On the following pages we discuss all the issues and challenges that may arise during a thru-hike. Foot care, health issues, and related questions about sanitation aren't too different from what hikers experience on other trails, but intense desert heat, limited water supplies, high altitude, and snow create new problems and complicate familiar ones. We explain the strange weather patterns of the west coast. We review all the dangerous animals, bugs, and plants out there and what to do about them, as well as the dangers from our fellow humankind, including the issue of marijuana. The biggest challenges — the ones that send people home — are mental and emotional. Every year there seems to be one or two sections of Trail closed due to wildfire, which mean reroutes and detours onto roads. Finally, we discuss what to do in an emergency situation, in case one arises.
The first 700 miles — the desert — is not the lousy part of the PCT. It is not something you have to tolerate or endure in order to reach the good parts. The desert is a wild, spectacular, and beautiful place filled with blooming flowers, purple mountains, boulder formations, canyons, and even forests. Just look at the pictures in our gallery. When it's over, you'll miss it.
The Sierra Nevada is the most thrilling and romantic part of the Trail — and the most intimidating. Hikers find themselves holding mountaineering gear like crampons and ice axes with no idea how to use them. It infects them with doubt. They start checking snow levels online and watching weather reports. They question if it's a "good year" and whether they should wait until the next. But then they swallow those doubts and push forward, and they love it.
Oregon and Washington are as different from the rest of the Trail as the Sierras are from the desert, but their forested environment is pretty similar to other parts of the country, (with respect to hiking, not ecology). Hikers familiar with the Great Smoky Mountains, Appalachia more generally, or the Ozarks will feel comfortable in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. No special tricks, techniques, or strategies are needed.