On February first the PCTA finally launched their PCT permit system. For months now the PCT Permit page has simply outlined information regarding the different permits needed and promised that the permit application would open sometime in early February. Last Friday I got a facebook message from Kyle: “Have you seen this yet?” with a link to a blog post by Jack “Found” Haskel about when the permit system would open and how to apply. I obsessively read the “how to apply” directions over and over again and set my alarm for 12:00am, February 1st. Turns out they didn’t actually launch the system until ten o’clock that morning but being an eager beaver never hurt anyone, unless you count my sleep deprivation from refreshing the website every could of hours.
So what is the PCT permit and why get one? Since the explosion of thru hikers on the PCT after Wild hit the big screen the PCTA put a permit process in place as an attempt to spread out when thru hikers start from the southern terminus. They have limited the number of people that can start each day to fifty people. The way the permit application works is 35 permits were made available February 1st and the next 15 will become available on the 16th. They are going to begin emailing out permits on the 17th. Anyone who is hiking more than 500 contiguous miles on the PCT is required to get a permit, and it suffices for all the interagency permits you would have to get separately. There are two additional permits you have to apply for: the Canada Border Services Agency permit, which allows you to hike over the boarder into Canada and the California Campfire permit, which allows you to use a stove (or build a fire if that is your cup of tea). The PCTA suggests applying for the Canada Border Services Agency permit two weeks before you start your hike, so we have a while before we have to worry about that one.
That is the what, now for the why. I think you should get a PCT permit because the PCTA wants you to. No if, and, or, buts about it. This is an organization who is trying to do everything they can to protect the PCT and the corridor it runs through. They want to maintain it and the trail’s relationship with land agencies. The massive number of people hiking the PCT now has a huge impact on the landscape that surrounds it and as hikers we need to respect their wishes to spread people out. I know many people feel entitled to nature. People believe that this is something that they get to choose and who is the PCTA to tell them when they can and cannot start? We can’t have our cake and eat it too, we can’t want the PCT to remain a beautiful scenic trail, surrounded by wilderness, an escape from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world, and then reject the PCTA’s methods for trying to preserve it. So please, if you are thru hiking, get a permit AND actually start when you say you will.
This last part is important to me. When I was looking for trail angels to take us to the trail head I found a couple of different options in San Diego and decided to read some reviews on their services. I’m not going to use their names, but upon reading reviews I discovered one that said they preferred a particular trail angel because they didn’t care if you started on the day your permit was for, in fact they had taken this hiker to the trail on a day they knew the hiker wasn’t permitted for. Trail angels aren’t hikers and they aren’t the PCTA and they can do whatever they like, I’m not upset with them. But I am frustrated that when this hiker, and probably many others, didn’t get their preferred start date they just started when they wanted to anyway. Kyle and I won’t have to worry about this as much because we are picking a less popular time to start, but as someone who hates crowds, especially in my theoretically quiet nature space, I would be just a little bit peeved if I was supposed to be one of fifty people starting the PCT mid-April but, thanks to rule breakers, I ended up being one of one hundred and fifty. I know there are often extenuating circumstances, but just consider everyone else involved and do the right thing!
Kyle and I applied for a permit for May 10th. On the website there is a link to a calendar that shows you how many permits are still available for any given day. There are 22 people starting the day we start… who are those people? What will they be like? Will we get to know them or will we never see them again? It is amazing to see that number and know that there are actual people behind it, with goals and aspirations just like ours. It makes me extremely excited, and it makes everything that much more real. Fingers crossed we get our permit. Bellow are some links to different pages on the PCTA website.
- The permits page, with info about who needs permits, which permits you need and how to get them.
- The page with the permit application process and the calendar showing available start dates for the US/Mexico border.
- The long distance hiking page, which the PCTA suggests everyone reads before they attempt a thru hike.
Bottom line is go visit the PCTA’s website, it is awesome and they are doing a great job. And you can join the PCTA for a 35$ minimum donation and receive their magazine and much more. I swear I wasn’t paid to say any of this.