There’s a saying in the thru-hiker community: Either you do one of the Triple Crown trails, or you do all three.
I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2019, nearly three years ago. This year, I am embarking on the second trail of my eventual Triple Crown.
I am officially thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2022!!!
The PCT, like the AT, is a continuous long-distance footpath running south to north through protected, and often extremely scenic, land areas. While the AT runs from Georgia to Maine, the PCT travels from the Mexican Border near Campo and goes through California, Oregon, and Washington to the Canadian Border near Manning Park.
The PCT is longer than the AT at 2,650 miles (the AT was 2,192 miles the year I hiked it), but there is a shorter window of time to complete it due to the more extreme conditions, including high elevations, desert sections, and threat of wildfire, snow, and high water crossings. Most people thru-hike the PCT in about 5 months, and this is my projected timeline as well.
There was never really a question in my mind that I would one day hike the PCT, and eventually the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Even while still on the AT, with the skin wearing off my feet in Maine and my gear falling apart, I already knew that there was a PCT thru-hike in my future.
I also hiked the 211-mile Nüümü Poyo (John Muir Trail) in 2017. (You can read a few posts from that hike here, but be aware that I had just started this blog and didn’t really know what I was doing!) Most of the Nüümü Poyo runs concurrent with the PCT through the Sierra Nevada in California. It was maybe the most beautiful place I have ever been to. After I completed that hike, I knew I would one day set foot on the PCT again to hike all the way from Mexico to Canada.
The big hurdle of beginning to plan my PCT hike was the permit system.
Because much of the PCT goes through protected wilderness areas and traverses delicate ecosystems, and because the trail has become so popular, the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) limits the amount of people who can start at the southern trailheads to 50 people per day from March 1 to May 31—the most popular window of time to start a northbound thru-hike.
In order to thru-hike the PCT, you have to go through a nerve-wracking application process for a PCTA long-distance permit. There are two permit release dates. For the 2022 thru-hiking season, the first day was Tuesday, November 9, 2021, on which 35 permits per day were made available, and the second day was Tuesday, January 11, 2022, on which the remaining 15 permits per day were released.
When you arrive to the queue on permit day, you are assigned a random place in line. Then, when it is your turn, you are allowed into the application portal, and you have 20 minutes to fill out the application for your chosen start date.
Unfortunately, I did not score a permit on November 9.
Although I knew I had a second chance in January, I was sweating it for those two months. What if I didn’t get one? Would I have to plan another hike?
Although it is technically not illegal to hike the PCT without the PCTA long-distance permit, as long as a hiker obtains the necessary regional permits for all the protected areas the trail goes through, it is a major hassle, and it circumvents the entire reason why the permit system was set up in the first place. I was really hoping not to have to go this route, so for the second round of permits on the 11th, I took my process seriously.
I recruited several friends and family members to help me get places in line, and I made use of the browsers on multiple devices.
As the time to the portal application counted down, I took deep breaths and told myself that no matter what happened, it would work out.
Then it was 1:30. Showtime.
I got lucky with one of my open windows—it showed that I only had 19 minutes to wait. I was hopeful, but not overly so, as I patiently waited my turn.
Once I was let into the application portal, I couldn’t believe my luck. I practically had my pick of dates. I was overwhelmed as I quickly filled out my application and received the confirmation.
And then I started crying.
I’ve been questioning myself over and over these last few months, deciding whether this was really the route I wanted to take in life, wondering what else I would need to sacrifice on my quest to hike the Triple Crown.
But the minute I got that permit, there was no doubt in my mind. This is the path. I am on the right path.
There’s so much planning to do. I have to sort out my resupply strategy, sketch out an itinerary, pack food, shake down my gear, learn to set up my new tent, and develop a plan for the Sierras if there is too much snow.
For now, though, I’m still reveling in the joy that comes with knowing that in just a few short months, I will be the happiest, wildest, grimiest, freest, most alive version of myself again. I’ll be traversing and learning from some of the most beautiful spaces on this continent. I’ll get to see sky pilot and columbine again. I’ll get to carry an ice axe and eat 5,000 calories a day. I’ll get to meet other hikers and experience another trail. I cannot wait.
You’ll be hearing from me very soon.