After an assortment of flights, buses, and Lyfts we made our way from bright and sunny (and flat) Florida to bright and sunny Burney, California. While not exactly the mid-point of the trail it was close, and just past where the Dixie Fire had closed off sections of the PCT last year. This made it a decent location for the start of a flip-flop hike.
Having done the Appalachian Trail in two sections we knew going in that the first two weeks would be the hardest for our bodies to adjust. What I did not anticipate was altitude sickness. We had spent some time in CA before starting to hike, but the towns and cities in the valleys didn’t help prepare me for the initial climbs. While a few days of nausea/vomiting and a touch of light headedness don’t seem bad- it made me worry about having the proper energy to sustain a hike. The usual remedy is to go to lower altitude and not exercise… pretty much the opposite of what the trail had coming. Luckily on day 4 I seemed to be acclimating better, just in time for the normal aches and pains to set it!
While we have eagerly looked forward to the PCT for years, done our homework and read books and trail journals of fellow hikers- it is an entirely different experience to hike it. A few hikers we have chatted with have asked how it compared to the Appalachian Trail and it is always tough to compare them succinctly.
While the climbs and descents have been more gradual and the trail itself less likely to trip you, the PCT is more challenging in terms of water and camping. So far we have had two back to back days where we needed to carry water for 9 mile stretches (which takes time until we get our proper hiking legs). Camp sites are varied, spaced out, and unlike the AT this trail is not really on terrain that supports “stealth camping”. While there are camp sites- they don’t always have trees, so hammocks are a bit of an oddity out here. Often the trail is narrow despite also being an equestrian trail, and is sandwiched between steep dramatic slopes.
On any given day we can go from being out in the open and worrying about serious sun burn to treading soft pine needle trails among massive pines in the shade. The temperature changes from day to night can be dramatic, from comfortable and warm 70-80 degrees while hiking to needing to sleep with water filters so they won’t freeze at night. We have kept pretty warm so far but may be encountering more snow and colder nights as the trail gains elevation. (Bright side- the minor burn on my calves felt super toasty on my heat reflecting sleep pad at night!)
Overall it is exciting and fulfilling to be out here and hiking again. The views have been spectacular and frequent. There is a vast array of wildflowers, trees, and a variety of critters to enjoy and try to identify. I have found that the Merlin bird app can do it’s sound identification in airplane mode- so I am starting to recognize some of the bird song that wakes us up at dawn.
We can go days without any more than a brief sighting or interaction with other people. Most of the thru-hikers are flying by at this point, with 1,500 miles under their hip belts they are fit and eager to cross into Oregon. But we have had some nice chats with a few who paused to tell us how their hike has been going, and we trade trail gossip with SOBO’s (southbounders) about what to expect from conditions ahead.
We are currently in the cute town of Mount Shasta. We are showered, laundry is done, and we picked up our box of maps and food that we shipped ahead. We will take inventory of our food bags and stock up for the next stretch of trail. We will probably pick up micro spikes in order to better tackle any snow we find in trail. Some gear swaps may happen (the stove that lasted the entire Appalachian Trail went kaput on day 4, luckily Colby MacGyvered it with a bandaid so we had hot meals until we got to town!) While our feet and legs are appreciating the hiking reprieve we are looking forward to seeing more of the trail soon!