Historical data

I went on the PCTA website and pulled out some interesting numbers. They only have reliable date from 2013. Prior to that, a single permit could be issued for up to 8 hikers so they really aren’t sure how many people attempted the thru-hike before 2013. The numbers of successful completions are based on self-reports. The incentive for someone to report a successful thru-hike to the PCTA is a nice medallion. So nearly everyone reports their completion to get the medallion, and perhaps some that don’t really complete the hike, as well.

2013: Total thru-hike permits issued: 1,041. Northbound thru-hike permits: 988. Southbound thru-hike permits: 53. Thru hikes successfully completed: 274. Success rate: 26%.

2014: Total thru-hike permits issued: 1,461. Northbound thru-hike permits: 1,367. Southbound thru-hike permits: 94. Thru hikes successfully completed: 482. Success rate: 33%.

2015: Total thru-hike permits issued: 2,808. Northbound thru-hike permits: 2,486. Southbound thru-hike permits: 322. Thru hikes successfully completed: 647. Success rate: 23%.

2016: The official numbers won’t be released until after the first of next year. I counted up northbound permits issued for the Mexican border. There were 3,274 through June 30. These permits are for 500+ miles on the PCT. There is no way to know what percentage of those are thru-hikers, though I’m sure the vast majority are. But some permits are for long section hikers.

There were roughly 2,160 permits issued prior to my start date. If everyone with a permit started and on their permitted date, I was about # 2,160 to start the trail.

At mile 211 was a trail angels’ house – Ziggy and the Bear. It is in the desert and nearly everyone had to stop there for water. They carefully register and photograph everyone that comes through and I was # 1,209. A lot of people dropped out early, I passed a lot of people in the desert, and some may never have started so somehow I moved up about 950 spots.

The PCTA lists all the completers as they self report but they enter the data in batches. When I reported my finish, there were 62 names already on the list. When my name showed up on the list last week, there were 147 names. So I finished roughly in the 62-147 range, though many could have, and probably did, finished before me and not reported in yet.

The PCT is not a race but I feel an extra sense of accomplishment finishing near the front of the pack after starting near the back of the pack.

Gear review

I won’t go into depth here but will touch on some of the important items:

Pack: ZPacks Arc Blast. Use again? Definitely. Very comfortable. Plenty big. Some webbing needed repair halfway through but it was 3 years old.

Tent: Big Agnes Fly Creek 2. Use again? Yes. A joy to setup. Plenty big. Zipper failed in Oregon, as many Fly Creek 2’s did, and had to replace tent.

Sleeping bag: ZPacks 20 degree quilt. Use again? No. Not warm enough. I added down to it in WA and that helped. But had to wear all 4 of my layers to keep warm on 35 degree nights. I shivered on 30 degree nights.

Sleeping pad: Full length Neo Air. Use again? Definitely. No leaks. Very comfortable.

Favorite pieces of gear:

SanDisk MP3 player. Holds 2000+ songs. Didn’t have to use phone to listen to music. Always clipped to my shirt. Light – 0.9 oz.

Patagonia Houdini wind jacket. Super light at 3.9 oz (large). Durable. Still looks new. I wore it everyday.

Sea to Summit inflatable pillow. Well worth the 3.1 ounces. Slept better with a pillow.

10 foot charging cord for my phone. This came in handy so many times in restaurants and other recharging places.

RailRiders Journeyman shirt and Eco-Mesh pants. Both treated to repel mosquitoes and other bugs. Wore them every day. Expensive. Durable. Comfortable. Lots of pockets. Dries quickly. Well worth the money. You’ve seen enough pictures of these.

Here are my favorite pieces of gear, minus the RailRiders shirt and pants.

Gear that needed repair/replace:

Sleeping bag
Black Diamond trekking poles- just wore out and failed. They were 5 years old.
Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer down jacket – zipper jammed making it a pullover.
Anker phone battery charger – failed, making it an anchor.
Smartwool gloves- unravelled in both thumbs.
Darn Tough socks- wore out 3 pairs but they are guaranteed for life.
Brooks running shorts (used as underwear) elastic lost its elasticity. They were 2 years old.
Lexan spoon- broke

I didn’t see anything anyone else had that I wished I had, other than a warmer sleeping bag/quilt. I had no regrets going stoveless and didn’t miss hot food at all on the trail. Going stoveless may or may not be lighter but it sure is simpler.

If you have any specific gear questions, please email me at richsteward24@gmail.com and I’ll be glad to answer them.


Misc info and stats

Here is some miscellaneous info on the PCT in general and my trip in particular.

