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Pacific Crest Trail
Ritter Range Pacific Crest Trail.jpg

The Pacific Crest Trail in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, with a view of the Ritter Range
Length 2,659 mi (4,279 km)[1]
Location California / Oregon / Washington, USA / British Columbia, Canada
Designation National Scenic Trail
Trailheads Campo, California
Manning Park, British Columbia
Use Hiking
Horse riding
Elevation change 420,880 ft (128,284 m)[2]
Highest point Forester Pass, 13,153 ft (4,009 m)[3]
Lowest point Cascade Locks, 140 ft (43 m)[4]
Hiking details
Trail difficulty Moderate to Strenuous
Months Late April to Late September
Sights Sierra Nevada (U.S.)
Cascade Range
Hazards Severe Weather

The Pacific Crest Trail (commonly abbreviated as the PCT, and officially designated as the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail) is a long-distance hiking and equestrian trail closely aligned with the highest portion of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, which lie 100 to 150 miles (160 to 240 km) east of the U.S. Pacific coast. The trail’s southern terminus is on the U.S. border with Mexico, just south of Campo, California, and its northern terminus on the U.S.–Canada border on the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia; its corridor through the U.S. is in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.

The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,659 mi (4,279 km) long[1] and ranges in elevation from just above sea level at the Oregon–Washington border to 13,153 feet (4,009 m)[3] at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada. The route passes through 25 national forests and 7 national parks.[7] Its midpoint is near Chester, California (near Mt. Lassen), where the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges meet.[8]

It was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968, although it was not officially completed until 1993.[9] The PCT was conceived by Clinton Churchill Clarke in 1932.[10] It received official status under the National Trails System Act of 1968.

It is the westernmost and second longest component of the Triple Crown of Hiking and is part of the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop.


The route is mostly through National Forest and protected wilderness. The trail avoids civilization and covers scenic and pristine mountainous terrain with few roads. It passes through the Laguna, Santa Rosa, San Jacinto, San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Liebre, Tehachapi, Sierra Nevada, and Klamath ranges in California, and the Cascade Range in California, Oregon, and Washington.

PCT overview from Forest Service brochure

A parallel route for bicycles, the Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail (PCBT) is a 2,500-mile (4,000 km) route designed closely parallel to the PCT on roads. The PCT and PCBT cross in about 27 places along their routes.


The Pacific Crest Trail was first proposed by Clinton C. Clarke, as a trail running from Mexico to Canada along the crest of the mountains in California, Oregon, and Washington. The original proposal was to link the John Muir Trail, the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail (both in California), the Skyline Trail (in Oregon) and the Cascade Crest Trail (in Washington).[9]

The Pacific Crest Trail System Conference was formed by Clarke to both plan the trail and to lobby the federal government to protect the trail. The conference was founded by Clarke, the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and Ansel Adams (amongst others). From 1935 through 1938, YMCA groups explored the 2000 miles of potential trail and planned a route, which has been closely followed by the modern PCT route.[9]

In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson defined the PCT and the Appalachian Trail with the National Trails System Act. The PCT was then constructed through cooperation between the federal government and volunteers organized by the Pacific Crest Trail Association. In 1993, the PCT was officially declared finished.[9]

Thru hiking[edit]

Main article: Thru-hiking

Thru hiking is a term used in referring to hikers who complete long distance trails from end-to-end in a single trip. The Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide Trail were the first three long-distance trails in the U.S. Successfully thru-hiking all of these three trails is known as the Triple Crown of Hiking.[11] Thru-hiking is a long commitment, usually taking between four and six months, that requires thorough preparation and dedication. The Pacific Crest Trail Association estimates that it takes most hikers between six and eight months to plan their trip.[12]

While most hikers travel from the Southern Terminus at the Mexico Border northward to Manning Park, British Columbia, some hikers prefer a southbound route. In a normal weather year, northbound hikes are most practical due to snow and temperature considerations. If snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is high in early June and low in the Northern Cascades, some hikers may choose to ‘flip-flop.’ Flip-flopping can take many forms but often describes a process whereby a hiker begins at one end (on the PCT, usually the southern end) of the trail and then, at some point, like reaching the Sierra, ‘flips’ to the end of the trail (Manning Park in B.C.) and hikes southbound to complete the trail. However, it is not currently possible to legally enter the United States from Canada by using the Pacific Crest Trail.[13]

