Is the Pacific Crest Trail a fantastic adventure that you should most definitely set out on? Yes.
Is the Pacific Crest Trail a never-ending ride of epic views, happy times, and rainbow-farting trail angels? Not really.
Is the Pacific Crest Trail a place where you could end up dead at the bottom of a canyon or riverbed? Sure.
It may be difficult to believe, but the PCT is simply chock full of good times and life-changing epiphanies. And if you don’t want to have to hike the PCT to figure this out, all you need to do is hang out on the PCT Facebook page long enough and you’ll see the fear mongering firsthand. Yes, people (principally people who aren’t actually hiking) love to tell you how dangerous everything on the PCT is (e.g. snow, animals, hiking alone, hiking at night, hitchhiking, talking to strangers). Don’t listen to these losers.
So who should you listen to? Actual PCT hikers, obviously. Here I’ve compiled responses from the 2018 PCT Hiker Survey to the questions, “Was there ever a time you felt unsafe on the trail?” and “What (if anything) was your lowest moment on the trail?” Remember friends, it is most certainly not all puppies and rainbows on a thru-hike (no matter what Instagram tells you).
WARNING! If you’re someone worried about a loved one hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or you have doubts about whether you want to undertake this journey yourself, you should probably stop reading now (or maybe you should definitely read this).
- I got completely soaked (me and all my gear and tent and quilt and everything) one morning in Washington when it rained all night and morning. Packed up wet and cold, and never had a sunny moment to dry everything out. Next night was so cold and wet, was genuinely concerned for hypothermia in my tent. It was horribly cold and I slept like shit from being so cold, my quilt was wet and didn’t really work so great. Next morning my tent fly was frozen solid, had to smash the ice apart to fold it up into its bag. Scary night and morning!
- In Washington, near Woody Pass. Blizzard conditions, and temperatures below freezing. Thought I was going to freeze overnight. I whipped out my emergency blanket and wrapped myself in it, curled up into a ball with all of my soaking wet layers on, got inside my soaked quilt, and prayed I wouldn’t freeze.
- Being far too cold and wet for a week in Washington. We must have been very close to hypothermia but there were no ‘outs’ in the section so we had to keep walking regardless.
- It was snowing in Washington after it had been raining all day and night and I thought I’d get hypothermia.
- On mountain ridges in high winds and freezing rain.
- It had been raining for days and I was perpetually soaked and cold. Then the rain changed to snow as I was climbing and it was accumulating fast. Couldn’t feel my hands and feet, the trail was fully buried, and I was afraid I would lose the path and waste hours wandering on the mountain in the snow and die of hypothermia. Then coming down the other side the trail was super steep and slick with mud and snow – one wrong step and I’d be falling off a cliff. Definitely scared for my life.
- When we got dumped with ~8″ (20 cm) of snow in an hour. We were on exposed ridges in white-out conditions and all of our gear was soaked since it rained the previous four days. I was scared that I was going to get hypothermic and was super hesitant to stop and camp for the night.
- Got my foot stuck postholing, after digging out, couldn’t get my shoe. Hands got too cold to continue digging, the wife finally got it out. That was pretty sketchy.
- North side of Forester Pass – I couldn’t find the switchbacks, so I climbed the rock face down. This seriously scared me.
- Walking towards a new and dangerously active wildfire near Etna wasn’t cozy.
- The ultra-steep icy traverse after Sonora Pass.
- Fell in a nasty swollen creek and almost froze trying to warm up by running.
- For most of the trail from Glen Pass to Sonora Pass it was much snowier/icier than expected. It was like a long mountaineering expedition without proper gear and I was mostly alone.
- Going through the Goat Rocks, early morning, hard snow/ice, super windy conditions, and one wrong step would send you flying down the mountainside into the clouds below. Glad I wasn’t hiking solo that day.
- I fell down Mather Pass.
- We were the first couple people in South Lake Tahoe and it was still all snow. We had to navigate and there were no tracks to follow. It was raining one day and we were traversing a cliff without snow gear (didn’t realize there would still be snow there).
- One time hitchhiking the driver fell asleep while driving even though I was talking to him at the time and we veered onto the wrong side of the road and almost hit another car and then nearly drove off the road.
- Burney Falls, some dude followed me on the trail (not a hiker) who had no gear and I lost him in the dark by walking off the trail and turning off my light.
