WOLFVILLE -- Simon Irving of Wolfville set himself a 4,270-km challenge recently - to walk the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) in less than four months.
The trail is a pathway through some of the most scenic terrain in the United States. It begins in southern California at the Mexican border, travels through California, Oregon, and Washington ending up at the Canadian border.
Irving first started researching the trail about three years ago. As a 2016 geology grad, however, he didn’t have the funds to head out until this spring.
“I knew I was going,” he says, “but I looked at various trips.”
Once he was determined, Irving had to get in line because the PCT utilizes a permitting system. Initially all the popular starting dates were snapped up.
“I got mine on Jan. 30, that’s when a space opened up.” It was May 11. Then he had to start preparing and gathering his gear while working at a gold mine on the eastern shore.
Hikers have to determine their resupply points among the 32 communities adjacent to the trail. Most hitchhike back and forth, Irving said.
“It’s such a unique experience,” he reflected.
“When the weather is unique, nothing prepares you for it.”
The pathway goes through 25 national forests and seven national parks. Conditions vary from desert to snow cover.
At Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevadas, the trail reaches a height of 13,150 feet. In northern California he remembers the smoke from some brutal fires, as well as wildflower season.
Irving recalls 700 miles of desert populated by an endless wind farm, which took three and a half days to walk through at 40C. He remembers the itch of mosquito season when he walked with a bug net over his face.
“You couldn’t eat outside,” he said, but some breathtakingly beautiful views more than made up for the insects with what Irving called cathedrals of stone.
The PCT through Oregon was pretty flat.
“I blazed through it doing 35 or 36 miles a day,” he said, adding that he only had one more state to cross.
“Washington was my personal favourite state,” he said, noting that it was there he and his buddies faced rain for seven days straight.
“You had wet socks, wet clothes and a wet tent. It was a suffer fest,” Irving chuckled. “Temperatures went down to zero overnight and there was sleet. It was beautiful, but tough. It really challenged you.”
Fortunately, he often hiked with strangers of different nationalities who became friends. “We had a good group morale. I think that’s why we ended up friends because we got through it together.”
According to Irving, the trail was well marked, but sometimes they had to take detours to avoid fires. Acknowledging that he is still processing the experience, he knows it taught him mental toughness.
“You have to hike. I found I could be adaptable over six or seven climate zones. You hike your own hike. I’m happy with what I did.”
Most hikers take about five months to finish the PCT, but Irving pushed through about 30 days faster by stopping less often and taking fewer off days. He avoided injuries like stress fractures, but soldiered on through a severe allergic reaction and the loss of 30 pounds.
He also got to meet some ‘trail angels,’ local residents who went out of their way to assist hikers. Once needing new shoes, he encountered a man who drove him 90 minutes each way to the store.
“He was a super generous man, just generosity from start to finish. I never expected that.”
Irving took the nickname ‘Rawhide’ while on the PCT. He encountered rattlesnakes, a black bear and a mountain lion, while his parents followed him from across the country on Google Earth.
In the end reaching the Canadian border was a bit disorienting.
“It took me a long time to get back in the swing of things, wearing real clothes and having showers after being thrown back into the real world.”
“I enjoyed all of it,” he concluded. “It was such a long adventure. There were some awesome places and I have stories from every part of the trail.”