Attempting to thru-hike the PCT won’t be the same as thru-hiking the AT. There are many ways in which the two trails are different.
When I hiked the AT in 2017, it was 2,189.8 miles in length. The trail goes through 14 states. The PCT is 2,653.1 miles long and goes through only three: California, Oregon and Washington.
Though the PCT travels over much higher mountains, the trail is easier in some respects to walk than the AT. Most people who have done both will say a hiker who can average 15 to 18 miles a day on the AT can usually do 20 to 25 miles a day on the PCT.
The PCT is generally drier and resupply opportunities are not always as convenient, though. It’s usually necessary to carry more water and food than on the AT.
Because of the extra 460-plus miles and a more narrow window for favorable weather, it’s necessary to hike more miles per day on the PCT. Otherwise, dangerous conditions will likely force you off the trail before reaching Canada.
The terrain is also significantly different. The AT is known as the “green tunnel” for good reason. Once leaves come out in the Spring, hikers are mostly walking with a leafy canopy over their heads. Views are limited to a few spots here and there.
In much of the PCT, you can see miles of the trail ahead of you and behind you. The first 700 miles are mostly over desert. That’s followed by snowy passes of the Sierra Nevada that can climb twice the height of the highest AT mountains.
Northbound AT hikers usually finish atop the dramatic summit of Mt. Katahdin. Northbound PCT hikers finish at a remote and unassuming spot on the Canadian border.
I will have my own reasons for making the PCT different, as well.
Though I will be carrying some of the same gear as before, I have replaced some gear. I’m most excited about my new pack, which was built to my specifications by a small company.
When I started the AT, Kim dropped me off at Springer Mountain and I began hiking alone. When I begin the PCT, I will fly alone to San Diego, but I will begin hiking with Tengo Hambre, a friend I met and hiked with in Maine.
All of these differences are exciting, but there is one difference that brings sadness to me each time I think about it. My dad was one of my biggest cheerleaders during my hike. He bragged about me to his friends whenever he got the chance, and I enjoyed calling him from the trail to give him updates.
After a short illness, my dad died on January 1. I miss his support and encouragement.