Celebrating 50 years of the PCT
as a National Scenic Trail.

The hard way: backpacking and trail maintenance

In order to maintain remote sections of the Pacific Crest Trail far from the trailhead, Pacific Crest Trail Association volunteers often rely on volunteer horse packers to get tools and supplies in and out of backcountry camps.

But in the North Cascades, closures on feeder trails have made many remote sections of the PCT nearly impossible to reach with horses and mules. So intrepid volunteers from the PCTA’s North 350 Blades community-based volunteer group walk in with their backpacking gear and trail tools for multiple day projects — completely self-supported!

Hiking into a project at Shoe Lake in the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

Hiking into a project at Shoe Lake in the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

Loren Schmidt, a steward with the North 350 Blades enjoys the pace and self-sufficiency of these types of projects. When he thru-hiked the PCT in 2010, he may have covered more than 30 miles a day. In July, he’ll cover 31 miles over 5 days to help maintain the trail in the Pasayten Wilderness.

“Moving slowly along a 20- to 40-mile section still gives the sense of hiking and getting trail work done at the same time,” he said. “We drop our packs, work a mile down the trail, drop our tools, and return to our packs. Walking back to the tools over the newly cleaned trail gives everyone a tremendous sense of satisfaction. And on we go to the next mile to see what it needs.”

One of the incredible views you'll get between Harts Pass and Rainy Pass. Photo by Loren Schmidt.

One of the incredible views you’ll get between Harts Pass and Rainy Pass. Photo by Loren Schmidt.

Each day on Loren’s trip, volunteers will move their camp and hike up to 11 miles. Each person will carry one tool, such as a Katana saw. They will focus on trail “polishing” instead of large reconstruction projects. One of their main goals will be to cut back an especially overgrown section of trail from Glacier Pass to the Brush Creek Bridge in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Volunteers will also remove minor logs from the trail, clean culverts and complete other tasks to keep the trail tread and trail corridor open and inviting for hikers and horseback riders.

The small handsaw in this volunteer's backpack is useful for tackling brushing and clearing smaller logs from the trail. For this log... we're going to need a bigger saw! Photo by Loren Schmidt.

The small handsaw in this volunteer’s backpack is useful for tackling brushing and clearing smaller logs from the trail. For this log… we’re going to need a bigger saw! Photo by Loren Schmidt.

Other self-supported projects in the North Cascades are not thru-hikes, but out-and-back backpacking trips. This August, the PCTA’s North 350 Blades have two trips planned in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to address trail erosion issues and clear downed logs between two backcountry lakes. Here’s the catch — getting to these lakes involves gaining 1,300 feet in elevation over 2 miles with heavy tools and their backpacking gear!

The PCTA is very grateful for these volunteers’ determination to accomplish work that otherwise would not be done on remote stretches of trail. We also thank our partners at the U.S. Forest Service for advising and, in some cases, joining volunteers on these projects.

Cutting back brush is an annual maintenance task that helps define the trail and keep it more pleasant to walk on for hikers and horseback riders. Photo by Loren Schmidt.

If you think you would enjoy moving a little slower through the PCT’s majestic scenery, challenging yourself with some extra work and extra backpacking weight, and a primitive and self-reliant experience, please consider joining us on one of these projects!

Author: Emily Bauska

Emily Bauska is the PCTA’s Volunteer Programs Outreach Associate. She is excited about sharing the stories of the hard-working volunteers who maintain the Pacific Crest Trail. Emily grew up hiking in her native state of Oregon and completed a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail through the Sierra Nevada in 2013. When not on the trail, you can find her bicycling or tending to her vegetable garden.