preparing for the PCT

Last summer my wife, ten year old daughter and I hiked the John Muir Trail. It was a somewhat daunting and yet terribly successful experience. Through that experience each of us learned a great deal. First, that our bodies and our minds were capable of a moderate section hike in the high country, and second, that we loved it. Each of us came away feeling like we had a very special time, each learned a lot, and each, without any pressure, felt that we would do something like that again. As this summer approached I was really ambivalent about taking another hike. I didn’t want to put any pressure on my daughter. I didn’t want her to feel any pressure that this sort of thing was a requirement for our summer trip. So when she told me in no uncertain terms that she wanted to go out again, and that she wanted to do a different section of the PCT, I was cautious but excited.

We researched and found that the PCT from Tahoe to Yosemite would be beautiful, slightly lonelier and importantly not quite as difficult. This was important because this year, we had a new theme. The JMT required a bit of steely resolve, with plenty of fun interspersed. This time we knew we were totally capable, and decided that fun was the primary goal. Because passes would be lower, with less time above tree line, we knew we would feel less pressure and therefore more time to enjoy the beauty. For us, and especially for our daughter, this meant more swimming, and more building of fairy houses.

The planning:

We would hike from Donner Summit at Hwy 80 to Tuolumne Meadows at Hwy 120. Traveling along the PCT would allow easy navigation. That said, going north to south would make use of the normal guidebook a little more difficult, as it’s written South to North. Aside from that, it’s a very friendly hike, topping out just around 10,000 feet at Sonora Pass, providing three resupply stops and plenty of swimming, fishing and lounging, interspersed with an average of ten miles of hiking per day. Adding to the fun would be the fact that we would meet a friend and hike together for the last 80 miles. With layover days at South Lake Tahoe, Markleeville and Kennedy Meadows North ((two being rest days) we would be out from June 22-July 17. Overall a great time to be out, especially given this year’s drought.

 

The Gear:

Aside from new quilts (thanks to enlightened equipment for providing Adeline’s free and for making us a custom one) and inflatable sleeping pads, we didn’t need any new equipment.

Adeline

Carried:

Pack-Osprey Women’s x-small Talon 22

Enlightened equipment custom quilt (16 0z)

REI inflatable flash pad (16 0z)

Cheap puffy hooded down jacked (9 0z)

Harry Potter

Knit hat, gloves, terramar long underwear top and bottom, Marmot wind shirt (lined), lightweight rain jacket and rain pants

Worn:

Columbia stretch hiking pants, marmot thin long sleeve shirt, Merrill lightweight running shoes, Grandpas trucker cap.

Her pack is always less than 12 pounds.

 

 

Me:

So this is where I think it gets a little interesting, and where I think parents and those going out with kids might find this report useful. I’ve come to the conclusion that while my goal is ultralight (sub 10Lbs) and lightweight (sub 20 Lbs.) is doable, another definition is more realistic. This new definition is what I’m going to call “Base Mean”. This is because we all have different strengths, and part of ecological fitness is promoting the ability of each member of a group to travel together despite their different inherent abilities. Therefore, why should everyone carry the same amount? If this seems traditional, especially to every dad who has ever backpacked with his kids, it is. Still, by lower the mean base weight, everyone is having a better experience. So, what was it? Mean base weight was around 15 pounds for this trip. What was mine? That changed day to day depending upon how members of the group felt, how far, how fast etc. Still, mine was probably close to 20. Heavy, for sure. But remember, I had as a primary goal the shepherding  a 10 year old. I had zero problems with joints, had a great time and so did she. THAT was my goal.

OK, I’m clearly a little defensive about this heavy weight, but I think the point is valid, especially when you see that for a silnylon (no Cuban) gear list, we were pretty dam minimal.

I’m not going to go crazy on the gear list b/c most of it is totally normal for UL.

We don’t go out and buy the newest and lightest every season. I’m on my 8th year of a feather friends Hyperion because well, it’s a very warm, very light jacket. I could get a less warm lighter jacket of course, but I’d be out 200 bucks. The same goes for each of us. The Patagonia sweater is no longer near the lightest warm layer, but guess what, its fine.

The tarp tent rain shadow is hard to beat for weight per person for three.

We’ve had it almost 10 years and it’s going strong. I am a believer in buying the best thing once rather than changing every few months because there is a one ounce better piece of gear. In fact I consider that approach anti-ecological, cottage industry gear or not.

That said we put away our shared WM Badger and bought a custom enlightened equipment two person quilt. I think they are great! Great I say. Saved us half a pound and I think perfect for summer sierra trips.

We also upgraded from z rests to REI Flash pads. 12 years and it was time. Money well spent although they did ultimately fail and were returned for blown out baffles! Weird.

Other than that we are pretty standard UL people. Wind shirts over thin long sleeves etc. UL rain jackets which we used A LOT!

 

 

My gear

Carried:

Golite Jam 70

Tarptent Rainshadow

Custom Enlightened Equipment two person quilt (28 0z)

First aid, repair, fire kits. 16 oz. total.

Bear Vault BV 500

Fly rod, small fishing kit, light my fire mora knife, zipka, wind pants top and bottom (10oz)

TNF “rain” jacket 5 oz.

Wife

Carried

Golite Gust (12 years old and going strong (dyneema!!)

Cooking kit (we use a 1.5 liter MSR frying pan for everything. This was we can fry fish, quesadillas and water) We love it

Bear Vault BV 500

Sleeping clothes (LU top and bottom, hat, gloves, extra pair of socks, Patagonia down sweater)

This year?

As indicated, most of it all works well. Still we made a few changes because we are planning on encountering a new type of terrain. What new terrain, you ask…the desert! Yes, we are pretty serious about a thru-hike and it looks like the PCT is the goal. It’s all down to Adeline really, and for some reason she wants to do it. Neither of us are too stoked on this length hike, plus we are actually nervous. Still, let the planning commence.

Our primary preparation will not be gear, rather it will be hiking. This is because to have a chance we need to hit the desert doing 20 mpd minimum. We met a badass thru-hiker/ultra runner last year on the Tahoe PCT section who gave us some advice, thanks Leslie. She remarked that it seems people spend the offseason worrying about Cuban fiber versus sil-nylon, rather than getting stronger. Hmm, and yet here I sit typing. It’s harder to work than to move my post- holiday body.

Back to gear!

We are trying out the new six moon designs backpacks. We have fusion 50 and I have a 65. We’ll see. Very very nice and a huge step up in terms of carrying from the Jam and Gust.

Considering a pyramid because I’d like the opportunity to feel comfortable in the high desert winds. MLD supermid v HMG 4. Pretty big money and we probably just stay with our trusted rainshadow.

2 thoughts on “preparing for the PCT

  1. FarWalker says:

    You might wish to correspond with http://www.buddybackpacker.com Buddy (Christian) and his parents have done the AT and they hiked the PCT in 2014. Awesome folks.

    • Hi thank you. We just missed them last year but heard lost about them. I’m also trying to connect with a couple other kid/family groups. Buddy is actually in kin dof a different category as he is just so much younger than my daughter. Still, appreciate the communication. Be well.

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