More people have summited Mt. Everest than have thru-hiked the PCT. There have been 6,871 successful Everest summits thru 2013; there have been 4,210 successful PCT thru-hikes thru 2015.

I ate a total of 87 meals off trail in 134 days: 25 breakfasts, 24 lunches, and 38 dinners.

I took 14 zeros and 9 neros on the trip.

Meals cooked on trail: 0

I wore the same clothes everyday.

Pairs of shoes used: 5

Pairs of socks used: 6

The PCT can easily be thought of in 5 major sections. Here are some stats from my trip on each:

The Desert: Campo, mile 0, to Kennedy Meadows South, mile 702. Distance: 702 miles. Total days: 36. Zeros taken: 5. Neros taken: 1. Full hiking days: 30. Average miles/day: 23. Average elevation gain/day: 3400′. 30+ mile days: 0. 5000′ elev gain days: 4

I took 2 neros between sections.

The Sierra: Kennedy Meadows South, mile 702, to S. Lake Tahoe, mile 1091. Distance: 389 miles. Total days: 25. Zeros taken: 2. Neros taken: 1. Full hiking days: 22. Average miles/day: 18. Average elevation gain/day: 3600′. 30+ mile days: 1. 5000′ elev gain days: 0

I took 2 zeros and 1 nero between sections.

Northern California: S. Lake Tahoe, mile 1091, to Ashland, mile 1716. Distance: 625 miles. Total days: 25. Zeros taken: 1. Neros taken: 0. Full hiking days: 24. Average miles/day: 26. Average elevation gain/day: 4500′. 30+ mile days: 3. 5000′ elev gain days: 7

I took 2 zeros and 1 nero between sections.

Oregon: Ashland, mile 1716, to Cascade Locks, mile 2144. Distance: 428 miles. Total days: 16. Zeros taken: 0. Neros taken: 1. Full hiking days: 15. Average miles/day: 29. Average elevation gain/day: 3800′. 30+ mile days: 7. 5000′ elev gain days: 2

I took 1 zero and 0 neros between sections.

Washington: Cascade Locks, mile 2144, to the Canadian border, mile 2650. Distance: 506 miles. Total days: 23. Zeros taken: 1. Neros taken: 2. Full hiking days: 20. Average miles/day: 25. Average elevation gain/day: 5500′. 30+ mile days: 4. 5000′ elev gain days: 13.

The Entire PCT: Campo, mile 0, to the Canadian border, mile 2650. Distance: 2650 miles. Total days: 134. Zeros taken: 14. Neros taken: 9. Full hiking days: 111. Average miles/day: 24. Average elevation gain/day: 4100′. 30+ mile days: 15. 5000′ elev gain days: 26

If you split this trip into 2 sections, before Tahoe and after Tahoe, this is how it breaks out:

Before Tahoe: Campo, mile 0, to S. Lake Tahoe, mile 1091. Distance: 1091 miles. Total days: 63. Zeros taken: 7. Neros taken: 4. Full hiking days: 52. Average miles/day: 21. Average elevation gain/day: 3500′. 30+ mile days: 1. 5000′ elev gain days: 4.

I took 2 zeros and 1 nero between sections.

After Tahoe: S. Lake Tahoe, mile 1091, to the Canadian border, mile 2650. Distance: 1559 miles. Total days: 68. Zeros taken: 5. Neros taken: 4. Full hiking days: 59. Average miles/day: 26. Average elevation gain/day: 4600′. 30+ mile days: 14. 5000′ elev gain days: 22.


Fri 9/16

We spent the night at Maria’s house last night. For DC’s last day before flying home, she wanted to see a little of Seattle, which she had never visited before. So we headed downtown and rode the monorail, visited the Chihuly glass exhibit below the Space Needle, went to Pike Place market, had coffee at a couple different places, and had lunch at a Persian restaurant.

We stopped at Shellie’s house on the way home for wine and snacks and had a surprise visit from Chrissy, one of my best friends.  We went back to Maria’s home and she whipped up a great dinner in about 20 minutes to end our day. DC and I stayed at her home again, but it was an early bedtime as I had to leave at 3:30am to get DC to the airport. DC is so excited to get home and see Erik and her dogs.

For me, I’m really tired.  I have so much to do and get caught up on. At this point, I haven’t even had time to empty my backpack. I’m still hungry all the time. My final weight, on my home scale, was 158. I started at 172. I lost less weight than most guys on the trail. For some reason, girls didn’t lose nearly as much as the guys.

I’ll probably post a couple more blogs in the next week or two, one commenting on gear and one giving some stats about the trip.

Maria and DC enjoying coffee next to the new KEXP studio ( my favorite radio station) in downtown Seattle.


