Countdown to the PCT – 8 Weeks

Eight more weeks!  8 weeks from today I should be launching out on the 2012 edition of my PCT adventure.  It has been out there in the future for some time now, but it suddenly has become imminent; time to get serious around the preparation and planning.

I launched my conquest of the PCT 2 summers ago when a friend and I tackled the 70 mile section from Rainy pass on Highway 20 up to the northern terminus at Manning Park in British Columbia.  It was a good introduction to the trail and helped to whet my appetite for more.

Last year I had initially planned on Highway 20 down to I-90, but the snow levels were too high for my comfort.  So I shifted down into Oregon and went from the Columbia River south to McKenzie Pass on Oregon Route 242.  This was a much longer stretch than anything I had tackled before and was very physically demanding.

So this year I am responding by increasing the mileage from 160 miles to about 400.  I plan to start this year at McKenzie Pass and head south to Seiad Valley at the north end of California, finishing off Oregon.  Then I will move back north and hike with a friend from Rainy Pass to Stevens Pass in Washington.  The month of August is dedicated to this endeavor.

So many things to do to prepare for a trip like this.  The biggest concern to me has to do with the physical conditioning.  I am currently running about 25 miles a week.  But on this trip I will be carrying 20-30 pounds for 20-25 miles a day over a hilly mountain route.  Getting the bony shoulders and hips toughened up to carry the pack, and the feet tough enough to handle the pounding are the biggest challenges there.  And that will only be rectified by more time out on the trail.  I currently plan on being out every other weekend in June and July getting the body ready for this.

I know where I am going, and generally what my rate of passage will be.  But I still need to invest some time in becoming more familiar with the trail and making sure I have all the maps I need.  One of the lessons I learned last year is that the PCT in Oregon does not have nearly as much water as the Olympic Mountains.  It was not uncommon at all to go 10 miles or more between water sources.  So I want to be sure that things like water, good camping, noteworthy sights are marked on my map.  At this point in the preparation I am planning on taking along the overview maps from the USFS for general use and markup.  And I will use Backcountry Navigator, a mapping application, installed on my phone, along with its GPS to handle detailed or more complex navigational issues.

Food is not that big a deal for a trip of 2-3 days.  But it becomes a much bigger deal when preparing for a month.  Fortunately I will not have to carry more than about 5 days of food except for the last week.  But I still need to be sure I have enough variety so that I will not be too bored with the food to actually eat it.  And I need to be sure that it packs as many calories as possible into each ounce.  It is also helpful if it does not require refrigeration, is easy to prepare, and does not turn into a pile of crumbs when stuffed into a backpack.  Further complicating food selection this year is the plan to go without a stove.

I have been working on a diet that reduces weight as much as possible, and can be eaten without cooking, and that tastes good enough to eat at the end of long day after long day.  It is surprisingly difficult to get 4000 calories of editable, easily packable, and simple to prepare food at under 2 pounds a day.  The quest is still underway to find the wonder diet that will get me through this; other than a steady diet of Snickers and Baby Ruths.

There are a number of other tweaks to equipment that I am working on and will be testing out in the Olympics over the next 8 weeks.

  • Learning the best way to use my new Sawyer Squeeze filter rather than chemicals.  Being able to get drinkable water from tiny trickles, and not have to wait 4 hours, is going to be very important.
  • Simplifying the setup for my tarp.  It will go up and down a lot of times in that month and it is a bit cumbersome right now.
  • I have a new camera (Canon SX260 HS) with lots of bells and whistles and want to be sure I can maximize its features.
  • Learning how to use the tracking feature of my SPOT and how to publish the resultant map so if anyone is interested they will be able to track me along the way.
  • How to keep all the electronics charged and functional.  I will meet Sue every few days and can recharge them then, so long as the car is equipped for it.
  • And I’m sure there will be many other things come up as the time gets closer.  The trick will be to deal with things as they come up rather than wait until the end and be overwhelmed with it all.

And, in many ways most importantly, working with Sue as she prepares to support the hike.  She will be traveling along in the car and meeting me every few days for resupply and whatever else is needed, not to mention getting the opportunity to share portions of the trail.  We need to find places for her to stay and things to do when I am several days away from an access point.  We are also working on get the proper equipment to ensure that her trip is as good as possible.  She is looking forward to it, and I want to make sure she still has the same positive feelings come the first of September.

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