You may have already assumed that a one-month thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail is an impossibility and that the notion of hiking 2,660 miles in such a brief period is lunacy. However, if life has taught me anything, it’s that we shouldn’t be quick to assume – especially when things seem obvious.
Let’s see if we can’t shed some doubt on our hastily made assumptions.
First, I believe an explanation of the numbers to be used in the article is required (because if there’s one thing I believe in, it’s transparency – and love between strangers…and the BearCat).
I am assuming the length of the Pacific Crest Trail to be 2,660 mi / 4280.86 km and the length of a month to be 31 days (I am being generous).
With this information, we can conclude (because dividing) that a thru-hiker’s daily average would have to be at least 85.8 mi / 138.1 km per day to finish the PCT in a month or less.
A thru-hiker (superhuman) could meet this target via the following speeds:
- 85.8 mi / 138.1 km per hour for 1 hour
- 8.58 mi / 13.8 km per hour for 10 hours
- 7.8 mi / 12.55 km per hour for 11 hours
- 7.15 mi / 11.5 km per hour for 12 hours
- 6.6 mi / 10.62 km per hour for 13 hours
- 6.13 mi / 9.87 km per hour for 14 hours
- 5.72 mi / 9.21 km per hour for 15 hours
- 5.36 mi / 8.63 km per hour for 16 hours
- 5.05 mi / 8.13 km per hour for 17 hours
- 4.77 mi / 7.68 km per hour for 18 hours
- 3.575 mi / 5.753 km per hour for 24 hours (minimum overall average speed required)
These speeds aren’t incredibly high, but those periods of time are (especially when talking about maintaining them for a month).
Who could be capable of such a feat?
First up: Usain Bolt.
Usain Bolt holds the 100 m world record with a time of 9.58 seconds and the 200 m world record with a time of 19.19 seconds. Bolt’s top speed is 30 mph / 48.28 k/hr.
This means that if Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, were able to sprint the Pacific Crest Trail at top speed without stopping, he would need 3 days, 16 hours, and 40 minutes to cover the distance. This will be our lower limit; nobody is finishing the PCT faster than this (on foot).
However, such a sprint would be incredibly difficult (dare I say, impossible), so let’s instead use Bolt’s average speed. During his record-setting 100 m race in Berlin in 2009, Bolt’s average speed was 23.5 mph / 37.82 k/hr. At this speed, he would need 4 days, 17 hours, 11 minutes, and 29 seconds.
Okay, I hear you. Usain Bolt runs on a perfectly flat surface in a controlled environment for a brief time – not through blistering heat, and over mountains, for days at a time. Assuming he (or any human) would be able to keep up that pace for that long is unrealistic (at least until the nanobots turn us immortal).
But what if Bolt wants to use the entire month to finish?
To finish the trail in exactly one month, at his average speed, Usain Bolt would need to run 3h 39m per day to meet his 85.8 mi / 138.1 km goal. Granted, a full-on sprint would be difficult to keep up for this amount of time, but when compared to doing the same thing for almost five days straight, it seems a lot more doable (albeit, still unrealistic).
Yet Bolt would not need to sprint his day’s distance all at once. If he were to break up his mileage over the course of, let’s say 14 hours, he would only have to run 6.13 miles each hour. This means that Bolt would have to sprint for 15m 39s of every hour, for fourteen hours, of every day, for one month, to complete the Pacific Crest Trail.
Okay, I know it’s still a long shot, but lets at least agree that, hypothetically (going strictly by the numbers and ignoring the fact that we’re human) our lower limit of 3d 16h 40m is the fastest time possible for a PCT thru-hike (you can even round that up to five days based on no math whatsoever). Cool? No? I don’t care.
I guess we will need to find someone with a bit more endurance to get a more reasonable idea of whether or not the one month thru-hike is possible.
Next up: Mr. Dennis Kimetto.
Dennis Kimetto holds the world record marathon time (2h 2m 57s) with an average speed of 12.79 mph / 20.58 k/hr over 26.2 miles.
