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Follow our Progress along the PCT!

PCT Trail Segment Descriptions

For much more detailed descriptions of the Pacific Crest Trail,
click here for RESOURCES.

Segment  Descriptions:
1 2 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 28 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43

Segment 1:  Campo to Scissors Crossing (Hwy 78)

This main highlight of this first segment of the PCT is a traverse of the Laguna Mountains.  The trail skirts the eastern side of the mountains, winding through cool pine forests while providing views down into the searing heat of the Anza-Borrego desert.  In March, when I plan to hike this section, I am hoping that water sources will be more plentiful and temperatures will be cooler than in late spring and summer.  In fact, the main obstacle is likely to be snow at higher elevations in the Lagunas and the difficulties of cold temperatures and winter camping that go along with snow travel.  I expect that snowshoes will be necessary through much of this section, and navigation will be challenging as the trail may be buried for long stretches.  This section also has a significant amount of elevation gain and loss, although the Wilderness Press guidebook promises that the PCT always climbs and descends with a gentle grade.

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Segment 2:  Scissors Crossing to Palms-to-Pines Hwy (74)

This segment promises more moderate terrain than the Laguna Mountains of the previous section and the San Jacinto Mountains of the upcoming section.  However, it does begin with a grueling 22 mile waterless traverse of the San Felipe Hills.  After this rugged introduction, water should be more plentiful in March, and although the trail itself is less dramatic than in other segments, the views promise to be superb.  The Wilderness Press guidebook describes a typical view from Coombs Peak, 48.4 miles into this segment: “The 360 degree panorama here encompasses a sizable chunk of Southern California real estate.  To the north, distant, seasonally snow-capped San Gorgonio Peak peers over the west shoulder of nearer, sometimes snowy San Jacinto Peak.  Closer in the north, Thomas Mountain stands behind sprawling Anza and Terwilliger Valleys.  The rocky spine descending right (southeast) from San Jacinto Peak is the PCT-traversed Desert Divide.  To the east northeast, the dry summits of the Santa Rosa Mountains loom above desert-floored Coyote Canyon, while you spy to the east the vast Salton Sea beyond Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.”  Also, this segment should be free of snow in March.

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Segment 3:  Rest Day in La Quinta, CA

Segment 4:  Palms-to-Pines Hwy to Interstate 10

This segment, a traverse of the San Jacinto Mountains, promises to be both dramatic and grueling.  Being that this segment climbs as high as the summit of San Jacinto Peak (10,804 feet) and also contains the lowest point (1188 feet) of the PCT south of the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon/Washington border, you can guess that there will be lots of elevation gain and loss.  The climb from the Palms-to-Pines Highway (74) to the summit of San Jacinto Mountain, however, does sound rather gentle (again the PCT is usually very well graded) and it certainly sounds amazing in terms of scenery.  For most of the climb, the trail follows the Desert Divide and traverses numerous peaks.  The PCT itself does not actually climb over the summit of San Jacinto Peak, but I am hoping to take a side trip over the summit if I can work out the permit situation to allow a dog to enter that area.  Once beyond the summit of San Jacinto, the trail takes a nose dive 7000 feet to the Coachella Valley passing through every biological life zone in California (except alpine) on the way down.  These last 25 miles of downhill are notoriously bone-jarring.  The segment ends in a not-so-scenic locale at Interstate Highway 10 in the midst of vast fields of wind turbines.  Again, snow will probably be a major factor in traversing the San Jacintos, and the trail in places crosses steep terrain.  Snowshoes (or perhaps even skis) and skill with an ice ax will surely be needed.

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Segment 5:  Interstate 10 to Big Bear City (Hwy 130)

This segment begins a traverse of the San Bernardino Mountains, a unique range because it runs east-west when most other ranges in California run north-south parallel to the coastline.  I hiked the first half of this segment a few years ago as an instructor on an Outward Bound semester course, so I can testify to the fact that it is a cool hike!  You start out by ascending slowly from the parched desert of the Coachella Valley up into coniferous forests on the flanks of 11,502 foot San Gorgonio Mountain, the highest point in Southern California.  This segment also boasts the highest point of the San Bernardino traverse (8750 feet).  However, if things go well, I would like to make a one day side trip to climb San Gorgonio Mountain.  It will be a big challenge, but do-able since I did it with my Outward Bound students.  The remainder of this segment undulates through forested terrain until you wind up at Big Bear City where there is a popular Southern California ski resort.  And speaking of skiing, it might be the case that snow will also be a big factor throughout this segment, since much of it is over 6000 feet elevation.  Depending on conditions at the time, snowshoes or perhaps even skis will likely be necessary.

