Wishing blue skies to the PCT Class of 2022

Blue skies abound. We’re thinking about this sunny and warm winter and looking forward to the quickly approaching start of another incredible hiking season. We’re thinking of the mixed, painful, sometimes beautiful, and just plain weird past two years of global pandemic, wildfires, and challenges; meanwhile, being truly excited and hopeful for the more normal times ahead.

Three weeks from now, on March 1, the earliest northbound PCT long-distance permit holders will start heading north from the dusty hill in Campo where the Southern Terminus monument stands. With anxious energy, and the freedom of an unbounded summer in their hearts, they lead the way. Summer is a long way off; Spring comes a few weeks after they set out, at 8:33 AM on March 20 to be precise, at the Vernal Equinox.

Friendships will blossom, love will grow, bodies will strengthen, and spirits will be lifted. What they need, we need, is the Pacific Crest Trail.

Doc stands near Rock Pass, WA. Photo by Kevin Scott.

We know that the PCT is very hard work, and it’s a good idea to prepare your body by exercising and toughening your feet in the remaining weeks before you take off.

We know there is real risk, so talk to your trusted point of contact who will provide support when you need it. Make sure they know their role, how often you’ll call, and what to do if you don’t. Throughout your trip, tell them where you are.

We know that weather is unpredictable but making predictions has value. While it seems we’re slipping back into a critical drought, a “Miracle March” when heavy snow makes up for a dry winter is still possible. We can also predict that people hiking while it’s still winter are sure to find snow in places. We know that snow typically blankets the high mountains well through June. We know that you can be safer by realistically assessing your risk tolerance, skill, equipment, and fitness, and choosing to turn around or skip a section if it’s too dangerous. We know that it’ll get hot eventually. So hot that it’s a real danger, but that’s another risk you can mitigate.

We know that each of your actions matter. It is our shared passion that will keep the Pacific Crest Trail the high-quality experience that it is. We share a narrow space – often 18 inches wide – with many others.

Some updates for the year ahead

To help expand in-person and on-trail support, the PCT Crest Runner program is growing to include four people in Southern California. They are Federal employees and experts in Leave No Trace, and they provide important information to people on the trail. They also check permits, keep track of visitor encounters, and monitor campsite use and other environmental impacts. They’re there to help us protect the trail experience for years to come. If you see them while you’re out, be sure to say hello.

Limiting the number of people in a popular area is an important tool for sustainably managing overcrowded areas. Many of the most popular places on the trail have capacity limits during their busiest times. Like with all permits, you must start on your start date, at your start location, if you are using a PCT long-distance permit. It is valid for a single trip from the start location to the end location during the dates specified.

You must print your permit before your start date and carry a physical, easily legible, unlaminated, paper permit while on the trail. Digital versions will not be accepted by local agency officials.

Once a quota permit has been issued, changes to the start location and date are not possible. If you no longer plan to hike or ride your horse on the PCT, please cancel your permit application so that others have the opportunity to enjoy this incredible trail.

The climate crisis is here in the form of untenable and record size wildfires that have created emergencies the last few summers. We’ll be talking about the importance of not starting new fires all year. You should also learn about and plan for what to do should you see a fire, when to call it quits because hiking in smoke is unhealthy, and how to more safely travel through burned areas. These will be challenges you will need to navigate this year.

We have good news to share here too: multiple closed areas are opening or may re-open by the time you pass through. The Bobcat Fire closure in Angeles National Forest has a closure order that expires April 1 and we haven’t heard anything to indicate that it won’t be allowed to expire. Once it does, a portion of the PCT will remain closed due to the long-standing Endangered Species/Williamson Rock closure, but that’s a more manageable issue. Near Tahoe, we’re happy to share that the PCT is open again after the Caldor Fire burned through. Further north in California, the largest fire to ever burn across the PCT, the Dixie Fire, is likely to completely reopen before summer. Especially with the Dixie, the burn area is so large, devastating and dangerous that you might reasonably decide to not hike in the burn area – essentially avoiding the PCT between Quincy and Old Station. If you choose to enter the burn: please be safe.

Thanks for reading and for your support for the Pacific Crest Trail. We hope you have a wonderful time on the trail, stay safe, and Leave No Trace.

Author: Jack "Found" Haskel

As the Trail Information Manager, Jack works to connect people to the PCT. He's involved with a wide variety of projects that help the trail, the trail's users and the community that surrounds the experience. He has thru-hiked (Pacific Crest Trail in 2006; Colorado Trail in 2008; Continental Divide Trail in 2010) and is an obsessed weekend warrior.