The Setting:

Imagine that I’m a Trail Angel in Aqua Dulce and have a lone, early-season PCT thru-hiker who needs to go to REI for a new stove.

Wanting to enjoy a nice, springtime drive out of town, I select the motorcycle for the task.
Right before leaving the house, two more thru-hikers arrive and want to go there, too.

Nix the bike and choose the Maserati! (I still want to have a fun drive!)

Just then, my cell phone rings and a friend, who lives in-between my house and REI, calls to ask if I might be going to the County Dump anytime soon, as he has a load of cardboard that has to go to its recycling center and he doesn’t have a truck to haul it…like I do.


Scenario Clarified:

I can still take the small, light, and certainly more fun vehicle to REI and back, but to accomplish the bigger job along the way, which would be more efficient, taking the truck from the start would be more appropriate.

A) I can take the Maserati for a little springtime fun there and back, then switch vehicles for the truck and go back out to help my friend with his load of cardboard to go to the Dump.
B) I can take the truck from the start (though, certainly overkill), stop by my friend’s house on the way to pick up the cardboard, carry it to the Dump’s Recycling Center, visit REI for the hikers, then return home to put the truck away.

Application to “KMS-23 Conundrum” scenario:
If you know that there will be a stretch of trail in your hike that will require more gear and supplies to be carried, do you,

  • cram it in and tie it onto the little pack that’s not designed for the task, maybe threatening your balance on the steep snow and comfort in so carrying it, ahead (in this case),
  • start your hike with a half-filled larger pack, or
  • start with a lightweight, smaller pack, that will be easier to carry from the beginning, when your muscles and joints aren’t really up for heavy loads, yet, and resupply to yourself the larger pack when you’ll need it?

Case in point from the past, when we didn’t know otherwise:
In the early years of the Pacific Crest Trail, we didn’t know where nor how to resupply. We had no one else’s experiences to pattern after, so we did what we could think of – send ourselves resupply boxes in the mail spaced apart at intervals based on where the proposed trail’s route went through towns with Post Offices.

My first box went to Big Bear Lake, CA.
#2 went to the town of Mojave, CA.
#3 had all my snow gear and that went to Kernville, CA.

Enter my Conundrum of the High Sierra:
From Lake Isabella and Kernville, the next “towns” the trail went anywhere near were Yosemite Valley and South Lake Tahoe, way too far away for me to get to with the amount of supplies that I could fit into my Kelty Super Tioga (about two week’s worth). (Don’t ask me how big this pack is, as I don’t know, but I still use it today, whether full or mostly empty, as it’s comfortable!)

Therefore, in my planning stage, I had to find a place to mail a box somewhere in-between Kernville and Yosemite and none existed (for some reason, I didn’t consider going to towns on the Eastside of the Sierra, but I did on later journeys and they work just fine).

I came up with the idea of mailing myself a box at a Ranger Station or Commercial Store near a trailhead, so investigated the plausibility of that and found a little road that entered Kings Canyon National Park from the west that went to a little place called, “Cedar Grove.”

Well, hell, in those days there was nothing there but a summertime Pack Station, so that idea was out…but was it?

If someone could drive a box in there and meet me after coming over Forester Pass, it could work! The only problem was that I had to be there at an exact hour on an exact day with no ability to communicate changes in the plan en route!
It worked, but I had to carry lots of food, winter clothing, and use heavy, winter gear to go the needed distances. I knew this requirement in advance, so started my hike from Mexico with a “truck” of a pack.

“That’s a helluva long explanation, Ned. What are you trying to point out?”

As the Maserati is an appropriate choice of vehicle, if you don’t have to carry a lot of weight and volume, but it isn’t when you know that you will, at some point, have to carry more. So, too, is backpacking light with a small pack when and where you can, but recognizing that you’ll have to upgrade, later, to something with bigger capacities when you have to and need it.

The problems are two-fold,

1. Thru-hikers don’t have a lot of money to own multiple packs and gear for different seasons, much less be able to ship their gear all over the place, so they settle for the popular choices that have worked for previous thru-hikers during drought years with little snow-related challenges, and

2. Social acceptance is huge. Thru-hikers come from all walks of life to a foreign stage they’ve never been to before, where they feel, initially, excited, scared, and awkward, and they just want to be accepted as part of the “Thru-hiking family” by, at least, looking the part.

Driving these gear and style choices way before any thru-hike actually starts are the questions in the hiking forums, “What did you use?”

The premise is, if an item of gear, food, or clothing “worked” for another person’s hike last year, it will “work” for me this year (because trail conditions don’t change from year to year, right?).

An increasing percentage of starting thru-hikers have never hiked before, thus they don’t know for themselves what “works” or not and blindly accept all recommendations in order to be “part of the family.”

Encouraging and supporting the desire to “fit in,” is another huge premise, that of having the lightest pack, gear, food, and clothing. This is paramount, even over comfort and safety (but, then, without previous experience, few know the discomfort and danger their choices will bring) with hikers being willing to go without certain items or endure discomfort in order to proudly declare having attained a very low statistical pack weight.

KMS-23 Conundrum begins with PCT thru-hikers who started without experience, blindly relying upon the encouragement and guidance from previous thrus who hiked under vastly different trail conditions than what they have and will face this year, 2023, (with all its cold and snow even from the Mexican border in March!), that compounds, suddenly, in Kennedy Meadows, south, when they blindly hope their packs will be able to swell enough to carry what’s required to safely get through the Sierra’s long resupply distances this year!

They started with the Maserati and think they can go to the lumber yard and tie-on tons of wood! It’s not going to end well.

Nevertheless, what will they choose,

  • enter with the wrong vehicle and become, unknowingly, a danger to themselves and others,
  • avoid the scenario and flip to a flatter location that may or may not have snow, or
  • change to the right gear, food, and clothing to accomplish the task at hand in practical, functional, repairable, reliable comfort and safety, all tucked away in the “truck” of their choice.

Successful, happy adventures come from knowing what’s ahead and realistically planning and preparing for it to your individual comfort and safety criteria, regardless of what anyone else says or has been the past “norm.”

The long-distance thru-hiking world has to face the realities of weather-caused changes, like those of this year’s record snowpack (and the ensuing Thaw that will make backpacking so dangerous this spring-summer), and decide how they are going to accept and deal with them, which will have to acknowledge that there are, indeed, environmental conditions and scenarios where it’s just wiser to depart from the “ideal” standards created for “ideal” weather and take the “truck,” when its needed.