First was Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir of her life-affirming 1,000-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” Then, premiering in late 2014 at the Telluride Film Festival was “Wild,” the movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.
Both the memoir and film have sparked increased interest in the PCT. According to Jack Haskell, Pacific Crest Trail Association trail information specialist, the events have dramatically increased permit applications. Although the information is from self-reporting by hikers, Haskell estimates that in 2014 more than 400 hikers finished the 2,650-mile thru-hike, up from an average of 200 in previous years. Haskell said applications for 2015 are up 30 percent or more over 2014 numbers. “We have reason to think that ‘Wild,’ being such an important film and huge success, should translate into quite an increase in traffic on the trail.”
Randy Burton of Pasadena (trail name “Rebo”) was one of the first hikers sighted passing by the Town Crier on the way to Humber Park to continue his first PCT thru-hike. Burton passed by the Crier just before noon Monday, March 30. “I’ve hiked the San Gabriels and Mount Rainier but this is my first long-distance hike,” he said. Burton plans to hike the full 2,650-mile distance, finishing in five to six months.
Haskell said the vast majority of thru hikers travel from south to north, starting in late April or early May, traversing California, Oregon and Washington. With drought conditions in California, many hikers are starting earlier this year, said Haskell. “The biggest obstacles this year to hiking the complete trail are sections closed by wildfires,” he observed.
While most hikers take five to six months to complete the full trail in a snow-free season, Haskell noted that some gifted athletes can complete the full hike in less than three months, hiking 35 miles a day and not injuring themselves. Haskell pointed out that Strayed, like many, did not hike the full trail, completing just over 1,000 miles.
The Trail Association website estimates that 700 to 800 people in past years head out intending to hike the full trail with perhaps 50 percent finishing. Male to female ratio is 70 to 30 percent, although Haskell said more women are hiking each year. More than 3,000 people have completed the trail. To date, 68 have done it more than once. Thru-hikers are often known to each other only by their trail names, generally given to them by other hikers, based on observed personal habits or quirks. If you were hiking last year, you might have met up with Patches Pal, Catdog, Mr. Blister, Stumbles or Happy Feet.
But if you had hiked, you might have experienced what Strayed did — a total renewal and complete cleansing. Said Haskell, “There is a mental clarity that comes though long-distance hiking. And the real views on the PCT are even better than those in the film.”
Idyllwild residents are noted for their hospitality to PCT hikers, often offering hikers rides from the trailhead into town and back, and even accommodations. Towns on the Appalachian Trail are designated as Appalachian Trail Communities by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, because of their hospitality and amenities for thru-hikers. As of yet, there is not such designation for PCT towns, but should there be one, Idyllwild would be on it.