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  1. #1
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    Default Starting month for PCT thru hike?

    Hi everyone,

    Was hoping to get some advice or opinions on hiking the PCT. I've lived on the east coast my whole life and am almost done section hiking the AT. Feel like I have a good grasp on the conditions at various times of the year on the AT and enough experience hiking/trial running that I travel light and move generally fast, but the PCT is a whole new world. My career choice has limited my ability to take enough time off at once to thru hike. But, I'm coming up on a transition point in my work and I'm hoping to get a few months off to do the PCT as a thru hike. Problem is I don't have total control over when my current position ends as that is standardized for everyone in my field. I could, in the next year or more likely year after, finish work in June/early July and take till about Oct or so off. I gather the most common thru hike is nobo starting mid May-ish. So, clearly, I'd be behind the curve starting in July nobo and I don't fancy the desert in July anyways. I looked briefly into sobo which seems possible in July depending on the snow up north, but the idea of hiking in snow at elevation solo is not my idea of a good/safe time for a first attempt at hiking in such conditions. Flip flop seems like it might work as I could potentially avoid snow and extreme heat but I have no idea where to start and how that would really work out logistically. So, any advice or resources you could point me to would be much appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Corbie

  2. #2
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    https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-tr...thruhiker-faq/


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  3. #3
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    Given the permit process and April filling in an instant, folks are getting March permits. A few in February. The PCTA posts a calendar online showing the distribution of NOBO permits.
    All of which concurs with your observation that July NOBO is a no go.
    Look at Trail Journals for the last couple years. Figure out where the early starters are July 1. Jump in with them. Flip back from Canada and finish SOBO. Although that may not be any fun in September and October either.
    Good luck.
    Wayne

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    Quote Originally Posted by Venchka View Post
    Figure out where the early starters are July 1. Jump in with them. Flip back from Canada and finish SOBO. Although that may not be any fun in September and October either.
    This year, the end of May was pretty much the end for anyone trying to thru hike. My son started on May 28th, and by the time he got to Hiker Heaven, they were closing up for the NOBO season. He was the last one there before closing. We met him near Tahoe around July 1st. He then chose to skip ahead about 300 miles to improve his chances of finishing before the snow falls in Washington and also to maybe be able to hike with other people since he was enough behind that he pretty much never ran into other thru-hikers. . . and, at this point, he's not slow. He did 100 km for a 24 hr challenge a week or so ago, and he's often hiking between 30 and 40 miles per day at this point.

    Also, my sister lives near Ashland Oregon, almost exactly a mile down HWY 66 from the PCT. She sees thru hikers starting to come through in the first week of August and pretty much doesn't see any more after the end of August.

    Suffice to say, the window for a completed thru hike is surprisingly narrow.

    Given the OP's time limitations, I would probably recommend a flip-flop since a thru is going to be impossible NOBO and quite tough SOBO, and a flip-flop would probably allow for the best hiking conditions overall on the trail. And, if you don't endn up having time to complete the whole trail, you'll still get to complete you flip and save your flop for another year.
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  5. #5
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    I started end of April 2017 (North bound) which was a bit early but was nice for the water. It was very early for the Sierra Nevadas. Get your weather forecast and pick the date, because it's that variable.

  6. #6
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    Disclaimer: Haven't hiked any of the PCT but I've read the guides and often daydream about thru-hiking it someday (~10-15 years from now) after I've finished section hiking the AT and my kids are grown.

    I've decided that if it ever happens, I'd start NOBO in June from I-80, hike north to Canada, then head south from I-80 and try to get through the Sierras before the end of September.
    It's all good in the woods.

  7. #7
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    A PCT flip flop has one drawback, as nsherry61 pointed out above:
    Most, maybe all, of the trail Angel supported waypoints may not be stocked. Water carries could get out of control.
    OP:
    When you know for sure what your start date is, CHECK the trail conditions south of Canada. The snow levels in July may not be terrible. The snow may actually be gone.
    Good luck.
    Wayne
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  8. #8
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    It goes without saying that one must kinda monitor the snow levels for the winter/spring before making any firm commitments, as some low-snow years, a late March start is very doable straight through. Some years, a mid-late April start is problematic though.

