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    by Published on 03-03-2014 00:38

    PCT Northbound Hiking Rates
    (published March 2014)

    by Steve Shuman (map man)

    I have gone through PCT journals at trailjournals.com for the hiking seasons of 2000 to 2013 and have found enough thorough journals for thru-hikers to publish a kind of statistical abstract for the PCT similar to what I have done in the past for the AT, with a primary focus on how many miles hikers cover each day in various sections.

    I have divided the trail into eight sections. In order to capture the phenomenon of hikers hiking themselves into shape in their early days on the trail I have designated four different short sections south of Kennedy Meadows with dividing points at the southern border, Warner Springs, Big Bear City, Aqua Dulce and Kennedy Meadows. I have another section for the unique conditions in the Sierras that starts at KM and ends at Echo Lake. I then have a section for northern California ending at Saied Valley, a section for Oregon ending at Cascade Locks and a section for Washington ending at the Canadian border.

    Doing a study like this for the PCT is a challenge because so many hikers use occasional "alternate routes" to get to Canada that are not part of the official PCT. Some do alternate routes to see scenery off the official trail (the Eagle Creek Trail south of Cascade Locks is a good example of this). Some do alternates or skip sections due to official closings for forest fires, bridge washouts, endangered animal habitats and other reasons. Some, especially in the Sierras and in Washington, take alternatives or skip sections due to storms and snow conditions they feel unprepared to face.

    In the end, in order to make sure I was getting a true reading of how long each section took to complete, and that I was getting "apples to apples" comparisons for all hikers, I only used journals for hikers that hiked every step from Mexico to the Canadian border (PCT terminus) in south to north order, and where alternate routes were taken they could not significantly shorten or lengthen the amount of time it took to complete that section. This decision meant I ended up discarding a lot of journals and I finished with a total of 73 hikers in the study when I was hoping for at least 100. It also meant that some years with prominent forest fires with no practical walking alternatives around them are under-represented in this study.

    That being said, let's get to the numbers. This group took a mean 147.0 days (median: 146) to complete their hike while taking 19.8 zero days (median: 19), meaning they took 127.2 hiking days.

    TABLE 1 -- Mean Days to Complete Each Section

    MEAN DAYS~TOTAL DAYS~~SECTION
    6.6 days.............6.6 days............Mexico to Warner Springs (109.6 miles)
    10.5 days...........17.1 days..........Warner Springs to Big Bear (164.5 miles)
    10.8 days...........27.9 days..........Big Bear to Aqua Dulce (180.3 miles)
    14.4 days...........42.3 days..........Aqua Dulce to Kennedy Meadows (248.4 miles)
    28.3 days...........70.6 days..........Kennedy Meadows to Echo Lake (391.7 miles)
    28.2 days...........98.9 days..........Echo Lake to Saied Valley (567.6 miles)
    22.9 days..........121.8 days.........Saied Valley to Cascade Locks (491.3 miles)
    25.2 days..........147.0 days.........Cascade Locks to Canada (504.6 miles; 2,658.0 for entire trail)

    In the next table, both miles per day (MPD) and miles per hiking day (MPHD -- excluding zero days) are calculated for each section.

    Table 2 -- Miles Per Day and Miles Per Hiking Day

    MPD~~~~~~~MPHD~~~~~SECTION
    16.7 miles.........(17.5 miles).........Mexico to Warner Springs
    15.6 miles.........(18.1 miles).........Warner Springs to Big Bear
    16.6 miles.........(19.1 miles).........Big Bear to Aqua Dulce
    17.2 miles.........(20.7 miles).........Aqua Dulce to Kennedy Meadows
    13.8 miles.........(17.0 miles).........Kennedy Meadows to Echo Lake
    20.1 miles.........(22.7 miles).........Echo Lake to Saied Valley
    21.4 miles.........(24.3 miles).........Saied Valley to Cascade Locks
    20.0 miles.........(22.7 miles).........Cascade Locks to Canada
    18.1 miles.........(20.9 miles).........Entire PCT

    So excluding zero days from the equation, hikers clearly did slowly increase miles per hiking day gradually in the early sections (but at a less significant rate than AT hikers do in their early sections), were slowed down by the Sierras, and then put the pedal to the metal starting in northern California and for the rest of the trail.

    Here is the distribution of hikers grouped by when they started and ended their hikes:

    Started:
    Before April 15: 10% of hikers
    April 15 to 22: 23%
    April 23 to 30: 37%
    May 1 to 12: 23%
    After May 12: 7%

    Finished:
    Before September: 8%
    Sept. 1 to 7: 12%
    Sept. 8 to 15: 15%
    Sept. 16 to 23: 19%
    Sept. 24 to 30: 27%
    Oct. 1 to 7: 14%
    After Oct. 7: 4%

    It's always dangerous to count on finishing in northern Washington before the snow gets to be too much in October, and sometimes even in late September.

