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  1. #1

    Default Permit Application Process- Difficulty to Obtain Desired Start Date

    I may attempt a '17 PCT thru hike, and one of my greatest logistical concerns is a time constraint. I would probably need to finish by about September 1st at the latest. For that reason, I am especially concerned with getting a permit for a start date in early to mid April (dependent on next year's snowfall). How difficult is it to obtain a permit for one's desired start date, if applying as soon as the window opens on February 1st? Should I be worried about not obtaining my first choice and then having fewer options because some time has passed since the application window opened?
    -Achilles
    AT '12

  2. #2
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    This year it seemed to me that if you apply within a couple hours of the permits opening on PCTAs website you could have your pick of nearly any day. People tended to cluster around nice round numbered days (1st, 15th, 30th) so if you have a little flexibility so those might be the exception.

    It's not like some concert ticket sales where if you don't get in within the first ten milliseconds you're SOL. At least that was not the case this year

  3. #3

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    I'd just be ready to apply for a permit as soon as they are up and running...that's what I'll be doing in 2018 to make sure I get the start date I want.

    I noticed this year, when I looked in the morning (around 8am) of the opening day that almost all permits for April 10th-April 30th were pretty much gone, except for the 15 they hold back for mid-February release.

    As long as you plan the timing I think you won't have a problem with getting the day you want. As jj said, they won't disappear in milliseconds but the obvious and most popular dates do seem to disappear quickly.

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    I just gave up my slot on April 15 due to a family illness situation, and as of now it's still open. I re-booked later and hopefully the postponed date will work out...we'll see I guess.

  5. #5

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    If you can't get the date you want, just don't start at the border. Start at Mt. Laguna and hike to the border. Then get a ride to Mt. Laguna. Something like that. And remember, you have a lot of control over your pace once you get going. Minimize the zero days, time your arrivals so you have no delays doing what you need to in town, don't linger too long in party vortexes, etc. Also, snow in the Sierras can slow you down with an early start and not be a problem at all with a later start. Pack light and you can go far and fast. Your exact start date isn't as set in stone as you'd think.
    Some knew me as Piper, others as just Diane.
    I hiked the PCT: Mexico to Mt. Shasta, 2008. Santa Barbara to Canada, 2009.

  6. #6

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    May I ask, if you're anticipating applying for a PCT permit around Feb 1 basing your start date on snowfall levels how are you genuinely going to know trail conditions in Feb for an early April start date? Snowpack levels in early Feb are no absolute indicator of early-mid April snowpack levels. Correct me if you think I'm wrong but aren't early-mid April snowpack levels dependent on how fast the snow is melting too? Water content too? .....?

    It is your scenario that you are attempting to finish a NOBO by Sept 1. In all fairness to others and yourself it is my honest opinion that you not only consider start date in those plans but OTHER WAYS/techniques/on trail scenarios that allow you to finish by that date.

    For example, what several of the PCT NOBO recored holders(FKTers, yo yoers, etc) have done is start later, as late as May ???? avoiding the NOBO masses at the start, avoiding being slowed from snow travel, have hiked fast, hiked through the then spread out thru-hikers, and finished way ahead of the pack.

  7. #7

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    Ahh, Sbhikes has the right idea. See it's not just about doing a straight NOBO PCT thru starting at the southern terminus within the most coveted starting permit date range. Be prepared to get the permit date you want for sure but ALSO be prepared in other ways. Remember this is your scenario that you're attempting to achieve for your convenience. It is up to you to seek ways to achieve it not others that should allow you to achieve it. This is the responsible side of HYOH that few will discuss. This is the big boy side of responsibly achieving your LD hiking scenario.

  8. #8

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    I am going to be basing the start date on Feb 1 snow levels, as well as historical snow data and climate forecasts. Obviously it's not a perfect science, or even close to it, but the early September finishing date is the limiting factor for the trip. So it is basically the balance between how early the snow allows me to start, and how rushed I want to be with the later start. On the AT, I started relatively early (Feb. 27), hiked fast, and after just a few weeks I was ahead of almost everyone. Ideally, it will be the same on the PCT. That being said, if I get slowed by snow, I get slowed by snow. I'd rather take that risk and have the potential for some extra time to finish than start late and have to rush the entire way. Hiking long days and big miles should not be a problem for me, but I would like to try to have the flexibility to relax and take a few zeros, if I decide to do so.

