My hike started on May 8 and ended on October 28th. Before I started, I knew that it would probably be impossible to hike the entire PCT, given that at least a portion of the trail was sure to close due to summer wildfires; I hoped to complete a continuous footpath from Mexico to Canada by walking around the closures. However, in 2017 there were many closures, and I didn’t feel safe walking around most of them, either because the alternate routes involved long miles of highway walking or because the fires were so active that the official closure areas were changing daily.
In all, I missed 239 miles of trail:
28.1 miles from Sonora to Ebbetts Pass (CA) due to extreme (65mph) wind and feeling unsafe going solo.
61.2 miles from Seiad Valley to I-5/Ashland (CA/OR) due to fire closure.
65.8 miles from Hwy 140 (Fish Lake) to northern Crater Lake Rim trail (OR) due to fire closure.
31.3 miles from Elk Lake to McKenzie Pass (OR) due to fire closure.
52.3 miles from White Pass to Government Camp (WA) due to fire closure.
Looking at this another way, I hiked a total of 2,545 miles this summer. This number includes all of the “bonus” miles I hiked: backtracking from Mount Whitney to Crabtree Meadows, returning to Harts Pass from the Canadian border, road-walking around the Jefferson Wilderness fires, etc.
Now that I’m home and back at work, people want to know if I hiked “the whole thing.” Obviously I didn’t…but this is still a difficult question to answer. How much of the trail did I hike? In one sense, I hiked all but 28 miles of the 2017 PCT. The rest of the trail was officially closed.
2017 was an exceptionally challenging year for a PCT thru-hike. I met a few people who [claimed to have] hiked the whole thing, straight through the snowy Sierra, around every fire closure. Most of us didn’t. Couldn’t, for our own reasons. If my timing had been different, if I hadn’t gotten sick, if I’d had a hiking partner, if I was more willing to take risks, if, if, if….maybe I could have walked all the way from Mexico to Canada.
I have very mixed feelings about the miles I missed, and how they fit into my personal definition of a thru-hike. But I’m proud of this: I never gave up, or abandoned my hike. I kept walking until I was staring winter in the face – and facing the end of my leave of absence from work. I consider myself a thru-hiker. I thru-hiked the PCT this year, but I couldn’t walk all the way from Mexico to Canada. One day, I will.