Deciding to Hike the PCT as a Long-Ass Section Hike (LASH)

Somewhere in the middle of our Appalachian Trail thru-hike, we realized that we wanted to Triple Crown. That consists of hiking all three of the long-distance trails in the United States: the Appalachian Trail (AT), Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and Continental Divide Trail (CDT). We hope to do this before we are 45, which gives us about a decade. Thru-hiking the AT was one of the most life changing and affirming experiences of our lives. However, the reality is that we cannot take another 6 months off to go thru-hike the PCT, nor do we necessarily even want to do that right now. We have fulfilling careers, enjoy where we live, and are in the process of crafting a life of balance between adventuring and stability. So, we thought, how can we keep scratching our backpacking itch and start chipping away at our larger goal of becoming Triple Crowners? Section-hiking, of course!

But not in short sections. Our time on the AT revealed that we love long-distance backpacking. Spending a few days outside is recharging and wonderful, but it isn’t quite enough for us to reap the same benefits that being outside for weeks to months at a time affords. Luckily, Stretch is a teacher and has the summers off. That means we have enough time to immerse ourselves in long-distance backpacking for up to 2 months, which is incredibly appealing to us. So, we’ve decided to hike the PCT as a LASH over the course of the next few years with the goal of thru-hiking the CDT in the future to finish our Triple Crown.

While we were on the AT, we listened to a Backpacker Radio episode about the benefits of section-hiking and agreed with a lot of points they made (we listed some of those in the Benefits section below). Given our desires to both long-distance hike and find overall balance in life, we are excited to section hike the PCT!

The PCT is a 2,650-mile long trail extending from the Mexican to Canadian borders. It traverses the mountain crests running through California, Oregon, and Washington. Known for its varied terrain and conditions, the PCT crosses through the desert, the high mountains, and forested areas. Hiking the PCT inevitably means running into immense heat with long water carries, high river crossings, snow, and unfortunately, wildfires. The PCT also passes through numerous areas that require permits for day and overnight use. Those hiking over 500 miles are eligible for a PCT Long-Distance Permit from the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) that covers them all. Given this gauntlet of obstacles, it can be challenging to figure out how, when, and where to start safely.

Our PCT Section-Hike (LASH) Itinerary

The PCTA offers suggestions on how to best flip-flop or LASH the PCT and we used that as helpful information regarding where to start.

Because we needed to start in late-June for Stretch’s teaching schedule, we opted to begin hiking NOBO in Northern California at Section O, Burney Falls State Park. Below is our rough PCT section itinerary as planned for now. 

Summer 2023: June 24-late August

LASH 1: CA Section O, Burney Falls State Park in Northern California to WA Section L, the Northern Terminus

  • We will fly to Redding, CA and then take the bus to Burney Falls State Park to start hiking on June 24th.

Summer 2024: late June to early August 

LASH 2: CA Section G, Walker Pass to CA Section O, Burney Falls State Park 

  • Logistics TBD

Spring and Thanksgiving breaks 2024-202?: 

  • Piece together the 700 or so miles of the desert

PCT Permits

The PCTA has details and applications for PCT Long-Distance Permits here. One of the hardest parts of obtaining our permit as a LASHer was honestly just deciding where we wanted to start. With the way PCT permits work, we had to commit to a starting date and location months ahead of time. And there are quotas to limit the number of hikers starting at certain places so we were a little worried about what we would do if we didn’t get a permit. Luckily, this year, we are starting at a non-traditional point, so getting the permit was not competitive. We imagine we will have to be much more flexible when trying to start the PCT at a more popular spot south of the Sierras next summer. Stay tuned for that. 

Other permits include a California Fire Permit, required to use a gas stove, and Canada PCT Entry Permit, for those who want to hike across the border into Manning Park in BC. That’s about 8 miles with easy transport to Vancouver compared to at least 30 miles doubling back and difficult transport to Seattle for those that stay in the United States.

Benefits and Drawbacks of a PCT LASH

We went back and forth regarding the benefits of section hiking the PCT. There are some pretty big ones on both sides to consider: 

Benefits

  1. Flexibility: Being able to pick when, how long, and where we are able to hike is a huge benefit. 
  2. Weather: The PCT has notoriously variable and challenging weather. Section hiking allows us a little more choice on where to hike and when to maximize the best conditions.
  3. Solitude: Don’t get us wrong, we love being a part of this community. However, as two introverts who are often taxed by navigating new social situations, we’re looking forward to hiking our own hike away from crowds. With section hiking, we won’t always be in the same area as most of the year’s thru-hikers.
  4. Not being a thru-hiker: As you will see, this is a benefit and a drawback. We are firm believers in the benefits of long-distance backpacking regardless of how or where you start. Anybody who tries to say that there is only one way to do something is misguided. 

Drawbacks

  1. Cost: As east coasters, we need to fly to and from the West coast multiple times, figure out transportation to remote areas, and deal with lodging on the front and back ends of all section hikes. This is not a small amount of money. However, because we are section-hiking over a couple of years and have full-time jobs, we are simply readjusting our finances to make this endeavor a possibility. 
  2. Logistics: Planning which sections to hike and when can be challenging. Gathering information regarding weather and transportation, obtaining PCT permits multiple times, and traveling to and from trail for each section is all a lot to handle. It’s almost like planning an entire thru-hike for each section.
  3. Not being a thru-hiker: There’s truly something about the feeling of hiking an entire trail in a year. It’s more immersive and there’s more community with common goals and hiking plans. We’ll always be thru-hikers, but it’ll feel different on the PCT knowing we’re not doing it all at once.

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