Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Appalachian Trail v. Pacific Crest Trail: A Guide to Pick Your Hiking Pleasure, part one: People or Wilderness

They weren’t designated the first National Scenic Trails for nothing. These two premier hiking trails are designed specifically to impart the beauty of their landscapes. (Seriously, trail builders think of these things.)

I awoke to this sunrise after literally sleeping alone under rocks on the PCT.

Both are excellent choices, so whether you’ve finished hiking one of them and are ready to take on the next, or are simply deciding which one to hike for your first-ever thru-hike, here is one of several discernible differences that make each unique.

This analysis is based on northbound thru-hikes of both trails. A southbound hike of the Appalachian Trail offers some distinctions from hiking Georgia to Maine that will offer a completely different experience. (I'm happy to discuss those differences with you.)

The People Factor: The Appalachian Trail has shelters and designated campsites along the way. The Pacific Crest Trail encourages distributed camping by not formalizing camps.

Here’s how it impacts your trip:

Lots of good people, many I still count as best friends, at Eagles Nest Shelter in Penn. in 2003.

On the A.T. shelters tends to organize hikers into condensed clumps, yes clumps, of hikers.  If you stay at shelters or camp nearby them, you may hike alone all day, encountering some hikers along the way, but rest assured, you’ll get to swap stories over meals around the campfire before you snooze. It’s a perk for the extroverts among us, but can be overwhelming to people who came to seek fellowship with the wilderness, as the shelter environment can breed an almost party-like atmosphere, especially within the first 500-miles of the Trail.

I slept alone under these rocks on May 4, 2010 as this spot afforded the most protection from the relentless wind.

On the PCT there are a few formalized campsites, and others that naturally develop around water sources. Without heavily established sites, hikers on the PCT tend to walk until they are ready to stop, rather than walk to an established “destination” for the day. Also, fewer people start thru-hikes of the PCT every year than on the A.T. Given these facts, if you start any time after the ADZPCTKO, you will encounter fewer hikers during the day and at night. It takes a bit more planning to camp with people you enjoy spending time with on the PCT given the low-impact nature of camping, especially if you like to hike alone much of the day.

This is part one of a four part series on the differences between the PCT and the A.T. Tomorrow, I'll discuss the elements. Not the weather, but earth, wind, fire, and water. After that I'll cover terrain, snow, and resupply. If you have requests for other topics, please let me know.

1 comment:

Aging Boy Scout said...

Greetings, Leanna! Thx so much for describing and comparing these 2 natural wonders. If you would, pls comment on (a) trail wildlife, self-protection, and first aid must-haves, and (b) how to avoid over-packing.
This is your first post I've received (it's been months since I subscribed - not meant as a negative criticism), so haven't yet read your earlier ones, which may cover these topics.