How was the PCT Desert?

History has been made! An overly sweaty Brit has traversed a silly number of desert mountains, over an inordinately lengthy period of time. Read on if you dare to marvel in this experience.

What was it like?

Spectacular… -ly hot. Don’t get me wrong, the views and certain stretches of the first quarter of the PCT were quite something. Cowboy camping under the stars became the norm, ignorant to the critters and more deadly predators among us. Waking up on numerous ocassions to unwanted visitors in my shoes… and sleeping bag. One morning I felt something crawling around my legs and feet, only for a chunky cockroach to pop out. At least he/she didn’t get to my food! Two mornings ago I woke up to a whopper of a bite on my right bum cheek, which must have been a spider in the night. 

Back home it never went through my mind that I’d ever cowboy camp among rattlesnakes, poisonous spiders and larger predators like mountain lions, let alone it become my preference! 

As the days grew hotter, it became difficult to hike far beyond midday and this led to many more night hikes (sometimes only using the moonlight to see the trail). It was so much cooler at night, meaning less water consumption. Water became a greater problem as I got further North too, with longer stretches without water sources. Sometimes meant carrying extra or even having to get through some sections with none left!

On exceptionally dry sections, trail angels would sometimes maintain an invaluable water cache to support hikers. The work they do is incredible! (Yes that’s a lizard lurking)

Did I get a trail name?

YES! About six. With four being largely inappropriate for this public blog, leading to my newfound trail name “Names”.

One trail name given was “Mammal”, because it had been about 630 miles of this 700 mile desert stretch without really having seen a snake (a living one), whilst other hikers reported double figure sightings of rattlers, including close calls. All I’d managed was lots of lizards, deer, jack rabbits and a confrontation with a skunk during a night hike. Inevitably, shortly after this trail name I saw four snakes in three days, including two rattlesnakes.

They were very difficult to see at times!

“Mammal” could no longer stick as a trail name. “Names” it is then!

Appreciating the shade back at Cajon Junction, under the highway.

What were the hardest parts?

Some of the ascents at the peak of the day were a real struggle. Especially towards the beginning when your body isn’t built to handle it. The first two weeks were physically overwhelming, but the mental game was the real battle. Luckily, I’d come into this process well aware that the first few weeks could be the biggest obstacle. Now that has changed to other things (which you’ll read about later).

The very hardest parts have been the monotony of the trail and downhills… remarkably. Many desert stretches were burnt out due to previous brush fires and were very like-for-like. Those were the hikes where you’d try to get the most miles done, simply just to see something different. The downhill sections really wore down my joints. Having had seven right knee operations, it was bound to play up at some point, eventually taking me off trail for three days each on two occasions. 

Still made it up those peaks! Does it matter what time of day? Now for the down…

Who am I hiking with?

For the first four weeks I dabbled in and out of hiking with other people. Over that period there were significantly more people on trail who you’d pass every now and then for that sense of security. However, as more people dropped out and formed their own squads, it became a tad more dormant along the trail. After a heavy and unexpected snow fall one night I eventually came across a fella called ‘GoPro’ in the mist, who I’ve been hiking (well, camping) with almost every night since. 

This is when we got stranded outside a biker bar we’d hitched to in an attempt to dry our gear out before hiking on. It was closed.

We’re still together roughly 300 miles on and getting ready for what’s bound to be by far the hardest stretch of the trail. There’s a larger group we’ve wrangled our way into for it too. Hopefully we can daisy chain our way across the glacially cold chest high rivers, which have sadly already claimed a few lives this year in addition to the abnormal snow conditions.

What would I have done differently?

  • Carried less. 
  • More night hikes in the dull sections. 
  • Planned my resupplies better when in towns. I often had far too much food that added unnecessary weight.
  • Eaten more. It’s no joke that we’re expected to eat upward of 5000 calories a day to realistically keep weight on. I was often down at the 2500 mark and lost a lot of weight unnecessarily.
  • Taken the downhills more easy. Most injuries we hear about are as a result of them.
  • Looked up more. So much time was spent trying to get miles under my belt that I surely missed some awesome views and rattlesnakes (boy I hope not).
  • Sung less. I got caught out singing around bends on far too many ocassions. X Factor next year?
GoPro finding his way through some overgrowth earlier today!

