Enjoy the PCT while sheltering at home through this extraordinary 360 video of the trail

Many of us are feeling trapped at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and possibly sad or frustrated because we’re not on the Pacific Crest Trail. Seattle hiker John “AppleJack” Betz has what may be the next best thing: in 2018, he thru-hiked the PCT and recorded his walk using a 360-degree video camera. The end result is beautiful—a two-hour video with highlights from the entire trail as seen from a hiker’s perspective. There is no distracting narration or dialogue—just two hours of spectacular scenery accompanied by a calming music soundtrack.

“Walking My Way Home” (a reference to John’s home in Seattle, Washington) makes you wish you were on the trail, but the experience becomes far more immersive when you realize you can click-and-drag the view to “look around” in any direction. Viewing the video in the YouTube app on a smartphone or tablet makes it even easier—you just turn the phone (and/or your body) in the direction you want to look.

At any time during the video, look down and you’ll see a label identifying that section of the trail along with the PCT mile for the scene. And if your Internet connection is fast enough, you can view the video in 2K, 4K or even a stunning 5K quality level. (To adjust the playback quality, click the settings icon—a small gear—at the bottom-right corner of the video window.)

“My goal was to make the trail accessible to people who would never have set foot on it,” says John. “It’s not quite the same as being out there, but it’s as close as you can come indoors.” John never thought anyone would sit down and watch the full two hours. “I like to just pick a section of the trail and watch it for 15-20 minutes, or you can jump around to experience different sections.”

2018: A Good Year for PCT Video

Mother Nature helped make the video extraordinary: 2018 was a relatively perfect year for being on the trail— neither a bad year for wildfires nor a high snow year. It’s remarkable that most of the video is under sunny skies. “Not all the scenes are on sunny days,” John said. “There were a few overcast days—but I got really lucky. It was a ‘golden pass’ to hike that year.”

A small part of the 360-degree view near Palisade Lakes in the Sierra Nevada.

John originally attempted a thru-hike in 2017, which is often called “The Year of Fire and Ice” because of bad wildfires and high snow levels. “I got as far as Kearsarge Pass [in the Sierra Nevada] and was daunted by river crossings—it took me a day to find a safe place to cross Wallace Creek. So I got off the trail then.”

A Difficult Technical Challenge

It was before his 2018 thru-hike attempt when John got the idea to shoot a 360-degree video of his hike. He mounted the 360 video camera on a selfie stick. Each day throughout his hike, whenever he came to a particularly scenic stretch of trail, he’d pull out the camera and shoot 30 seconds of video.

Editing the video was an enormous effort. “Shooting 360 video requires shooting two separate 180-degree videos at the same time” John said. “Then both of those video files have to be stitched together.” Stitching the segments together took 30 to 40 hours and processing the final video took another 30 hours.

“When I’m 85 and can’t walk anymore, I’ll just plug in my neural implant and enjoy the trail,” John quipped.

We’re all glad he took the time to make this incredible video, No doubt it’ll help get many PCT fans through what has become a difficult year.

Author: Scott Wilkinson

Scott Wilkinson is the PCTA’s Director of Communications and Marketing. A former professional musician, Scott has 20+ years of experience in almost every marketing role. Before joining the PCTA he was a marketing/creative director at West Virginia University and the University of Oregon. A serious outdoor addict, Scott is an experienced whitewater paddler, hang glider pilot, flyfisher, mountain biker, and (of course) hiker and backpacker.