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Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail - San Jose Mercury News

For two days, we had labored in thin air under heavy packs, clearing the trail's highest pass between Yosemite and Canada, while attempting an ambitious pace of 15 miles a day. As much as we enjoyed the wildflowers and rocky scenery, the last miles leading to Ebbetts Pass beat up both our bodies and morale. That was when we spotted the cardboard sign.

"Trail magic," it said.

Curious, we ventured down the path and met a Pacific Crest Trail veteran and three companions, who welcomed us into their camp and offered us cold drinks, fresh fruit and, within minutes, hot cheeseburgers. Sam enjoyed meaty treats and a dish of water. We had met our first trail angels, heaven-sent friends of PCT backpackers, who greet hikers with food and drinks. And we met more along the way.

"I've hiked the entire trail three times, and I want to give something back," explained our new friend Lizard. Everyone has a trail name up here -- his companions included Burger Meister and Forever Fifty.

A wonderful hour later, we were back on the trail, with muscles and spirits refreshed. We spent that night beneath the stars at Sherrold Lake. Zach and I enjoyed it, at least. Sam, unused to sleeping outdoors, growled at many unseen critters in the night. The next day, we enjoyed the lakes, streams, meadows and peaks of the Mokelumne Wilderness, feeling stronger as our packs got lighter.

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But WHERE in the Pacific Trail to hike?

For avid hikers and backpackers, the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest is the holy grail of trails. It runs through California, Oregon and Washington, from the Mexican to the Canadian borders. About 700 to 900 people attempt the full length each year, according to estimates from the Pacific Crest Trail Association, which calls them "thru-hikers." The hardy few who make it -- roughly half -- take about five months to reach the finish line. Hundreds of thousands more tackle the trail a piece at a time.

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