Two More PCT Books

The Pacific Crest Trail: A Hiker’s Companion, by Karen Berger and Daniel R. Smith ★★★★
I had previously read and reviewed Berger’s book on hiking the triple crown. She is trained as a classical pianist, but has written numerous hiking and scuba diving books. This is an updated text, with the help of Dan Smith, of a previous edition that she authored. Rather than offering strategies for hiking the trail, this is a book offering more descriptive aspects of the trail itself. She goes section by section, starting in Campo and ending in Manning, BC, describing the trail, the wildlife, plants, geology and other items of interest. She gives suggestions on sites to see, where to do layovers, problems that one might expect, as well as short hikes in each section for the week-end PCT’er. She writes well, and this book was quite an easy read, yet giving solid advice about the trail. Since I am quite familiar with many segments of the Oregon/Washington trail, she seemed to be right on about her descriptions. She’s honest about telling one about the great as well as horrible segments of the trail, giving advice on how to deal with that. I liked her writing style. Though the subtitle suggests that this is a book that one would bring with them, that would not be a good idea at all. Read it before, know its contents, and then bring your maps as the accompaniment.
The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker’s Handbook, by Ray Jardine ★★★★★
For those in the know, Ray Jardine is the godfather of ultralight backpacking. At first I thought it to be a foolhardy and dangerous way to manage a backpacking trip. Since reading many books on ultralight backpacking, I am now realizing that it is the smart way to go for long-distance hiking, though with a few exceptions. Jardine writes well, and he reads well. He started life professionally as an aeronautical engineer, but is quite experienced with the outdoors, being into rock climbing, having hiked the entire PCT both north ways and south ways multiple times, and having taught for many years as an Outward Bound instructor. This book was an invaluable read, offering page after page of sage advice. Ray tends to be a little bit nutty in spots. His methods of hygiene, especially in restaurants, is rather strange. His dietary habits are peculiar, especially with his love for corn pasta. (Yes, I will try corn pasta on my next pack trip, but fail to find it physiologically superior to other forms of nutrition). Oftentimes, Ray offers advice that he doesn’t follow, but he will usually give you an explanation as to why he is different. Toward the end of the book, there is invaluable advice on how to strategize your PCT hike in both a south and northbound direction. Sadly, his advice on PCT planning is not reproduced in his subsequent publications, and this text, written in 1992 and updated in 1996 is somewhat outdated. I wish he would update his PCT specific book. Other bits of advice need to be taken as advice only. For example, I do agree that the lightest shoes possible are imperative, yet, my Vasque hiking books are the only backpacking shoes I’ve ever been able to wear and not get blisters. I recently tried some trail running shoes for a backpack trip that was quite short and flat, and was cripple up with foot (arch) pain for weeks afterwards, though I never got blisters. He advises sewing your own backpack, sleeping quilt and some clothing, which I will have to pass on. As an older hiker, some attention to sleeping comfort is in order, which might add a few more ounces to the pack. Hopefully, I can keep my basic pack to under 12 lbs, rather than 8.5 lbs that Jardine shoots for. That 12 lb weight would still be an advantage to me. Of course, having somebody to hike with allows one to unload some stuff on the partner, like the tent or the stove and stove fuel, which seems to be the way to go. I appreciate Jardine’s stance against horses on the trail, which truly destroy any footpath, and remove the true wilderness experience for the adventurer. I disagree with Jardine regarding safety aspects for the trail, such as signage, and occasional shelters in high risk areas. I also have no issue with occasionally creating a trail with dynamite. I am quite sure that Jardine has enjoyed the Eagle Creek alternate to the PCT in northern Oregon, or the Kendall catwalk, both of which required a few sticks of dynamite to our betterment. Perhaps an explanation for my stance is that we are required to care for the earth, but that the earth was created for our enjoyment– it is an anthropocentric view of the universe, but which doesn’t give us license to pollute or destroy earth as we have. In all, this is one of the “must-reads” before attacking the PCT.
Of the three books that I’ve found most helpful, this, Berger’s, and Yogi’s handbooks, Yogi’s rates #1, with this in second place, good for its ultralight advice, but outdated regarding PCT planning advice. Berger’s is a close third.