Once I started researching the PCT thru-hike I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to go south. For me the trip was about getting away from society, the economy, the office, and my routine. In 2016 approximately 4000 people started in Campo and hiked north while approximately 200 people started at Harts Pass and hiked south. Much fewer people attempt the southbound hike which makes it special in terms of providing you space to explore the outdoors. Though there are fewer people who attempt southbound there are still plenty of hikers you will see on the trail everyday. The longest I went without seeing anyone was 3 days, which is an incredibly rare experience in our normal everyday life.
- No starting permit required (flexible starting date)
If you go north you will be required to obtain a starting permit. 50 hikers per day are allowed to start from Campo and you need to apply for a start date which you may not get if that day has already filled up. When going south no starting permit is required and you can choose whichever date fits your schedule.
- Washington first and the north cascades empty
You will have miles of trail in the north cascades all for yourself during the most beautiful time of the year. And if you for whatever reason get knocked off the trail prematurely then you will have at least done, in many hikers opinion, the most beautiful part of the trail.
- Washington Mountaineering
Some people won’t view this as a positive but I started the trail June 23 and ran into some steep snow sections where I was glad to have spikes and an ice axe. I enjoyed learning basic mountaineering skills like crossing step snow slopes, glacading, identifying snow bridges, and crossing cold rivers. Also, the snow covered peaks of the north cascades are so pretty.
- Water everywhere in Washington
You won’t even need to think about your next water source while hiking Washington. At this time of year water is so abundant that you should be carrying no more that 500 mL between sources. A good technique for keeping your pack weight down is to hydrate while you are at the water source and carry as little as possible to the next source.
- Temperatures are generally cooler
It is so nice to hike in cool temperature especially when you are carrying a pack. The temperature in Washington during July is great for hiking, you will have some cold stretches at the start when you hit the higher elevations, so be prepared with your shoulder season gear at the beginning. The hottest part of a southbound hike will likely come in southern Oregon and northen California. Temperatures will start to cool off again when you get into the Seirras and the desert will be much more comfortable than what many northbounders experience.
- Empty campsites
Full campsites are rarely a problem when going south. The busiest time will be in Oregon where you will be running into all of the northbounders, but other than that you can expect to enjoy many great available campsites. Also remember you don’t need to camp only at map way points. Take a look at your topographical maps for flat areas and cool ridge lines and you will find some amazing spots where not too many others will venture.
- Less bugs in the Seirras
I reached the Seirras in late September and there was absolutely no bugs. You will run into bugs whatever direction you go, but my feeling is that going south generally has fewer bugs.
- Water is more scarce in the desert
Water sources tend to dry up over the course of the summer but water caches are prevalent. I didn’t have any issues getting through the desert and at no time did I carry more than 4 L of water.
- Some trail stops close in the fall
A few stops in the Seirras close down by the time you can reach them unless you are crushing miles like a madman. Places like Tuolumne Meadows, VVR, Muir Ranch, and a few others may not be open. Don’t worry you can still make it through without these stops. In fact, I still stopped by the Muir Ranch while it was closed and had a soak in the hot spings.
- Bugs in Oregon
The worst bugs you’ll experience on a southbound hike is in Oregon while the temperatures are nice and the bugs are happy.
- Big elevation change in Washington
Be prepared to be fit when starting a southbound hike as Washington has a lot of elevation gain and loss. This makes it more difficult to have the trail whip you into shape without sustaining an injury.
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