- Encountering a large drunk and belligerent group of fisherman at Silverwood Lake while we were trying to camp there after night hiking.
- I did the road walk from the fire detour to White Pass. On that road, a middle-aged man was parked with his RV. He insisted on quizzing me about the trail and begged me several times to come inside for lunch even though I told him (truthfully) that my friends were expecting me at the pass. I wish I could just see him as a trail angel but the interaction didn’t feel right.
- Yes just before Snoqualmie Pass – strange man hiding in the trees and watching hikers pass. Saw him two different times hours apart.
- Unwanted advances from men.
- While by myself but just behind some friends I met a man and he started talking to me about how mentally unstable he was and how he had thought about killing people before.
- Got stalked for 700 miles by an entitled man-child who thought he was entitled to my romantic attention.
- When I was camped alone by an old fire road in Washington in the rain and two men came by in a truck and parked. I didn’t open my tent because of the rain, but they harassed me and tried to intimidate me.
- Lots of comments about a(n allegedly?) racist, homophobic, confederate flag wearing hiker who sounds like a huge douche (but whom will not be named).
- Night hiking alone in forests and seeing eyes staring back at me.
- Once when I was camping alone in Northern California and a bear was near my tent in the middle of the night.
- Yes…jumping out of my skin at the sound of a pissed-off rattlesnake in the bush by my legs!
- After a bear took my food in Desolation wilderness (I did hang it) I was always alerted when I heard noises at night, so I didn’t sleep as well as I could have.
- Seeing a mountain lion while night hiking.
- Camping alone near Wrightwood I heard a loud snapping sound in the woods so I slept in a bathroom that night.
- A bear bluff charged me on the trail and I almost crapped my pants.
- Hiking through a section with feral pit bulls.
- A couple times when a bear cub was walking the trail running towards me to play and the mama bear was nowhere to be seen.
- Getting chased by dogs in Seiad Valley was not great. That place is hostile.
- MIKE’S PLACE!!!
- Hikertown. Not just that Hikertown had a weird vibe (it did). But the owner was kind of a creep.
- Walking under Cajon Pass alone.
- Hitchhiking from Big Bear Lake to Big Bear City.
- NorCal is full of fruit-loops.
- I was scared of getting hit by a car when I was walking over the Bridge of the Gods (OR/WA Border).
- At the end, close to Campo, some assholes were shooting their guns in the direction of the trail.
LOW POINTS ON THE TRAIL
As a part of the thru-hiker survey, I ask hikers, “What (if anything) was your lowest moment on the trail?”
I have also written a separate post documenting my own The 11 Worst Moments On The Pacific Crest Trail. If you go into a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike believing it to be some wonderful vacation of which every moment will be more incredible than the one before, then you are mistaken, my friend (and even though some of you may return and claim that every moment was, in fact, special and incredible, we all know you’re lying).
Read the following knowing that any one of these things could happen to you, should you find yourself on the PCT.
FIRST WEEK SHITTINESS
- First day. Didn’t make my goal of 15 miles. Felt miserable and totally out-of-place, was still jet-lagged, got stung five times by bees, and did not expect to be so helplessly dirty.
- I sprained my ankle 5 mi / 8 km in on the first day and thought I had broken it for a few minutes. I hiked the rest of the way to Lake Morena that day but the last 5 mi / 8 km were the worst I’ve ever hiked in my life.
- Day two. Other days hurt worse or were mentally harder, but getting up after day one with both mental and physical exhaustion was hard.
- Day two. Thirty miles (48 km) into the hike I had the worst blisters of my life. I was almost convinced I was done for. I could barely walk from the pain. It was disheartening to think I had worked so hard to do this hike and might have to stop before actually getting anywhere.
- I got injured at Mile 45 and hiked until Big Bear Lake (before leaving the PCT).
- I was dehydrated and malnourished for the first two weeks of the trail because I didn’t bring electrolytes or salty snacks.
- Dealing with pretty major injury starting the first week on the trail. Being patient and taking the time off needed to heal (thus, losing my trail family and everyone I had met) was HARD.
- Day 2: after my first 20 mi / 32 km the day before…I started to hitch to San Diego. Luckily, a trail angel pick me up and got me back to the trail instead.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY SHITTINESS
- Fight with wife in Washington. Terrible.
