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Why Start in March?
Folks who are at all familiar with the Pacific Crest Trail may know that most PCT thru-hikers begin the long journey from Mexico to Canada in mid April or early May. From my itinerary, you can see that I plan to begin my hike with Banner on March 7, 2004. In order that this decision not seem foolish, this page provides an explanation that is based on many hours of study and thought.
My primary time constraint this summer is that I will be leaving the PCT for two weeks in late May to attend graduation ceremonies at the University of Vermont where I am currently a graduate student. When I began thinking about a PCT thru-hike several months ago, I also wondered if it would be possible to time the hike so that I would be able to SKI the entire Sierra Nevada section of the trail during peak weather & snow conditions in mid April and early May. During the past several years, I have spent at least two weeks, if not more, every year skiing in the High Sierra during the spring. I have traversed the Sierra on skis from west to east twice, and from east to west once, and I have ski toured numerous sections of the Sierra crest (usually from south to north). Therefore, my desire to ski the Sierra section of the PCT stems from a deep love of skiing in these mountains, and from many weeks of experience doing so. Skiing the Sierra in mid April/early May would necessitate starting from Mexico in early March, so I then sat down to think of all the pros and cons of starting our PCT thru-hike in early March:
Good things about starting in March:
-- We will be able to reach the Sierra by mid April so we can ski this section.
-- Cooler temperatures in the southern California desert. Banner can
overheat easily, and in British Columbia, he proved himself capable of
enduring cold and snowy conditions. I feel more safe traveling with him
in snow than in scorching late spring/summer desert conditions!
-- More frequent and reliable sources of water in the southern California
desert. Again, my concern for Banner figures prominently here.
-- Less traffic on the trail during the early spring months. I am especially
concerned about Banner meeting horses on the trail. He hasn't yet learned
how to behave around horses. Starting early will hopefully decrease
the number of encounters.
-- Possible spring wildflower displays in the southern California desert!
Challenges of starting in March:
-- Snow travel, winter camping, and mountaineering (i.e. ice ax)
skills will be needed.
-- In the Sierra, we may face difficult early season stream crossings.
-- We will face colder temperatures.
-- Navigation may be difficult with a buried trail.
-- Cold and the need to melt snow for water will mean that I will need
to carry a heavier load of clothing, fuel, food, etc.
Because I possess the needed skills and have a great deal of experience traveling in winter conditions, I feel that we are prepared to handle the challenges listed above. I also believe that the benefits of starting in March are well worth tackling the challenges. If you're still worried about me, you can take a look at my professional resume and my outdoor resume to make your own assessment of my skills and experience. I also welcome your questions...though it may be difficult to respond if I become overwhelmed with emails.
Click on my signature on the PCT for Pets homepage to send me an email.