The Pacific Crest Trail--the famous Mexico-to-Canada hiking trail featured in Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir Wild--is getting a new guide book series, written by four different authors, specifically for people who want to hike the PCT in sections. Reno Public Radio’s Bree Zender recently spoke with Philip Kramer over Skype, who is the author of the book that features the Northern California section. Kramer thru-hiked the entire trail--nearly 2,700 miles--in 2013, and later returned to the Sierra to write the book.
Why did you decide to get into thru-hiking?
I actually decided to thru-hike because I just needed a change. I hadn't had a big adventure in a while, and I was just craving leaving work and just kind of stretching my legs and realign myself with what I wanted to do. I was fully expecting it to be a huge journey of self-reliance, where I was just going to be out in the wilderness, on my own, mile after mile. Day after day. Month after month. And turns out, there's a lot of people that head out to the PCT these days. And I ended up with good friends that I still have today.
So you live on Orcas Island in Washington State. Why did you write about the Northern California section and not Washington?
I would have loved to have done Washington. It's a beautiful part of the trail and obviously it's right here in my backyard. But Northern California is what they needed and I was really happy to revisit it, actually. You know, when you're thru-hiking, you're thinking about getting your miles every day and getting to Canada. And it can be hard to just sort of enjoy what's around you and it's very difficult to explore. So when I went back for the book, another unique thing that our book does is it gives a lot of side-trip options. So maybe there's a lake that's a mile off the PCT that's gorgeous, and we want to recommend that you go experience that.
[In] my experience watching and reading about the PCT... [the Sierra section is] a more difficult section, right?
It is, yeah. The desert certainly has its difficulties. You're in the desert and then you're popping up into these beautiful mountain ranges with pines and everything. And depending on the snow year, you can run into some fairly intense conditions up there that will set people back or put people off the trail or people will skip that section. When I hiked, it was actually a pretty low snow year and so there wasn't a lot of snow crossings, but you can end up having days and days on the snow. You can also have really swollen river crossings that can potentially be really dangerous.
The PCT has received a lot a lot of publicity in the past few years because it was featured in the memoir, Wild, which was later turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. And since the release of these materials there's been a surge of people on the trail. Do you know if this surge in numbers has changed the composition of the trail in any way?
Yeah, it definitely affects parts of it. I would say it affects the southern reaches. Because most people who set out to do a thru hike start on the Mexico border and the head north. And if you go down to the PCT in April and start hiking, you're going to have a lot of people around you. The farther north you go from Mexico, the group that all sets out to start thru-hiking every year dwindles because people quit because they're tired. People quit because they've got an injury. And certainly, when you go hike in Northern California when it's not thru-hiker season, it can be a very solitary experience.
Philip Kramer is the author of Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Northern California, which is available now. He will be speaking about his writing and his hiking on Friday, May 11 at 6:30 PM at Sundance Bookstore in Reno.