SO I know that a couple of posts ago I discussed a couple of different start dates, one before my brothers graduation around April 15th and one after my brothers graduation around May 10th. Then a couple of posts later I announced that we had decided to start around April 15th, which would set us up to get off trail for my brothers graduation, rent a car, drive to Spokane and then somehow get back to the trail. Well I have news… everything has changed.
Kyle and I started looking into the actual logistics of getting off trail somewhere down south and what we found caused me to have a very stress filled day. The logistics are a nightmare. Renting a car one way to Spokane is crazy expensive. Trying to figure out which airport we will be near and how to get there is nearly impossible. Getting back would be a whole other debacle. We even considered taking our car down, leaving it somewhere, hitch hiking south, and then driving back but the drive itself is an astronomical 19hrs. After a whole day of looking up plane flights, different car rental locations and options, considering greyhound, Amtrak, and even hitch hiking we finally started talking about the unthinkable, changing our plan entirely and starting after Cameron’s graduation.
If we start after Cameron’s graduation we are looking at a start date of May 10(ish) depending on when we actually get a permit for. That gives us 4.5 months to finish the trail by Kyle’s good friends wedding, which is on September 22nd. That requires us to keep up a 20 mile-a-day average, which seemed crazy to Kyle and I. We started talking about hiking a couple hundred miles somewhere further north on the trail in April, just to build ourselves a contingency plan. I wanted to run this wild idea by someone so I emailed the PCTA. A very nice man named Jack Haskel got back to me. This is what our email exchange looked like:
My email to the PCTA:
This is totally random and I am not sure how to get the information I am looking for. I have done quite a bit of research online… but I thought it might be worth it to send you guys an email, seeing as you probably know the trail better than “anyone”. My fiance and I are looking to hike it next year but we have some weird timing stuff with a brothers graduation and probably won’t be able to actually start until May 10th. We want to knock off a couple hundred miles somewhere on trail before that date, preferably nearer to WA where we live, just as a contingency plan. That way if we get up to where we already did a couple hundred miles and we are running late we can skip the section we have already hiked… Does this sound crazy? We hiked the AT and obviously just went South to North, no problems or flipping but I understand that there are a lot of other factors to consider with the PCT so we are trying to be flexible and creative. My actual question is, do you think there is a good section of trail that wouldn’t be covered in snow during the middle of April? We have a good amount of snow travel experience, we mountaineer for fun, but I would rather crazy snow travel and really heavy packs weren’t a part of our thru hike. We were thinking Northern California, like starting in Ashland and hiking south for 200 miles or so… I know you guys are super busy so if you are reading this thinking, “Oh my god, why did these people email us, this isn’t our job!” then totally disregard this email! I don’t want to bother anyone, just not sure who to turn to!
Haha!! It’s totally my job and I’m more than happy to help. But yes, basically you’re crazy. There will almost surely be too much snow. Perhaps there will be some short snow free stretches, like the Hat Creek Rim, but nothing extensive. Southern California is your only option. Don’t fret, May 10th isn’t too late to start a northbound thruhike. Or you could always SOBO. Feel free to give me a call too.
We went on to chat a little bit more about a May 10th start date. I had been obsessing over getting to Kennedy Meadows no later than June 15th, which is doable with a May 10th start date but it is tight. Jack assured me that going through later than that wouldn’t be an issue either and he pointed out that the entire PCT, because of the weather windows, is always an endurance event, no matter when we start we were going to be required to hike high miles. He told me the things that I needed to hear.
The other realization we had had was that the bookend on the end of our hike, the wedding on the east coast, will be a much easier event to pop on and off trail for than the graduation. This is because we are simply closer to family, rides, and the airport if we need to get off and back on trail to go to the wedding. This means that even if we are a little later than we would like to be, getting to Washington, we can easily get off trail for a weekend to go to the wedding and get back on the trail to finish. Obviously there are a million things that go wrong but ultimately what we realized is that there aren’t a lot of options for buying yourself more time on the PCT. In the end you just have to power through and do it in a pretty small window of time.
There are a couple of things that I really like about the new plan. First of all it allows us to get on trail and stay on trail, theoretically the whole way through, without having to get off for any big trips. Of course, if we are moving a little more slowly then planned we will have to get off for the wedding but that doesn’t have to be a huge side trip. I know there are all sorts of obstacles that can pop up while we are hiking that might make us change our plans and be more flexible but if everything goes smoothly we can hike it all the way through without stopping. We do have some flexibility though, if we feel like we are way behind schedule we can choose to flip-up to Canada and start hiking south. Using Craig’s PCT planner we will have a pretty good idea of where we are in our schedule and when we will be finishing at any given time. Other good things about the later start date are more time to work jobs and make money and Kyle was able to sign up for a WFR course in Conway, WA, which is way closer than the original course he was going to take in Idaho. ALSO, a couple of people have mentioned that there are likely to be fewer people starting later in May because most people want to attend Kick Off and get an early start. So hopefully the trail will be less crowded, although I have no doubt we will catch up to the pack at some point… but maybe it will thin itself out a little bit first. Hopefully we won’t be amongst those that don’t make it.
So it has been decided, we are starting after Cammy’s graduation on May 10th (fingers crossed we get our permits). We even went so far as to buy plane tickets. But we bought them through Southwest so they can easily be shifted a few days forward if we need to after we get our permits. With that purchase things are getting even more real!