  9. #9

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    I gotcha. Now, how about considering what Sbhikes suggested? Not doing a straight NOBO thru starting at the southern terminus as a back up alternative IF you don't get your anticipated start date at Campo? As she offered: "If you can't get the date you want, just don't start at the border. Start at Mt. Laguna and hike to the border. Then get a ride to Mt. Laguna. Something like that." That plan basically offers infinite flexibility getting to start WHEN you want but maybe not as CONVENIENT as doing an uninterrupted NOBO starting at the southern terminus? Balance out your plans by having alternative scenarios to fit your ultimate goal? In the long run you'll long forget that you ever started at Mt Laguna or somewhere else. Lots of folks hitch or use trail angels in the first 200 miles or so to do this especially since the PCT permit system is now in play so getting rides isn't all that difficult if you plan. Check out the PCT Forums for trail angel rides. Lots of people hike past Lake Moreno before the Kick Off and get a shuttle or ride back and then arrange a ride back too where they left off hiking further north so you might consider some type of arrangement around the Kick Off time when many attending will help you out even if you haven't arranged a trail angel shuttle before hand.

    Good luck. Really though don't fret. Easy enough to work this out.

  10. #10
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    Frankly, I don't think start date and finish date are all that correlated on the PCT as it is on the AT for example. YOu can start as early as you want and will end up getting slowed down in the south by weather and will arrive at KM early. THe earlier you arrive at KM, the longer it will take to go through the Sierra and possibly further north depending on the year. This is pretty much what dogwood was indicating when he talked Fast Nobo hikes. Let me give you a perfect example, my 2011 thru.

    I started May 21st from Campo and hit KM on June 14th. I hit Canada on August 27th, pretty much your end point. I could have started a month earlier and it is unlikely that I would have ended significantly faster than what I did, the snow would have slowed me down more than it already did. Everyone thinks it just the Sierra that a fast Nobo hiker will have to face. In reality, you could hit snow nearly everyday north of KM depending on the year and how far out front you are. I can only think of a couple days that I didn't have snow with my year and finish date.

    In 2012 there was a hiker looking to set the FKT, Tunahelper. He started way too early and ran into major snow in N Ca north. He ended up getting off the trail as snow slowed his pace beyond what could achieve the record. I think he had half a chance had he started in late May or early June.

    if I were you I would start early May. That gives you a full four months to finish and puts you at KM likely around June 1st which on an average snow year or greater will be a boatload of snow that will be counter-productive. Then you are at the mech of your fitness and weather as to whether you maintain the pace north. I would never plan an earlier than June 1st KM exit. I know people have done this in recent years but it also has been record low snow years and I think you will see that trend end this year with an average snow year in the Sierra.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by achilles View Post
    I am going to be basing the start date on Feb 1 snow levels, as well as historical snow data and climate forecasts. Obviously it's not a perfect science, or even close to it, but the early September finishing date is the limiting factor for the trip. So it is basically the balance between how early the snow allows me to start, and how rushed I want to be with the later start. On the AT, I started relatively early (Feb. 27), hiked fast, and after just a few weeks I was ahead of almost everyone. Ideally, it will be the same on the PCT. That being said, if I get slowed by snow, I get slowed by snow. I'd rather take that risk and have the potential for some extra time to finish than start late and have to rush the entire way. Hiking long days and big miles should not be a problem for me, but I would like to try to have the flexibility to relax and take a few zeros, if I decide to do so.
    Just some info to consider.

    I assume you are not that familiar with the differences between the different trails so I wanted to toss some stuff out. It is not possible to base a start date off of the Feb 1 snow levels the way you describe as it is quite often the case that very large amounts of snow show up later than that. One can also not base their decision reliably on whether there is a drought going on - for example last year in the record low snow totals late snows in the south stopped the herd at Kennedy Meadows for days and they ended up going into the high country near average dates. One can't start early and get ahead of the pack on the PCT as they will catch you while you are waiting for the snow to melt. The last few years of drought have resulted in folks starting earlier and earlier, but it is not really that functional of an idea.

    Starting early on the PCT is not really useful unless one wants to hike really slowly. It seems many AT hikers or beginning hikers are making the mistake of really early starts not realizing that it does one little good on the PCT due to the snow issues. In an average year one should not expect to be able to leave Kennedy Meadows into the high country any earlier than 15 June. Postholer's guestimate chart based upon current snow levels (1 April) is coming up with a date of about 18 June for this year. That may change of course but that gives you an idea what something near an average year results in. Kennedy Meadows is 700 miles from Mexico and one normally bases their start date based upon how fast they will cover that 700 miles while assuming an average date one can get into the high country. If one plans on averaging just 20 mpd to Kennedy Meadows then one can leave as late as May 9 (this is my start date this year) and be there on June 15. Once one gets though the big passes then you kick the miles up.