Hikers also have to determine their resupply points. Resupply points are towns or post offices where hikers replenish food and other supplies such as cooking fuel. Hikers can ship packages to themselves at the U.S. Post Offices along the trail, resupply at general and grocery stores along the trail, or any combination of the two.[14] The final major logistical step is to create an approximate schedule for completion. Thru hikers have to make sure they complete enough miles every day to reach the opposite end of the trail before weather conditions make sections impassable. For northbound thru-hikers, deep snow pack in the Sierra Nevada can prevent an early start. The timing is a balance between not getting to the Sierra too soon nor the Northern Cascades too late. Most hikers cover about 20 miles (32 km) per day.[12]

In order to reduce their hiking time and thereby increase their chances of completing the trail, many hikers try to substantially reduce their pack weight. Since the creation of the Pacific Crest Trail there has been a large movement by hikers to get away from large heavy packs with a lot of gear. There are three general classifications for hikers: Traditional, Lightweight, and Ultralight.[15] Over the past few years the number of traditional hikers has dropped considerably.

Notable hikers[edit]

Before the PCT was planned, Martin Papendick was the first known person to hike across three states of the PCT in 1952.[16] After being one of the first to finish the Appalachian trail in 1951, Papendick hiked between July 4 and December 1, 1952, from British Columbia to the Mexican border over the crests of the mountains along the Pacific Coast, a feat he reported in a periodical under the title “Pacific Crest Trails”.[17]

On October 16, 1970, Eric Ryback, an 18-year-old student, completed the first PCT thru-hike. His personal congratulations came by telegram from no less than Edward P. Cliff, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.[18] Ryback is credited, recognized, and has been honored by the Pacific Crest Trail Associated as the official first thru-hiker of the entire trail.[19] Ryback completed the Appalachian Trail in 1969 (as a 16-year-old); the Pacific Crest Trail in 1970; and a route approximating today’s Continental Divide Trail in 1972.[20] Ryback’s 1971 book The High Adventure of Eric Ryback: Canada to Mexico on Foot focused public attention on the PCT. Ryback carried an 80-pound pack on his 1970 thru-hike. He had only five resupply packages on the entire trip and was loaded with 40 pounds of food at the start of each leg. He often ran out of food and foraged or went hungry.[19] Ryback also helped the Forest Service lay out future plans for the PCT.[21]

However, Ryback’s claim is disputed. When the guidebook publisher, Wilderness Press, stated in print that Ryback had used motor transport in places along the PCT, Ryback sued for $3 million but withdrew the suit after Wilderness Press revealed statements from the people who claim to have picked up the young hiker along highways parallel to the 2,600-mile trail.[22] Ryback is in Smithsonian’s top 9 list of people Cheating Their Way to Fame though it notes that The claims that Ryback “cheated” are still doubted by some.[23]

The first person to hike the PCT from south to north[citation needed] was Richard Watson, who completed the trail on September 1, 1972.[16] Watson was often credited as the first PCT thru-hiker, because Papendick was generally unknown and Ryback may have accepted rides.[16] The first woman to complete the PCT was Mary Carstens, who finished the journey later in 1972, accompanied by Jeff Smukler.[16]

The first person to thru-hike the entire PCT both ways in a single continuous round-trip was Scott Williamson, who completed the “yo-yo” circuit on his fourth attempt in November 2004. Williamson traveled a total of 5,300 miles (8,530 km) in 197 days, covering an average of 35 to 40 miles (56 to 64 km) per day when not in snow – an overall average of 27 miles (43 km) per day – wearing an extremely ultra-lightweight pack, which “without food, weighed about 8.5 pounds (3.9 kg)”.[24] Williamson then went on to complete a second round trip on November 28, 2006, cutting two weeks off his 2004 time.[25]

The youngest person to hike the trail is Christian Thomas, who completed a flip-flop thru-hike of the trail from April 5, 2014, through November 24, 2014, at the age of 6. He completed his hike with his mother, Andrea Rego, and father, Dion Pagonis.[26][27]