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Segment 6:  Rest Day in La Quinta, CA

Segment 7:  Big Bear City to Soledad Canyon Road

I am planning to tackle a larger chunk of the PCT in this segment: 9 days and 170.2 miles to traverse first the San Bernardino Mountains and then the San Gabriel Mountains.  It would be possible, however, for folks to meet me where the PCT crosses Interstate 15, at the 68.6 mile mark of this section.  These miles promise to be spectacularly scenic and diverse.  It begins and ends in parched desert valleys, and dips also into the desert at I-15, but spends most of its time wandering along the forested ridge tops of the San Bernardinos and San Gabriels.  In many places, views stretch out north across the Mojave Desert, which will figure prominently in the next segment of the trail.  In the San Gabriels, the PCT passes its highest point in Southern California on top of 9399 foot Mt. Baden-Powell, named after the founder of the Boy Scouts of America.  On a clear day, we might even be able to see the summit of Mt. Whitney from here.  Since the majority of the PCT through this segment lies at higher elevations (6000-9000 feet), it is likely that it will be almost entirely snow-covered.  Therefore, depending on specific conditions at the time, I am planning to use skis or snowshoes, and winter camping skills will be needed once again.  A plus is that water should be plentiful and temperatures cool relative to summertime.

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Segment 8:  Rest Day in La Quinta, CA

Segment 9:  Soledad Canyon Road to Tehachapi Pass (Hwy 58)

This segment of the PCT is often known as one of the least pleasant of the entire trail. At the same time, a friend of mine who lives in the Los Angeles area tells me that we will be passing through this area at perhaps the most beautiful time of year (another benefit of starting the PCT so early).  If our timing is right, we may be treated to some spectacular desert wildflower displays in this segment.  The first half (60 miles or so) of the route traverses along the tops of the Sawmill and Liebre Mountains in forests of black oak.  The second half leaves the cooler crests of these mountains and strikes out across the Mojave Desert.  The reason for this shift away from the true “Pacific Crest” is the presence of a vast ranch (Tejon Ranch) straddling the Tehachapi Mountains that would not allow a right of way through its land for the PCT, even after years of protracted legal wrangling.  So, the PCT now must skirt the eastern edge of the ranch which extends down from the Tehachapis into the Mojave.  The guidebooks I have read note that with adequate planning and preparation, crossing the Mojave can be a fascinating contrast to the rest of the PCT which tends to stick to mountain crests.  In early April I expect that temperatures will be cooler and water sources will be more plentiful and reliable.  I hope so, because I doubt that poor Banner could take the heat (commonly 150 degrees at the ground surface!) in May or June when other hikers tend to attempt this section!

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Segment 10: Tehachapi Pass to Walker Pass (Hwy 178)

I am going to attempt to pick up the mileage through this section, covering just over 20 miles per day.  By this point, I will be very much looking forward to the end of the desert and the beginning of a ski traverse of the entire Sierra Nevada range just to the north, and I will be hoping to reach the Sierra when weather and snow conditions are ideal for such an adventure.  This section passes through a fascinating region of transition from the desert to the high Sierra, though it is still supposed to be quite dry with long stretches between reliable water sources.  Again, because I will be going through here so early, it may be that snow will be encountered here, and snowshoes (or even skis) may be necessary once more.  I will need to check conditions in the spring to know for sure what equipment to bring.  Unfortunately, this section is heavily used by off-road vehicles and even though they are not supposed to be on the PCT, the trail does show much damage from the passage of these vehicles.  So, apparently the trail itself can be a bit ugly and difficult at times, but the ecology and the views here (especially of the Sierra crest to the north) are supposed to be astounding!  A highlight, for example, might be camping atop Pinyon Mountain with panoramic 360 degree views of both low desert and high mountains.  I am also hoping that I will be passing through this section early enough to avoid many encounters with off-road vehicles.

