Oboz Ambassador Elliot Pacheco just covered the first 700 miles of his PCT thru-hike. Read his recap below.
The first 700 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail were in, without a doubt, some of the toughest hiking miles I’d ever set foot on. When you hear the word desert, you automatically assume dry, blistering temperatures that might deter the average day hiker from leaving home. Yet, this year, it seemed there was so much snowfall that the desert now had streams and creeks that were once dry flowing like never before. This may have been one of the greatest gifts or trail magic I’d ever received in such harsh conditions! Water, at last.
Although many sections of the desert had benefited from the abundance of moisture, as the miles passed, I soon learned that carrying water would be paramount to completing the section successfully. Around Tehachapi, we thru-hikers had to carry lots of water for longer stretches due to the lack of it and were so grateful to have come across established and well maintained water caches provided by local trail supporters. I truly believe had it not been for those trail angels, many hikers would not have finished the desert sections.
Among the many things that played a role in desert trail life for me the last few days, wind played a major factor in figuring out where to set up camp at the end of a long day of hiking. So many campsites that felt calm once I arrived would become raging sandstorms in the middle of the night, ripping my tent stakes out and causing my tent to collapse around 2am-4am in the morning. There were actually a few times that I just laid on my sleeping pad with the tent on my face without any intention of setting it up again, knowing it would result in its demise again. My group soon learned to secure stakes within heavy rocks and to choose sites with far less exposure than what we were used to.
Probably the most challenging aspect of the desert wasn’t the weather, or the constant rattlesnakes, or even the water or lack thereof, but the constant feeling of being alone while all of this was happening. After losing my trail brother from the Appalachian Trail due to post-trail depression, I attempted to come into this hike with an open mind. After going through that kind of loss, many would surely be hesitant to form bonds with anyone new on trail. Nevertheless, I didn’t find myself holding back with any particular interaction. But like any typical thru-hike, everyone is on a mad dash in the beginning trying to prove to themselves and others that they truly belong as a “thru-hiker”. So in my case, that meant not having anyone around to share miles with, which in fact does lower morale on trail...especially in the desert.
This may have been the hardest part for me in that first 700-mile stretch. The sun was relentless, the long climbs were never-ending, the snakes and scorpions were constant, but being alone through all of it made it very hard to stand. The California sunsets made up for it at the end of each day, though.