PCT Hiker Terms
Someone who is in the process of hiking the entire length of a trail that is 1000 miles or longer in length. The actual use of the term is problematic, because one cannot know whether one will complete the hike until one actually completes it. At the moment a hiker earns the title “through hiker” by completing the trail, he is no longer a through hiker. If a through hiker is injured and must leave the trail, he suddenly stops being a through hiker, and becomes a section hiker. So while you may call yourself a through hiker, you cannot really know if you are a through hiker until you are no longer a through hiker.
Hiking the entire length of a trail 1000 miles or longer in length. Traditionally a contiguous hike from one end of the trail to the other. Recently the term through hike has been used to describe any method of hiking the entire trail, including section hiking, flip flopping or skipping.
Hiking a significant section of the trail. Often people who desire to through hike, but can’t, will hike the entire trail in sections over several summers.
Multi-Year Through Hike. A hike of the entire trail over several summers.
Leaving the trail, and reentering the trail at another location, to bypass a section of trail. Skipping is done for several reasons such as forest fires, heavy snow pack, fatigue, lack of motivation, a need to make up for lost time or to meet up with friends who are hiking ahead of you. Often people who skip a section of trail, but complete the rest of it, still consider themselves through hikers, especially if the reason for skipping was to bypass a trail closure due to forest fires.
People who skip sections of trail will sometimes turn around and hike the skipped section in the opposite direction. This is known as flip flopping.
Hiking with minimal gear, usually little more than food and water, while someone else transports the bulk of your gear ahead by car.
A day in which you do no hiking. So named because you do zero PCT miles. A zero day is almost always taken at a town stop. Often the distance from the trail to town will make taking a zero day more practical than trying to get to and from town in one day. Zero days are often used to do preparations such as laundry, shower, resupply, repair or replace gear, etc. They are also times to get caught up on calorie loading, and rest. Also called a Zero.
Nearly a zero. A day in which one hikes few miles. A portion of a nearo day is usually spent in town.
Exactly what it implies: eating as much high fat food as you can during a town stop.
Drink as much water as you can possibly hold in your stomach. A technique used to help you get from one water source to the next when water sources are far apart. Sometimes used to describe carrying more water than usual during a long dry stretch of trail.
A non-hiker who helps a hiker in some way.
Unexpected generosity from a non-hiker. One unfortunate trend in recent years is that trail magic is becoming so common that some hikers now expect it, and become rude when it isn’t offered.
A means of obtaining help or supplies from a non-hiker, often without directly asking. From Yogi the Bear who managed to obtain picnic baskets from unsuspecting campers, though yogiing does not involve the same techniques that Yogi the Bear used. Yogiing is often done “Columbo style” by striking up a conversation with a non-hiker, asking leading questions, (How far is it into town from here? Is there a bus that could take me there? Are there any restaurants open this late?) and allowing the person to decide whether he wants to offer help.
(Also the trail name of a well known triple crowner and repeat offender. Yogi is the author of Yogi’s PCT Handbook, a compilation of trail information and advice used as a resource by many PCT hikers.)
The home of Jeff and Donna Saufley in Agua Dulce, California. Jeff and Donna go out of their way every year to act as trail angels. A stop at Hiker Heaven is almost a must during a through hike. The Saufleys do laundry, handle resupply packages, and provide trail information to hikers.
Casa de Luna
The home of Joe and Terrie Anderson, about one day’s hike north of Hiker Heaven. The Andersons are well known trail angels who allow hikers to stay at their home. Terrie Anderson has described the atmosphere in their home as hippy day care. While not as popular as Hiker Heaven, many hikers do choose to stay at Casa De Luna. It is reported that those who do not stop at Casa de Luna will often have some sort of problem on the next section of trail that will force them to turn back to Casa de Luna.
(The Andersons also maintain a cache along the trail. Terrie is said to make the best taco salad available anywhere along the trail.)
A triple crown is accomplished when one has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. A calendar triple crown involves hiking all three trails in one calendar year. As of this writing only two people have completed a calendar year.
