I’ve had a variety of questions from folk at different times, plus requests for a, “FAQ” page.
So here we go.....
These are just my personal opinions and observations....
Q. Would you consider doing the PCT again?
A. I doubt if I’ll ever retrace my steps - mainly because NZ is quite a distance away, and also because of other factors now in my life. If I were to do another long distance hike in the US, it’d probably be the AT - not because I think it would necessarily be better, but just because it would be different.
Q. If you made the trip again, would you do anything differently?
A. No, I can’t really think of anything I’d do differently except maybe work on hauling less weight - probably just not bother with crampons and maybe just curb my appetite and haul a little less weight from the store at Kennedy Meadows!
Q. How many people complete the hike and reach Canada?
A. It's difficult to know the exact figure as some do not record their finish, but lately the numbers seem to be increasing.
The PCTA put out this chart (below) that shows the number of hikers indicating that they'd completed the PCT.
These numbers include through hikers and also section hikers that made the journey in separate stages.
I'd guess that roughly half the hikers who start out on a through hike withdraw at some stage for one reason or another.
Q. Have you done any more hikes?
A. Since, “Dances with Marmots”, I've made four other long distance hikes.
One was here in New Zealand, where I hiked the length of the North Island from Surville Cliffs, (NZ’s northernmost point) across the top to Cape Reinga, down along, Ninety Mile Beach, and then down through the various ranges to Cape Palliser, which is the North Islands’ southernmost point.
The journey took 73 days, and although satisfying, was nowhere near as enjoyable or as memorable as my US trek.
The other long hikes, were a through-hike of Great Britain - Lands End to John o’Groats, south to north, through England, Wales and Scotland. That one (finished on July 4th 2005) took a total of 75 days, with 65 actual walking days. Also hiked the 'Coast to Coast' trail in the UK (Sept 2008) that went from west to east taking me 12 days. The last long distance hike I made was the 'All Wales Coastal Path' (finished on Aug 15th 2013) which runs 870 miles from border to border and took me 44 days.
Whilst not as demanding in terms of terrain as the US or NZ hikes, the sense of history, and the variety of dialects, made these UK hikes very interesting.
Parts of the highlands are very similar to parts of NZ’s South Island.
I continue to hike, with periodic short duration (3-10 day) forays into the outdoors. Also take along my sea kayak if wandering around my favourite spot of Port Pegasus, which lies at the
southeastern end of Stewart Island.
(Stewart Island lies across Fauveax Straits, just off the southern tip of NZ’s South Island)
Have also since, crewed on a 38ft yacht that sailed up to New Caledonia and then across to Australia.
That was a good experience - though it cured me of thoughts that had long lurked in my brain of sailing solo around the world!
Q. Are you still with the Fire Department?
A. I took, “early retirement” from the Fire Service - Did the maths, figured that my wife Berneece and I could survive on what we had, and it would be a good idea to retire whilst still young and fit enough to enjoy it - I’ve known too many who have gone the full distance, looking forward to retirement, and then falling over shortly after reaching it!
So after 7yrs at sea, 2yrs doing various jobs, and 27yrs in the Brigade, I am now officially a footloose gentleman of leisure!
Q. Do you still keep in contact with the people you met up with on your hike?
A. Ziggy , The Gimp, and Mountain Goat Vern kept in sporadic touch - though since relocating to a new address in the South Island, we seem to have lost contact. They don’t seem to have taken to email - Vern and Ziggy would write, whilst The Gimp’s, “modus operandi” was usually a cheerful phone call at around 2am in the morning!
I shall have to track them down again.
The last I’d heard from The Gimp, he’d taken off on a solo venture to travel the length of the Yukon River - ill health had caused a retreat, and I haven’t had an update since then.
Last heard from, Ziggy was still lurking around his hometown of Seattle, from whence he’d mailed me a postcard illustrating, “America's Favorite Hairpiece” - which was a baseball cap covering the head of a balding man. He had sensitively printed, “George” under the picture of the wearer.
I may be balding Ziggy, but I've got better legs than you!
Update! Just had a surprise email and pic from Ziggy who is now married and presently in Washington DC. Still looking like the old Ziggy, but far more sartorial in dark suit and no pack!
