Dec 01, 2017
Froggy’s Top Ten: What I learned Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
Dec 01, 2017
By Randy Wallace
Some of our readers may recall I went on a “little hike” this spring and summer to walk the length of California or to walk as far as I could on the Pacific Crest Trail. The powers that be graciously permitted me to write a follow-up to my April Top Ten article.
First, the metrics: 1170 trail miles, 1250 total miles, 116 days out and 84 on-trail. That’s the equivalent of hiking up and down Mount Everest six times. I have 575 miles to finish my goal from Campo, California to Ashland, Oregon. I will do a substantial portion of that from March to October in 2018.
Second, every PCT hiker is given a trail name. Mine was Froggy. It was an acronym: EFFFing Really Old Guy Getting Younger. I will let the readers supply the missing vowel and consonants in the first word. No hiker on-trail heard my name without laughing or telling me it was the best trail name they heard. It was pretty cool to have people I had never met come up to me and say, “You’re Froggy! We were talking about you the other day; it’s great to finally meet you in person.” I think that response had a lot to do with FROGGY’S TOP TEN, a spinoff of David Letterman’s top ten. So let’s begin.
No. 10. Trust Your Intuition
I cannot tell you the number of times I trusted my intuition on-trail. Had I not done so, trouble awaited me. Bad decisions on the PCT are life-threatening. Four hikers died this season: two women from drowning in river crossings and one man from dehydration and exhaustion, another in an avalanche. Simple decisions like when to stop to camp for the night, when to wait out weather conditions or reroute, when to filter and water up, how much water to carry and whether to keep your gear inside your tent at night—all can lead to disaster with the wrong decision. I trusted my gut every day and I am here today writing this article.
No. 9. It’s Not Lost, You Just Can’t Find It
This is a principle equally applicable on or off trail. To this day, I laugh at not being able to find something in my backpack, thinking it was lost, only to find it two days later. The longer you are on-trail and the more you get dialed-in to your gear (See No. 6), the less this principle rears its ugly head.
No. 8. Trip Up Not Down
In 1250 miles I fell twice, and the second time was not until the last day of my hike. Falling down can end your hike real quick. So when you stumble, make your next step up to give yourself time to plant those trekking poles and not fall.
No. 7. Strength and Honor (the Roman Credo)
Every day, hike the trail with strength and honor. Every day I gave thanks to the trail for not getting hurt. Every day I gave thanks to the animals for not eating my food and letting me sleep in their home. Every day I thanked my body and mind for the strength to continue day after day after day. Every day I thanked the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the trail angels for maintaining the trail and us hikers. And every day I thanked Mother Nature for giving me no more than I could handle and the “holy sh*t, batman” moments of breathtaking beauty and joy.
No. 6. Dialed-in for Food, Water, and Gear
Dialed-in is an expression on-trail describing how well you do what you do on-trail. Ideally, with FOOD you want to have consumed all your food when you walk into a resupply town. There is one exception. You might want to carry an extra dinner because it is light and it is an emergency ration.
With WATER, your days generally involve knowing where each water source is and gearing your hiking schedule to it. Heat, altitude, number of miles hiked and how much you carry at any given time require you make this dialed-in decision carefully. Your life may well depend on it.
With GEAR, one overarching question is asked: is the gear item you have making your hike more enjoyable? Each item should also have at least two purposes. It’s better if it has more. I was still dialing in on gear until my last day on-trail—getting rid of stuff. I think I will continue this process for as long as I hike.
No. 5 Preparation versus Execution
It is one thing to talk about and to prepare to hike the PCT. It is quite another to actually hike 12 to 18 miles a day, have blisters for a week, sore feet every day (seriously, every day), physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion, carry a twenty-five to fourty-two pound pack, set up and tear down your campsite every day, find and filter water, cook the food, weather the heat and wind and rain, watch for the snakes, mountain lions, bears, ants, bees, wasps, black gnats and mosquitos, and protect your food from marmots, chipmunks and ground squirrels. Even with all that, it was still the best ever.
No. 4. Be Quick but not in a Hurry
Many sections of the trail are flat-out scary and dangerous. I call them half-and-halfs. One section is hard rock and the other, usually the downhill side, is loose dirt and rock ready to give way. If you slip and fall, it is 500 to 700 feet to the bottom at worst or a pulled groin muscle at best. And that is the end of your hike and your sorry keester. So when crossing these sections, you must move quickly to get past the slippery stuff, but not hurry so as to cause the slippage and all she wrote.
No. 3. Destination and/or Journey
Many PCT hikers are linear. They want only to connect the dots from the southern terminus in Campo, California to the northern terminus in Manning, British Columbia. They have to hike their 17.9 miles a day to do the trip of 2650 miles in 150 days. They have to keep moving to miss the snow in Washington. Some will not even stop to talk, and one of the best experiences on-trail is talking to your fellow hikers. If you want to hike your hike as a job, as a destination and it works for you, then do it. My preference is a journey. Sure, I did my daily mileage, but I took over 2000 pictures, met eighty-five hikers going north whom I met again going south. And when we met up it was hugs and smiles and laughter, fist and elbow bumps for all. So take your pick, whatever works, do it.
No. 2, Less is More
If there was a mantra on the PCT, this would be it. Weight is everything. PCT hikers are obsessed with base weight: how much does all your gear weigh less water, food and fuel? The less you carry in base weight, the more food and water you can carry. Water weighs 2.2 pounds a liter. You need a liter of water for every 3-4 miles you hike. Sometimes you have 29-mile water carries. You have food for three to seven days. You need two pounds of food a day assuming you carry one ounce per 100 calories. In the desert, you need more water. In the Sierra, you need more food. Now you get an idea of base weight. Most hikers will not tell you their true base weight—it is always more. Mine was around 18 pounds but really it was probably 19 pounds. LOL
And finally—drum roll please—the best thing I learned how to do on the PCT:
No. 1. P*#ing into a Bottle
Picture this: it is raining cats and dogs, the wind is howling and changing directions. It is cold outside. It is 3:00 AM. You are warm, snug and dry in your sleeping bag but your bladder is full and bursting. It is time to go from the fifty ounces of electrolyte lemonade you drank to hydrate yourself at dinner and the Nuun watermelon water you drank during the night to continue the process. How does going outside sound to you? First you need to get shoes on and a headlamp, then find a place to go that is leave no trace and then you’re doing it in the rain and wind and cold—I thought so. Once you learn how to go into a bottle, problem solved; you go back to sleep and will be ready to hit the trail like gangbusters.
So there you have it folks, FROGGY’S TOP TEN. There were other lessons learned, like the Pete Schweaty Food Carryin’ Bag, why women are the best hikers on the PCT, the B…A…H…G’s and the PCT Pony Express mail service. But those are for another time or if you run into me, ask away.
For now, Happy Trails and Happy Holidays.
Randy Wallace is a mediator and lawyer. He has practiced law for the past 39 years and has been a mediator since 1994. This year he became a confirmed thru hiker. He is also a Past President of the Marin County Bar Association (2015).