Deciding to hike the Pacific Crest Trail when you’re coming from overseas seems like diving into a icy cold mountain lake in the middle of the night with only the stars and a half moon lighting the water surface. You can hardly see a thing but you know it’s good and beautiful… and cold… but cold is what you need because it keeps you awake. So you start swimming in the dark, concentric rings appear, you can see them reflecting the moon, and you dive in with all of your body, head under water, fuck it’s dark! You hold your breath for a while. Not sure you can do this. But then, yes then, the sun kisses the moon goodnight (or goodmorning) and she starts sending her rays of light through the surface. Things become clear. And the water gets warmer. And your concentric rings grow bigger with excitement!
When you plan on hiking the PCT and you’re not living in the States there are some things you have to bear in mind. It requires some logistical planning and some bureaucracy to overcome but most of all it requires CHILL. Why? Because the lake you dive into in the middle of the night isn’t all that dark, the lake itself is very clear, filled with pristine mountain water. It’s the “things around it” that make it dark. So it may take while for the sun to rise,but you can be sure… she’ll rise!
So let me help the sun rise a little faster ;c) These are some steps you need to take when you wanna hike the PCT and you’re coming from abroad:
1. Get yourself informed. Read about the PCT. For instance on the PCTA website. Buy a guidebook. Just read, don’t panic, even if you don’t understand a thing about resupply (What? I don’t come through a village every day? Where do I get food then?) or about permits.
2. Save money. Thruhiking may be cheap compared to an all inclusive holiday on the Maledives but it’s not for free. Depending on how you will “live” on trail, you’ll need more or you’ll need less money. Some people only need $3000, others need $6000. I saved a bit more than that. And I worked my ass OFF to get that money together.
3. Take time off. Talk to your boss, quit your job, do whatever you want but you will wanna take about 5 to 6 months off to hike the PCT. (If you’re a speedhiker you will of course need less.) Unfortunately those months are not the european winter months (if you’re coming from the southern hemisphere… get ready for a full year of summer… you lucky bastards!). You’ll be hiking the PCT in summer (unless your trailname is Trauma or Pepper). So take those months off between april and october.
4. Passport and VISA: Make sure your international passport is up to date (check the expiry date!!!). If you don’t have one, get one. The passport is the easy thing. You will need it in order to get your B1/B2 VISA!
Getting your VISA is a different story. It’s swimming in the dark. No stars. But in the end, that too, will turn out to be nothing but a mountain lake…. none the less… filled with bureaucratic floaties!
Sooo how does that work… getting a VISA for 6 months (Don’t try to get a 3month visa and hope to extend or renew it when it expires. It doesn’t work that way. You don’t wanna mess with this, really, otherwise you might get difficulties ever getting into the States again.)? So… B1/B2 VISA!
The procedure is following (the procedure I describe is the one in Belgium, it may be a bit different in other countries, but over all it seems like its more or less the same procedure):
A. Go to the website of the American embassy in your country. Look for a button that says VISA/non-immigrant visa.
B. You will need to apply for a B1/B2 Visa.
C. Fill out the D160 form online. Take your time for that. Make sure you have all your information laying next to you (even all the second names your mother or father has, and shit no one ever asks for). You will get asked a thousand of questions and you will think “Why the fuck do you wanna know all that? Now the US knows every tiny personal detail of my life!”
D. Pay the fee (in Belgium it costs 128€, in Germany 136€).
E. Make an Visa interview appointment with the American Embassy or Consulate in your country.
F. Get ALL your documents together. You will get a list.
G. Go to your interview appointment!
Now to that Visa interview: Don’t worry (you’re gonna do fine, really!) BUT do make SURE you bring EVERYTHING! The picture, the confirmation, the receipt that proves you payed the fee, EVERYTHING that was on the list! Get there on time. And definitely bring time. You’ll have to wait at least for two hours. Bring additional information because during the interview you will have to tell what you plan on doing. Here’s how my interview went. I can’t tell you for sure whether yours is gonna be exactly the same, but I heard from others that it pretty much went like this too:
First question is: Have you been to the States before?
Second question: Why do you return and why do you need 6 months for that? That is the moment where you will tell about the PCT. Bring your guidebook, bring a map. You might not need it but it’s good to bring because not everyone knows there exists a long distance trail called the PCT.
Next question: How will you sustain yourself? Who will pay for that? Make sure you got an answer to that. I even brought proof from my bank account that I have enough money.
How do you make your living? Where will you return to after 6 months in the US?
And that’s about it. Somehow it’s a nervewrecking thing but in the end it’s no big deal, as long as you can proof you have no intentions of staying in the US and you have enough money to take care of yourself. I didn’t have to show anything extra during my interview but I put my very used looking PCT guidebook next to me on the counter… just in case ;c)
5. Permits: Get you long distance permit, California campfire permit and permit for entering Canada via the PCT. Keep an eye on the PCTA website; typically around the end of January / beginning of February you will be able to request a long distance permit that will allow you to hike through all the national parks and wilderness areas the PCT goes through. It shouldn’t be a problem to get a permit. You request it and a few days later you get an email back with the permit, which you then have to print and keep with you during your hike. Do keep in mind that some changes have been made to the permit system this year!!!
