Mountain Education Resources
PCT Starting Date and Fear
At Mountain Education we train hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts how to prepare for and safely conduct their own backpacking trips into the Fourth Season. We have snowshoed the length of the Sierra during all of the winter months, whether there was a lot of snow or just a little. So, here is our advice regarding the “passability” of the Sierra under snow:
Unless there is a drought, you will be dealing with snow somewhere along the trail, whether on the peaks of SoCal, along the High Sierra, or in the PNW where the snowpack may still be lingering when you get there, so learn how to deal with it, either by getting out and practicing in it on your own this winter, reading how others went through it, or attending some sort of class, club, or other course that will teach you how. This is just being smart and looking ahead to see what you’re up against and preparing for it in whatever way makes you feel “ready.”
Whether there is 6 inches, six feet, or 20 feet, you deal with it the same,
cautiously. You suddenly can’t see the trail easily, so you’ll have to know
how to navigate topographically while being very careful how you place your feet so as not to twist your ankle or slip on a buried rock or branch. The more snow, the less you’ll have to worry about rocks and branches, but you will have to watch out for buried tree trunks, boulders, lakes, and creeks. As the day’s heat melts the snow in the Spring, you’ll need to watch out for shaded and morning ice and afternoon postholing (hard on the ankles, knees, and backs), not to mention the suncups and creek crossings.
Just be aware that these hazards are out there and learn how you’re going to identify and deal with them. Don’t rely on “the other hikers” to help you through the tough spots because they may not be around when you need them. If they are, they can only tell you how to physically do what you must. You still have to have the experience through practice, the balance, and/or the foot/body/motor control to pull it off on your own without getting hurt (visualize, here, crossing the icy chute below Forester Pass or any of the white-water creek crossings in the springtime sierra).
So, our advice is to start whenever you feel like, because you’re probably
going to have snow anyway (unless there is a very light winter or a
drought). If you start early, say mid-March, you’ll have more snow, but less miles per day needed to get to Canada before the next Winter begins so you can go slower and do more things along the way (fishing, exploring, peak climbing, side trail hiking, photography, reading, sun-bathing, etc., etc.). When is the next time you’ll be able to come back? You might as well enjoy your journey with a little free time here and there doing other things besides hiking. Yes, you’rer out there to hike from Mexico to Canada, but allow yourself the pleasure of smelling the flowers along the way, or climbing the peak, or fishing, or taking a bunch of pictures, or….