- Missing my wife two weeks in. Really missing her and my son.
- Problems with my hiking partner made me angry over quite a long time. Should have broken up with her sooner.
- I had a family tragedy at home and did not want to be on trail.
- Getting ousted by my first trail family seemingly without reason was the hardest moment for me initially, but in hindsight, it no longer feels as bad.
- The entire fucking desert.
- I was at my lowest point after Whitewater Preserve. I was drained and had only walked about 8 mi / 13 km by noon. If I had a nonemergency exit button I would have pressed it. Instead, I ate some gummy bears and took a nap.
- Going into Scissors Crossing. The person I was hiking with was way in front and it was really hot and I didn’t have enough water. Pretty much the only day I thought about quitting!
- Crying my eyes out for no particular reason going into Paradise Valley Cafe.
- Arriving in Julian with my feet destroyed due to blisters. The desert and the heat was very hard, coming from the UK, the extreme heat was not something I was used too at all.
- Descending San Jacinto to Cabazon – out of water, physically exhausted, pain (due to boot fit), and separation and alienation from hiking partner after dark due to misunderstanding. Forced to night hike for first time.
- Going into Whitewater Preserve. It was 110°F/43.3°C, my new shoes didn’t fit, there was no shade, it was 2 pm, and I had walked 1.5 miles down the wrong trail. I sat in a bush and cried before getting up and walking back to the trail.
- I got dehydrated and ran out of electrolytes between Whitewater Preserve and Big Bear. It was hot and sunny and I had no energy to hike and felt like death.
- A live fly got stuck deep in my ear for about ten minutes.
- Running out of food in the Sierra about 30 mi / 48 km from Mammoth Lakes and learning the road to Red’s Meadow was closed so we had to do an extra 8 mi / 13 km.
- Bishop to Mammoth was the beginning of the end – specifically Muir Pass. I went 4 mi / 6.4 km in one day and set up camp for the night. The Sierra scattered my trail family and it was hard to go on without support.
- My trail family disintegrated after we reached the Sierra and all took a little time off trail. Some didn’t return to the trail and everyone went back on somewhere different. I was sad and lonely for a long time after.
- Hiking and setting up my tent in a snowstorm in the Sierra. I was alone. Wanted to get off the trail, skip the Sierra. Felt like a failure, that I was dumb for being alone, that I sucked at hiking, that I’d never be warm again.
- I had been hiking for a week without seeing anyone, northbound out of Mammoth. I spent all day postholing alone, going .5 miles an hour (0.8 km/h) and running low on food. When it starts to rain/snow, I finally just pitch my tent, crawl into my wet sleeping bag, and take two Tylenol PM with a dry bag of oatmeal to go to sleep.
- I was exhausted physically and emotionally coming out from the Sierra. It was too hard on me due to all the snow and having to get up at 3-4 am every day to walk on the hopefully frozen snow. Postholing makes you go insane.
- Finding out big climbs didn’t stop after Tuolumne Meadows. Tough terrain in Yosemite combined with heat/mosquitos/butt chafe = sad hiker.
- Yosemite Section from Reds Meadow to Sonora Pass – AKA mosquito hell hole.
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA SHITTINESS
- Hiking in smoke and realizing that my reason for being there had disappeared.
- I fell into a stream outside of Seid Valley and nearly drowned. My pack went over my head and was pushing me underwater.
- My lowest moment definitely had to be in Northern California where I had been hiking through thick smoke for a week and it was blazing hot. The smoke really got me down and the heat didn’t improve my mood.
- Northern California has a weird vibe to it. I knew a lot of people end up getting off trail at that point and once I arrived, I understood why. It’s quite monotonous and after the excitement of the Sierra, I think it plays with your mind and your determination.
- Northern California was hard. I had been separated from my trail family, it was hot and gross, there was no water, I was sick of being in California, and there was so much smoke and no views.
- NorCal. Was hot and tired and had gotten separated from my group and was the time I seriously considered going home.
- Hiking through the smoke for three weeks through NorCal and Southern Oregon was really demotivating. We couldn’t see any of the views and the smoke really impacted my health.
- Waiting three hours to hitch into Bridgeport – I was struggling at that point with how often we seemed to be hitching on and off trail.
- Going to the bathroom/taking breaks in thick mosquito country.