Vern continued to experience the outdoors, and I received a few accounts of cross-country skiing trips he’d made. Though he must be quite an old Mountain Goat by now, and another one I must track down.
Q. What happened to Sadie? Did you ever reconcile?
A. We did get together for a while after my return, but it didn’t last. We still remain friends though!
Q. Were you concerned about possible problems or dangers in the Mexican border area regarding drugs and illegal immigrants?
A. Not really. I wouldn't be overly concerned about the start of the journey. Typically, you won’t be hanging around there - get to the start of the trail in daylight, and then every step from there is taking you further away anyhow. The bottom line is, most illegals are just trying to get into the US without any hassle, getting caught, or drawing attention to themselves. I imagine that the Border Patrol is pretty much in evidence so close to Campo, and if I were an illegal I’d be keeping away from that immediate area.
You’re probably more at risk wandering around most cities.
Q. What about water? Were there any problems - did the water you carry get unpleasantly hot to drink?
A. There were some dry stretches, but not far enough apart that I couldn’t carry enough water to enable me to reach the next supply.
Just be aware that water is a priority, and err on the side of carrying too much rather than too little. (and it’s heavy!)
As I mentioned in my story, a good trick I found, was at the beginning of a day, when camped at a water source (and most nights you will be able to camp near a creek or suchlike) was to drink as much as your stomach could possibly hold before setting off. That way I found I could travel quite a distance without even needing to drink from the water I carried. I didn’t find any problem with water getting hot. (only me getting hot!)
My water was sourced from creeks, rivers, lakes, or if at a small settlement, then out of a tap. (faucet) So even on very hot days, the water was cool/cold.
Anyhow, even if your water did get warm, you will come to appreciate that vital liquid so much, that it wouldn’t matter what temperature it was!
Since making my journey along the PCT, 'trail angels' have become more active and apparently there are water caches in some areas, though I personally wouldn’t rely on them.
Q. Water purification: What method worked best for you in regard to saving time and/or weight?
A. I took purification tablets as well as a filter. Sometimes I was too knackered to bother filtering so biffed in a couple of tab’s - though mostly used my filter, which was a lightweight (and cheap) affair put out by Coughlin.
Tab’s alone would be lightest and quickest, but I wouldn’t recommend chemically treating your water for that length of time. I’d say, get the lightest filter you can find (some of them are monsters) and then take a bottle of tab’s as a back up. Most of your filtering will be done at the end of the day when you make camp, so you’ll have time to filter and kick back. You could boil the water of course, but that would use up valuable fuel.
Q. Where is your book available from?
A.“Dances With Marmots” is now available in paperback and also in ebook format. Click LULU or AMAZON to reach an outlet.
Q. Did you carry maps?
A. I obtained the excellent, two guidebooks (1 x Calif, 1 x Oregon/Washington) titled, “The Pacific Crest Trail” from Wilderness Press - they will give you a good trail description, strip maps, and a guide as to where you can expect to find water, so you can plan your schedule to reach water by the end of the day. (I believe Wilderness Press now cover the trail with three separate volumes.)
Q. How much money did you need to carry?
A. Well, how much you carried would depend on several factors - would you be buying all or most of your food along the way, or would you have food mailed off to you at intervals - would you be able to have someone forward money to you if needed for an unforseen emergency - would you be able to access a bank account at say, Ashland, or Big Bear etc.
As I was pretty much alone when it came to contacts in the States, I had to make provision for that.
What I did was, have the bulk of my food (dehyd) forwarded to me at intervals along the trail by a company called Trail Foods in LA. (I’ve since been advised that Trail Foods has unfortunately finished up, hopefully another company will provide the same service) I would mail off an order for a point further ahead of me, along with my credit card number. So basically, the only actual money I needed for food, was enough cash to get me, “goodies” like snicker bars etc., or a feed at any small store or diner along the way. (and you’ll want those!)
Basically, once you get on the trail, the only money you are going to need, is going to be for food.
I took a credit card, plus I think, about $350 in cash for the five months. I carried the stuff in a thin money belt under my shirt, but once on the trail, transferred it to my pack - the pack becomes an extension that’s almost welded to you for five months!