The youngest girl to thru-hike the trail is Sierra Burror, who completed a continuous thru-hike of the trail from April through September 2012 at the age of 9. She completed her hike with her mother, Heather Burror.[28][29][30][31]

Other notable young hikers include Reed Gjonnes and Mary Chambers. Reed Gjonnes, who hiked the trail in 2011 at age 11, went on to complete the Triple Crown of Hiking, becoming the youngest person ever to do so.[32] Mary Chambers hiked the route with her parents in 2004 at age 10. A book about their experiences on the trail titled Zero Days was published in January 2008 by Wilderness Press.[33]

An autobiographical account of a woman hiking a portion of the PCT alone in 1995 at age 26 was written by Cheryl Strayed. Her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail was published in 2012 and reached #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list.[34] Her hike is the subject of the 2014 film Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon.

The oldest person to thru-hike the trail is not known.[35]

On August 7, 2013, Heather “Anish” Anderson of Bellingham, Washington, set the current unsupported speed record. She completed the entire PCT in 60 days, 17 hours, 12 minutes, [36] beating the previous record by almost 4 days.[37]

On August 10, 2014, Joseph McConaughy of Shoreline, Washington, and a former Boston College middle distance runner, set a new supported speed record and the overall fastest time for the PCT. The distance was covered in 53 days, 6 hours, and 37 minutes.[38][39][40] This overcame the previous record of 59 days, 8 hours, 14 minutes,[37][41][42][43] set by Josh Garret on August 8, 2013, by more than 6 days. Joe was supported by a team of three hikers, Jordan Hamm (a former Boston College distance runner), Michael Dillon, and Jack Murphy.

Also in 2014, Olive McGloin (from Ireland) became the first woman to thru-hike the PCT both ways in a single continuous round-trip.[44]


The first two reported deaths were in November 1995, when thru-hikers Jane and Flicka Rodman were killed during a detour down California State Route 138 in Southern California, when they were struck by a motorist who lost control of his vehicle. They were less than 400 miles from their goal of reaching the Mexican border.[45][46]

In May 2005, John Donovan died just five days shy of his 60th birthday after becoming lost on San Jacinto Peak in an unseasonal snowstorm. His body was not recovered until more than a year later. The cause of death is unknown, but hypothermia is suspected.[47]

Wendell Ray Echols (“No Way Ray”) of Mariposa, California died on May 15, 2006, near Deep Creek Hot Springs in a remote part of the San Bernardino National Forest. Ray was hiking with his wife, Alice Tulloc, when he lost his footing and fell approximately 200 feet to his death. Alice was hiking roughly 20 yards behind him when he went around a corner and disappeared. Another group of hikers heard Alice’s cries for help and were able to use a satellite phone to call for assistance. Ray was pronounced dead at the scene.[48]

At the age of 19, Timothy Evan Nodal died on April 24, 2014, of heat stroke near Lake Morena. Timothy began to feel sick and phoned his stepfather for help. When firefighters arrived, they were going over his symptoms when he suddenly went into arrest. Emergency personnel were unable to revive him. There was no evidence of dehydration or alcohol or substance abuse, according to the coroner’s report.[49]

Equestrian use[edit]

Don and June Mulford made the first verifiable equestrian Thru-Ride of the PCT in 1959.[50][51][52] In that year the Pacific Crest Trail stretched a poorly marked 2,400 miles from Mexico to Canada. More concept than footpath, the trail was an oft-broken, high-ridge track disappearing regularly from map and terrain. On April 19, 1959, on an empty scrub sage plain seven miles east of Tijuana, with four horses, Don and June Mulford began their journey north to the Washington/Canadian border. The Mulfords went to Hollywood for three months immediately after the ride and were featured on network television. June’s old press book yields a half-dozen TV-Guide pages, and she recalls, “Art Linkletter was such a nice man. We appeared on his ‘House Party’ show and he had coffee with us afterward.” “High Road to Danger,” a syndicated TV show, made an episode on their ride. Even after returning home to the Northwest, there was continued TV coverage. A January 1961 TV Guide records their appearance on Portland’s KOIN Red Dunning Show. The Mulfords even made a 90-minute movie and showed it around 12 western states for 10 years.

The Murray family – Barry, Bernice, Barry Jr. and Bennette – completed the trek on horseback on October 7, 1970.[53]


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