Tuolumne River in the Sierra Nevada

The mountains win again

The Pacific Crest Trail

Although the Pacific Crest Trail wasn't officially a long trail until the establishment of the National Trails System Act in 1968, it has a history nearly as long as the Appalachian Trail.

Some shorter trails already existed over routes that are a portion of what is now the PCT, such as the John Muir Trail and the Oregon Skyline Trail.

Then in the early 1930s, an oilman named Clinton C. Clarke began promoting the idea of a trail stretching from Mexico to Canada. He wanted to follow the crest of mountains in California, Oregon, and Washington with the help of the existing trails. After establishing the Pacific Crest Trail System Conference in 1932, Clarke enlisted the help of Boy Scout troops, YMCA groups, and even the legendary photographer Ansel Adams, to map out a route.

Boy Scouts and YMCA crews ran relays over potential mountain routes during the summers of 1935 though 1938. Their efforts established the basis of the trail that exists today, but construction wasn't completed until 1993.

The trail is managed today by the Pacific Crest Trail Association under a cooperative arrangement with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and numerous trail organizations.

Today the trail extends about 2,650 miles from Campo, California, at the Mexican border, to the Canadian border just north of Hart's Pass. The PCTA doesn't list an exact distance for the trail. When I hiked it in 2019, it was listed as 2,653.1 miles long in the trail guide I used, so that's the number I use.

The highest point on the trail, Forester Pass, is at 13,153 feet above sea level. That's near twice the height of Clingman's Dome, which is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. And while much of the PCT is at a higher elevation, the footpath is not as steep. That is because much of the trail was designed for pack animals as well as humans.

Starting from the southern terminus, the first 700 miles travel through desert terrain, though it also climbs over mountains above 9,000 feet. Thru-hikers hiking northbound will want to start before desert temperatures rise too high in late spring. If they start too soon, however, they risk running into dangerous snow conditions when they reach the Sierra Nevada.

Northbound thru-hikers are equally concerned about the weather in Washington as they near the end. Winter often comes to the northern end in mid to late September. Once snow begins to fall, the trail can be extremely treacherous.

Between the borders is a constant potential hazard of forest fires. Hikers are often forced to take alternate routes or flip-flop to avoid dangerous trail sections.

During my thru-hike in 2019, I didn't have to reroute around any fires, but I did a double flip-flop. The first was to avoid snow conditions in the Sierra, and the second was to hike through the Sierra before snow returned in the fall.

I pick up my smile, put it in my pocket
Hold it for a while, try not to have to drop it
Men are not to cry, so how am I to stop it?
Keep it all inside, don't show how much she rocked ya
Ooh, can you feel the same?
Ooh, you gotta love the pain
Ooh, it looks like rain again
Ooh, I feel it comin' in
The mountains win again
The mountains win again