Once you’ve got food sorted out, you can get away with carrying very little money if you wish - because you’ll be carrying everything else you need - and the transport is free!
Q. You were passing through Sasquatch country - did you see any signs?
A. No, not even a big toe print!
Q. You used a comparitively heavy hiking boot, would you consider using lighter hiking footwear?
A. There are good arguments for the trend to lighter footwear, but personally, especially for longer trips with heavier loads, I will stick with the leather boot! The support given by a more solid boot is in my opinion a big advantage - I know the argument is that using less ankle support will strengthen your ankles, but I know that my ankles are as strong as they’re ever going to get, and I’ve badly sprained my ankle before in a micro-second of inattention when traversing uneven terrain with a load, and wearing boots with less support. Also, a properly cared for pair of boots will last you a lifetime of crashing through bush and across rivers! I used Asolo boots for the PCT and found them extremely comfortable and durable. The Asolo brand is a favourite of mine and my current boots are Asolo TPS 535 wide fit. Just my opinion.
Q. Did you hike any of the trail in the nude?
A. What?!! And risk traumatising the wildlife of North America?!!
Q. How much has your journey impacted on you?
A. Surprisingly little really - though having said that, it has instilled a deep satisfaction and personal sense of accomplishment in me that will last as long as my memory does. It also confirmed the opinion I have, that no matter who you are, rich, poor, employed or unemployed, married or single, you have to have a goal of some sort to be truly content.
That particular goal of reaching Canada, gave me something to strive for, and the mileages gained gave me a sense of having achieved something every single day.
I passed through some beautiful country wishing that I could have remained in one spot for longer, but I know that if I were to be static in one of those idyllic spots for too long with no goal of any sort, then I would eventually become bored and discontented.
I think that’s the nature of the beast really, and why humanity has achieved and discovered so much, as well as having destroyed so much.
I will say, that if anyone is really contemplating making such a trip, then don’t hesitate, do it, last the distance and you will never ever regret it.
There are certain actions that can positively lift our short journey through life out of the norm.
Q. What on earth ever made you want to take on such a journey?
A. The fact that anyone has to ask such a question, means that they will never really understand the answer!
Q. What fuel did you take, and how much?
A. I used white spirit/Coleman fuel. Though my stove was capable of using kerosene and gasoline. Only once was I unable to obtain spirits, and then I was able to use gasoline for a brief period until I could get some spirit fuel.
I carried two MSR fuel bottles (one small, one larger) and found that the smaller one would last me from 8-10 days if I was careful.
I used my stove once in the morning for heating my porridge (oatmeal) and once in the evening for cooking up my dehyd meal and providing a hot drink for the day. For extended trips now, I have replaced the porridge with plain cereals that don't require heating. I pre-pack the cereal in serving size plastic bags along with a couple of spoonfulls of powdered milk, then it’s just a matter of biffing it into the pot and adding cold water.
Q. Shoes: I noticed you wore boots. I was planning on a hiking shoe with ankle support. Do you think a good hiking shoe would survive?
A.The, 'lightweight' guys would probably say go for the shoe - but I would definitely stick with a good boot. You’ll be carrying quite heavy weight at some stages, so will need good support. You will also be giving your footwear probably the equivalent of twenty years, 'normal' wear, so get something that is going to handle it. Todays boots are not what you’d call heavy anyhow - the old timers explored this planet with boots that make todays look like something a ballerina wears!
Another consideration is that with a decent hiking boot, at a push, you can wear crampons if you decide to go that way. Bottom line, (my opinion) get a boot. just make sure it’s big enough to let you wear two pairs of socks - one thin inner pair, with a thick outer.
Q. You didn’t use hiking poles of any kind, don’t you think they are worthwhile?
A. I think they would certainly be worthwhile at times, it’s a matter of preference really, and I just don’t like having something extra to carry around.
What I do, if I have a river to cross or a long steep descent to make, is look around for a tree branch or stick, and temporarily use that.
There have been times though, when sticks were a bit thin on the ground, and I would have welcomed a Leki pole or two!
