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Pacific Crest Trail - Easy Cloze

Photo of Kelley Pigott

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Despite being a nearly ten-year old adventure, it like just yesterday that I was backpacking through the spectacular mountains of the United States West. Starting off from the U.S.-Mexico border, my sister and I departed from the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT), which 2,650 miles until its northernmost point, the U.S.-Canada frontier. The trail, officially completed in 1993, runs through three of the most scenic States in The Union (California, Oregon, and Washington), and countless national forests, national parks, and wilderness areas. It’s possible to encounter every conceivable type of vegetation and natural along the PCT; it wanders through arid and barren land like the Mojave desert; it traverses through California’s awesome and breathtaking high Sierra Nevada, which reaches over 13,000 feet; it winds through the picturesque Cascade mountain range that forms the spine of both Washington and Oregon. Suffice it to say, the thru-hiker (a term used for those spending months "through" the Pacific Crest) will spend his/her days climbing at various altitudes, the likes of which will present awe-inspiring high-desert flora/fauna and breathtaking subalpine terrain.
In addition to the trail’s beautiful natural surroundings, I also reminisce about the number of amiable thru-hikers we encountered along the way. In fact, we were by another pair when we set out from the U.S.-Mexico border. Like most people who adopted monikers for the unique world of the PCT (Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail), our colleagues were no different; one was named “Mouse-Trap” and the other went by “Papi.” The latter was from Eastern Europe and had come to the U.S. to spend his time in the wide open spaces of the West. He wasn’t the individual from outside the U.S. either; based on the folks we met, the trail seemed to be quite well-known all over the world, at least in the outdoor enthusiast community. We were quickly given the nickname “The Librarians” because in my ambition to do a lot of reading on the trail, I’d brought a wide-array of books. In light of the fact that we spent the majority of our time hiking (18-30 miles/day), I realized I had a very unrealistic reading objective. Moreover, the extra book weight was an unnecessary that was impossible to ignore once we started accumulating mileage. This was all on top of the freshly weighted down backpacks we found ourselves carrying after ‘refueling’ stops. Similar to other thru-hikers, we had boxes of non-perishable food sent to various post-offices along the way. In other words, when we set out to hike from 80 to 180 miles after a given food pick-up, every last ounce mattered, so an extra pound or two of books was the last thing we desired.
Of the many memories of that first month, none stick out as much as the recollection of my sister’s feet. Although it may not seem like much of a memory, it’s hard to forget a hiking partner who spent hundreds of miles just trying to grin and bear her way through a barrage of blisters. The thought of them on almost every last inch of my sister’s feet still to this day makes me in pain. Luckily, she valiantly overcame the agony and the soles of her feet eventually transformed into hardened callouses.
In addition to feet, my memory also includes many backpacks. Whether because one wore out or it simply didn’t fit well, I went through three different packs in total. This actually turned out into one of those good-Samaritan stories because upon arriving to a food pick-up in the southern California town of Idyllwild, we met a saint of a man, who in all his , drove us down to just outside Los Angeles in order for me to buy a new backpack. I could fill pages-and-pages with stories of the kind, good-hearted people we met along the way. In fact, I have often said that if you lose your faith in mankind, then hiking the PCT (Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail) is a sure-fire way to revive your positive feelings for humanity. Of the many characters was a fellow who wasn’t hiking the trail per se. , he simply drove to various points so as to provide people with provisions, moral support and good cheer. Apparently, he had been doing this for years and his fame amongst thru-hikers could not have been over-estimated.
While the trail certainly didn’t lack personalities, it’s also worth pointing out that there were times when we felt quite removed from civilization. Unlike the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia on the East Coast of the U.S., the PCT (Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail) is a much more , isolated stretch, so you are often left to your own thoughts for days at a time. It was during this time of solitude that I naturally developed a new relationship with the outdoors, especially the wide-ranging variety of trees that inhabit the Earth. Accompanied by a tree-identification book as we moved northward through different altitudes, I would take time to study and examine all the trees we encountered. This new relationship was further reinforced in California’s Yosemite Park, where we admired the Giant Sequoias - what an indescribable presence these trees are!
However, before skipping too far forward, I must mention that this was 1998 and since it was the year of El Niño weather patterns, the weather, specifically the snow, proved to be much, much more of a factor than most years. We enjoyed dealing with the elements at times and even spent 15-20 miles at a time in snow-covered paths, but because the snow accumulated to such large degrees in the Sierra Nevada, we decided to ahead in order to avoid spending literally hundreds of miles in North-Pole-like conditions. What we did was jump ahead to Northern California, near Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen. This was one of the most scenic parts of the whole trail, but the weather conditions hadn’t changed much from Southern California. In other words, we were forced to trek through snowy conditions, not to mention the obstacles, specifically trees, that had fallen into the trail and thus prevented us from easily navigating northward. It actually got a little dicey at times, i.e. we were worried we’d lost our way, but we were traveling with some capable companions who helped us figure out how to reach the next stop off point. Along the way, we encountered our first black bear and even came across another hiker who stopped to play us a on the guitar he toted with him. Perhaps most notable of all was my unfortunate trail mishap; I got caught up in Poison Oak, and if you don’t know, it’s a nasty plant that makes you itch / ooze for weeks at a time when you get tangled up in it.
Because of this fiasco in Northern California, we headed up to the PCT’s (Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail) northern terminus, the U.S.-Canada border. We had had enough of the snow and weren’t interested or prepared to deal with such conditions, especially for long periods of time. We hoped that the northern portion of the trail was going to be a change, and while we ended up finding occasional of snow, we were relieved to find a much more navigable trail. Since I’m from Washington State I may be biased, but the portion of the PCT (Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail) in the Washington Cascades was my favorite part. Above all, I have fond memories of an area in the northernmost portion of the State, The Paysaten Wilderness; this stretch is full of subalpine flowers, glacier lakes, and the views of the Pacific Crest. All your worries and thoughts vanish when you hike along a ridge bordering lush meadows and wild flowers overlooking a panorama of neighboring snow-capped mountains and far-below valleys.
That spring we wound up hiking approximately 1,300 miles. Like most experiences, when you’re done and look back it’s sometimes hard to believe they ever happened. While I’ll certainly never forget the majestic and solemn nature of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, I always try to forget the food of those months; we ate corn pasta nearly every day and in my I can only hope I never cross its path again.