What does it mean to successful hike the Pacific Crest Trail in one season? Is that even possible?
The orthodox answer is to hike straight from Campo, California to Manning Park, British Columbia with footprints on the trail the whole way. When I leave the trail, I always return to the exact point that I left. I always hike the PCT and never deviate from it.
Unfortunately, to hike the actual 2650.1 miles is impossible. There are sections of the trail that are closed and will remain closed. For example, a fire near Idyllwild, California in 2013 damaged the trail. By order, the trail is closed between miles 168.6 and 177.3. There is a section in Southern California that has been closed since 2013 to protect an endangered mountain yellow-legged frog.
The forest fires in Oregon and Washington have closed significant portions. In many cases, there was no alternate route to take. One simply skipped that part. The heavy snow in the Sierra Mountains in 2017 forced a majority of hikers to skip that section, continue north, and return later in the season when it was safer to hike.
To make matters more complicated, there are trails that split off the PCT that are ascetically more pleasing than the trail proper. There is an alternative route that allows you to walk the rim of Crater Lake. Do I skip that?
Finally, there are some additional alternative routes to avoid dangerous sections. For example, there is an alternate road hike between miles 187 and 191 that allows me to avoid hiking Fuller Ridge during heavy snow and high winds.
So, what am I going to do?
My hike is my hike. The trail is what is presented to me when I get there. If a section is closed, but there is an official alternate route, and that route is safe, I will take that alternate. I will monitor the weather when I’m in town. If conditions are dangerous, I’ll stay in town an extra day or two. Despite my best efforts, if a commonly unsafe section like Fuller Ridge is dangerous when I physically walk there, I’ll take the alternate. If snow conditions in the Sierra Mountains are the same in 2018 as they were in 2017, I will consider flip-flopping.
I may be crazy, but I do not have a death wish.
That leaves the ascetically pleasing alternates. I may have only this once chance to do this hike. I will choose the best quality over orthodoxy. I’m going to hike the rim of Crater Lake. I’m going to see the best there is to see.
What I won’t do is skip a section because it is too hard. If I have to flip-flop, but the clock runs out, I will not consider it complete until I hike that section. However, if a section is closed, I’ll consider that section as not part of the trail. I’m not going to wait until the endangered section is reopened to claim victory.
Does this mean that I will hike 2650.1 miles? No probably not. I’ll be short a few. Will I say I completed it? If I skip a section with the intention of returning, but do not return because I ran out of time? No. Otherwise yes.
But, you didn’t hike all 2650.1 miles!!! How can you say you hiked the PCT if you didn’t hike all 2650.1 miles!?!
Sometimes in life you just have to say close enough. Get over it.