Thu 9/15

DC and I were up early after a short night’s sleep and drove 2 1/2 hours up to Rainy Pass to greet hikers coming through, hoping we would see at least one person we knew. Rainy Pass is about 60 miles from the border so people we would see were roughly 4 days behind us. We were blown away by how many people came through that we knew.

We arrived around 9:30 and the first hiker to arrive was T Rex, a guy we met in the desert and hadn’t seen since. The next to arrive was Crazy Mama, a good friend who we had flip-flopped with for 2000+ miles. And the entire day went like that. I saw 2 guys I hadn’t seen since Idyllwild, 2400 miles ago. A couple came through that remembered me from last year when I picked them up at Stevens Pass and drove them to the grocery store in Gold Bar! That was very cool. The wife broke her elbow shortly after they left Stevens Pass last year so they were back to finish the trail this year.

We had about 30 hikers come through and we knew more than half of them. It was SO fun! We had ice cold beer, sodas, fruit, chips, cookies, candy, and most importantly, chairs.

I could only round up 6 chairs in very short notice; at one time we had about 15 hikers hanging out with us. Some stayed as long as 2 hours just visiting with us. You probably can’t understand how nice it is to sit in a chair after months of sitting in dirt. They were so appreciative of everything. The looks on some of their faces as they rounded the corner and saw us was priceless. Many were shocked we were already done.

DC and I both agreed today was one of the best days of the entire trip.

Some of the gang. Wish we had more chairs!

Crazy Mama, one of our best friends we saw today.

T Rex, who I hadn’t seen since the desert.

Mr. Tree, who I met in Idyllwild, 2400 miles ago, and hadn’t seen since.

Apple, a German girl we flip-flopped with for 1000+ miles.

Wed 9/14, Day 135, 9 miles, mile 2650.1

Yep, as I climbed out of my tent on another subfreezing morning, I didn’t feel done with the trip. We had 9 miles to the Manning Park Lodge, which we covered in a brisk 3 1/2 hours. We ran into 2 more friends who were hiking southbound to provide trail magic to their hiking partner, who was a day behind.

We were pleasantly surprised to find our friends Megan and Yuch at the lodge restaurant when we arrived so we joined them for a late celebratory breakfast. As soon as we finished breakfast, we walked over to the lodge and were intercepted by my buddy Matt, who drove 3 hours up to get us. The timing was perfect for us because we were a few hours early. It was not so perfect for Matt because he was planning on mountain biking for a few hours until we arrived.

He drove us all the way down to Mukilteo, where we scrambled like on a resupply nero: showers, laundry, grocery shopping. We are driving 3 hours up to Rainy Pass tomorrow to provide trail magic all day to thru-hikers. It’s our way of starting to give back.

Breaking camp for the last time.

Sunrise in the Canadian mountains

It says, “YAY PCT’RS!”. Thank you Canada.

This is the frisbee that Ally sent me. I carried it 2000+ miles and it brought hours of fun in camps along the way.

DC, Matt, and me at the Manning Park Lodge. Matt drove all day to get us and take us home. Matt, thank you SO much!


Tue 9/13, Part 3

We made it! We did our 10 mile celebration at mile 2650 around 6:15pm then DC ran the last 0.1 mile to the monument. I slowly walked there alone. There was no one at the monument. We spent about 30 minutes taking pictures, writing in the trail register, and reflecting on what we just did. We were # 20 and 21 to sign the register today. That doesn’t mean that many people finished today- many skipped ahead and have to go back and finish big chunks of the trail.

How did it feel to finish? It’s hard to explain. First, we still have almost 10 more miles to get to the Manning Park Lodge so we have to camp another night along a trail. So it doesn’t really feel like we’re done. But we are in Canada and done with the PCT. I guess there’s a feeling of accomplishment but I’m actually not feeling much of anything as I lay here in my tent another night. It just doesn’t feel like we’re done. Perhaps it will hit me tomorrow.

It’s certainly the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, both physically and mentally. But I feel great. Nothing hurts, not even my feet.

So did I have any great epiphanies along the way? Well, no. But I did promise myself I will be kinder, more understanding, more generous with both my time and money, and more empathetic.

Trying to match the pose from my starting photo, which I’ll post next. The trees are cut down along the border, in the background.

Starting photo. Who is that clean guy in the clean clothes? My shirt and pants held up great- I wore them everyday. I went through 5 pairs of shoes.

DC looking proud and happy. And she should be. She is awesome!

Selfie. We made it!

I’m in Canada. Yeah!


Tue 9/13, Part 2

No one completes this trip alone. So many people help. I want to thank everyone who helped me finish this adventure. I couldn’t have done it without all of your support. If I forgot anyone, I apologize.

