When to Call it Quits on the Pacific Crest Trail

“With disturbing frequency, backpackers die in the mountains during the first snows of the season. Avalanche danger, hypothermia and obliterated trails are a threat to your life. Snow has closed the PCT in Washington as early as mid-September. In a normal year, you should plan to be off the trail by October at the latest. Please be experts at winter travel and study the forecast and our snow information if you are traveling the Washington PCT section in the fall.”

~ Pacific Crest Trail Association, ‘Thru Hiking – Northbound Vs Southbound’

Despite clear warnings from the PCTA (and there isn’t much grey in the above quoted passage), each and every year increasingly more northbound thru hikers are continuing their journeys deep into October in hopes of reaching Canada. This rise in the number of late season aspirants, has been paralleled by a worrying growth in the amount of hikers that get themselves into trouble, and subsequently need to be rescued.

Whenever I hear these stories, like most folks, my initial reaction is always that I’m glad that the hikers are Ok. My second thought is that the majority of these instances could have been avoided through a combination of common sense, objectivity, and paying heed to the warnings of those in the know.

Let’s take a look at the whys and wherefores behind this disturbing trend, and outline what can possibly be done in order to address the issue:

Why do PCT thru-hikers continue deep into October despite all of the warnings?

A combination of border fever, overestimating their own abilities and underestimating how dangerous October conditions can be in WA. Throw in the “safety net” factor of personal locator beacons/satellite messengers (i.e. “I can always press the button if I get into difficulty”), and you have a recipe for trouble.

Ok, border fever I understand, but overconfidence? These guys have walked over 2000 miles on the PCT, and many of them have prior long distance hiking experience on the Appalachian Trail; surely they are highly experienced hikers?

In many cases they are not. Thru-hiking in regular season conditions on the Triple Crown trails does not necessarily equip you for what Mother Nature can throw at you in the Cascade mountains in the fall. Paul “Mags” Magnanti, one of the most experienced hikers and outdoors people in the US, wrote an article about this very subject titled, Thru Hikers: Specialized Outdoors Knowledge. Here is an excerpt: .

“Many people who have done thru-hiking as their only outdoor activity often-times have a narrow base of outdoor knowledge……….Reading a guidebook, following a well-defined path and having a large trail infrastructure does not make for an outdoor “expert”.  It makes a person an outdoor specialist. Even the Continental Divide Trail, with its increasingly better maintained tread, defined route, specific maps, guidebooks, and smart phone apps, is becoming a very defined experience.”

With the occasional exception, PCT hikers that possess the experience to be out in winter-like conditions in the Cascades, will have already finished before October. “Why?” Because they are aware of how difficult it can be at that time of year, and they know that the best chance they have of reaching Canada, is to get their skates on and finish sooner rather than later.

Hold on, many of these ‘October’ hikers have come through hundreds of miles of snow covered terrain in the High Sierra. Is that so different to what they will face in WA?

Yes it is. There is a big discrepancy between walking over “Sierra Cement” (hard-packed snow) in the spring, and getting hit by an early season winter-like storm and a few feet of fresh powder in the Cascades. That’s not to say that the former is a walk in the park, as anyone who has spent hours postholing on a sunny June afternoon will attest. However, in the WA section of the PCT, where much of the hiking is done in wooded areas, it is easy to become disorientated if the trail is completely snow covered, the weather is coming in, and you haven’t been paying attention to where you are on the map. This particularly holds true if something goes wrong and a phone app is your only navigation tool, which increasingly appears to be the case on America’s popular long distance trails.

In regards to phone apps, it seems that most of the “rescued hiker” stories you hear, tell of phones that either died or were damaged, lost or malfunctioned.  What’s the skinny?

The skinny is that paper maps are going the way of the dodo, and a rapidly increasing amount of thru hikers are tackling long trails with little in the way of navigation skills, and nothing in the way of a navigational backup.

