The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) announced this week changes to the long-distance Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) permit that will impact all thru-hikers.
Scary stuff, I know.
But why!? Why are there even more restrictions being imposed on PCT hikers? All these people want to do is go live in filth and extreme physical duress for four to five months while they transform themselves into incredible hiking machines fueled by candy and dehydrated meals. Why all the rules? Well, it mostly has to do with land use and protecting fragile wilderness areas and ecosystems (and making sure the PCT doesn’t turn into the Appalachian Trail).
What’s changed this time with the PCT permit? Since the Pacific Crest Trail first modified its permit system back in 2015, it has undergone a few revisions. This time the changes to the permit system will impact all long-distance hikers on the PCT. Here’s a list of what’s changing for whom:
Northbound PCT Hikers
Northbound hikers beginning their hikes at the US-Mexico border have been subject to a 50-hiker-per-day quota since 2015.
This year, all northbound hikers beginning their hikes between March 1 and May 31 will be subject to the 50-hiker per day quota.
At 10:30 AM Pacific Time on Tuesday, October 29, 2019, the PCTA will be opening applications for the first 35 northbound permits per day for all hikes originating at the US-Mexico Border between March 1 and May 31. The remaining 15 permits per day will be open for applications at 10:30 AM Pacific Time on Tuesday, January 14, 2020.
This means that if you begin your hike in February (and hike conceivably the slowest PCT thru-hike ever – and likely encounter a lot of snow in Southern California) or in June (more reasonable than hiking in February, just hike quickly), you are not subject to the 50-hiker per day quota.
Just throwing this out there, I would not recommend (except under very specific circumstances) starting a PCT thru-hike in early March (or even late March).
Southbound PCT Hikers
Southbound Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers. Historically the black sheep of the PCT, southbound hiking has become more popular in recent years after the introduction of the northbound thru-hiker permit quota and the growing popularity of the trail as a whole – with most hikers hiking northbound.
Starting in 2020, southbound thru-hikers will also be subject to a quota.
- 15 long-distance permits will be available each day for southbound hikers beginning at the PCT’s northern terminus
- The northern terminus covers any hike originating between the US-Canada border and Stehekin
- Applications for southbound long-distance PCT permits will open at 10:30 AM Pacific Time on Tuesday, January 14, 2020
- The southbound northern terminus quota only applies to hikes beginning between June 15 and July 31
The PCTA also states that “15 long-distance permits starting in the Northern Terminus area will be available each day for section hikers and riders starting between August 1 and September 15.”
I’m not entirely sure what this means.
So only section hikers and riders are subject to the 15-person per day quota between August 1 and September 15? Thru-hikers are not? That doesn’t make any sense. If I had to guess, I would say this is a copy-paste error.
If anyone has some clarification on this, I would love to hear it – maybe I’m just dumb and don’t understand what they’ve written.
Hiking The Sierra (and Flip-flopping)
Before you go on, let us examine the term flip-flop (which also encompasses the individual terms flip and flop) from the Pacific Crest Trail lexicon.
Flip-flop: verb: the act of skipping a section of trail with the intention of returning to the skipped section and hiking it at a later date (typically in the opposite direction of their initial approach)
Basically, when a thru-hiker skips a section of trail (the flip) and then later returns to hike the skipped section at a later point in the hike (the flop). Personally, I am anti-flip-flop, but plenty of hikers flip-flop on the PCT in any given year (at least, according to the PCT Survey).
The most common place thru-hikers flip (and then subsequently flop)? California’s Sierra Nevada.
In high snow years, many northbound hikers (particularly those who begin too early) skip the Sierra, hike Northern California or Oregon (and sometimes also Washington), and then return to the Sierra to finish their hikes later in the year when there is less snow.
Beginning in 2020, thru-hikers will be required to travel through the Southern Sierra (Kennedy Meadows South to Sonora Pass) in a continuous hike without skipping or changing direction. In other words, no flip-flopping. You will still be allowed to resupply, of course, but skipping ahead to avoid snow is no longer permitted.
If your travel through the Southern Sierra is not continuous, you will be required to get a new permit from the local land management agency as your PCT long-distance permit will no longer be valid.
Getting a 2020 PCT Permit
To receive a long-distance permit for the PCT in 2020, you will need to apply on the PCTA’s website.
Applications for long-distance PCT permits originating at the US-Mexico border open at 10:30 AM Pacific Time on Tuesday, October 29, 2019. At this time, the PCTA will be releasing 35 permits per day.
Applications for long-distance PCT permits originating everywhere else (including the US-Canada border) open on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 (I guess the PCTA has a thing for Tuesdays?).
Any thoughts, questions, or comments on the changes to the PCT permits? Leave a comment and let me know!