    What I did this last year, or at least planned on doing: I snagged a permit at the last minute (someone must have cancelled a permit and I got lucky) for March 29th, starting then. For hiking through the desert, I think this is an ideal time to start, but I'm a cool-weather hiker, can't stand too much heat. The SO California high places (like Mt. San Jacinto) was easily passable this last spring, just maybe a mile of easy packed snow travel on Mt. San Jacinto, nothing at all elsewhere, I got to Kennedy Meadows easy-peasy. Lots of water caches to ease the pain, etc. The trail was not too crowded, some days I'd only see a person or two. Some popular camps maybe had a dozen or so folks.

    Anyway, my wife plans on starting a Campo just about the same time next year, late March. But: If a heavy snow year, we may delay a week or two.

    Now, the tough part: starting in late March, of course, means getting to the high Sierra too early for most skill levels, unless it's a really low snow year. No problem for us, the plan was simply to come home for a month then back on trail. My "thru hiking ethic" has zero problem taking a month off. Some strict (nazi?) thru hiking types say this would no longer be a thru hike. Not a problem for me. What WAS a problem is that by the time I was heading back to the trail, a couple of opportunities dropped at my feat (a gorgeous mountain expedition and a 8 day sailboat adventure in the BVI) and I delayed even more. Then, the fires made smoke a bit of an issue, long story short, I only made it up to Tuolumne this year. This of course is the danger of taking a long break, life starts getting in the way.

    Permits and staying flexible on your start date: Contrary to popular belief, you do NOT need a permit to hike the first 700 miles of the PCT. If you do not have a permit, it very slightly limits where you can camp. It's called the "dirty little secret" of PCT permits, detailed here:

    https://www.postholer.com/forum/view...php?f=2&t=2966

    But of course, all is easier and cleaner with a permit, so get one if you can for your desired date. But if you cannot get one, get creative, like get a permit starting at some other location (instead of Campo), like Idyllwild, or wherever. Easy to do! I got one for my wife last year, Acton (around mile 450) to Canada. Piece of cake. Then hike to that point obeying the camping rules of not having a permit, then good to go after that. This has all been discussed ad-nauseum on here, just wanted to make sure you knew about this alternative permit thing.

    Just my 2 cents. Enjoy and good luck!

  9. #9
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    Meanwhile,
    The Original Poster needs a July start scenario.
    Another SOBO scenario:
    Hypothetically speaking -
    Late heavy snow between Chelan, WA and the border. Trail passable south of Chelan.
    Take the mail boat to Chelan. Hike SOBO. Return someday in August or September and knock out the Chelan to Canada section.
    No rules. Get er done!
    Wayne

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Venchka View Post
    Meanwhile,
    The Original Poster needs a July start scenario.
    ....
    Oops..... As Rosanne Rosanadana would say, Nevermind!

  11. #11
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    Bonus style points for the ancient reference!
    Your info is good for many other folks. Someone will appreciate it.
    Cheers!
    Wayne

  12. #12

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    Recent PCT thruhiker here.

    I would start the first or 2nd week of April. The 'race' is not from Mexico to Canada, but from the northern Sierra to Canada. Regardless of when you start, you're not entering the Sierra before around Memorial Day, and it generally takes a fixed amount of time to get through the gnarly stuff at 1 pass per day.

    If you can only start on July 1, SOBO is the way to go. Be warned - Washington is badass, especially if you're starting there.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_rob View Post
    It goes without saying that one must kinda monitor the snow levels for the winter/spring before making any firm commitments, !
    and the wonderful thing is with most permits doled out after the Nov 1st round you have little clue for snowfall

    hence the sense of the early start/ take a break strategy

  14. #14
    Registered User Nanatuk's Avatar
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    I'm planning a NOBO July 2019 start from Dunsmuir/Castella CA, hiking to Canada, 1150 miles, finishing by the end of September. I expect that I'll be right behind the bubble of 2019 thru hikers thru Oregon and Washington. My plan is to come back in March and join the 2020 crowd of thru hikers NOBO from the Mexican border.

  15. #15
    Registered User Nanatuk's Avatar
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    by the by... Dunsmuir has an Amtrak station.

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