie Pass in Washington. We took over a week off trail to let my leg heal, then decided to flip back down to northern California for two reasons: easier terrain and wildfires had begun to pop up in Washington, closing parts of the Trail. We hiked south from Burney all the way back to Kearsarge Pass in the Sierra. We secured overnight permits to summit Mt. Whitney before flipping back up to Snoqualmie Pass to finish our hike.

Journey Man and I had nearly 270 miles left in Washington, and the weather was closing our hiking window. We hiked through rain and snow, slick muddy terrain, and were freezing cold. Luckily, we were able to keep our warm layers and sleep systems dry to warm us up after a long day. After half a week in those conditions, I questioned whether or not we’d be able to complete our thru hike this year; we were so close, and we hated to admit we might have to call it quits. The sun came out the next day, however, and it was a sign that renewed our faith in ourselves to finish out the Trail.

Our last morning on Trail, the skies opened up yet again and we found ourselves hiking the last climb in snow! I felt it was an ironic, full-circle way to finish the hike. However, as we crested the pass, the clouds cleared and gave way to the warm rays. We could see miles of mountainous ridges, and the green pines and autumn foliage shone more vibrantly from the recent precipitation. I felt immense gratitude to finish my hike on such a high-spirited feeling.

What did you learn from the trail?  

  1. Ask for help, and people (friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike) will show up for you.
  2. I can set a goal and relentlessly chip away at it until I succeed.
  3. Sometimes I had to work to consciously lay down my ego, attachment, and expectations regarding the experience to savor the present moment.
  4. People always ask about what “real life” or “normal life” will look like when I’m done with the trail. Doing what I love, and thus thru hiking, IS “real life.” Real life is when I feel most like myself. “Normal life” should involve movement and wonder and joy. I will be working harder to cultivate my authentic self and shift my norms of my life.

What was something that was unexpectedly hard about the PCT?

  1. The PCT was more expensive than I expected, both in time and in money.
  2. Logistics of getting off trail were challenging on the PCT; I ended up getting off trail for family events a total of four times this summer. Each time, it took about 1.5-2 days of travel to the airport via bus, so it was a 5-day stint everytime I had to get off.
  3. The weather was far colder than I expected, for longer than I expected (i.e., rain was always cold, nights were pretty cold in the desert section, both times I was in the Sierra, and in Northern Washington).

How did your experience on this trail compare to your previous thru-hiking experience on the AT?

  1. I stayed completely unplugged while I was hiking on the PCT–no music, podcasts, or audiobooks. I was alone in my thoughts or talking with fellow hikers.
  2. I used to say that I preferred uphills to downhills, but on this Trail I might have looked forward to descents more than ascents.
  3. I felt so much more stress on my PCT hike. This was probably because I had to get off Trail so many times for family events, but I was constantly hyper-aware of how my miles were measuring up to the timeline I had to get from A to B in order to catch a bus to catch a plane to get to where I needed to be. 
  4. I hiked this Trail with the absolute best person I know. We worked as a team. We were weirdos, dirty hiker trash, together. We supported each other and loved each other. When I was stressed, he reminded me to let go. When I was consumed in negative thoughts, he reminded me to breathe. He found joy at every view and expressed a beautiful appreciation for the unique and the mundane alike. It was amazing to share this experience with so much positivity and love that is Journey Man.

How did it feel to finish the trail? 

When the PCT northern terminus monument came into view, I felt an immense sense of relief followed by a swell of pride. Unexpected tears blurred my vision, and a tired smile spread across my face. I did it! WE did it! My partner and I completed this 2,655+ mile thru hike together. I also felt so much gratitude: for my body, for the many people who lent a helping hand along the way, and for our fellow 2023 thru hikers!

Current thoughts on a planning another thru-hike? 

I definitely want to hike the Continental Divide Trail to earn my Triple Crown, but I need to take a few years to replenish the bank account and stay relevant in my career. I’m looking forward to a few shorter long-hikes in the meantime, and to pursue other hobbies like sailing and canoeing! I’ll be seeking jobs at organizations that share my values and allow me to spend time outside while on the clock!

Final thoughts? 

Thru hiking has helped me find myself. There’s nothing on earth like it. Thank you for providing a platform for me to share some of my stories and reflections!

- Mantis


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