The California campfire permit is an easy one. Go to this website. Take the quiz, give right answers, and you can print the campfire permit right away. Keep it with you while hiking through California.
If you want to continue hiking the PCT into Canada to Manning Park you will need a permit for that too. Fill out the form you can find here, make color copies of the requested documents and send it to the address stated on the form. How long that will take? I don’t know ’cause I just sent mine myself ;c) We’ll see, right?!
6. Planetickets: Opinions vary on when to buy a planeticket. I bought mine before I got my visa and permits. The visa website says it’s smarter to wait till you get your visa, and then buy your planetickets. But I was willing to take the risk and thought a flight back would be a good argument to proove that I have no intentions of staying in the US after my hike. Also as of this year the long distance permit system has changed a bit and “only” 50 northbound permits will be allowed each day. Keep all that in mind when you buy your planetickets!
7. Start planning. Eh well, actually you might have started planning simultaneously with the 6 previous steps. That’s up to you though. Planning the PCT is pretty much the same like planning any other hike. Wait. No. Actually it’s not. This hike is frikkin’ 4265km / 2650ml long. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s a lot of walks in the park. So gearwise you’ll have to keep in mind that you will walk through different weather situations (heat, sun, rain, hail, snow, cold,…) and through different terrains, vegetation zones,… You can find info on that on numerous blogs or in guidebooks. My gear list currently (still working on it) looks like this.
What might be a bit different to plan from overseas is your resupply strategy. Yep we’re talking about strategy here, The PCT ain’t the camino, or not much like any hike through central/western Europe, where you walk through a town or village at least every second day. On the PCT you will have to send yourself packages with food sometimes, to places where there isn’t a store,… And sometimes you’ll have to carry a weeks’ worth of food on your back. Flying in from overseas will probably mean that you won’t be able to resupply solely by sending yourself resupply packages in advance, except if you arrive a week or two earlier in the US. Having a week or two might give you enough time to buy all the food you need for 5 months, put it in boxes and send those ahead. Still most of us won’t have that time. Don’t worry about it. Even if I lived in the states I wouldn’t resupply that way. I will use the “hybrid” strategy, mostly buying food as I go and once in a while send a resupply package further up the trail if there isn’t a store. You can find an explanation on how to plan your resupply strategy in Yogi’s PCT Handbook for instance. So I won’t go into detail here. Yeah I’m just too lazy.
Another thing you might consider when flying in from overseas is looking for a resupply or support person in the US. Maybe a friend, a relative,… Having a support person in the US makes things a bit easier. It’s definitely doable without but it does make it easier.
The thing is: You won’t need all of your gear all the time. You won’t need microspikes in the desert for instance, or a warmer jacket. So this is how I do it: I asked my friend Lindsey, who lives in California, if she’d be my resupply/support person (I’ll introduce you to her later, she’s the toughest girl on the west coast!!!). When I arrive in the States I will give her all of my additional/extra gear that I don’t need in the desert: Microspikes (not sure if I will need them at all, we’ll see what the snow pack will be like when I reach the Sierra), rainpants, warmer mittens, extra socks,….) When I get to Kennedy Meadows I will text her and ask her to send me the extra gear that I need for the Sierra, or new socks, or whatever. I’ll do the same when I need extra or other gear in Washington or anywhere along the trail.
Don’t despair when you don’t find a support person. You can still use a bounce box, in which you put your additional gear and bounce it forward from post office to post office. How that bounce box works is also described in Yogi’s book and I’m sure somewhere online too.
8. Travel/health insurance. Health care is expensive in the States, frikkin’ expensive. Don’t take the risk. Get a decent insurance that covers health care costs made in the US. It’s easy to compare prices online. I found an insurance with Europe Assistance that isn’t all that expensive and still covers a lot.
Right, that’s about it. I probably forgot stuff (we’ll see whether that has serious consequences for me or not once I hit the trail haha) . I’m sure once you decided you wanna hike the PCT (or any other long distance trail overseas) you’ll be looking up information all the time anyway. So this should just be a little help, I’m not saying it’s complete ;c) (Gosh, hear me, since when does Cat write disclaimers?) :cP
Aaaanyway… Don’t panic, jump in that icy cold ake, jump ALL in. It’s awesome, even before you hit the trail!!! And ehhhh right…. START TRAINING! Get fit! Have fun! (Maaaaan, and I’m sitting on the couch right now, waiting for my injuries to heal…. don’t take me as an example… just sayin’!) Happy Trails!!! Cat
PS (OMfG, another disclaimer, what is wrong with me???): I assume it’s obvious you use your brain when you head into the backcountry and you have the necessary skills to do so in a safe way!!! Right? Right!