Real Valentine’s Day love stories from the Pacific Crest Trail

By Gleb Velikanov

Every year, more than a thousand people set out to attempt a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Some of them are doing so with a significant other, some find romance along the way, while others have a partner at home patiently awaiting their return. Rumor has it that mixing romance and thru-hiking is a bad idea – horror stories of getting on each others’ nerves, constantly arguing over irresolvable issues or even breaking up are plentiful. But are those true?  One can look to folks with first-hand experience of such journeys for an answer.

Before couples hit the trail together, they should put some thought into interpersonal dynamics and compatibility considerations, which likely will be as important as training, gear choices and resupply strategies. After all, when it comes to a monumental undertaking such as a thru-hike, every detail will matter. This applies to hikers of all walks of life and skill levels. For instance, April “Bearclaw” Sylva met her future husband Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva through a hiker mentor program as she was preparing for a thru-hike in 2014. Because Ryan completed the PCT in 2011, the pair had the advantage of a heightened trail IQ from the start of their hike.

Ryan and April Sylva were brought together by the Pacific Crest Trail, got engaged on their thru-hike and then married a few months up the trail. They're now planning next year's thru-hike together.

Ryan and April Sylva were brought together by the Pacific Crest Trail, got engaged on their thru-hike and then married a few months up the trail. They’re now planning next year’s thru-hike together.

A platonic start to their journey gave way to a romantic relationship as they acknowledged personal similarities and a strong draw towards each other. A marriage proposal came on top of Southern California’s Mount Baden-Powell, with the couple tying the knot on the trail, in front of Oregon’s Mount Hood, with about 25 thru-hikers among the contingent of attending family and friends. “It was the perfect thru-hiker wedding,” said April. After celebrating the nuptials with Portland’s VooDoo Doughnuts and Rainier Beer, all hikers returned to the trail. The newlyweds continued north to Washington, with each other’s company, the wilderness and the mountains serving as a vivid backdrop to a trail honeymoon.


April and Ryan, living life together in puffy jackets.

Jenna “Double Sprainbow“ Yokoyama attempted the PCT in 2012 and 2013, both times with her husband Adam “Roid Trip“ Ward. The 2012 attempt came four months after they became a couple, with both Jenna and Adam having only nominal knowledge of the ins and outs of backpacking, having to learn the ropes quickly, as they were making their progress north. Adam also “popped the question” on top of a mountain, the highest peak in the lower 48, Mount Whitney.

“As a new couple, and as new backpackers, we struggled at times in learning how to hike together,” said Yokoyama. She favored waking up early and hiking at a steady pace all day, while her partner preferred a later start, with a faster pace of travel, resulting in both arriving at the same finish point, albeit not always together.

JennaAdam-PCT-IBoth Yokoyama and April Sylva agree that communication and willingness to compromise are very important when attempting to thru-hike as a couple. In Sylva’s case, occasional stints of hiking separately proved to be a successful strategy, while Yokoyama discovered listening to podcasts and music while hiking to be a good pastime to break the monotony of hiking alone or to compliment Adam’s quiet, introspective tendencies. Both Sylva and Yokoyama would recommend thru-hiking to other couples, as long as they are prepared to handle tough moments, improvise and strive for a common goal of completing the trail, keeping in mind that in one way or another, the trail will test you.


The Stukeys at Muir Hut.

Kara“Badass”Stuckey, at the time known to those in the real world as Kara Nelson, had never met “Sunnyside” until she ran into him around mile 400 of the PCT. He turned out to be Tim Stuckey, and the two happened to hike together starting at Kennedy Meadows. Kara feels that the biggest challenge they faced was defining the budding relationship, and admitting to having feelings toward each other that went beyond the usual hiker camaraderie, all while trying to make sure that their situation was not a fling of trail romance. To say that Kara’s family was surprised to learn that she was getting married to someone she met on the trail would be an understatement. She does, however, believe that one will get to know their partner very well and quickly during a thru-hike.



When Christian “Hot Mess” Danielsen met Alix, his wife-to-be, she had already thru-hiked the PCT in 2007. They met through mutual friends in the Portland, Oregon, thru-hiking community. Christian felt the urge to experience the PCT for himself, starting a solo attempt in 2010. Alix, whose trail name is “Breeze,” remained home to hold down the fort. She became Alix Danielsen when the couple officially wed after Christian completed his thru-hike.


Christian and Alix on a beautiful blue sky day.

Alix said that summer apart was certainly a huge challenge for both of them. As a thru-hiker, she knew that Christian was headed for a life-changing, epic adventure and she wanted to join him. Having to attend to day-to-day commitments, she was content to follow along from home. However, despite the fact that they did not hike the trail together, she feels that she and Christian have the long-distance hiking bond that comes from experiencing something so authentic and incomparable. They have gone on a number of shorter hikes on the PCT since and are excited to consider future adventures together – from retracing their steps on the PCT, to attempting another long-distance trail.

At the northern terminus of the PCT.

At the northern terminus of the PCT.

Most people who mix thru-hiking and romance agree that if both partners involved keep an open channel of communication regarding their abilities, needs and desires while being open-minded to certain compromises and adjustments, there is no reason the relationship cannot weather the challenges. A couple can expect to get to know each other more quickly than they would off trail. While the grow personally, they will also achieve a great accomplishment together, all while soaking in awesome views and experiencing the amazing journey that is a PCT thru-hike!

Gleb Velikanov thru-hiked the PCT in 2010 and is heading to the Appalachian Trail this year. He writes about the PCT all across the internet as well as on his blog at