As the PCTA, myself and countless other experienced backcountry people have said (over and over and over), Hiking Apps are not a panacea and shouldn’t be thought of as a substitute to map and compass. Batteries can die (particularly in the sub freezing temps), electronics can fail, signals don’t always come through. GPS apps have their limitations, and if you have nothing in the way of a navigational backup to call on if a worse case scenario occurs, you may well find yourself up poo creek without a technological paddle.

I’m not saying that folks should give up their GPS/Smart phones and go 100% old school map and compass. That’s not going to happen. What I am saying is that you should always carry a backup, and get in the habit of regular correlating what you see around you, with where you are on the map. That way if you do get into trouble and your phone dies, you will know where you are, where you have come from, and where you need to go.

If all that doesn’t convince hikers to carry a compass and paper maps, perhaps the words of Guthook, the guy behind the most popular app for the Triple Crown Trails, may make a difference :

“We (the Guthook’s Guides development team) are alarmed at the increasing number of people stating their intention to hike without paper maps. ELECTRONIC DEVICES AND APPS CAN FAIL. IT IS A HORRIBLE IDEA TO RELY SOLELY ON A DEVICE OR AN APP AS YOUR SOLE NAVIGATION SOURCE.

There’s really not much more to it than that.

We love technology, and we love our customers who use our apps. But please carry paper maps with you — even if it’s just as a back up — when you hit the trail.”

To Guthook’s words I would add the following; if you are going to carry a map and compass on trail, know how to use them before you begin your journey. There are plenty of helpful websites where can learn navigation basics. Once you have the theory down, head out into the boonies and practice what you have learnt. If you don’t live near the woods, go to your local park:

Let’s cut to the chase; what’s the principal reason hikers find themselves racing the meteorological clock in October?

In a nutshell – too much time off trail, not enough time walking. Obviously there are many reasons why individuals take breaks from their thru hikes (i.e. personal issues, injuries, finances, etc). However, if we are being completely honest, a lot of these October hikers find themselves behind the eight ball because they have spent too much time faffing about and partying in towns along the way. Double and triple zeros eventually add up. Before they know it, late September has arrived and they have only just reached the Bridge of the Gods on the OR/WA border.

What about all the fire closures in recent years?

In such scenarios, hikers usually have the choice of taking alternates or flip flopping up to areas that aren’t affected. Neither option is ideal, but if an area is closed, it is closed for a reason. In such scenarios the onus is on the hiker to adapt. Mother Nature never has a copy of your hiking itinerary.

Come on, mate, get off your soap box. Haven’t you heard the expression, “hike your own hike”? If these guys know the risks and still choose to continue, it’s their business.

Last year I wrote an article addressing this argument. It was titled, “When Hike Your Own Hike Ceases to Apply.” Here’s an excerpt:

“Once you make the decision to venture into conditions that you have neither the experience, skill and in many cases the equipment to handle, all bets are off. You have forfeited the right to “Hike your own Hike.”


Because not only have you put yourself at risk, you’ve potentially also placed the Search & Rescue (SAR) workers that have to come and find you in danger.

“Isn’t that their job?”

No, it’s not. At least it shouldn’t be. These individuals have more than enough to do as it is; the last thing they need is to be spending time and resources looking for ill prepared hikers, that more often than not have no one but themselves to blame for their predicament.”


How can PCT hikers maximise their chances of getting to Canada before October?:

Prioritise Hiking over Socialising: If your goal is to hike from Mexico to Canada, focus on doing just that. That doesn’t mean you have to be a monk or nun every time you hit town. What it does mean is that you should have a basic trip itinerary and stick to it as best you can. There will always be temptations; it comes down to how much you want to finish the hike.

If on the other hand, the social side of things is more important to you than reaching Canada, that’s fine as well, but be honest with yourself, and accept the fact that you may not be able to complete a single season thru hike.