Conditioning: Kevin, Lori D, Chris

Supply prep: Dr. Anne N, Lori J, Amanda, Ally, Debi H, Dan H

Made, sent, or brought goodies or supplies: my mom, Amy, Tracey J, Shellie, Margaret, Theresa and Ron N, Kevin, Maria

Sent things in my resupply boxes: Audrey, Ally, Chrissy

Came to visit me on the trail: Amy, Ron N, Maria, Kevin, Shellie

Opened their home to me: Mike and Sherrill, Maria

Picked me up at the end: Matt T

Sent me encouraging comments, texts, and emails: too many people to name but you have no idea how much I appreciated each and everyone. Thank you all so much!

On standby to come get me from anywhere at anytime: Dan H

Resupply backups: Kristin, Chrissy

Resupply guru: Amanda, with a little help from Ally. Thank you Amanda- you are awesome!

Tue 9/13, Day 134, 31.1 miles, mile 2650.1

We decided to leave a little early and catch our last sunrise from high up. Last night we were camped at 6200′ at Hart’s Pass and had a climb right out of camp. So we were up and out at 5:45 on a very cold and dark morning.

The sunrise was pretty but nothing special. There weren’t enough clouds to reflect the sun’s rays. I think this might be an
ongoing problem for me- I’ve been so spoiled with stunning sunrises and sunsets and gorgeous mountain scenery that I’ve become unimpressed, almost uninterested, in the merely pretty. I will need to overcome this.

We had a gorgeous day; blue skies and sunshine all day. The weather the last few days has been stellar. We just need one more, then about 14 more after that for all of our trail friends to finish.

The climbing and descending since Snoqualmie Pass has been constant. We average about 6000′ up and 6000′ down each day. That might not sound like a lot spread out over 25 miles but ask any backpacker how many times they have gained or lost that much elevation in a day. It is a lot. We’ve done more 6000′ days (and more 5000′ days) already in September than we did in any other full month of this trip. Fortunately, we just finished 4 months of intensive training to get ready for the September elevation changes.

Our goal today was to go 27 miles, camp 4 miles short of the border, and stroll to the monument tomorrow. But once we finished our last climb of the trip, up Woody Pass, and had lunch up there, we decided to get to the monument today. I’ll post a separate blog on arriving at the monument.

We didn’t see any northbound thru-hikers today. We did see 3 people we know going southbound after finishing the hike. The PCT ends in the wilderness and people have 2 choices: hike north 8.8 miles into Canada to the nearest road and hitchhike, or hike 31 miles back to Hart’s Pass and hitchhike. Some, like our friend Mowgli, choose to hike back to Hart’s Pass. We will be hiking into Canada.

Sunrise, looking west, on our final PCT day, though we didn’t know it at the time.

Another sunrise picture, looking southwest.

Some of the country we just hiked through.

DC hiking up to Rock Pass, where a mountain lion was recently spotted. We didn’t see any on the trip.

I love these open, exposed trails.

Mon 9/12, Day 133, 27 miles, mile 2619

It was a cold night and when we broke camp at 6:15, it was 30 degrees. Our water bottles didn’t freeze but the moisture on the trail was frozen all morning. The skies were clear and once the moon went down, the stars shown brightly. How would I know that? Well, I had to get up 6 times last night to pee. Six! There’s not much worse than crawling out of a warm sleeping bag and going out into the cold. Ok, I guess there are a lot of worse things. But I don’t have to like it.

We had beautiful views of the surrounding mountains all day- one of our most spectacular days of the trip. The sun was out and the temperatures were cool; it was just a wonderful day to hike. If everyone could experience what we did today, this area would be overrun with backpackers.

We only saw one thru-hiker today, Camel. We flipped with him all day. It’s so odd how so many people congregate in the resupply towns but back on the trail, they all disburse and disappear. With no communication since Stevens Pass, we have lost track of all of our friends.

31.1 more miles to go! We are really excited. We could finish tomorrow but once we hit the border, we still have 8.8 miles of hiking to get to Manning Park Lodge in BC. So we’ll probably do 26 miles tomorrow and coast to the border Wednesday morning, exactly on schedule. When DC laid out our plan in S. Lake Tahoe 1500 miles ago, our goal was to finish on September 14. It looks like we will hit that target.

Sunrise, day 133, in the North Cascades

The morning light was beautiful on this slope of the mountain.

We’re getting closer. The border is 50.1 miles away.

Some of the mountain scenery we passed today.

We had long side hill traverses up and down passes.

Stonehenge of the North Cascades.

PCT 2016