I typed these up as notes on facebook for my friends to read but I think this would be a good place for them as well.
Donít get me wrong, when I mentioned in the post about the kickoff and all of the fear mongering going on, I didnít mean that the PCT is not dangerous. Itís just that most of it can be dealt with easily by the use of a little common sense. Unfortunately REI doesnít sell common sense.
The PCT is and can be dangerous. I really canít envision a situation on the AT where youíd be in dire straits for more than a few hours or couldnít find a way into town in case of an emergency. The PCT is very remote at times and in those very remote places you arenít likely to have phone service to call for help so donít rely on your phone.
This year was a 150% snow year in the Sierra Mountains and while it made for slow walking it was absolutely beautiful. I feel bad for the people who flip flopped around to miss the snow. I think of snow as just another part of hiking.
Going into the Sierra Mountains I had no experience hiking in the snow and using an ice axe prior to the PCT and I was just fine. I didnít carry any sort of traction device although I did screw some screws into the bottoms of my trail runners, most of which I ended up taking out anyways. I carried a Camp Corsca Ice axe (7 ounces) one of the sturdiest and lightest youíll find and it worked great. I wouldnít have wanted to cross and climb some of the passes without it.
I have never done anything as intense in my life as climb a mountain pass up a steep snowy slope knowing that if I slip and donít stop myself immediately I may slide full speed into some rocks or even off a cliff. At best you would just slide down to the bottom and have to start climbing it over again. It makes for some very mentally exhausting days when youíre on edge ready to react instantly at the first sign of trouble. It also makes for some of the most rewarding hiking Iíve ever done.
Yes theyíre required, but personally I think theyíre a joke. I love bears and Iím all about keeping them alive but I donít see how they really help all that much. Seldom could I fit everything I was carrying that was smelly inside my bear canister and I had one of the largest ones on the market. Any larger and I would have needed a new pack to carry it.
Bear Canisters donít keep the bear from being able to smell your food, just eating it so you can still have problems with bears in camp anyways. That said I only saw two bears in the Sierra Mountains and both were from a distance. Neither wanted anything to do with me. I was careful about where I camped and where I cooked and I think that was what made the difference. I also kept anything with a strong odor inside the OPsak odor proof bags. I think they make a huge difference.
Donít think you have to have a GPS to make it through the snow. Yea there isnít a white blaze every 100 yards but itís not that difficult. I made it through the snow just fine with maps from the Wilderness Press Guidebooks. Theyíre not the best but they serve their purpose. I really like that they show every single switchback. If I did it again I would print out and use halfmileís maps. I think of all the maps I saw they were the best, plus they were free.
Donít assume the footsteps youíre following through the snow are going the right way or are on the trail.
Donít even worry about staying on the trail in the snow. If you need to go from point A to point B just walk right across the snow even if the trail took some winding path to get there.
I wouldnít recommend taking a straight shot through the Sierra Mountains in the snow. A big day was 20 miles and they werenít easy. Sometimes weíd hike for 10 Ė 13 hours and only cover 20 miles.
My appetite also increased with the altitude. I was eating like I was on the AT before the Sierra Mountains and with the altitude my appetite increased dramatically. There is no way I could have carried enough food. Going out to resupply at Kearsarge Pass wasnít bad. Itís a few miles out of the way and quite a bit of elevation but Iíd do it again. Thereís a subway in town there and I think it was one of the best sandwiches Iíve ever had.
Carry an extra days worth of food, youíll thank me for it later.
Itís the highest mountain in the lower 48Öyouíre in the best shape of your lifeÖyou might as well do it while youíre there.
If I had to hike through this much snow again I would buy myself a pair of snow gaiters. I did the first stretch of the Sierra Mountains in my kilt since the PO messed up and I didn't get my package with my pants. My shins were raw 99% of the time from postholing. Snow gaiters would have been really nice to have.
I'm stubborn. If there was a stream in my way I crossed it no matter what. I wouldn't necessarily suggest doing this. I'm pretty comfortable crossing streams and in the water. There was only three streams I had trouble with: one because It was raging rapid only about 15 feet across, the second because I crossed where it was over my head, and the third because I was letting Princess use my trekking poles since she had broken hers and I had nothing to help me balance.
If a stream looks too gnarly for you to cross you can always wait until early in the morning when there is less snowmelt going into it. Also look around for a better place to cross. Most had downed trees you could walk across and I seldom crossed where the trail did.
Everyone suggests unclipping your sternum strap and hip belt when crossing a stream in case you go under, I beg to differ. I got in over my head and my pack acted like a life jacket. With a bear cannister you have something the size of a five gallon bucket full of air on your back. It should float...at least for a while. I wouldn't want to be stuck in the Sierra Mountains with no pack either. I think i'd rather drown then die from hypothermia or exposure.
I've got my socks down to a science. I only wear Darn Tough Socks but I wear different ones for different occasions. When my feet are going to be wet but will have a chance to dry and it's not overly cold I wear the coolmesh 1/4 sock. My feet are usually dry within a20 minutes.
In the Sierra Mountains I wore the 1/4 Merino wool socks with the cushion on the bottom. My feet were wet and never had a chance to dry out. The wool was much warmer for extended periods of cold and wet but they do take forever to dry.