Be Prepared: Unlike what some so-called experts will tell you, ‘Thru Hiking is not 90% Mental‘. Apart from being utter rubbish, this oft-heard mantra can give newbie hikers the wrong impression in regards to how much preparation they need to be doing for a PCT thru hike. Don’t get me wrong, mental strength and resilience obviously plays a part in any long distance hike, however, a balance needs to be struck. Basic skills such as navigation, how to ford swollen rivers, self-arrest with an ice axe, reading snow conditions, the importance of campsite selection, hydration strategies for the desert, etc, are all important if you hope to maximise your chances of reaching Canada in an average or greater snow year.

Accept and Adapt: Wilderness travel is by nature unpredictable. During your PCT journey, one of the only things of which you can be guaranteed is that unexpected shit will happen. Fires, storms, detours, logistical mishaps, pains, sprains and niggles. The list goes on. Try not to get too down or too up; learn to shrug your shoulders and have a chuckle. The universe isn’t conspiring against your thru hiking dreams. As best you can, accept and adapt to whatever Mother Nature and the trail throws your way. By doing so, the stumbling blocks become stepping stones, and the chances of not only reaching Canada before October, but more importantly having a great time in doing so, increase exponentially. 

Be Consistent: Do you know why so many old buggers in their 50’s (I’m almost there), 60’s and 70’s finish thru hikes, while a lot of younger, faster and stronger hikers, die in the ass before journey’s end? There are a few different reasons, but the big one is pacing and consistency. Channel your inner tortoise, stay in the “85% effort zone”, and finish each hiking day with a little left in the tank. That way you will invariably wake up feeling ready to go the next morning, and there will be less need to take as many zero days in towns for rest and recuperation.

Objective Observer: When faced with tough decisions in the backcountry, try to take pride and ego out of the equation, and look at situations as an objective observer rather than a subjective participant. In the case of finishing the PCT in October, I get it; Canada is so close that you can almost see the moose and Mounties. However, ignoring forecasts and venturing into dangerous conditions for which you aren’t prepared, is simply not worth the potential price. I’ve seen it way too many times over the years. Hikers unnecessarily putting both themselves, and the people that have to come and search for them into harm’s way. Remember that Canada’s not going anywhere, and while “the heart and spirit may be the catalysts for many of us heading out into the wilderness, when worst-case scenarios occur, usually it is what goes on between our ears that dictates whether or not we return home safely.”


When to Call it Quits on the Pacific Crest Trail — 28 Comments

  1. Three salient points:

    1. Never let your ego write checks your body can’t cash.
    2. Don’t be afraid to quit and come back another time.
    3. Be flexible.

    If it looks like you’re going to be late getting to Canada, do a flip from Ashland up to Cascade Locks. Finish WA, return to Cascade Locks, and go south to Ashland.

    Why south? It is easier to get in and out of Cascade Locks than Ashland.

    It should go without saying, but you DO have to be alive to finish the trail.

    • Point 3 is critical. Hiking Tahoe to Yosemite last year my buddies and I encountered a northbound solo hiker in her 70s walking up a windy pass. She was smiling from ear to ear, held her sun hat around her head with pantyhose and had a smaller pack than any of us. We thought she was out for a short hike, but in fact she was over 1,000 miles into the PCT. Her plan was to hike to Tahoe, then fly up to Canada and do the rest of the hike sobo. No ego about hitting the terminus last. As we moved sobo and encountered more and more PCT stragglers, we started suggesting they consider being flexible and perhaps following the pantyhose hiker’s plan.

  2. Alternatively, IF the snow levels in the far North Cascades are low enough when you reach Ashland, you could flip all the way north to Winthrop/Mazama and start north from Harts Pass. Go north to the border and then turn around and head south back to Ashland.

    CAVEAT: There is no public transportation from Seattle to Winthrop – about 150 miles, so getting there can be difficult. Call the Winthrop trail angel for suggestions. She can get you to Harts Pass from Winthrop.

    Wandering Bob

  3. An excellent article and most interesting.
    Being from a previous generation bought up on good pre-planing, map, compass and safety aim off navigation techniques and never having owned a GPS or PLB and only recently become the owner of a very basic cell phone would suggest that the babes in the woods should be required to pay in full the cost of rescue if they only rely on technological devices doomed to fail in adversity.
    A few years back I experienced a major earthquake! The havock from having no power, cell cover, internet, water, sewerage etc showed how fallible our modern systems and society are and that the modern folk are ill prepared for adversity in everyday life let alone in the wilderness.