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Segment 11: Walker Pass (Hwy 178) to Kennedy Meadows

This segment is a short one: three days of climbing into the southern end of the Sierra Nevada will bring us to Kennedy Meadows where we will be able to do a major resupply in preparation for the next segment's long push into the heart of the High Sierra.  We also plan to begin skiing almost exclusively during this section, and the skiing will continue for the next 350 miles!  The ecological diversity within this short segment promises to be large, as we will now be climbing away from the lower treeline of the desert (controlled by moisture) and towards the higher treeline of the alpine zone (controlled by temperature).  Much of this segment stays close to the actual Sierra Crest, which makes for spectacular views of the High Sierra to the north, the Owens Valley to the east, rugged wilderness to the west, and terrain covered in previous segments to the south.  We may be able to summit a few non-technical peaks along the way--Jenkins, Owens, Olancha--which should enhance the views that much more.  One of the main highlights of this segment might actually be a civilized one: the Kennedy Meadows General Store is located about halfway into this segment and offers supplies, showers, laundry, and even a Saturday night movie!

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Segment 12:  Kennedy Meadows to South Lake

All I can say about this segment is, Wow!  We climb into the heart of the High Sierra now--a treeless alpine region of bare granite and meadows--and this section promises to be stunningly beautiful and action-packed.  In terms of time, it will also be the longest segment of our PCT journey, requiring 10 days to cover just over 120 miles of rugged Sierra terrain.  Early in this section we will most likely have an opportunity to complete a 5 mile side trip to the summit of 14,491-foot Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States (and therefore hopefully the highest point of our entire PCT hike!).  Upon our return from the summit, the PCT joins the route of the John Muir Trail, and these two trails are one and the same for most of the distance from here to Yosemite National Park.  The trail winds past innumerable stunning granite pinnacles and crystalline lakes and grunts up over several 11,000 and 12,000-foot passes.  Forester Pass, at 13,180-feet represents the highest point of the whole PCT, though we may opt for a slightly less steep route down over Shepherds Pass and then back up over Junction Pass.  Well into this section, we will traverse the vast Upper Basin, a huge, flat expanse of granite and alpine meadows ringed by massive peaks, many of which have no names...a good indication of the density of summits in the Sierra!  Split Mountain, rising to just over 14,000 feet, hulks at the north end of Upper Basin, and its north slopes present a wonderful potential ski descent if conditions are right.  Finally, towards the end of this section, we are planning to leave the PCT route in order to stay closer to the actual crest of the Sierra Nevada (the PCT route swings far to the west and loses a great deal of elevation).  Doing this will allow us to pass literally within a few feet of the western scarp of the Palisades, a razor ridge of several 14,000 peaks, before we arrive at Bishop Pass and a joyous ski descent to South Lake.  In the next few segments of our journey, we plan to keep this higher, more easterly route close to the Sierra Crest whenever possible.  I have skied most of this part of the Sierra Crest in sections over the past several years, so I am confident that this will be a great alternative to the PCT route and very accessible on skis (although it will also be very challenging!).  If you're interested in doing more research, the classic Sierra Crest ski tours in this region are described in detail in the following book: Moynier, John. 1999. Backcountry Skiing California's High Sierra. Globe Pequot Press.

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Segment 13:  Rest Day in Bishop, CA

Segment 14:  South Lake to Mammoth Mountain

High Sierra stunningness continues in this segment.  Again, we plan to stay on a high skiable route closer to the actual Sierra Nevada Crest while the PCT swings far to the west at lower elevations.  Classic ski routes along this section of the Sierra Crest are described in the following book: Moynier, John. 1999. Backcountry Skiing California's High Sierra. Globe Pequot Press.  This section of our journey in particular encompasses the South Lake to North Lake, Paiute Pass to Rock Creek, and the Rock Creek to Mammoth tours, all of which I have skied before, so I can attest to their magnificence!  Because I have skied this area before, it is filled with names that bring back memories of good friends and amazing adventures: Muir Pass, Evolution Basin, Humphreys Basin, Royce Lakes, Granite Park, Lake Italy, Bear Creek Spire, Rock Creek Canyon, Golden Lake, Pioneer Basin, Devil's Postpile.  The sheer number of names is indicative of the Sierra's incredible beauty and diversity...around every corner is yet another gripping panorama in this vast ocean of mountains.  I never get sick of it.  What more can I say about this section other than that I can't wait to spend a week skinning and sliding through these sunny, snowy realms.  A bonus at the end of this section could be a dip in the natural hot springs at Reds Meadow (in early season there should be no one there!) as well as an exploration of the unique columnar basalt formations of Devil's Postpile.  Mammoth Mountain (with its equally massive ski resort) looms to the east in this volcanic pocket within a land of granite.  We plan to spend a day resupplying in lively Mammoth Lakes at the completion of this segment.