Skipping a section of trail, and hiking in the opposite direction to return to the place where you left the trail. Often done to avoid difficult trail conditions, such as heavy snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains. A flip flop is often an attempt to postpone difficult trail sections until conditions improve. A common flip flop would involve hiking north to Kennedy Meadows, taking a ride to Manning Park, then hiking south to finish the trail at Kennedy Meadows. A flip flop causes the hiker to switch from being a northbound hiker to being a southbound hiker. Also known as flipping.
Another term for skipping. The term yellow blazing is used more often on the Appalachian trail where white blazes mark the official route and blue blazes mark alternate routes. Yellow blazes are the lines down the center of the road that one follows when one leaves the trail and travels by car or bus.
An interesting irony about the term “yellow blazing” is that blazes along the Pacific Crest Trail are yellow.
Hiking the entire length of the trail, then turning around and hiking the entire trail in the opposite direction in one season. At the time of this writing only two people have successfully yo yoed the Pacific Crest Trail. Yo yoing on the Appalachian trail is more common. The Continental Divide Trail has been yo yoed twice.
Someone who through hikes or attempts to through hike the Pacific Crest Trail more than once. The Pacific Crest Trail has been through hiked as many as 12 times by one individual.
9:00 PM. The time by which through hikers are usually asleep.
The bulk of through hikers who are hiking within a few hundred miles of each other. As interest in the trail grows every year, the size of the pack increases, causing problems for trail angels, businesses and resources in southern California. By the time The pack has reached northern California, it is more spread out and has less impact on local resources. Also known as the herd.
The reasons for the existence of the pack are threefold.
More people are attempting to through hike the trail every year.
The narrow window of opportunity to through hike the trail every year causes most hikers to begin their hikes within a four-week window.
Many hikers choose to attend the Kick Off and schedule their start dates within a few days of the Kick Off.
Adding to the pack effect is the fact that hikers like to congregate at trail towns and trail angel’s homes, and tend to leave these places in groups. So, rather than spreading out on the trail, hikers tend to hike in clumps.
The Kick Off
The Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off Party. An annual event organized by former through hikers for the benefit of current through hikers. The Kick Off is held at Lake Morena, 20 miles from the southern terminus of the trail, during the last weekend in April. The purpose of the Kick Off is to offer information, encouragement and camaraderie to the current year’s through and section hikers. Also known as the ADZ.
A few hikers are opposed to the Kick Off, claiming that it offers dubious help to hikers who are not otherwise adequately prepared, and that it adds to the pack by narrowing start dates to at or near the weekend of the Kick Off. In an effort to spread out the pack, some through hikers will begin their hikes before the Kick Off, hitch a ride back to Lake Morena to attend the Kick Off, then hitch back to the point where they left the trail. Kick Off participants offer rides to and from points as far north as Warner Springs.
The Pacific Crest Trail e-mail List. A source of communication about the Pacific Crest Trail on the internet.
The Water Report
The Water Report is an on-line resource where hikers can post the condition of various water sources along the trail. Hikers farther back in the pack can use that information to determine which water sources are reliable, and which are dry.
Camping away from common camping spots such as lakes, stream crossings or meadows. Promoted by Ray Jardine, author of the Pacific Crest Trail Hiker’s Handbook, as a way to avoid bear encounters.
Camping in an area that has no nearby water source. Stealth camps are usually dry camps. A common technique on the trail is to eat dinner at a water source, continue hiking into the evening, then set up camp wherever one finds oneself at the end of the day, even if it means camping on the trail itself. This method has three advantages.
Decreased likelihood of bear encounters.
More flexibility. One can hike any number of miles without the constraint of stopping at an established campsite or water source.
A dry camp or stealth camp offers more solitude for those who desire it.
Uneven surface of snow resembling a giant egg carton. As the snow melts in the spring, pockets of water form on the surface of the snow. This water warms up in the sun and causes the snow under it to melt faster than the surrounding snow. The resulting uneven surface is difficult to walk on.
Inadvertently breaking through the surface of the snow so that your leg resembles a fence post stuck in a post hole.
A web site with resources for hikers. Also the trail name of the person who maintains the site. Post Holer has been vocal in the past about vedors charging money for their resources or placing ads on their web pages. Post Holer has endeavored to provide his resources for free and without advertising. However, he has recently found it necessary to recoup some of the expenses of creating the resources.
