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A hiking guide for new backpackers

Avid hikers give advice, tell their stories about long hikes including the Pacific Crest Trail

Hilary Greenwood poses at the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at the Canadian/American border on Sept. 29, 2022. Greenwood is shown having hiked five months and 2,650 miles of the PCT. // Photo by Diana Castellanos

First-year Western Washington University student Hilary Greenwood hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail in five months. Now, she can’t sleep in a bed because she said they’re too comfortable.

“I think it’s hard for me because I slept on the ground for so much of [the trail] that I’m used to it,” Greenwood said.

On March 29, 2022, Greenwood set off on her solo Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) trip at the Mexican border. She hiked for 162 days straight, averaging around 16 miles a day.

“My mom dropped me off at the border, and I set off. I was like ‘Wow. What am I doing? This is crazy,’” Greenwood said.

Although Greenwood began her hike alone, she gained many friends at the end of five months.

“The PCT is all about the people. I was never alone, which was so great," Greenwood said. "You just make people be your friend."

While Greenwood recommends people hike the PCT, she admitted that the readjustment process was not easy.

“Missing the trail feels like grief in a way," she said. "The trail was so impactful on me, and I loved it so much. This is where I’m happiest. It’s been really hard to come back.” 

One piece of advice Greenwood has for new hikers is to be adaptable when making plans on the trail.

“I’m not super good at being flexible or adaptable, so something that was important for me was learning that things aren’t going to go as planned, but everything is going to work out alright,” Greenwood said. 

Greenwood wasn’t the only one who hiked the PCT this past summer.

Fourth-year Western student Ronan Davies hiked 74 miles of the PCT in September 2022. He said that one important thing to note when going on a backpacking trip is to remember to pack light.

“There’s a lot of essentials that you think you need that you don’t need, your bag can be a lot lighter than you think,” Davies said. “The [most useful thing for me] was a stove, especially in the summer. We would make ramen by putting it in a Talenti container and letting it soak for two hours and have cold ramen. It’s not glamorous, but it’s worth having a lighter backpack.”

Mike Baron, long-time hiker, summiteer of Mount Baker and parent of a current Western student, said that one of his main motivating points during a hike is the view.

“Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Because you’re out there with a 50 to 60-pound pack going up a steep hike; it’s not always the greatest experience. When you get to the top, you really feel like you’ve accomplished something,” Baron said.

Greenwood and Davies highly recommend hiking the PCT to anyone remotely interested.

“I loved the simplicity of it. The only thing you have to worry about is walking,” Greenwood said. “I really enjoyed the people. [I made] some of my best friends in the world, and it was so much fun.”

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