The Pacific Northwest Trail: A Prologue
I can’t remember the exact moment I knew I wanted to spend months at a time hiking through national forests and wilderness areas. It was most likely sometime during the summer of 2011 when I was living in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania just a short drive away from the famed Appalachian Trail or AT for short.
Over the course of that summer, I spent most of my time working for free as an intern for the Hagerstown Suns, the low-A affiliate for the Washington Nationals. The job was horrendous. But looking back on it now I saw incredible baseball players including Bryce Harper, Christian Yelich, JT Realmuto, Robbie Ray, and Russell Wilson (Yes, that Russell Wilson) honing their craft in-between pulling the rain-tarp for and picking up shit after ‘Bring Your Dog Night’.
Any free time I had I spent hiking and exploring the nearby Michaux State Forest. It was probably sometime around June that I began meeting hikers that clearly were not local traveling along the AT. Most were guys with long unkempt facial hair, their upper bodies devoid of muscle from lack of use and living in a continuous caloric deficit. Yet at the same time, their lower bodies were chiseled and despite walking in what appeared to be chronic pain, they glided with a purpose and intent in their movements that I had never seen.
After striking up a conversation with a group of the foul-smelling travelers I was astonished to learn that they had been hiking for months. I had just met my first thru-hiker. They had begun their journey in Northern Georgia and wouldn’t stop until they reached the end of the trail, a thousand miles to the north of where i stood in Pennsylvania atop Mt. Katahdin in Central Maine.
During the next year, I read everything on the internet I could dig up about thru-hiking the AT and found myself the next spring standing atop Springer Mountain in Georgia, prepared to hike the entire 2,100 miles of the trail in one summer season. Somehow despite having almost zero hiking experience and not know what the fuck I was doing, I managed to stumble my way the two thousand miles over five months to complete the trail.
“With limited job prospects and no wife and children to keep him from his adventure…”
Vince Sullivan really made me seem like an entitled douche with nothing happening in life. Kudos Vince, you were probably onto something.
From that point on I was hooked. Thru-hiking provided me the opportunity to set a goal and then achieve it in a way that my professional life never could. While you undoubtedly receive help and kindness along the way from others, completing a months-long journey is a grand test of your physical and mental toughness. Unlike in regular life where your outcome is so often impacted or decided by others, during a hike ultimately the choice is yours whether to take that next step in the direction of your destination.
Since 2012 I have hiked over 11,000 miles on trails in the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe.
- 2012: The Appalachian Trail
- 2014: The Camino De Santiago
- 2015: The Scottish National Trail
- 2016: The Pacific Crest Trail
- 2018: The Continental Divide Trail
- 2020: The Florida Trail, The Colorado Trail, Mid-State Trail (PA)
The Pacific Northwest Trail
On June 15, 2021, I intend to continue adding to this list by thru-hiking the entire 1,200-mile length of the Pacific Northwest Trail.
The Pacific Northwest Trail is a 1,200-mile route that connects the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean. It passes through 3 states, 3 National Parks, and 7 National Forests. The trail ends at Cape Alava, WA; the westernmost point in the lower-48
The PNT was first conceived by Ron Strickland (A native of Wilmington, DE who graduated from Tower Hill School) in 1970. In 1976 the Pacific Northwest Trail Association (PNTA) was created to organize the massive effort of creating and maintaining the trail. It was designated as the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail by Congress in 2009.
There is no way to know exactly how many people thru-hike the entire 1,200 miles of the PNT but it is likely less than 30 annually and 250 all-time.
I will be traveling in a westbound direction beginning my journey at the Chief Mountain point of entry in Glacier National Park in Montana. There is no getting around the fact that the eastern terminus of the PNT is difficult to reach. Situated on the edge of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in some of the most remote country the lower-48 has to offer.
My travel itinerary is as follows:
- Flight from Philadelphia, PA to Chicago, IL
- Flight from Chicago, IL to Kalispell, MT
- Bus from Kalispell, MT to Whitefish MT*
*Glacier National Park is among the most visited national parks in the US. Because of this, you are required to obtain permits that dictate where and when you can camp. Permits are offered online in advance, but because people were not able to visit GNP during the pandemic, 2021 has seen a record amount of applicants for those few precious spots. I was unable to obtain a permit in the online lottery this spring so I will be forced to show up at the Apgar Ranger Station at 7 am to attempt to receive a ‘walk up’ permit.
From there, I’ll be on an Amtrak Train from Kalispell, MT to East Glacier, MT. I then have to hitchhike 66 miles from East Glacier, MT to Chief Mountain Point of Entry.
- Amtrak Train from Kalispell, MT to East Glacier, MT
- Hitchhike 66 miles from East Glacier, MT to Chief Mountain Point of Entry.
This far north in the vicinity of the 48th parallel that separates the United States and Canada the summer days are long. Around the solstice, it will be possible to hike until 9:30-10 pm in the evening. This should allow me to push big mile days despite the rough terrain and often unmarked trail. I estimate that I should be able to average 30 to 35 miles per day not including time spent in town.
Add in a few zero-days, which is a thru-hiker term used to describe days that I don’t hike at all and it appears that the PNT should take me around 45 days to complete.
I have a ton of information to share about thru-hiking and the PNT in general. My aim is to update this blog twice per week while providing you a glimpse on a niche hobby and the unique culture surrounding it.