A lot of the hiking I do here in NZ, seems to entail the use of hands as well as feet, so often, carrying a couple of poles around would be more of a hinderance than a help.
I recently came across some info’ regarding pole use, pack weight, and calories burned, that contained some figures put out by the American Heart Association.
At a hiking speed of two to two and a half mph,
A 170 lb hiker WITHOUT pack or poles burns 524 calories per hour.
With a 10 lb pack and no poles, he’ll burn 610 cph.
With a 30 lb pack, and no poles, he’ll burn 796 cph.
That 170 lb hiker WITH poles and no pack, will burn 640 cph.
With a 10 lb pack plus poles, he’ll burn 744 cph.
With a 30 lb pack plus poles, he’ll burn 971 cph.
(for a 200 lb hiker, add 20% of calories burned)
Q. Did you carry a knife, and what importance did it play from a survival point of view?
A. Most definitely, an important item. I favour the small, versatile, 'Swiss Army' type knife over a heavier large single bladed sheath knife.
My knife came in for a variety of uses besides basic cutting, eg., stitching up boot seams, carving out a spoon, trimming toenails, extracting tics!
Don't leave home without a knife!
Q. What did you carry in the way of equipment?
A. I carried quite a comprehensive list of equipment. Here it is along with a few comments...
One man tunnel tent, Fairydown Dragonfly - Excellent.
Backpack, Macpac 'Cascade' 90litre + pack cover - Excellent.
Asolo Boots - very strong and comfortable.
Sleeping Bag, Fairydown Liteweight Entrant - too light, heavier down fill would have been better.
Ice axe - Indispensable.
Crampons - Made life comfortable at times, but could have got by with just the ice axe.
Gaiters - Good for shallow creek crossings, snow and tick protection, though not necessary.
Ground pad, Therma-Rest - very comfortable but can puncture.
Polypropylene clothing - 1 T shirt, 2 long sleeve crew necks, 1 Long Johns. (polyprop is excellent - light, quick drying, warm when wet.)
Track suit trousers - Good for cold weather and camp wear. Not necessary.
Waterproof Overtrousers, Gortex - Excellent.
Jacket, Fairydown Polar Plus - Excellent.
Anorak, Gortex - Excellent.
Balaclava - polypropylene, (not necessary) Woollen Watch cap, Brimmed hat - canvas. Bandanna, for neck sun protection.
Gloves, Woollen mittens double thickness. Not used.
Gloves, polypropylene finger - For wear under the mittens.
Cotton T shirt - waste of time, cold when wet, should have been another polyprop.
Cotton shirt. Socks - 3 pairs Woollen, 3 pairs polyprop inners.
Underpants, 2 pairs - One pair for California and a change at the Oregon Border!!
Jandals (Flip Flops/thongs) - Good light camp footwear to air the feet.
Stove, MSR International - Excellent, but be sure to carry field maintenance kit!
2 Fuel bottles, Stove maintenance kit.
Pot with lid, 1 spoon, 1 plastic mug.
Water bottles - 4x two litre plastic soft drink bottles. (These are indestructible, light, flatten when empty and cheap!)
Swiss Army knife - with scissors for trimming toenails!
Compass with variation setting adjustment (less mental arithmetic when you're tired)
Map and trail guide - "Pacific Crest Trail" by Wilderness Press, Excellent, indispensable.
First Aid kit (Usual, plus painkiller/anti inflammatory drug)
Snake Bite kit, nylon stuff bag for bear bagging, Several plastic trash bags.
Sun Lotion, Insect repellent, Lip balm, Toothbrush, Paste, Toilet paper, Spare laces, Sewing kit, Tent patch kit, Velcro tape, Superglue, String, Lighters, Waterproof matches, Mightylite torch, Spare batteries, Sunglasses (Blinker type and conventional), Thermometer, Walkman radio, Iodine tablets, Water filter.
Parachute chord 50 metres.
Pedometer (This broke during a fall on one of the passes, but had served its purpose, as by then I could accurately assess mileage by time and terrain)
Camera, film, notebook, pen, pencil.
Hooks, line, bait.
FOOD and WATER!
If you have any other queries, Scott Parks has a comprehensive PCT FAQ page over on his site at PCT FAQ
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