  4. I finished the PCT in late October a number of years ago. The conditions do not sound as awful as those in 2017. I did opt to take some alternate trails between Snoqualmie and Stevens Pass due to an earlier fire closure and also due to snow conditions. There were other trails in that area at lower elevations. I did research alternate routes all the way to the Canadian border if the weather conditions on the PCT were too dangerous and spent a bit of time in Winthrop talking to knowledgeable hikers in the area to plan an alternate route from there if needed. Luckily the weather conditons worked in my favor. I checked the weather reports religiously. I even used a paid service where you could call a meteorologist who could give you a custom report for the area you were traveling in, including expected conditions at elevations in the mountains. I carried a GPS, maps, 2 different guidebooks, a compass, a phone, but no SPOT device. The walk from Rainy Pass to the border was snow-free even at the end of October. I wish you wouldn’t portray finishing the PCT in October as a failure or an impossibility. It requires a lot of extra planning (I upgraded all my gear as I headed into Washington knowing I was pushing the limits of the hiking season) it requires some knowledge, some realistic contingency plans (alternate routes to the border; not finishing the thru-hike if it’s unsafe.) It requires some luck weather-wise, but it can be done and plenty have done it in the past and will continue to do it in the future. The best thing that experienced outdoor travelers can do is to offer detailed advice for future thru-hikers on how best to prepare for the Cascades in October and how to determine when to call it quits because it’s too dangerous. Chastising people for not getting to the border by September will only so far in keeping people safe.

  5. Very well said – this should be required reading for all PCT hikers.

    It seems that the glamour growing around the trail has blinded people to the fact that it traverses serious mountain country. You see complete newbies who don’t even know what they don’t know. They don’t know how to navigate, or to cross streams, or to handle wet-cold, or to judge snow conditions, or to move safely over snow slopes. This is leading to a worrying level of avoidable fatalities and rescues.

    I had an interaction on YouTube this year with a young SOBO who had headed into Cascades in heavy snow conditions. It was plain from the video that she had no winter skills and had made a catastrophic serious of misjudgments leading to her becoming stranded on a snow-slope in a blind panic, at which point she “pressed the button”. The first rescue ‘copter suffered an engine failure so she nearly killed her rescuers as well as herself. She seemed to have learned nothing from the experience, but when I tried to gently point out that she needed to develop her skills before putting herself in that situation again she responded with virulent abuse. Even after a near-death experience she was still grossly overestimating her skills.

    Another aspect is the “stupid light” mentality. You see vloggers saying that paper maps are dead weight on the PCT and that you don’t need to carry a proper protractor compass. Or they head into the Sierras early in the season without a proper axe and foot-traction.

    For old-style mountaineers like me who have worked hard to develop a rounded skill set it’s concerning to see people heading into big mountains so ill-prepared. But the people who really need this information are unlikely to find it on a specialised blog like this. Can anyone suggest any practical steps to improve the awareness of newbie hikers? For example, approaching the moderators of the PCT FaceBook groups to pin this post to the top of their pages?

    • I wonder if this could be accomplished via the permitting system? Not sure if it still works this way, but when I hiked the PCTA would arrange for you to get a thru-hiking permit for all the parks for $5. It is/was a great service. Assuming it’s still how things work, that process could be changed to require an educational component- perhaps hikers would have to watch some videos about trail safety, what equipment to carry, stream crossing and snow travel and the risks of hiking in N. Washington in the fall. They should have to answer a test to be able to qualify for a thru-hiking permit. The process would probably cost more than $5, but I think a lot of hikers like the convenience of getting a permit all the way to the border and even the experienced ones wouldn’t be bothered by having to sit through some online videos and an online test. I did a hike once in a National Park in Newfoundland that was pretty dangerous, with fog and bad weather being common, and the Park rangers required hikers to have a locator beacon, file a trip plan and demonstrate that they knew how to properly use a map and compass. (GPS was not sufficient). Otherwise they wouldn’t issue a permit.

