Last year was a pretty tough year for the PCT. There were a number of emergency rescues on the trail and unfortunately a few thru-hikers died. That has led to a discussion on survival skills. One of the side effects of ultra-light hiking is that you do not need to be a manly mass of muscle to attempt it. I certainly could not do it if I took my camping gear instead of my light weight backpacking gear.
So, what skills do I have verses what skills am I lacking?
As a small-town kid from Wisconsin, I spent much of my time outside. I lit fires. I made shelters. I hunted and fished. I’ve camped in the snow. I hiked a good portion of the Ice Age Trail as well as the Superior Trail and the Boundary Waters.
As a young man, I was in the Boy Scouts until I was 16. While I wasn’t an Eagle Scout, I had quite a few critical merit badges for this hike like, camping, first aid, hiking, life saving, weather and wilderness survival. I still know my knots. I can read a map and use a compass.
After high school, instead of going to college right away, I joined the Navy and was a Sonar Operator on the P-3 Orion aircraft. Before I could hunt submarines, I needed to complete the training program which included Aircrew Candidate School and SERE school. I also was Red Cross trauma first aid and CPR qualified, although it has been a long time since I renewed my certifications.
So, I have a good base of survival skills for this hike. I’m also modest enough that I’ll avoid endangering myself too much. I won’t walk the knife’s edge and take a selfie at the same time. I won’t make a water crossing alone. I’m modest enough to wait for others.
However, I’m still missing a few skills, some of which I will not be able to learn here.
While many of my classmates are concerned about the snow, I’m more concerned about the desert. I generally get 5 miles per liter of water when it is hot. For the 43 mile stretch without a reliable water source, that means I’m going to have to carry about 10 liters if all I can get is 5 miles per liter.
The Sierra Mountains
I will have little training for high altitude backpacking. It is a concern of mine that I might push myself too hard at 10,000 feet. The thought of hiking one mile-per-hour is kind of scary. I have watched videos on self-arrest, and I will take an ice-axe, but I have never done it.
The one part of my body I’m going to push the most is my feet. I am hopeful that three years of aggressive hiking means my feet are strong enough to handle this, I feel like I do not know enough. I’ve bought a book on foot care and I’ve been following what I have learned there by taping my toes and feet, but if anything is going to fail, it is my feet.
I am in the process of updating my skills. Having done two shakedown backpacking trips has given me quite a bit of confidence with my gear and what I’m capable to doing. I’m renewing my first aid and CPR certifications. I’m learning how to be a better photographer.
For the desert, I’m going to take advantage of night hiking and sleeping during the day. If I get up before the sun rises, take a siesta when it gets too hot, and hike until dark, I should still be able to get my miles in while avoiding the worst of the heat.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do about the Sierra Mountains. I’ve considered buying a high altitude mask and start hiking with it, but they are expensive and probably overkill. As water is plentiful, packing more food and taking my time is probably my best strategy. Honestly, with 800 miles under my belt by then, my heart, legs and lungs should be very efficient.
I’ve watched videos on self arrest. I have not found any courses here, so I’ll have to practice when I get there.
Feet? Tape and stretching, tape and stretching.
Do I know enough to go? Yes. Do I know all I need to know? No. What I don’t know, can I learn it when I get there? Yes.