Where on earth am I now?

Over a quarter of the way at mile 702.2, Kennedy Meadows. This is where the High Sierra begins and the trail’s difficulty trebles. For much of the next 500 miles I’ll be well over 10,000 feet elevation, attempting to traverse some really dangerous mountains, which have had over 200% of their normal snow levels and it’s not looking like ending anytime soon. We’re aiming to head out this Saturday to begin our climb up towards that elevation. Meanwhile, there’s an expected storm up there this entire weekend. I now have an ice axe and crampons, which is a scary thought. Most hikers appear to be skipping this section due to the conditions. My group and myself are at least curious as to whether or not we can find a way through without putting ourselves too much in harms way.

We head off on Saturday!

For now we’re just grateful to have made it through the desert and to Kennedy Meadows. Collected our bear cans and ready to run away from Winnie the Pooh when I see him.

We have to carry a bear can to store our food in from this point. Otherwise we’d be stuffed, but not with food!

HAVA Adventure have also kindly sent me a new 65L pack to replace my 55L. The conditions are simply too hard this year that we’ll need to carry a lot more food to make it through. It looks awesome!

Am I scared?

Terrified. Will attempt to love every minute of it though. Every day is an adrenaline rush and I don’t want it to end. Wanting to be one of the likely 5-10% or less who truly hikes the trail this year. Anyone who even takes on the challenge is a brave person.

Thanks for continuing to read this blog. I’ll update more regularly from now on, as and when I reach towns. The next stretch could be 10 days without service, as we’re pretty remote.

Please don’t forget the main motivator behind this attempted hike. Matt’s family continue to show their support as I try to make them and everyone else proud. Please help push me far beyond my fundraising goal and see if we can reach double figures!

On a side note. I hope everyone back home is okay and hasn’t been affected by the recent terror attacks. They’re happening all over the world to people just like you and I. It’s a time to open borders to those less privileged than ourselves. Those who have been born into an environment of endless terror, rather than what we’re fortunate enough to have avoided for the most part. Mainly through luck of where we’re born, which so easily could have been a completely different outcome. In my opinion, building a strong international community is the key to ending this war. Neglecting those of whom are most vulnerable will only produce more problems in the long term. Support others, always!

Here’s some more photos to finish this off 🙂

A long overdue river. Went in fully clothed and have zero regrets!

That’s all, folks!

9 thoughts on “How was the PCT Desert?

  1. Great read Ryan. The more i read the more i’m in awe of the task you’ve undertaken! The cockroach would have done for me. Sierra is going to be a hell of a challenge buy you seem to have the mindset. Stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the long awaiting Update 🙂

    Nice toll hear that Things seems so far ok. For the sieras i Wish You all the best, stay Safe. Like You weitere, Many skip this section or will paused in KM.
    Good luck and we hope to hear soon from you.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sort of jealous….To be able to escape from everyday life for a few months but achieve something that mere mortals have not got the balls too in the process.
    Sort of, but then reality reminds me I enjoy my creature comforts far too much to risk my buttocks being nibbled on by a not so average spider or maybe a grizzly.
    I look forward to hearing you have come through the colder climate with all of your extremities. Well done in getting this far, and keep that 5% in your mind and your goal to be in that group. Keep that smile wide.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Nick! The last 9 days have been a huge step up in difficulty, but managed with it really well. Will post about it v soon.


  4. Ryan,
    full of admiration for what you are achieving, tremendous to read of your exploits. Keep safe, keep strong, manage those knees and the critters too!
    Continued good luck!
    Nick P

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ryan, I am posting an excerpt from your reflections on your first 700 miles on July 4th. I look forward to posting a summary of your experience in the Sierra. They are wicked this year so I hope that you have kept safe and known when you needed to bypass a stretch or two.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s