The trail name of a PCT hiker who provides accurate maps to the PCT community in electronic format at no cost. Many hikers fell that halfmile’s maps are the best maps available for the PCT. Before the beginning of the hiking season, many hikers will pool thier money and pay to have Halfmile’s maps printed in bulk at a discount.
The weight of a loaded backpack, not including food, water and stove fuel. The base weight also does not include items that are only carried during short sections of the trail, such as ice ax or crampons. Since the amount of food, water and stove fuel vary throughout a hike, the base weight is considered a better indicator of how light or heavy a hiker’s pack is than the total weight. (Depending on how much water one carries, pack weight can vary by 15 pounds or more in a single day.) Most through hikers try to carry a base weight of 15 pounds or less. Ultra-lighters carry a base weight of 12 pounds or less. Extreme ultra-lighters carry a base weight of under 10 pounds.
Skin Out Weight
Base weight plus the weight of clothing and gear worn. Only gram weenies really care about their skin out weight.
Someone who is obsessive about reducing their base weight as much as possible. A derogatory term that suggests that a person isn’t willing to carry one more gram of weight than necessary.
A general description of a through or section hiker, or of through hikers collectively. It probably comes from the fact that through hikers often are confused for homeless people during town stops. It also comes from the fact that the usual ways of determining status in real life have little, if any, meaning on the trail.
After a few hundred miles on the trail it becomes difficult to wash the sweat and dirt out of your clothes. The resulting smell is called hiker funk. The reason the person giving you a ride into town has the windows down is not because the air conditioning isn’t working.
(If a hiker has been on the trail long enough, he can tell a short distance hiker by the smell of the perfumes in his soap and deoderant. To a through hiker, day hikers smell unnaturally clean.)
A nickname used by a hiker. A trail name can be chosen by the hiker prior to the hike, but is considered more official if it is given to the hiker during the hike. A trail name often derives from an unusual, humorous or significant characteristic or event associated with the hiker. Sometimes it will derive from something the hiker says or something that is said to the hiker. A trail name is said to “stick” if the hiker accepts the trail name and other hikers begin to know him by that name. The tradition of using trail names started on the Appalachian Trail, and has spread to the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails.
Trail names tend to be unique to a particular hiker and are thought to be a better way of identifying a hiker than his given name (How many Johns are on the trail at any one time?) or a description (The tall skinny guy with the shaggy beard and muscular legs. He was wearing a polyester T-shirt, nylon shorts and a backpack. Last I saw him, he was walking north.).
The Cotton World
Life off of the trail. So called because wearing cotton will not put you in danger of hypothermia. Also known as real life.
At some point in the trail, usually around Yosemite Park, a hiker will develop the look. It is a combination of a lean, muscular body and a look of confidence and determination in the eyes. Those who have the look will probably finish their hikes. Those who don’t have the look, will probably leave the trail before they finish.
Sleeping under the stars without a tent. Often done to save the time and effort of setting up a tent when the weather is expected to be good through the night.
Water left beside the trail by trail angels for use by through hikers. Most of the caches on the Pacific Crest Trail are in the southern California deserts where reliable water sources are far apart. Caches are not to be considered reliable water sources. Through hikers are advised to carry enough water to get to the next reliable water source, and to take water from the caches only if they find themselves running low. Cached water is not intended for bathing or cooking.
Caches are controversial. Many through hikers feel that the trail should be hiked on its own terms, and that water caches are an artificial crutch that can be used by hikers who are not otherwise adequately prepared. Other hikers feel that the caches are a helpful safety net available to them if things don’t go as planned. Others use the caches as primary water sources and view the off-trail springs as alternate water sources to be used if the caches are dry.
The establishment of caches, The Kick Off and Hiker Heaven has reduced the through hiker drop out rate considerably.
Send unneeded gear ahead by mail. Many through hikers will use a bounce box. This box has items that may be useful at various points along the trail, such as extra sunscreen, battery charger, warm clothing layers, etc. The Bounce box is mailed to various resupply points along the trail. The hiker can use the bounce box to mail gear that is not needed, but may be needed later, ahead to another resupply point along the trail.
All You Can Eat, as in all you can eat buffet. For a through hiker burning as much as 6000 calories per day, all you can eat is a lot!
