Tuesday, August 25, 2015

PCT or OCT? This summer, maybe the OCT

I just finished backpacking 100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon (Santiam Pass to Barlow Pass on Mount Hood). GREAT trip. Beautiful trip. Smoky trip. Very smoky.

I also just received an e-mail from someone who had been planning to hike the PCT through the Mount Adams area in southern Washington but, given all the fires burning (and trail closures) has decided to do a few days on the Oregon Coast Trail instead. Not a bad idea. Some additional thoughts about PCT versus OCT in late summer 2015:

There are a LOT of people hiking the PCT this summer. Presumably it's the Wild effect: I read that hits to the PCT Association website were up nine-fold this year. Last time I section-hiked the PCT (Crater Lake to McKenzie pass) was 14 years ago: we didn't encounter more than 6 or 8 through-hikers in 143 miles, and we never camped with anyone else. This year it was a race to the campsites; at Warm Springs River, we camped with more than a dozen other backpackers, most of them through-hikers. In fact, rarely did we not camp with other people. The through-hikers are great people: they roll in late, they're up and out early, they're very low-impact, and I don't think they are responsible for the large piles of poo and toilet paper we found at a couple of campsites. Still, there are a lot of people out there on the trail this year.

There are a lot of fires in the Cascades. And they're only growing, at least as of today. About half the time during our section hike the sky was very smoky. And we made a quick exit from Jefferson Park after a tanker helicopter suddenly appeared and started sucking water out of Russell Lake, then returned every 3 minutes for more. Turns out he was filling a firefighting reservoir, and the fire on the Warm Springs Reservation wasn't THAT close. Yet. But it got very smoky very fast, and it was pretty scary.

The fires are causing lots of trail closures. Every year there are some, but what a drag for people who managed to hike from Mexico to Washington and then to have to take a big detour, or even quit.

The Oregon Coast Trail is an entirely different animal: not nearly as remote, for one thing. But it doesn't require as much planning either: no water filtering or stress about water sources, no food drops, etc. If you haven't firmed up your late summer/early fall backpacking plans, it's something to consider.

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