    The median hiker in the study started on April 25th and finished on September 21st. Here is a table showing progress for that median hiker (an equal number of hikers arriving before and after that median hiker at each landmark):

    Table 3 -- Date Landmarks Were Reached

    MEDIAN DAY~~LANDMARK
    April 25................Mexican Border
    May 2..................Warner Springs
    May 12................Big Bear City
    May 24................Aqua Dulce
    June 7.................Kennedy Meadows
    July 6..................Echo Lake
    August 3..............Saied Valley
    August 26............Cascade Locks
    September 21......Canada Border

    Here is a table showing four different hypothetical hikes for hikers going different speeds, taking 4, 4.5, 5 and 5.5 months to complete the trail:

    Table 4 -- Four Hypothetical PCT Hikes

    4#HIKE~~~4.5#HIKE~~5#HIKE~~~5.5#HIKE~~LANDMARK
    5 days.............6 days............7 days.............7 days...........Warner Springs
    14 days...........16 days..........18 days...........20 days..........Big Bear City
    23 days...........26 days..........29 days...........32 days..........Aqua Dulce
    35 days...........40 days..........44 days...........48 days..........Kennedy Meadows
    59 days...........66 days..........74 days...........81 days..........Echo Lake
    82 days...........93 days..........103 days.........113 days.........Saied Valley
    101 days.........114 days........127 days.........139 days.........Cascade Locks
    122 days.........138 days........153 days.........168 days.........Canadian Border

    I was surprised to find, given that time is a little more pressing on the PCT than on the AT (a typical PCT hiker doesn't want to arrive too early at Kennedy Meadows, or too late to Washington, often leaving well under four months to complete the last 1,950 miles of the trail), and that there are not as many handy trail towns on the PCT to take breaks, that PCT thru-hikers actually take zero days MORE frequently than AT hikers do -- 13.4% of all days on the trail on the PCT are devoted to zero days while this number is just 12.3% for AT hikers. PCT hikers took a mean 19.8 zero days (median: 19) while AT hikers took a mean 20.7 zeros in three more weeks on the trail. Here is a table showing the frequency of zero days by section, and also showing both short term breaks (STBs -- 1 or 2 days) and long term breaks (LTBs -- 3 days or more):

    Table 5 -- Zero Days

    ZERO DAYS%~STBs%~~~LTBs%~~~SECTION
    4.2%..................4.2%.............0%......... .....Mexico to Warner Springs
    13.4%................11.3%...........2.1%......... ...Warner Springs to Big Bear
    12.6%................10.6%...........2.0%......... ...Big Bear to Aqua Dulce
    16.8%................12.2%...........4.7%......... ...Aqua Dulce to Kennedy Meadows
    18.7%................11.8%...........7.0%......... ...Kennedy Meadows to Echo Lake
    11.3%................6.7%.............4.7%........ ....Echo Lake to Saied Valley
    11.9%................7.4%.............4.5%........ ....Saied Valley to Cascade Locks
    11.8%................9.0%.............2.8%........ ....Cascade Locks to Canada
    13.4%................9.3%.............4.2%........ ....Entire PCT

    Perhaps it's no surprise that the section where the highest percentage of zeros were taken was in the difficult Sierras, even if it meant a lengthy side hike and/or hitch to do it!

    So where were all those zero days taken? Here is a list of the towns, in south to north order, where at least 10% of hikers took a zero day (the exact percentage is also listed):

    Lake Morena -- 36%
    Warner Springs -- 30%
    Idyllwild -- 55%
    Big Bear City -- 56%
    Wrightwood -- 32%
    Aqua Dulce (Saufleys) -- 66%
    Casa de Luna (Andersons) -- 19%
    Tehachapi/Mojave -- 58%
    Walker Pass/Lake Isabella -- 16%
    Kennedy Meadows -- 71%
    Lone Pine -- 16%
    Detour hike to Mt. Whitney -- 30% (this number only includes those who were a full day off the PCT)
    Kearsage Pass/Independence -- 48%
    Vermillion Valley Resort -- 29%
    Red's Meadow/Mammoth Lakes -- 49%
    Tuolumne Meadows -- 41%
    Sonora Pass/Bridgeport -- 22%
    Echo Lake/South Lake Tahoe -- 66%
    Soda Springs/Truckee -- 22%
    Sierra City -- 10%
    Quincy/Belden -- 14%
    Chester -- 11%
    Castella/Dunsmuir -- 37%
    Etna -- 32%
    Ashland -- 59%
    Sisters/Bend -- 37%
    Cascade Locks -- 70%
    White Pass -- 19%
    Snoqualmie -- 52%
    Stevens Pass/Skykomish -- 36%
    Stehekin -- 29%

    So the popular zero day locations may be less frequent on the PCT, but when they pop up more PCT hikers take advantage of them!

    METHODOLOGY

    I used the same methodologies for this study as I did for my AT studies, and those articles can be found at these links:

    https://whiteblaze.net/forum/content.php?44
    https://whiteblaze.net/forum/content.php?697

    A word of caution, though, when looking at the numbers in this PCT article. I am confident that the miles per day PROPORTIONS between sections are pretty accurate in this study. Likewise, the list of popular places to take zero days also seems reliable to me.

    Here's what I'm less certain about. I believe that my decision to be fairly strict about which journals I used ended up excluding an inordinate number of the late finishers on the trail each year (many of these late finishers used the Ross Lake alternative to get to a different place on the Canadian border to finish their hike once the actual PCT beyond Rainy Pass became more difficult due to deep snow). These late season finishers also tended to take more total days to do their entire hike. Excluding these hikes made the average days to complete in this study, 147, and the days in each section, perhaps a little on the low side, which in turn slightly increased the miles per day numbers.

    In addition, I noticed that when I discarded certain journals for the various reasons that I outlined in my introduction (alternate routes that took more or less time, sections outright skipped because of fires and other reasons) that certain demographic groups were effected more than others. For this reason, I'm less certain that the group in my study is as representative of all PCT thru-hikers as I would like.

    ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

    Thanks again to trailjournals.com for being such a great source of trail metadata for those of us inclined to collect it. And thanks to Whiteblaze for providing a place to reach a fair number of folks who might be interested in the analysis of that compiled information.

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