Miles walked that are not on the PCT, such as miles to and from resupply points or to and from off-trail water sources or non-PCT miles walked due to bad navigation.
The Book of Lies
The Pacific Crest Trail Guidebooks. Even though the guidebooks contain essential information about the trail, sometimes it is inaccurate or less than helpful. The information in the guidebooks is often collected at different times in the season than through hikers experience the same sections of the trail, so conditions described in the guidebooks are often different than conditions encountered on the trail.
Boxes at some resupply points that hikers use to exchange food or gear. If you are tired of eating the same old thing out of your resupplies, or are carrying too much food, you can leave your extra food in the hiker box for someone else to take. If you see something in the hiker box that looks interesting, you can take it. If you need a few ounces of stove fuel, and you can only buy it by the gallon, you can leave the unused portion in the hiker box for someone else.
Of the various fuels that can be used for cooking on the trail, denatured alcohol has become the fuel of choice for most through hikers. Alcohol stoves are usually hand made from pop, cat food or tuna cans. Several patterns for home made alcohol stoves can be found on the internet. Alcohol has less potential energy than white gas or butane/propane, but the lighter weight of an alcohol stove more than makes up for the slightly larger quantity of fuel that must be carried. Denatured alcohol is easier to obtain at most town stops than other stove fuels.
Because of the way that home made alcohol stoves operate, they are used primarily for boiling water to rehydrate dehydrated meals. They are generally not used for more sophisticated cooking.
Also called Pepsi can stoves or Pepsi stoves.
Automotive gas line antifreeze. Actually, just methanol alcohol in a fancy package. At many town stops Heet is the most readily available form of stove fuel.
Anything off trail that draws hikers into it, and hikers find difficult to leave. Usually a town stop, restaurant or trail angel’s home. From time to time a vortex, such as a hot spring, will be found along the trail, rather than off the trail.
The will to walk away from a vortex.
Debris floating in a water source that needs to be filtered out, even if the water quality is such that filtering the water is not otherwise necessary.
Running out of energy to hike due to eating too few calories.
City/Idiot. Usually encountered in crowded front-country areas, Citiots demonstrate too little wisdom for the types of activities they are involved in. Now I personally hate the moronic term “Touron” tourist/moron but it’s meaning is the same.
Sliding down a snow covered slope. Glissading is faster and more fun than hiking down a snow covered slope, but is not without its risks. An ice axe is often used to control the hiker’s speed. Sometimes called bum sliding.
A method of hiking down a snow covered slope that involves digging the heels into the snow with each step to prevent slipping.
A female hiker who accompanies a male hiker when he attempts to hitch a ride. It is thought that people are more likely to pick up a male hitchhiker if a female is with him, and that a female hitchhiker is safer if a male is with her.
June 15th. In an average snow year in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Ray Day is the best date to leave Kennedy Meadows on a northbound through hike. Named for Ray Jardine, the Author of the Pacific Crest Trail Hikers Handbook. This date is based on two factors. It is late enough to allow sufficient snowmelt in the Sierras for a safe hike. It is early enough to allow time to reach Canada.
A number of through hikers successfully hiked the Sierras in heavier than normal snowpack in 2006. This shows that Ray Day is a good guideline for most hikers, but is not as important as previously thought.
That empty feeling in your stomach that results from eating 4000 calories per day, but burning 6000 calories per day. After about a month on the trail, it becomes difficult to carry enough food.
Ray Jardine is an adventurer who was an early proponent of lightweight backpacking techniques. He authored The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker’s Handbook and Beyond Backpacking. Ray’s techniques were controversial when he first wrote about them. Many of his techniques, or similar techniques are now standard practice. Ray has gone on to other pursuits and is no longer considered a leader in the lightweight backpacking movement. New leaders have emerged, new lightweight materials have been developed, and a handful of small companies have been created that offer lightweight gear that is sometimes lighter and performs better than Ray Jardine’s homemade gear. The PCT-L, Yogi’s handbook and other resources have replaced The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker’s Handbook as sources of information about the PCT
Hike Your Own Hike. An encouragement between hikers to hike according to your own dreams, goals, expectations, etc., and not have your hike determined by other hiker’s expectations. This is your hike. Hike it your way.