Mile Zero: Starting the Pacific Crest Trail

Our correspondent takes her first steps down one of America's longest trails.

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Pacific Crest Trail
Photo by Courtesy of Amanda Jameson

It’s 7:30 a.m. and I’m standing at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Southern terminus of the PCT. And I’m not alone—others hikers, in various states of giddy nervousness, are also here, taking pictures and generally documenting the happy occasion. One by one, we thank Scout—the trail angel who organized our rides and whose house we slept at—and his helper angels, and then we set out.

The weather’s perfect for hiking this morning: not too cold, not too hot, at least yet. Most of the people I leapfrog with are grinning ear to ear, all of us floating on the thought that we’re on the PCT. So strange to actually be here, after all the dreaming, the planning, the waiting.

For me, the novelty wears off around 1 p.m., around the 10-mile mark. I’ve been taking short breaks and drinking lots of water—I packed out 6 liters for the 20 miles to Lake Morena, the next on-trail water source—but the sun is relentless, and there’s barely any shade. My legs are starting to argue at the abuse, and the heat makes it somewhat hard to breathe.

I’ve picked up a break buddy—we’ve been hiking around each other, but when we see the other one we stop to be in the shade and enjoy each other’s company. She’s in a tiny spot this time, though, so I am left to slog uphill, around a bend, and down into a shaded spot of my own, where I waffle before making the decision to take the best 20-minute nap of my life.

My break buddy catches me as I head out, and we wander down the winding stretch that leads to Hauser Creek, spotting, across the valley, the climb on the other side. I’m not in the mood for the three miles of uphill and then some it’ll take to get to Lake Morena. It’s just the start, and I want to be gentle to my body. So even though it’s only 4:30, and it’ll mean camping in a cold valley, I decide to stop at the dry creek for the evening, and my break buddy joins me. We’re met there, at mile 15.4, by another hiker, and the three of us settle in to some of the many spots near the creek bed.

As we set up and enjoy the sublime feeling of sitting down, more and more hikers trickle in, some of whom we’ve seen, some of whom we haven’t, and a merry multitude of conversations strike up. As the sun goes down, we make our way to bed reluctantly, sad to leave the company of our new community, but content to have another day—many, many days—of hiking ahead.