It’s that time of year again, when, with the promise of spring, or snow, Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers begin arriving in Idyllwild. Friends of the Idyllwild Library is hosting a talk at 3 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, by two veteran PCT thru-hikers, Paul and Alice Bodnar. Paul has completed the 2,650-mile trek three times, the first in 1997, and Alice once. They will discuss preparation for the hike, the nature of the trail, challenges faced in completing the hike, as well as an app they developed to aid hikers in their traverse. Their talk is free to the public and light refreshments will be available.
For this year’s hikers, the annual “Day Zero” kick-off party at Lake Moreno County Park has been canceled.
Organizers said they were not able to secure a contract until February for the park in Campo (San Diego County), where the party is traditionally held and that gave them too little time to prepare to stage the event. “We didn’t have enough time to plan the type of educational and fun event that we’ve become know for, so we’ve decided to take a year off,” posted organizers on their site.
So Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off is postponed until April 2017.
The PCT hike, popularized by Cheryl Strayed’s book “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” and the subsequent widely viewed movie “Wild,” sparked increased interest and participation in the five- to six-month hike. Requests for permits spiked after the well-reviewed film. Northbound PCT hikers traditionally begin arriving in Idyllwild in April.
For Strayed and many who complete the hike from California to Canada, the annual trek is life-changing. Although the PCT Association has no fully accurate method for counting the number of thru-hikers who complete the hike, hiker-furnished names of those completing the trail escalated from 200 to more than 600 after the film.
For many planning the full hike, the start date is a key factor. Starting too early could place hikers in dangerous snow conditions on Mt. San Jacinto and in the Sierras. When starting too late, hikers could face the same treacherous snow conditions in early fall traversing the Cascades into Canada. Ninety percent of recent hikers hike from south to north.
Well-equipped hikers pack smart — careful to have lightweight bedding and equipment, and with planned itineraries that include restocking at local post offices in towns along the route. In addition to carving out the time to make the hike, thru-hikers typically spend $4,000 to $8,000 for transportation to the trail, equipment and on-trail expenses, depending on lifestyle choices.
Idyllwild has become known as a PCT hiker-friendly town, for its hospitality to the 400 or more hikers who make use of Idyllwild infrastructure to regroup, restock and relax over a one-month period in April and May. Local hospitality often includes rides from Humber Park into town, meals, shower facilities and sometimes lodging. It certainly includes smiles and the oft-used encouragement, “Have a good hike.”
As this is being written, Idyllwild is experiencing a heavy snowfall — sure to blanket and confuse the already budding flowering lilac trees, daffodils and fruit trees, and to potentially complicate PCT hikers’ plans. A few early bird thru-hikers have already been sighted in Idyllwild.
Snow on Mt. San Jacinto can occur even in late spring. In May 2005, PCT hiker John Donovan of Virginia, got lost on the trail because of snow. He hiked in the direction of the lights in Palm Springs and got trapped in a box canyon. His body was not discovered for a year. Oddly enough, Donovan was discovered by two tram hikers who became lost and wound up in the same box canyon that had trapped Donovan. The tram hikers were rescued, having used some matches they found at Donovan’s camp to light a signal fire.