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Segment 15:  Rest Day in Mammoth Lakes, CA

Segment 16:  Mammoth Mountain to Ebbetts Pass (Highway 4)

This is another lengthy segment (9 days) that begins with a climb from Reds Meadow to the base of the Ritter Range.  This will be an important milestone in our journey since the Ritter Range--a jagged spine of dark metamorphic rock--contains Banner's namesake, as well as Mt. Ritter and the amazing summits of the Minarets.  In fact, it is my hope that we will be able to climb (and maybe ski down!) Banner Peak at this point.  Banner is really looking forward to signing the summit register on the peak for which he was named!  Beyond the Ritter Range, we will enter Yosemite National Park and once again I plan to leave the PCT route for a higher route closer to the Sierra Crest which is also described in John Moynier's book: Moynier, John. 1999. Backcountry Skiing California's High Sierra. Globe Pequot Press.  I have also skied this route before, and it is no less stunning than the terrain we have already covered here in the Sierra Nevada.  I remember in particular an early camp at the remote Lost Lakes where I spent an afternoon and evening yo-yo-ing the surrounding silky slopes of spring corn snow.  We will probably spend barely a day in Yosemite before heading out the east entrance to begin what John Moynier calls the Tioga Pass to Twin Lakes tour.  This section of our route remains to east of the actual PCT route and travels just along the eastern boundary of Yosemite, traversing from south to north directly over the summit of massive Excelsior Peak with stunning views over all of Yosemite.  We will extend Moynier's route beyond Twin Lakes by traversing the jagged Sawtooth Ridge on the northeast boundary of Yosemite and then making our way back to the PCT route just before reaching Sonora Pass (Highway 108).  A final stretch of skiing through the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness will bring us to Ebbetts Pass (Highway 4), where we will celebrate the completion of almost exactly 1000 miles of hiking and skiing!  We hope to meet several good friends here at Ebbetts Pass, and Banner and I will be taking a month long break from the trail to return to the University of Vermont for graduation ceremonies.  We plan to be back on the trail heading north from Ebbetts Pass on June 15!

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Segment 17:  TRAVEL to Vermont for UVM Graduation

Segment 18:  Ebbetts Pass to Echo Summit (Highway 50)

We're back on the trail after a month long break and a trip to Vermont and back!  This segment will be a short, 3-day reintroduction to the trail, passing through some of the most bizzare and dramatic terrain of the combined granitic-volcanic landscape of the northern Sierra.  The entire Sierra Nevada was once covered by volcanic material, and here we can still see remnants of this material, now eroded into spectacular spires and pinnacles capping the granitic rock below.  Lingering snow may pose a challenge through this section, depending on how much snowfall we get throughout the winter, so snowshoes and winter camping skills may be needed once again.  Once we reach Echo Summit, we'll be just 9 miles away from the lively town of South Lake Tahoe.

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Segment 19:  Echo Summit to Donner Summit (Interstate 80)

This segment of the PCT passes through what I might call my "old stomping grounds."  I spent three winters living in the Lake Tahoe area where I taught skiing and guided backcountry ski trips.  Thus, I am familiar with much of this part of the PCT, and it is a gorgeous section indeed.  Of course, the jewel of this area is Lake Tahoe itself, which can be viewed from several points along this part of the trail.  This segment begins by passing through the fantastic Desolation Wilderness, a pocket of densely packed granite peaks and sparkling alpine lakes that feels like a mini High Sierra.  Beyond this granite playground, the route climbs up to a high ridgeline traverse, and this may provide opportunities for several peak attempts, including Twin Peaks, Granite Chief, Tinker's Knob and Anderson Peak.  This section ends by descending through the Sugar Bowl ski area (where I once taught alpine ski lessons!) and crosses old higway 40 at Donner Pass before arriving at one of the buisest PCT road crossings, Interstate 80 at Donner Summit.

