Why I plan to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018

In England, some of us take pride in belonging to a country that has a long history; many believe it somehow makes us superior to Americans because our country has a “lot of culture”. In my opinion, a country doesn’t need ancient buildings, collections of 150 year old paintings created by tortured souls, or a monarchy, to have culture–culture can be modern. I like American culture–the culture that exists today–American films, television series, music, computer software and whatnot interest me. The inherent topography of a country is also important and I think mother nature is the single most important factor which determines the locations I am interested in.

What made me interested in the Pacific Crest Trail

In 2014, Reese Witherspoon starred in a film called “Wild“–she played the main character “Cheryl Strayed”. It’s a chronicle of a woman’s 1,100 mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail; Cheryl Strayed also wrote a book with the same name but I haven’t read it yet. Wild made me quite interested in the Pacific Crest Trail and I began researching the hike shortly after seeing it. Reese Witherspoon played the part well, and I couldn’t really fault her performance beyond showing no signs of weight loss or weight gain (does that ever happen on such a long hike?) but I still felt the film could have been more exciting, and I was a bit disappointed. It was good enough to make me emotional about what Cheryl Strayed went through, and it was good enough to make me interested in researching the Pacific Crest Trail hike further so I’m really thankful I watched it, but i didn’t enjoy it that much as a film in its own right. The Dark Knight Rises was a more entertaining film in my opinion but interestingly, it was far less inspiring.

I hate when people spoil films, so I will leave it there :). For those that have already hiked the trail and are reading this, I’m sure you’ve heard this all before; it’s a borderline cliché, especially when we look at how many people hike the trail now compared to how many hiked before the film came out.

Why I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

In my opinion, many people that engage in a physical activity like running, swimming or hiking, can be put into one of two groups: they’re either hiking towards something or away from something. I think I’m slightly different but I guess I fit into the former category; I just love the whole idea of the Pacific Crest Trail. Getting up early in the morning, taking some photographs, walking in a foreign land all day, bumping into snakes, sleeping in a tent, being eaten alive by a mountain lion, etc. It all sounds exciting. I want to be truly terrified once or twice, but I also want to wake up and look at a bunch of mountains.

I want to focus on photography more than the average hiker, but the entire hike excites me. I had a very specific plan to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016, and that plan got ruined–health issues. I decided to postpone it to 2017 and everything was going well, except my VISA was declined. I had no idea how fussy they would be. I’d still like to do this hike and I’m going to re-apply for a Visa probably late August 2017. My Canadian Visa (eTA) has been approved, and I don’t want to delay travelling for much longer, so I will likely spend several months in Canada if my US Visa is declined for a second time.

My interests might change slightly on the trail and I might decide I’ve a limited time to take photographs or I might want to do less hiking on a specific day, but I feel that getting my feet on the trail is the most important thing of all and so far it’s proving to be the most difficult part.

For those that’re unfamiliar, the Pacific Crest Trail is a 2650+ mile hike, and people typically hike from the South (Californian border with Mexico) to the North (Canada). The scenery looks beautiful and it looks like a great place to take landscape photographs, so even even if you aren’t that interested in hiking for long distances I still think it’s a location worth researching.

I’ve already started researching various equipment, and if you’re not familiar with LighterPack, I suggest you check the site out as it’s completely free. I’ve been using it to play around with different pack weights. I find it quite fun researching electronics and camping equipment.

The photography equipment I want to bring

Many people that hike the PCT seem quite anti taking too many electronics or too much of anything in general for that matter, and I can understand why. It’s added weight that puts a strain on you. Photography is important to me and I want to improve my landscape photography a lot. Doing something daily is the best way to improve at anything, and I’m a strong advocate of the 10,000 hours theory (it’s been refuted but the general idea remains true–practise makes perfect).

It can be off putting to read negative responses to larger cameras on forums. I’ve occasionally stumbled upon the odd blog where someone has achieved something I have in mind, and it is extremely reassuring for me but the general consensus is to keep your pack weight down. Years ago when people used to hike the PCT, people didn’t have the luxury of cuben fibre, specially designed titanium items or whatnot. Both weight and budget is a concern, but I am hoping that if I can save a fair bit of weight on other items, I should be able to incorporate a camera comfortably. DSLRs are not an option for me as they use too much power in liveview mode and it is something I tend to use a lot when I hike. The equivalent lenses that I’m interested in would be around twice the weight; the body would be heavier and the tripod would have to be larger.

I’ve bought a LowePro Toploader bag which is quite small. It can house the camera and a lens attached. There’s a loop at the back for a belt and some points at the top to attach a strap. Using these, I can loop through a bit of paracord and attach it to the side straps of my backpack. I am probably going to do it twice, one for the strap loops and one through the belt loop, this way if one breaks it won’t fall to the ground. This negates the need of using something like a peakdesign capture clip (they’re quite heavy too). Moreover, it protects the camera from dust. I could put the camera in my backpack but I don’t think it would get used enough. I will update these pages at some point, and I’ll also include photographs when I have everything.

Overlandandundersea mentioned problems they encountered with their solar panel; in part, I believe it was due to the solar panel they bought and their method of fitting it to their backpack. I own a a Solar Paper, and I think it’s ideal for sunny climates. I won’t touch the Sony 24-240 FE f/3.5-6.3 they decided to bring, and I am not a lover of Circular Polarisers either–especially with wide angle photographs. I am going to bring one ND filter (plus I’ll use the smooth water camera app), and two to three prime lenses. The lenses I know that I’m taking for sure are the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Loxia lens and the Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 lens.

SPOT and Delorme have GPS devices which can track the hike server side (as opposed to a log being recorded on the device itself), and this can be exported into a GPX file but it’s more added weight. I’ve bought a Garmin Fenix 5 and it seems to do everything I want. It also has other functions that’re quite useful, and as it’d be on my wrist, the weight should seem lighter than having one extra item in my backpack.

Using USB-OTG, I will be able to make SD card clones and mail one of them home if desired. SD cards are quite cheap, but when you need 20+ of them, they’re incredibly expensive. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was perfect for this, but we all know what happened there… I’m going to wait for a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 but I might consider buying a Samsung Galaxy S8. I’m far from a Samsung fanboy, it’s just difficult finding a phone with USB 3.1, water resistance and whatnot.

Having bought nearly all of the photography and electronics equipment I plan to take, I can focus on the more important equipment :); I’m sure some people will think I’m crazy with how many electronics I’ll be bringing, haha.

I’ve spent the last few years wanting to do this hike and I don’t want to write about negative subjects on my website. I cannot explain how disappointed I was to hear my VISA was declined, “not enough ties to the UK”, and if anyone has any suggestions or if anyone has been through something similar, I would love it if you could contact me. I have a relentless drive to do this hike but I am not willing to break American law :).

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