What They Don’t Tell You About Thru-Hiking the PCT

The following a guest post courtesy of 2016 PCT thru-hiker, “The Cloak of Chillness”.  Have a story to tell?  Share it here.

I knew about the desert.

The scorching sun, blistering human flesh like a torch. The seemingly endless grains of sand, seeping through the soles of your tattered shoes almost magically; it’s gritty nature giving birth to new blisters every day. Blisters the size of pennies. Blisters the size of quarters. Open faced blisters, with new skin burning as it is introduced to the harsh elements. I knew about rattlesnakes. Their deadly venom, their repulsive nature; patiently waiting, lurking, in every nook and corner for the perfect time to strike. I knew about water, and the lack there of in that region of the country. I knew the exact weight of 6 liters of water. I could feel the difference hanging on my back like a small child, whispering ever so gently into my ears, “Give up. Stop. Enough is enough. You can’t do it.” To be honest, I craved it. I desired to be filleted open by this harsh, unforgiving environment. I sought to purge myself of my horrible self doubt and guilt, which was plaguing my life like a parasite. I researched every possible expectation. Read all the right blogs. Took all the right precautions. Talked to others, who had experienced it first hand, who only politely smiled and calmly proclaimed, “You’ll figure it out.”


I knew about The Sierras.

I had heard stories of the sheer majesty of the plot of space that they encompassed. I saw the glimmer in the eyes of those who had been there; who had failed, miserably in attempting to summarize their beauty in words. I knew about the feeling one has, when looking at something larger than life. The utter sublimity that rocks you down to your core, and shocks you into the now; that pleasant, peaceful space where worry, anxiety, depression, loneliness, confusion, the feeling of living a lost life, sorrow, nostalgia, and most of all, fear cannot penetrate. I knew about the massive task of walking over those mountains, their elevation indifferently looking down upon you, as if you were just a babbling child trying to pick a fight. I knew about bears. Their enormous frame and stature, all the while maintaining their peaceful, almost friendly nature. That is, unless you become between them and food. I knew about snow. It’s ability to completely surround you faster than your mind thinks, only to leave you wandering lost through it’s tedious beauty where it lures you to die a cold and lonely death. I thought about it. I knew what I was getting into. I knew the risk. I also knew the look of those who had gone before me, their calm and confident nature, infecting those around them, and living peacefully, as if they know something that the whole world doesn’t.

I talked. I studied. I thought. I worried. I feared. I got excited. I stood at the base of this incredibly tall roller coaster, that seemed to pierce the atmosphere by its grandeur, and I said “Fuck it, here we go.”. I walked. I took the next step. I faced every challenge I was afraid of confronting. I grew. I changed.


However, the hardest challenge of all was that which they don’t tell you.

They don’t tell you about the joy of being so inexplicably free, that you feel you have to try to keep your feet on the Earth. The pure simplicity of life on the trail. Setting up camp. Packing up camp. The strip down of anything that isn’t necessary.

Most of all, they don’t tell you about the people. They sure as hell failed to mention all of the best friends I never knew I had, that I would soon come to meet. Not being able to properly say goodbye to those people. Not being able to grab them by their filthy shirt and shake them, vehemently exclaiming how much they now mean to you. The laughs. The campfires. The town stops. The zero days. The vortex. The grocery runs. The first town meal. Snickers. The first shower. The music. The late nights at Casa De Luna, as Terrie Anderson dances in the disco light to “What is Love”. The long conversations, that seem to effortlessly roll off the tongue as if everyone involved had been waiting their whole lives for this discussion. The feeling that there are no accidents, that we are meant to be here. The bliss that feeling ignites. The proud vulnerability in everyone’s eyes, and the mutual respect that it commands. The miracle of life. The miracle of a nice breeze. The trail angels, who purely display everything good about humanity, and are in the category of ‘beyond words’ when it comes to describing. CopperTone. The trail. That 16 inch dirt path, which stretches from Mexico to Canada, and how homey it grows to feel. The way it always provides, even in the darkest of times. The footprints in the dirt, which are a constant reminder that you are all literally walking the same footsteps. You are not alone.

Having to leave it all. Coming back to society, summing up your experience in a nice timely sentence or two. Feeling as if it were all a dream. A wonderful, spectacular, indescribable dream. What they don’t tell you, is that walking the Pacific Crest Trail will harshly, firmly, break your heart. Only to leave you completely leveled, staring back into little shreds of memory, with love in your soul, and joy leaking from your eyes.

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Comments 3

  • Isabelle Eastham : Feb 3rd

    Wow! Very true and very beautiful- thank you for sharing!

    • Jc elliott : Feb 5th

      Wow makes me won’t to start tomarrow… I know that feeling of finishing a pack trip and the feelings of missing the earth beneath my feet and the smells of theout doors a fresh rain ,pine a campfire … thank you!

  • ROBERT G SEARLE : Feb 3rd

    The greatest things in life are the intangibles. The trail gives us the understanding and the elements that change life forever. The wind, the cold and heat, the upward climb that makes every step painful, the downside that kills your knees, the thousands of steps that you just can’t do no more, the weight on your back the never lightens up, then it happens, you feel a happiness, a peace of mine, the knowing you did it, you overcome everything that you said no more. You have become a better person in life, just thankful to know and understand what money can’t buy. It took one life time to get here, very happy you found it. I have travel in 51 countries and all the states, now at 71, I still get on the trail because it give me life. Don’t stop living because of your age, there is so much more to give to others about the people, the places, and the things along the way.


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