Fears of the Pacific Crest Trail

As we tell more people about the hike we get two reactions; “Wow that sounds awesome!” and “aren’t you worried about [insert thing here]?”. Whilst we have had these fears, we’ve also done our research to make sure we’re as equipped for every eventuality as possible. When you look at the number of incidents on trail, you are far more likely to encounter something in an urban area, as opposed to on trail.
What about bears?
We get this question the most. Whilst bears do exist on the trail, the chance of being killed by one is very low. In fact the last known fatal attack in any of the three states that the PCT runs through was in 1974 of a 4 year old girl. Before that it was 1875.
There are 2 types of bear in continental America; the grizzly (brown) and the black. There are brown bears towards the end of our trip in Washington but again sightings are very rare. What the trail does go through is black bear country. Black bears are nervous and shy of humans so the majority of sightings from fellow hikers are of bears running away.
We’ll still take precaution as we do our hike. In certain areas we’ll need to carry a bear canister for our food (this is a legal requirement in some of the national parks). We’ll also be smart with how we prepare our food and in some cases we’ll cook and then hike for a little while longer so that our campsite doesn’t smell of food.
In order to prevent sightings the advice is to make noise. You don’t want to shock a bear, so by making your presence known they’ll probably leave. This is even more important at night. Thankfully our singing and chatting should be enough to scare any bear off.
If you do encounter a bear the best thing to do is avoid eye contact, talk calmly and back away slowly, never turning your back on them and try to look big. Whatever you do, running is the worst option. It triggers their chase instinct and they can run 35MpH!
Do you need a gun?
Because guns are so foreign for us Europeans and we hear a lot about mass shootings in America on the news, it seems the perception from our friends is that we’ll have to turn into gun slinging cowboys in order to survive the outback.
The simple answer to this question in no, we won’t need a gun. We wouldn’t be allowed to carry one if we wanted to anyway as California’s gun laws are more progressive than the rest of the country. We’d need to apply for a permit, something that on a tourist visa would likely get rejected. Furthermore, having a gun would only serve to escalate a human to human situation. The only real dangers on the trail is from hitch hiking (but then again I can’t find any reports of hitching going wrong) at which point a gun wouldn’t help you as you’d be far too close to use a gun. We will be carrying a pocket knife and staying together. This should be more than enough protection considering the furthest we’re aiming to hitch is about 10 miles.
Will you be able to walk the distance?
We don’t know. In our last post we explained that we’d be walking an average of 16 miles a day. We’ve done some week long hikes like the Rob Roy Way and  West Highland Way but nothing longer than that. In those hikes we also averaged about 20 miles a day. The desert will be brutal and we expect the elevation to be a lot tougher than anything we’ve done before so we’ve been training to get stronger before the walk. More on this in our next post.
Are you worried about overheating?
Yes. This is one of our biggest unknowns. We’ve never spent full days in the blazing heat of the desert so we’re worried about how we can cope with this. From our research we’ve also read that other hikers have struggled with this, with 2 heat stroke fatalities to date on the trail. Our plan is to start our days early at around 4-5am, have a rest during the middle of the day, and then start hiking again at around 3pm and continue until around 7-8pm. This strategy is one that others have employed to keep out of the desert heat. On top of that, we’re bringing long sleeve UV protective clothing and we’ll be buying a sun umbrella.
How will you find water?
The PCT keeps an up to date water report on trail. We have added this to our PCT planner so we know the exact distance between reliable water sources. In some places the carries look pretty long but knowing this ahead of time should mean we are prepared for this and wont be in a situation where we are stuck in the middle of a dry patch. We will also employ the tactic of ‘camelling up’ which means when we get to a water source we’ll try to drink a lot of water meaning we’ll have less to carry.
Are you going to scavenge for food?
Some people do forage for berries and fish in some of the lakes in the Sierras. At the moment we have no plans for this as we don’t want a repeat of what happened to Christopher McCandless AKA Supertramp in the film Into the Wild. We’ve planned enough stops on the journey to fill up in enough towns so there shouldn’t be a need to risk getting ill.
If you’re hiking through the snow won’t you freeze to death?
There are two points we’ll see snow on the trip. The first is the Sierra mountains in California. Whilst there is snow on the floor, the outside temperature should be warm(ish). Lots of people still brave shorts even when walking over these snowy peaks. When we hit Washington it will be late September/early October so it will be cold here. We’re planning on buying leggings and some under layers but our sleeping bag that goes to -12C should be plenty warm enough for this section as well. Our plan is to get to the border by early October as it gets sketchy past mid October with blizzards and icy winds.
Our main worry is river crossings, here we’ll be required to wade up to waist height in cold snow-melt rivers. We’ll plan not to do any river crossings within 2 hours of us going to sleep, to ensure we’re not going to bed cold.
How are you going to put up with each other for 6 months?
Hmmmm… good point. We haven’t quite worked that out yet, we’ll let you know how this goes after the trip!
We’ll be relying on each other a lot both physically and mentally, which will take its strain. We’ll also be meeting lots of fellow hikers on the trail too which we hope to share this experience with. So it will not just be the two of us in the middle of nowhere repeating the same conversations over and over again for 5 months…. hopefully!

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