      On a side note, I thru-hiked several years ago before phone gps was a common thing and was shocked by the number of hikers I met who didn’t carry maps (or shelters for that matter). One group had to be rescued early on because they got lost. I talked to them later in the hike and one of them told me they had thrown out their maps to save weight. (??!!?!?)

      • I always carry maps, but trim them down to the route plus 1 mile corridor
        Then I make them bulletproof by running them through a plastic laminating machine.
        Adds a lot of weight. Maybe 5grams

      • Yes, relying on a single electronic device for navigation seems hellish risky to me.

        Now that we have digital mapping it’s pretty trivial to print out the route itself in detail as a strip, and a wider map at a smaller scale so you can select escape routes if you need to bail. The weight is pretty trivial, and you can easily carry enough to cover a couple of months walking, and update your maps from your bounce box.

        Or you can at least carry some backup electronics. Experienced UK hiker TrampLite (Colin Ibbotson) simply takes a second phone as a backup in remote areas, or some people carry a phone and a tablet. This would reduce the risk by an order of magnitude provided you ensure that the same event couldn’t knock out both devices.

        Personally I prefer something on paper, but I’m old-school and very rarely bother with GPS.

        The question of having some kind of test as a permit precondition does make sense – in Canada some areas make you complete a course on bear safety, while I think in the US some areas make you take a course on fire prevention. In the US people seem to be used to permits and other controls from park authorities so it might work OK. When you consider the cost of actually undertaking the hike, a slightly higher charge for the permit wouldn’t be a significant burden. And when you consider that it might save SAR responders from having to risk their lives in avalanche conditions, it’s surely something worth exploring.

        Perhaps someone who’s a member could suggest this to the PCTA (though it’s a pretty obvious idea, so perhaps there’s a reason why it’s not been implemented).

        Of course navigation isn’t something you can learn overnight, and carrying an axe doesn’t mean you can use it (as a number of YouTube
        PCT videos demonstrate). But anything is better than nothing, and many hikers seem to seriously underestimate the challenges.

  6. A sound article with some sound advice.

    I feel there is far too little emphasis on snow in the Cascades. When people speak of Washington they talk about the rain, and how hikers are going to get wet -fair enough, but that rain can quickly turn into snow.

    One of the problems of reading the weather in WA is that it’s overcast so much of the time, which means one of three things; 1. It’s just going to be an overcast day. 2. It is going to rain on this day. 3. It is going to snow today -all three look identical in the skies, ‘overcast’.

    When the snow does start to fly in WA, an additional issue hikers face is that there are fewer towns along the way to get off the trail, meaning hikers can easily get stranded on the trail in a snowstorm waiting for a break in the weather.

    Finally, getting stranded in a snowstorm with ultra-light gear in the Cascades can be dangerous. This is stated on the PCTA website, but everyone seems to just gloss over this fact. My tent may be a little heavier than most hikers, but I know (first-hand) it will stand up to Mother Natures temper tantrum.

  7. Great article.. I can relate, not as a thru hiker, but one who has recreated outdoors his whole life. I’m also lucky to be a lifelong skier so have a healty appreciation of winter conditions, esp from backcountry skiing and winter snow camping.

    Just this Sept, to early Oct, had to cut short a six day section hiking going thru mt adams and goat rock wildernesses. NOBO.

    It had snowed hard the week prior, hiking in 6″-12″ snows around mt adams in sunny shirt sleeve and shorts weather. Then two days of rain followed by snow on day four and all that night along w high winds.

    We were to traverse the ‘knife’s edge’ in the Goats on day five. But two days of wet gear, shoes, socks etc, not to mention the unknown conditions up high, we bailed and hiked out to the Snowgrass Trailhead. Hiked/hitched to hwy then called our designated ride back home.