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Segment 20:  Donner Summit to Sierra City (Highway 49)

This will be a short but lovely section, starting from noisy Interstate 80 and quickly entering the quiet realms surrounding Castle Peak.  Catstle Peak is a well-known destination for folks who live in the North Lake Tahoe area, and I have skied around and to the top of this summit numerous times.  It would be a treat to climb this peak once more after several years away from the Lake Tahoe area.  This segment may also provide an opportunity to climb tall Mt. Lola which will afford views as far back as Desolation Wilderness and as far ahead as Mt. Lassen, nearly 100 miles away.  For the most part, however, this segment simply provides some beautiful hiking in a forested terrain.  We hope to resupply in the quaint town of Sierra City at the completion of this segment, just 1.5 miles from the PCT crossing of Highway 49.

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Segment 21: Sierra City to Belden (Highway 70)

Ecological diversity promises to be a hallmark of this segment, refelcting the topographical diversity of the route which travels mostly along the crest of northern Sierra Nevada, but also drops more than 2000 feet into the gorge of the North Fork of the Feather River.  Several vegetation types--from coniferous forest, to oak woodland, to chapparral--will be encountered along the way.  Early in this segement, we may have a chance to climb to the precariously perched fire lookout atop the Sierra Buttes, with a gloriously panoramic 360 degree view (I've been there before, so I know!).  And, in general, the PCT here keeps a high line with views down into glacially carved lake basins and out over the forest-cloaked ridges of this part of the Sierra.  These forests also host a good deal of logging, so we expect to encounter numerous clear cuts along the way.  In general, this should be lovely section of smooth hiking and incredible vistas.  Just before reaching the segment's end, we should catch some views north to Mt. Lassen, which will be a highlight of the next segment.

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Segment 22:  Belden to Old Station (Highway 89)

We leave behind the Sierra Nevada range in this segment and enter the Cascade Range, which we will follow until we reach Canada (except where the PCT leaves the Cascades in favor of the Klamath Mountains in segment 25).  The terrain becomes more level in this volcanic land, and we therefore plan to step up the mileage a notch to just over 20 miles per day.  The highlight of this section will be the crossing of Lassen Volcanic National Park, with its menagerie of steaming geysers and fumaroles, boiling lakes and mudpots, and its host of volcanic cinder cones and other fantastic landforms, including massive Lassen Peak, the southernmost of the Cascade volcanoes.

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Segment 23:  Old Station to Castella (Interstate 5)

This segment travels further WEST than it does north, bringing us through the sprawling forests of the southern Cascades and to the base of the Klamath Mountains which we will enter in the next segment.  These forests are also largely in private ownership and they are heavily logged, so unfortunately this segment has a reputation as one of the least desirable of the PCT.  Clearcuts and even active logging operations can be encountered.  At the same time, much of this section traverses ridgetops with fantanstic views across all of northern California, and if you're a geology fan, this section also traverses a complex series of bedrock strata that paint a fascinating picture of the geologic complexity of northern California.  We will be trying to keep our mileage high through this mostly mellow section, just over 20 miles per day.

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Segment 24:  Climb and Ski Mt. Shasta

The name of this segment more or less speaks for itself.  Mt. Shasta is one of the premier ski mountaineering meccas of the west coast (in my humble opinion), and it would be wonderful to be able to make an attempt on this peak during our PCT journey.  From the 14,162-foot summit one can often ski a clean 7000 feet down right back to where you parked your car...even in July depending on the snowpack!

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Segment 25:  Castella to Seiad Valley (Highway 96)

This is a lengthy section that rivals the High Sierra for its remoteness and wildness.  We now leave the Cascades for a time in favor of the Klamath Mountains, which we will follow until reaching Oregon, still a couple hundred miles away.  The segment begins in the stunning Castle Crags Wilderness--a land of granite also remeniscent of the High Sierra--and continues on through the Trinity Alps WIlderness, Russian Wilderness, and Marble Mountain WIlderness.  The PCT generally keeps a high ridgeline route, traversing from the head of one gorgeous glacially carved valley to the head of the next, and views are consistently panoramic and glorious.  This section also boasts a large amount of geologic diversity which translates into a large amount of ecological diversity.  Covering the over 150 miles of this section in 8 days will be a great challenge, and by the end of this segment we will have covered just over 1600 miles of the PCT.  Just over 1000 miles to go!