    One of the issues with starting really early is that being forced to go really slow and take a lot of zeros also means one will not be in top shape when they hit the high country and it will also necessitate having to take a fair amount of time to get in shape before one can start running off real high mileage days needed to make your schedule.

    You might think of starting a month later and then your timing trying to hit the first date when one can get through the high passes will be closer and your conditioning will be better and there is less chance of having to rebuild it. A 4 month hike is quite doable if you are a fast hiker.

    One never knows what the weather is going to bring or what forest fires will do to you on the PCT so you will always have to play it by ear.

    Good luck.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Malto View Post
    Frankly, I don't think start date and finish date are all that correlated on the PCT as it is on the AT for example. YOu can start as early as you want and will end up getting slowed down in the south by weather and will arrive at KM early. THe earlier you arrive at KM, the longer it will take to go through the Sierra and possibly further north depending on the year. This is pretty much what dogwood was indicating when he talked Fast Nobo hikes. Let me give you a perfect example, my 2011 thru.

    I started May 21st from Campo and hit KM on June 14th. I hit Canada on August 27th, pretty much your end point. I could have started a month earlier and it is unlikely that I would have ended significantly faster than what I did, the snow would have slowed me down more than it already did. Everyone thinks it just the Sierra that a fast Nobo hiker will have to face. In reality, you could hit snow nearly everyday north of KM depending on the year and how far out front you are. I can only think of a couple days that I didn't have snow with my year and finish date.

    In 2012 there was a hiker looking to set the FKT, Tunahelper. He started way too early and ran into major snow in N Ca north. He ended up getting off the trail as snow slowed his pace beyond what could achieve the record. I think he had half a chance had he started in late May or early June.

    if I were you I would start early May. That gives you a full four months to finish and puts you at KM likely around June 1st which on an average snow year or greater will be a boatload of snow that will be counter-productive. Then you are at the mech of your fitness and weather as to whether you maintain the pace north. I would never plan an earlier than June 1st KM exit. I know people have done this in recent years but it also has been record low snow years and I think you will see that trend end this year with an average snow year in the Sierra.
    Hear ya go! Start later and expect to hit the trail ready to do a faster than avg PCT NOBO. If you start too early it slows you down on trail on avg snowpack yrs or slows you down logistically leap frogging around all the snow likely result in not doing a thru-hike of the PCT by missing segments anyway. I've seen this scenario played out on the CDT too. This boggles my mind. Folks desiring to thru-hike the CDT but start so early they wind up missing segments of the hike sometimes some of the most scenic hiking of the entire CDT IMHO. All this to so that one can "say" they did a thru-hike or thru-hike in a limited timeframe. To each his own. But if you go at it approach the hike so that at least you can do the whole PCT.

  13. #13

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    More to consider: In 2008 I started May 1 and got stuck in Wrightwood for 4 days during a snowstorm that lasted all Memorial Day weekend. The snow on Baden Powell had me postholing to my crotch. I had to bail out to the highway.

    In 2009 I personally didn't have to hike any of the Sierra if I didn't want to, and I didn't want to because it was snowing/hailing/raining up there for 2 weeks in June. My friend made it through and said it was so horrible he thought he might die a few times. Both of us hiked an alternate route of Section I that took us down the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne just so we could avoid too much snow. But we had to swim a swollen stream, which sucked.

    This year I did a section hike and was pretty much blown off the trail by the wind for an unintended Zero day. Since I've gone home it's been raining and snowing all over So Cal for the last few days.

    The weather is not all clear sunny days in Southern California. Lots of things can slow your pace no matter what time you start. By all means, start early if you want a little buffer. But if you can't start on some exact date, don't sweat it too much. Give yourself a range of dates to start. Stuff is going to come up that slows you down unexpectedly. It almost always does. Get close to your desired start date and that will be good enough.

    Also, don't fall into the trap of "once I hit Oregon I'm going to make up lost miles." You can begin making up miles as soon as you exit the Sierra. It's not any easier through Oregon than it is in Nor Cal. If you aren't able to do 30 mile days in Northern California you're probably only going to get one day in Oregon, maybe two, that you'll do a 30. If you can start doing 30s in Nor Cal, you'll easily make your goal.
    Some knew me as Piper, others as just Diane.
    I hiked the PCT: Mexico to Mt. Shasta, 2008. Santa Barbara to Canada, 2009.

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