Editors note: This is the first of a two-part series that local thru-hiker Jeffrey Winchester shares, in his own words, about his second Pacific Crest Trail hike. Part I chronicles Jeffrey’s departure from the town of Campo at the southern terminus and his trek through the California portion of the trail.
The Pacific Crest Trail is a long-distance hiking and equestrian trail that stays close to the highest portion of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. The trail’s southern terminus is on the California border with Mexico, and its northern terminus on the Washington-Canada border.
The Pacific Crest Trail is listed at 2,660 miles but the distance varies slightly from year to year. The range in elevation is from just above sea level at the Oregon-Washington border to 13,153 feet at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada. The route passes through 25 national forests and seven national parks. Its midpoint is in Chester California (near Mt. Lassen), where the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges meet.
Planning for the trail was easier this year as it was my second attempt at a thru hike on the PCT. Over the winter I made a new lightweight pack. I was satisfied with my gear choices in 2011 but felt I could get lighter. My new pack tipped the scales at nine ounces and was made from a combination of sil-nylon and pack cloth.
I purchased a new sleeping bag that is warmer and lighter than my old bag. My base weight (items carried minus food and water) was just under 10 pounds. I resupplied on the trail with 24 mail drops and several times purchased food in towns.
I started the trail at the southern terminus in Campo, California on April 18th. The first day is exciting and a real adrenaline rush. I met several hikers on day No. 1 and the weather was great. I finished the day at Boulder Oaks campground (mile 26.2). My journey had begun.
The southern California section of trail varies between desert chaparral and mountain ranges. Two thousand and twelve was a drought year and some seasonal creeks and springs were dry resulting in some longer carries between water sources. I carried an umbrella to help combat the heat through the shade-less sections of trail. By drinking lots of water at sources I navigated through the dry sections with 64 ounces or less.
One of the most interesting days on the trail in Southern California was day 21. The trail near Wrightwood climbs into higher elevation and nearly reaches the summit of Mt. Baden Powell. The area had been hit by storms the two days prior. I was hiking with a young man from Texas named Catchup and as we gained elevation we saw the trees were covered in frozen ice. As the day warmed up the ice began to fall creating a hazard for hikers as we passed under these frozen giants.
I reached Kennedy Meadows, mile 703, on May 21st and was excited to be entering the Sierra. For lovers of high elevation, granite and alpine lakes, this section is amazing. From Kennedy Meadows to Reds Meadow I saw fewer hikers. On one five-day stretch I saw only three other hikers, all southbound.
South of Muir Pass I had my first bear sighting. Later in the day I post-holed through the snow and my leg struck granite. I wrapped the wound with my bandanna and put my leg up to stop the bleeding. It was a surreal moment being completely surrounded by snow and the bright red blood flowing down my leg. I now have a permanent scar to remind me of that day on the way to Muir Pass.
On July 1st I passed the midway point near Chester California. Seventeen days later I was at the California Oregon Border.
Next: Oregon, the Professor, Obsidian Falls, friendly faces and more.