Are you and the PCTmutually compatible?
The Pacific Crest Trail is fairly easy to hike. Save for a few spots in the High Sierra, mountain passes or river fordings that are identified as potentially problematic and where danger is clearly measured, this trail is not technically difficult, and it is almost continuous: it’s a strip of sand that one follows from Mexico to Canada with virtually no interruption. Except in case of snow, which can hide all landmarks in no time and make it almost impossible to navigate an otherwise easy terrain, it’s very hard to get lost on the PCT. So technically and physically, almost anyone can attempt this thru-hike on the condition of having enough time and savings to do so. I’ve seen people of all ages on the trail, including kids, and people of all physical conditions, including severely overweight people. But it’s not only a question of technical feasibility.
So… is the PCT right for you (and vice-versa)?
The answer to that question mostly depends on what you're looking for:
The PCT is right for you, and you probably don't need my modest advice to prepare for it adequately.
Surely the PCT is gonna work for you!
Make sure to prepare adequately and to choose the people you go with wisely - life on the trail is intense and can challenge even the strongest of friendships - and you'll be fine! At the very worst, if things don't go as planned with your group, you can always split and hike on your own for a while, or meet new people and hike with them, and you'll reunite with your friends at some later point.
The PCT can offer all that but be careful: a NOBO thru-hike is like a transhumance, there is A LOT of people on the trail and in resupply towns, and more than often you will interact with individuals and groups of people who might not be in the same mindset as you are. On weekends especially, you'll share the trail (and nature in general) with locals who go out there to relax and enjoy their weekend. In the US, it means you'll sometimes see dirt bikes and ATV's as well as people carrying fire arms and shooting them in the forest. Except in the High Sierra which is very remote, you'll have to expect that every weekend.
If you're really seeking solitude and if you anticipate that interacting with too many people will negatively impact your experience, maybe you wanna consider hiking the PCT southbound!
- The desert is probably the most exotic and charming section, at least coming from Europe where that kind of environment is fairly rare. But desert in this case doesn't mean sand dunes. It's a region with a desertic climate, but in practice there is quite a lot of animal life, water and even flowers (and beautiful ones, mind you). So don't expect anything like the infinite dunes of the Sahara!
- If you're after majestic, lush forests, you might be better off hiking elsewhere in the world. The soil is fragile and fairly unstable in the regions crossed by the PCT and a lot of the forests it goes through look like giant mikado games, it's actually a bit weird. The most beautiful forests on the PCT are in the State of Washington without a doubt, between Chinook Pass and Canada. Maybe you will consider hiking that section only, to be in the kind of environment that inspires you the most?
- If're you're after pure Alpine landscapes, you might get very frustrated. The only truly Alpine section is the High Sierra, which you'll cover in about 15 days. Then in Washington you'll find some of that mountainy feel again, buton only on the last 15-20 days. So all in all, on your total trail time, you won't get that much of the very mountainy landscapes you can find in the Alps or in the Pyrenees if that is where you usually hike. Again, you might wanna consider a section hike. For example, you could hike the John Muir Trail (JMT). With "only" 250 miles, it starts from Yosemite Village (in the mythic Yosemite Valley, who sadly burnt almost entirely in the summer of 2018) and finishes at the summit of Mount Whitney. It is typically hiked southbound any time between July and August, and from Tuolumne Meadows to the bottom of Mount Whitney, it coincides exactly with the Pacific Crest Trail. It's pure Alpine terrain, beautiful beyond belief and the sky out there seems to have no limits.
- Last but not least, keep in mind that wildfires have taken a heavy toll on the lands over the last few years, and sometimes you'll have to walk for days in endless fields of dust and in the remainders of devastated forests, in Oregon especially. It's very tough on the morale so be prepared for that.
Forget about the PCT! For as easy to hike and well maintained as it is, the Pacific Crest Trail remains a remote trail, in the wilderness, with no infrastructure whatsoever. Save for the resupply stops you'll make in local towns and communities, you'll be far from "civilization". No mountain refuges, no B&B's, no hotels, no restaurants. You'll need to carry as much (or as little) as you deem necessary to your survival, well-being and comfort (if any), every single day for 5 months.
If you've already hiked the Camino (which has MUCH more infrastructure) and you really want a taste of the PCT, why don't you pick the section you like the most and take a road trip in the area, then do day hikes from the trail heads? Or even a few 2-3-day hikes maybe, overnighting in your tent out there in the wilderness... Except in the High Sierra, there are plenty of trail heads that give easy access to the PCT for such day-hikes.
To get a glimpse of what the PCT can feel like on not-so-good days, I strongly encourage you to read this article written by a seasoned thru-hiker. The image described there is somewhat less glamorous than the one one could forge at home, thousands of miles away from California, when one has never experienced a thru-hike. The idea is obviously not to scare you off your PCT project, but simply to show you another side of that kind of adventure, less advertised in travel blogs maybe, but still very, very real.