If you missed the first installment of the “things scarier than bears” series, then be sure to check out it out: 17 Things Scarier Than Bears On The Pacific Crest Trail.
To continue the tradition of pointing out realistic threats to hiker safety the PCT (and discrediting the bear-fearers), I bring to you twelve additional fears to keep in the back of your mind as you trudge through the wilderness in search of your grail.
1) BITING FLIES
Yes, flies that bite you. They are awful. In the desert I dealt with flies of the non-biting variety, but once I reached the Kennedy Meadows, everything changed. You will come to know (and loathe) one particular species of biting fly in particular. They are known simply as: “those stupid fucking huge golden flies”. These bastards will bite you, and it will hurt, and you will whine, and nobody will care (didn't anyone tell you that the Pacific Crest Trail sucks?). And for those of you who enjoy cowboy camping, prepare for some rude awakenings.
Mosquitos are pesky at camp and whilst resting, but the good thing about mosquitos is that you can hike more quickly than they can fly. Gnats are another story. For some reason they enjoy flying directly in front of your face, and no matter what you do (even if you run – trust me, I tried – multiple times) they will catch up to you. Not only do they pester you when hiking, but they will fly into your nose, eyes, ears, and mouth (basically any moist, accessible orifice). If you haven't already, I highly recommend investing in a bug net for your head (and I suggest keeping it handy for the entirety of the trail (at least post-Kennedy Meadows)).
3) THE PLAGUE (AND HANTAVIRUS)
Yes, both hantavirus the horrific bubonic plague await hikers out in the wilds on the PCT. Those “cute” little animals that rob your unattended food are carriers hantavirus and of fleas which are in turn carriers of and the plague. Should one of these critters get into your food, I would suggest (based on zero medical background or experience whatsoever) that you avoid eating it (kill and eat that little bastard instead). Symptoms of plague include, “swollen, tender lymph glands (called buboes) and fever, headache, chills, and weakness,” and hantavirus, “has a mortality rate of 38%” (CDC). But hey, at least it's not giardia.
4) THE PCT MIDPOINT
Before reaching the PCT Midpoint, you may imagine it as a place of celebration and much rejoicing. However, in reality the halfway point of the 2,600 mile long trail is simply a reminder of how far you still need to go before reaching your destination. Located in a not-too-interesting section of trail, hikers who make it this far into the hike are greeted by a simple concrete post (and then the town of Chester, California). The idea that you still need to go as far as you have already come is too much for some hikers as the mental struggle eclipses its physical counterpart (luckily, there is a nearby cliff for you to throw yourself off of).
5) SCREAMING ANIMALS IN THE NIGHT
I wrote about the boogie man in my previous post, but many people may be unconvinced that said man is something to be feared (he is). Luckily for those people (and everyone else), there is something else to frighten you in the night: screaming animals (at least I hope they're animals). Now you may say, “Hey! Don't bears fall into this category?” No, you're wrong, bears are stealthy and silent. The animals that make these noises are nothing short of pure evil. They produce noises that you never knew existed and that you'll never want to hear again whilst trying to sleep. Here's a preview of what you can expect.
You know ahead of time that blisters will be an issue on the trail, but it is easy to underestimate just how great a threat they are. I knew many hikers who abandoned the PCT as a result of their feet falling apart. I knew none who did the same as a result of bears (likely because they were eaten and I never saw them again). Blisters are frightening. That hot spot in your shoe quickly translates to pain and (juicy) popping at the end of the day (and many subsequent days). My advice for blisters? Carry a safety-pin and get yourself some Darn Toughs.
7) EMPTY CACHES
Many a kind trail angel maintains many a water cache along the Pacific Crest Trail. Hikers can go for as long as 30 mi (48 km) without encountering a natural water source (sometimes longer, depending on the year), and so these caches of life’s elixir become incredibly important. Despite every hiker being told to never rely on a water cache, some choose to ignore this advice and end up in serious (sometimes life-threatening) trouble. Less serious, but just as demoralizing, is the empty trail magic cache. This is when you show up at a cooler on the trail, knowing it to be filled with goodies, and open it to find only trash and melted ice. It is as sad as seeing a puppy drown (I know, I've witnessed both).
8) BISPHENOL A (BPA)
Speaking of caches, do you know what 90% of the water caches are composed of? Plastic bottles baking in the sun (if you’re lucky you will find a cooler or nicely shaded trove of water). The FDA is currently reviewing the potential for BPA to cause harm in humans, and the CDC states, “[m]ore research is needed to understand the human health effects of exposure to BPA.” Yet, as per usual, many of you tree-hugging, soy-eating, animal-loving, liberal-do-good hippies out there have already drawn your own conclusions and have somehow convinced the world that BPA is evil and that it should be banned. Why can't you just allow our corporations, who hold consumer health and opinion in the highest regard, to do as they wish and put whatever chemicals they desire into their products?
At some point whilst hiking through Oregon, (northbound) thru-hikers will observe the beginning of hunting season. First it's the bow hunters, and then a (few) week(s?) later it's time to bring out the big guns (literally). In certain areas, the sound of gunshots ringing through the mountains can be heard throughout the day. Hunters are fond of telling hikers to wear blaze orange, and I am fond of telling hunters to just not shoot people. In retaliation for the gunshot threats, I frequently found myself hiking up behind and scaring the daylights out of hunters as they slowly stalked invisible prey through the bush (walking up on someone sneaking is quite amusing).
Yes, the act of pooping in the woods can be an incredibly frightening prospect at times, but when nature calls, you have to answer. Sometimes this call comes in the midst of a swarm of mosquitoes s or pack of biting flies; sometimes it comes in the middle of a long, flat, open stretch of trail. Whether you are fighting to keep bugs out of your ass, or attempting to complete your bowel movement in record time to avoid being seen by another hiker, pooping can be a terrifying time a day. If you simply accept that you will get bitten on your genitials by insects and that you will be seen squatting over a hole by your fellow hikers, then it will make your hike far more enjoyable.
BearCat noun: a legendary beast that stalks and harasses PCT thru-hikers, particularly at dawn and dusk.
Very little is known about the BearCat except that it is fond of (and very capable of) flanking prey, and that it may or may not be responsible for some of those horrifying sounds in the night. I personally found myself warding off the BearCat on numerous occasions, and if it wasn't for the bravery of some of my fellow hikers, I may not be here today.
You can read the story of BearCat from one scholarly man brave enough to assume a trail name in recognition of the beast: The Legend Of BearCat.