How to Start

Get in shape and practice

It’s important to be in shape when you start your southbound thru-hike.  You begin in Washington where the elevation gain/loss are dramatic and you’ll be whipped into shape whether you like it or not; problem is, will your body allow that to happen without injury.  It’s always good to be physically fit especially when you are planning to walk 4,265 km through rugged mountainous terrain.

I decided to do the hike six months prior to my start date which left me with a good amount of time to purchase my gear and get some practice.  As I acquired new equipment I would go out into Gatineau Park, Canada and practice with it.  Plan several 2-3 night weekend hiking trips walking about 20+ km per day.  You will naturally learn about your equipment and you’ll identify any problems early on so you’re not stuck in a tricky situation out in the middle of no where.  In fact, when I was training on the Bruce Trail in March I started too quickly and intensely that I developed IT band syndrome (ITBS).  It was so painful I could hardly move, every step was excruciating pain shooting up and down my leg from me side knee.  I had two months to heal my ITBS and I did Yoga every morning with light walking which did the trick!

Book your flight

All trips become real when you book the flight.  This is important so do it now!  I booked my flight for June 15 which ended up being a little bit early because of the snow in Washington at that time.  However, I cheaply killed a week in Washington by taking a five day warm-up hike on the PCT near Snoqualamie.  When I arrived in Seattle I stayed two nights at Seattle City Hostel, the cheapest option, which allowed me to visit REI, tour the city, buy food, and send my bounce bucket up the trail.  To get to Snoqualamie I posted an ad on Craig’s List asking for a ride for $30 to the trailhead and I importantly described that I was a hiker and my intention.  Note, people love to help hikers, it’s a natural law.  An excredibley nice man named Doug replied back and said he would take me for $20!

Snow Conditions

Be aware that you will encounter snow in Washington and it’s important to keep an eye on the snow reports when planning your start date.  Keep an eye on the Southbound PCT Facebook page and the reports below.  There is no exact rule for picking your start date inregards to snow levels but a general rule of thumb is to start when there is no snow at Hart’s Pass.

Getting to the trailhead

  1. Fly to Seattle
    Stayed at City Hostel Seattle
  2. Greyhound Seattle to Mt. Vernon
    Stayed at The Tulip Inn and did my first food supply (8 days) at Walmart
  3. Uber or taxi to Sedro-Wooley park and ride
    I sent a food box to Stehekin from the US Post Office in Burlington, but you could do that from Seattle
  4. Take route 717 Skagit Transit to Concrete
    You may be able to arrange a ride to Mazama or Heart’s Pass from another hiker or trail angel using the PCT 2017 southbound facebook group from Concrete.
  5. Hitch to Hart’s Pass (Mazama)
    You have reached the trail now, good luck!

Other starting trail heads

  1. Harts Pass (accessed via a good quality dirt road) then hike north for ~30 miles. This is the best option.
  2. Rainy Pass (hwy 20) then hike north for ~60 miles.
  3. Ross Lake provides access to the PCT via long, but beautiful connector trails. A boat shuttle runs up Ross Lake and can shorten the hike along the Pacific Northwest Trail. Contact local agencies for conditions reports. If you start your hike from Ross Lake on the Pacific Northwest Trail you will need to pickup a camping permit from Marblemount Ranger Station (360-854-7245). Hike the Pacific Northwest Trail/Devil’s Dome Trail to the PCT at Holman Pass. It is 36.5 miles from Ross Dam to the PCT; trail conditions may be difficult. This is the recommended option.
  4. The Lightning Creek Trail to Boundary Trail to the PCT at Castle Pass has not been maintained in many years. Reports indicate thick brush and serious blow down issues.



Next: Washington →