Let’s break down his numbers, the same as we did for Usain Bolt.
If Kimetto were to run the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail without stopping (at his record-setting pace of 12.79 mph / 20.58 k/hr), he would arrive at the opposite terminus in 8d 15h 58m 29s.
I know, nobody is going to run their hardest for over a week without stopping. Let’s go back to the entire month scenario (stop whining just because it’s looking more like your initial assumption was made in haste).
To complete the Pacific Crest Trail in one month, Kimetto would need to run 6h 42m 30s per day at his average marathon pace. We already know that he is capable of running for 2h 2m 57s at a 12.79 mph / 20.58 k/hr pace (on a road in a controlled environment), so the idea that he would be capable of running 6h 42m 30s (for at least one day) is not completely insane.
But again, what if he wants to spend 14 hours a day (wait, why are we using 14 again? No reason, it’s completely arbitrary and selected by me) running to make things easier on himself? He could either:
- More than half his speed to 6.13 mi / 9.87 km and run the entire 14 hours.
- Spend 28m 45s of every hour running at full speed.
Is it really crazy to think that a professional marathon runner such as Kimetto would be unable to do one of those two things for a day? Perhaps things start to get grey once we enter the realm of multi-day efforts.
I guess we need to find someone with more stamina.
Enter Yiannis Kouros.
You may have heard of ultramarathons (a race longer than a marathon), and you may have even done one yourself (props to you), but something, or rather someone you may not have heard of is a man named Yiannis Kouros.
Born in Tripoli, Arkadia, Greece in 1956, Yiannis Kouros is one of the great badasses of the running world (whom, I am guessing, is largely unknown to the rest of world). He currently holds (at the time of my writing this) the following records (for running, in case you were confused by the mind-boggling distances and times):
- 100 mi road: 11h 46min 37s | 8.491 mph / 13.665 km/h
- 1,000 km track: 5d 16h 17min 00s | 4.559 mph / 7.338 km/h
- 1,000 km road: 5d 20h 13min 40s | 4.430 mph / 7.131 km/h
- 1,000 mi road: 10d 10h 30min 36s | 3.991 mph / 6.424 km/h
- 12h road: 100.999 mi / 162.543 km | 8.416 mph / 13.545 km/h
- 12h track: 100.910 mi / 162.400 km | 8.409 mph / 13.533 km/h
- 24h road: 180.334 mi / 290.221 km | 7.514 mph / 12.093 km/h
- 24h track: 188.589 mi / 303.506 km | 7.857 mph / 12.646 km/h
- 48h road: 269.112 mi / 433.095 km | 5.606 mph / 9.023 km/h
- 48h track: 294.403 mi / 473.797 km | 6.136 mph / 9.875 km/h
- 6 day road: 638.999 mi / 1,028.370 km | 4.437 mph / 7.142 km/h
- 6 day track: 645.512 mi / 1,038.851 km | 4.482 mph / 7.214 km/h
This man ran 639 mi / 1,028.37 km in six days. That’s just short of a quarter of the Pacific Crest Trail. With that pace he could finish the PCT in 25 days!
Now that might sound all well and good, but I know, you’re still not satisfied. Sure, a six-day grind is one thing, but we can’t just assume this man could do the same thing another three times over, now can we?
Well, he also ran 1,000 mi / 1,609.34 km in 10d 10h 30min 36s. That means if he did this just 1.6 more times, he would finish the PCT in just over 27 days. But alas, that’s still asking for a lot, isn’t it?
I suppose it’s come time to dig even deeper to find someone with (even more) endurance and not just the speed necessary to crush 85.8 mi / 138.1 km per day.
Meet Mr. Madhupran Wolfgang Schwerk.
MADHUPRAN WOLFGANG SCHWERK
Now chances are that if you have already heard of Madhupran Wolfgang Schwerk (German-born ultramarathon runner and living god), then you have also heard of the Self-Transcendence 3,100-mile race.
