Before hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, it appears to be a glorious path of thrilling adventure to happiness, self-improvement, and ultimately enlightenment. It’s not. Glamorized and embellished trail tales reflect a small percentage of what the PCT has to offer.
Did you really think it was “so beautiful” or are you justifying your experience by telling people what they expect to hear?
We are quick to forget the terrible times, and are excellent at thinking, “Yes, but my hike will be different”. And the truth is your hike will be different; it might be a lot worse.
Most PCT hikers will have at least one “what the fuck am I doing?” moment, and many hikers will end their hikes in the wake of these moments.
I asked hikers, “What was your lowest moment on the Pacific Crest Trail?” Here are some of their experiences.
Walking through cold rain and wind right before Steven’s pass. Couldn’t stop for a break or to eat. Unwrapping snack bars with cold, wet fingers was almost beyond me. I seriously considered getting off trail at that point.
The second night of all-day rain in Oregon when I camped at a site that had a ton of buried toilet paper rising from the earth right next to a spring I was counting on drinking from. And I lost my stakes so I spent over an hour tying my tarp to flimsy bush branches.
The day after the halfway point when I realized I was still in fucking California.
Right before Shelter Cove, I mentally checked out and wanted to get off trail more than anything. I cried and cried until I told myself, “keep going, you only have one shot at this”.
Just after South Lake Tahoe. I was so low mentally I could barely walk. Within 30 minutes of hiking from Carson Pass, I was crying. It was horrible because I just wanted to stop but had to literally drag myself around Echo lake to lake Tamarack because there were no designated camping areas. A lot of on trail negativity around Tahoe and I think it got to me.
Being relentlessly attacked by mosquitos in the section before Crater Lake, while having to clamber over hundreds of downed trees.
Over 100°F (38°C) in Northern California – tired and questioning why I was doing these big miles every day. Needed a break from trail at that point.
The hardest part is always the mental aspect. It was a moment a few days before the half way point, just outside of Sierra City. I was alone at the time and feeling a lack of motivation. It had been already 2 months and the thought of not even being halfway really killed me. Thoughts of quitting the PCT started to form and I hated it. That part of the trail was the hardest, but thankfully I met someone who was going through the same emotions and we helped each other through it.
Getting hit with violent symptoms of food poisoning on June 1 and having to go over Forrester Pass alone in deep snow without being able to eat much and hydrate due to bad diarrhea.
On the sixth day of rain, I lost it. Cried for 15 miles. My rain gear wasn’t protecting anymore and my tent was soaked. If I hadn’t been picked up by the most amazing trail angels in Stehekin I would have been done with the hike.
I had a couple of ‘why on earth am I doing this am I even enjoying it anymore what am I trying to prove and to who’ moments – one at Sonora Pass (thousand mile blues), and the other at Dunsmuir (NorCal heat and dust). So I listened to myself and learned to distinguish between what surmountable and insurmountable lows look like for me, and took breaks / skipped big sections where I needed to. Hike your own hike. It’s about the whole journey, mental and physical.
Vomiting and diarrhea in 100+ degree weather outside of Etna, alone.
Getting rained on for three days straight in Washington. On the third day, it started snowing near Cloudy Pass. I couldn’t feel my feet anymore and wasn’t able to use my cell phone because the touch screen was wet and I almost couldn’t move my fingers because of the cold. Wasn’t just uncomfortable but actually scary.
Leaving the group I had hiked 1000 miles with in Truckee and never seeing them again.
Boulder Oaks Campground to Mt. Laguna. I got rained on, my tarp collapsed on me in the night, and I woke up to everything being soaked. Walked 16 miles starting at 3 am in freezing rain and darkness to avoid hypothermia.
Extreme cold and rain in the beginning of Washington, by that point I was already so done mentally and going through so much pain and difficulty that far along the trail was very irritating and ultimately defeating.
When I had to take an emergency shit inside my tent (it all worked out).
So what can we learn from all this misery?
It would seem that a lot of the misery on the Pacific Crest Trail grows out of being sick, injured, alone, or shat upon by mother nature. The PCT can be a soul-crushing experience, but chances are that you will emerge out the other side grateful for having passed through the gauntlet.
My advice? Accept that things are not always going to go your way and make sure to get yourself some good rain gear.