Saturday, February 28, 2015

An Off-Season Journey along the PCT

Tomorrow two men will walk alongside a roadway winding through cactus and grass. They'll climb uphill on a dirt access road to a 3 pillared monument. Their family and perhaps a few friends will be waiting. Success. The end of thousands of miles of walking, from Canada to Mexico.

Every year hundreds of people thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Those that start at Canada leave sometime in early summer. They posthole through late season snow in the Glacier Peak Wilderness and the Goat Rocks. By the time they reach Oregon the heat of summer will swell and envelop the mountains. Plumes of smoke in the distance and dried up springs and creeks will taunt them. Their's is a race against the impending winter. They must reach the Sierra before snow piles in and temperatures plummet. Most reach the southern terminus at the end of October or early November.

So what is the difference between that journey and the one that Trauma (Justin Lichter) and Pepper (Shawn Forry) will complete tomorrow?

Trauma and Pepper left Canada at the end of October 2014. They set out from Canada in the midst of a "Pineapple Express" that slammed into Washington like a runaway train. Monstrous amounts of cold rain, slush, and hypothermia conducive weather deluged them for the first few weeks.

Oregon and Northern California brought bone chilling cold and deep snow that led to frostbite.

The Sierra was a challenge of remoteness and sub-optimal conditions. They managed to ski through practically unski-able conditions facing the high winds, cold air, and challenges of altitude.

Once in the desert they faced warmth that was almost too much for their cold thickened blood and dried up water sources as California continues to face a prolonged drought. The high peaks of the desert were not gentle giants, but instead threw fresh snow and rain at them. Even 40 miles from the end cold rain was coming down.

I was lucky enough to join them for a 100 miles or so through the San Gabriels. It was a fun time to swap stories and dodge poodledog bush with old friends. I thought about the incredible challenges throughout their journey as we walked. What makes their hike so remarkable is not only the increased isolation (they went nearly 2,000 miles without seeing another soul on the trail), but that instead of embarking on a journey to dodge winter dangers they aimed to embraced them.

True adventure comes when you aim for something that you are not sure you can actually achieve. This inaugral winter PCT thru-hike has been exactly that. Before they left, Pepper told me he gave them a 17% chance of success. I think it's safe to say now that it's nearly a 100% chance. :)

It has been a joy to cheer them on throughout the last four months.

Congrats guys, you did it!

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