The Self-Transcendence 3,100-mile race? Like a 3,100 mile race? With cars? With bikes? No, with feet. With feet?! But the Tour de France is 2,200 mi / 3,500 km long and they get to use bikes! Shutup – no bikes on the Pacific Crest Trail.
I don’t know why you’re surprised, I thought we did a relatively good job easing into this. Yes, we’re talking about a 3,100-mile footrace. A footrace for which Madhupran Wolfgang Schwerk currently holds the course record: 41d 8h 16m 29s.
That’s almost 500 mi / 805 km further than the Pacific Crest Trail.
His pace averages out to approximately 3.124 mph / 5.027 km/h. That speed over the course of a month? We’re looking at 2,324.256 mi / 3,740.527 km – short of our 2,660 mi / 4,280.855 km PCT goal. Sad face.
But what if Schwerk knew that he was going to be running 500 miles less? Would that be enough to put the extra spring in his step? One month thru-hike!? Maybe, but I know you still have your reservations, Sherlock.
Sherlock? Yeah, don’t play dumb with me. I know you checked out the Self-Transcendence website and figured out that the race takes place in Queens, New York – far from the mountains and the mountain crushing terrain of the PCT. You want more convincing statistics before you are going to accept that someone can complete the PCT in only a month.
Fine. I now present to you: Badwater.
This invitation-only event is held every year in California, and if you haven’t heard of it until now, then hold on to your underpants.
The Badwater Ultramarathon begins in Death Valley, the hottest place on the planet, at an elevation of 282 ft / 86 m below sea level, the lowest elevation in North America. The finish line? Whitney Portal, 135 mi / 217 km away, and 8,300 ft / 3,963 m up.
Over the course of the race, runners endure over 17,700 ft / 4,000 m of elevation change (13,000 ft / 3,962 m of which is ascent) over two different mountain ranges. Did I mention it takes place in the middle of July? (read: scorching heat)
The current course record is 22h 51m 29s, set by Valmir Nunes of Brazil. His average pace? A staggering 5.906 mph / 9.504 km/h.
At that speed, he would need to run between 14 and 15 hours per day to complete the Pacific Crest Trail in a month. That’s almost eight hours less than he spent running Badwater.
The Badwater course represents two of the most challenging parts of the PCT – the desert and the Sierra. Desert temperatures on a one-month thru-hike would likely be less than those of Death Valley mid-July, and the Sierra portion of the trail would be on par with Badwater’s elevation gains (however, the max elevation reached on the PCT is substantially higher – 13,153 ft / 4,009 m).
Even if someone like Valmir Nunes conquered the desert and the Sierra at a slower pace, there would still be all of Northern California and Oregon to make up time (Washington would be a tossup as far as time-making-up goes).
For more information on Badwater, check out the official website.
Looks like your assumption (don’t lie, I know you assumed) that a one-month thru-hike of the PCT is a ridiculously impossible idea, isn’t as sure a thing as you thought.
We did a lot today.
The question now is: is it possible that a person such as Valmir Nunes (Badwater record-holder) could match the multi-day endurance of someone like Madhupran Wolfgang Schwerk (Self-Transcendence 3,100 record-holder)?
If only they could make a baby…
Sure, a one-month Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike would be a truly incredible feat and would require a ton of preparation, but is it really that difficult to believe it’s possible?
People have swum 3,716 mi / 5,980 km across the Atlantic (with plans for a 5,500 mi / 8,851 km Pacific swim), cycled 3,000 mi / 4,828 km across the United States in twelve days (The Race Across America), and, as we have seen here, do incredible things when it comes to running – so why shouldn’t a month-long PCT thru-hike be possible?
Obviously the logistics of said thru-hike would be as great a challenge as the hike itself, and yes, I am willing to admit that an unsupported one month thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail is, in fact, impossible, but with the right person, the right team, and a lot of crazy, a one-month thru-hike might just be possible.
See you on the trail. Slowpokes.