    We talked w SOBO thru hikers the days before, one had to bivie on the KE in a whiteout, others, you could tell how they discussed it, the KE was going to be ‘spicy’ at a minimum. Trail angels at White Pass were telling the thru hikers not to go south.

    I figure those mts have been there a few million years, they might still be there next summer.

    The only reason we left for this trip as late in the fall as we did, was ironically fires in Oregon and elsewhere in WA.

    Live for another day…!

  8. Great article and many valid comments; thank you. Hiking the WA portion late this summer, I was struck by (a) the disappearance last year of a still-missing thru-hiker who was last seen mid-state on **October 22**, and (b) the fact that many long distance hikers weren’t carrying maps or a magnetic compass. Kinda gave me pause …

  9. After 35 years of volunteer Rescue work, some of it for missing PCT hikers in sec J almost all of them were in Sept-Oct for said reasons in your article, I can say there is no fun in notifying the family’s of your demise which is few thankfully, just recently as OCT 23, 2017, two thru hikers were rescued 150 miles short of Canada all because they ran into over 4 ft of snow and they had a PLB in which to call for help , a Personal Locator Beacon or GPS equipped with Satellite texting can save your life.

  10. Thank you so much for this article! My husband and I are planning to thru hike either the PCT or the CDT hopefully next year. We have never done this before so I am trying to learn all that I can because I want us to succeed. Because of reading this article, I will definitely work on my navigational skills with maps and a compass in addition to physical preparation. And yeah, I’m in my early 50s so past the “I’m invincible” part of my life and into the “be prepared so I can survive” part, lol. All the comments are great too, thanks for all the great advice! Hope to see you on the trail next year!

  11. Excellent article! I particularly found your comments about the difference between going through the Sierra and the Cascades with snow enlightening. We always carry map and compass and know how to use it. Eliminating them to save weight is pure folly; protecting your life is more important than lightening your pack weight a couple of ounces.
    We section-hiked the entire PCT–completed WA and into Canada on 9/8/2010. We had snow in the Cascades during our last week–not deep, but enough to know that I wouldn’t have wanted to be there in October. We also had rain day after day–nothing that got wet would dry. That, of course, can lead to hypothermia if one is not careful. I’ll link to this excellent post in my newsletter.

  12. Those WA SAR folks putting their lives in danger to save you (avy risk was off the charts)?
    They are volunteers. This isn’t their “job”, they’re not paid. No tax funding.
    Yet they will put their lives on the line to save your ass. Don’t abuse this – please.

  13. Thank you for all the comments.

    The increasing number of ill-prepared hikers needing to be rescued (not just on the PCT, but in many other backcountry areas as well), is obviously an issue that needs to be addressed. Maybe it’s just the optimist in me, but I’d like to think that the more information we can get out there, the better the chances that at least a few of these hikers will think twice about continuing on into conditions for which they aren’t equipped. Or better yet, by realising in advance the potential dangers of a late October finish, they will start the trail better prepared, and make every effort to finish by the end of September.

  14. Ed Viesturs, an extreme mountaineer who meter peak without oxygen and who guided on Everest as well as participated in some of the more publicized rescues on Everest wrote “No Shortcuts to the top”in which he said (paraphrasing) “getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory.”

    He goes on to say, being stranded on the summit and not being able to get down, may result in death.

    I’ve hiked and climbed in the Cascades for years, and even got stuck in the crater of Mt Rainier with nine of my close friends because of a whiteout. That was on July 5, 1975……. a whiteout, with snow, high winds, sleet and for which we were prepared with shelter, stoves, food and water, and a Radio to base camp. We were there for three days listening to Dr. Demento out of Los Angeles……yes, we carried a transistor Radio.

    Our Cascade range is deadly and Fall storms sneak in and are often deadly.

    The advice in this article is absolutely correct.

  15. I agree with what SC said. At least on the east coast, most people involved in land search are volunteers, so not only do they not get paid, they spend sizable amounts of their own money to find you. Hint: every one of them has their own compass! Everybody setting out into the wilderness should first read Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzalez, to gain some insight into what makes YOU tick.