- Probably a week or so before the smoke cleared in Northern Oregon. I was just so tired of breathing shitty air and feeling desperate for some views. I missed my friends and family back home and was tired of walking.
- Hiking into Elk Lake, firing up my internet and seeing that the northern terminus was closed due to active fires. At that point, I had been hiking through heavy smoke for just over a month and my whole world just collapsed. Had I been hiking for three months only for the finish line to disappear? It took some serious motivation to get me going the next morning and the subsequent days were really hard.
- I was standing on the rim of Crater Lake, and I couldn’t see anything because the smoke was so bad. You could just barely make out the island in the middle, and you could kind of see the water below. This was after having smoke for all of NorCal (we couldn’t see Mt. Shasta for the entire time we walked towards, missed most of the Trinity Alps, as well as Castle Crags), and I was pretty done with the smoke and almost dropped at that point.
- The Oregon mosquitos come to mind. They just really got to me mentally. The constant battle was so frustrating and demoralizing. Having to just sit in my tent every night with no option to leave was awful. I couldn’t stop walking. Deet only helped so much. It sucked.
- Sat on the trail shivering and crying after being rained on for four hours and realizing it was starting to come through my clothes and backpack. I had only seen two other people since I left camp and crossed over a couple of difficult steams and rugged/not really maintained trail between Stevens Pass and Stehekin. I sat freezing under a tree waiting for my friends.
- Week around Glacier Peak. Was early in the season, so everything was snow-covered. It rained for solid seven days and it was foggy – so no views at all. Everything was soaked. Fun time.
- Washington. My last 14 days on trail, I was rained on for 10 of them and one day included snow. I am miserable in cold, wet weather.
- For me, true Washington weather started a day north of Stevens Pass. For a few hours midday, the rain turned into snow, and we were forced to pitch tents during lunch to get our body temperatures up before finishing the day’s last ten, wet miles. My darkest moment was the next morning, putting on my still-soaked & now-frigid hiking clothes, and knowing full well that the next town (and hope for dry clothes) sat days ahead of me.
- Feeling a twinge in my knee near Mile 45. Couldn’t put weight on the leg by Mile 48. One legged it to a campground at Mile 50. Ended up with non-displaced stress fracture upper tibia.
- When I realized I couldn’t hike anymore because my injury might really be something serious.
- Fighting injury coming down San Jacinto. Thought I’d have to go home after two weeks on trail.
- Injury and having to get off trail, but mostly because it meant I would say goodbye to new friends.
- The day I suffered my stress fracture and had to leave the trail and go home.
- I nearly gave up after I had self-arrested on Forester Pass. I had broken my second set of hiking poles. I was in a lot of pain (stress fracture) and yet I still had to hike up and over Kearsarge Pass. I was crying the whole time and freezing as well. It was mid-May.
- Sliced open foot got infected near Olallie Lake, Oregon. Had to spend nine days in Portland with antibiotics.
- Being stuck in Ridgecrest with an injured foot; not being able to do anything, super-hot, not sure I could continue the hike.
- Just south of Etna, when my foot started hurting. I feared it was plantar fasciitis (it probably was) and that it would force me to quit.
- Getting injured and questioning my ability to finish just before Stehekin.
- I almost quit in Idyllwild because I was so scared and lonely.
- I had a lot of foot pain in NorCal and it made the mental game that much harder. The desire to quit was very strong around this time.
- My lowest moment was after getting over Mather Pass. I had been feeling altitude sickness since Lone Pine. I couldn’t hike big mile days (I physically and mentally just couldn’t do it) and I came extremely close to quitting here.
- Got sick (throwing up on trail) six times. Finally, quit because of it.
- Checked out Guthook and noticed there was an airport in Big Bear. Closest I ever was to quit the trail. Talked to other hikers at camp and realized I was not the only one struggling.
- Leading up to Walker Pass I almost quit. I was pushing too hard and not enjoying the hike.
- NorCal. All of it. Crushed low to mid-30s every day just to rush through the section because it was so horrible. Smoke was THICC and NorCal blues hit me so so so so so hard. Nearly gave up in Shasta, called my mom crying, just wanting to get off the trail because of the smoke. But I pushed on, and I finished it! HOW’S THAT FOR A COMEBACK STORY BOYS!!!
Have your own tale of woe from a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike? Leave a comment below and warn future PCT classes of the awfulness that awaits them on their thru-hikes.