  16. A very good read. Too many hikers forget that just because you love the mountains that does not mean the mountains love you. Tinker Bell Land it is not!

  17. I live in the mountains and dealt with the latest rescued hikers. I warned them over and over to not go into a storm they knew was headed in that very day. All my warning went in one ear and out the other. Dylan’s response after being rescued and endangering many SAR members lives who were turned around by Avy danger was to post “WHO GOT THE MOST HELICOPTER MILES ON THE PCT” Anyone who questioned his ever changing story and poor choices were either blocked or admonished by many in the Class of 2017 page. Dylan’s attention seeking behavior and choices could have killed him and many on the rescue teams that went in to save him. I am truly amazed at this arrogant attitude many hikers have now that “I WILL BE SAVED” if they just hit a spot device. THE FACT IS THAT HAD THE STORM NOT LIFTED BOTH THESE BOYS WOULD HAVE DIED AS IT REQUIRED A HELICOPTER TO RESCUE THEM IN THE NORTH CASCADES AS NO ONE COULD GET THROUGH ON THE SIDE TRAILS!!! We lost Chris Fowler aka SHERPA here in the White Pass area and I don’t want to see another life lost but it will take a miracle to get some and thank god a few to heed the warnings give over and over and over. This was a sad year for PCT as many lives were lost. My heart goes out to the families who did loose loved ones. We should Look at Dylan Zitawi’s story as an example of what a hiker should never do and stop giving him Kuddo’s for endangering so many lives. Please lets learn from this year.

    • Kathryn – a sobering dose of reality. As I say in my post above I had an online encounter with a SOBO who was rescued in the Cascades early in the season and had a similar attitude to this Dylan Zitawi. Worryingly, everyone on the thread was congratulating her on her bravery. When I tried to point out that she had no winter skills or experience, that she’d made a series of grave misjudgments and that she’d put her rescuers lives at risk she responded with attitude abuse. There’s a worrying culture growing around this trail – it may look very glamorous in a Hollywood movie but big mountains are big mountains and need to be respected.

  18. I’ve talked safety and risk management with a lot of people curious about my CDT thru hike that “I can stay safe not because I’m tough and can handle everything, but because I will turn tail and run if I think I should”. I got chased out of the San Juan’s this year by an early snowstorm, then tried to get back on trail after it was over. After about two miles of walking in sunny but cold weather through snow, I decided that the conditions were objectively beyond what my lightweight three season kit was designed to handle for any length of time, especially with another storm forecasted to hit if I couldn’t manage 26+ miles every day. I enjoyed the cold and snowy walk for a few more miles, then took the next side trail down which dropped me down away from the snow into a valley and towards Molas pass, a popular trailhead and developed campsite. I passed several groups of weekend warriors who were out backpacking, but had legitimate winter gear and much lower mileage goals.

    I shook my head at people who later posted happily on Facebook about braving those same conditions that turned me away, proud that they had done it with no snow equipment whatsoever. It was a huge pain in the butt to get back to the trailhead in the first place and another huge pain in the butt to get back off trail again, but I was fully self sufficient during that time (other than needing a hitch to town of course…) with no intrusion on anyone else’s experience. I would much rather deal with a hassle and lost time than the embarrassment of needing to be rescued, even if the chance is slim.

    If I ever need to get rescued, I want it to be from a pure accident (like slipping on a rock and breaking my ankle. everyone trips sometimes.), NOT from a dumb misjudgment.

  19. I agree completely. What struck me as odd when I did my AT thru in 2010 was how few hikers actually have wilderness survival skills. I’m pretty well trained, and it seemed really weird to have people in the woods with absolutely no knowledge about those important things.

    It did come in handy a few times, started early, March 5th, and snow was really bad that year in the beginning. Got a few fires going for morale in the smokies shelters, took about an hour because everything was wet, but it cheered the place up to have a nice fire after slogging through 2 feet of snow all day.

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