Norwegian on the Pacific Crest Trail
A Norwegian hiker takes on one of the longest trails in the U.S., and makes connections along the way
May 4, 2012. It’s a beautiful morning in Campo, a small village on the Mexican border in Southern California. A car rolls up and stops right next to the border fence. I get out and put my backpack on. I’m going across the border. But there’s no border crossing here…
Two Border Patrol agents drive by, but they don’t seem to worry about it. They know I’m not going south. Instead I turn around and look to the north: ‘Canada – only 2,660 miles away! I’d better start walking!’ Thus started my hike of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is one of the original National Scenic Trails and was established by act of Congress in 1968. At 2,660 miles it is also one of the longest trails in the U.S., as it makes its way from Campo, Calif. thru California, Oregon and Washington, before ending at the Canadian border a few miles south of Manning Park, British Columbia. The trail follows the main Pacific mountains ranges, most notably the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California and the Cascade mountain range of Oregon and Washington. It runs through some of the most beautiful scenery in the U.S. Every summer a couple of hundreds of hikers attempt to hike the entirety of the trail, also known as thru-hiking. In the summer of 2012 I was one of them.
Like a lot of Norwegians I have always been fond of the outdoors. I grew up in a small town called Molde, on the Norwegian west coast, and spent my childhood close to nature, be it skiing, hiking, hunting or fishing. But as is often the case nowadays job and career often lead people to the big cities, far away from the wilderness. For the past 10 years or so I have been living and working in Oslo, Norway’s capitol and biggest city. And I have to admit that it wasn’t the ‘call of the wild’ that first drew me to the U.S. In Norway, as in the rest of the world, media sells ‘californication’ and a couple of years ago I decided that I had to go and see for myself: Los Angeles, Disneyland, San Francisco, Las Vegas, the sights.
But on my first visit I also discovered the great idea that is the National Park System. I’ve kept coming back to the U.S. to explore them, first as an amateur photographer, then as a hiker. Then, in the summer of 2011, as I was hiking south on the John Muir Trail thru the High Sierras, I happened to run into the main herd of that year’s PCT-hikers coming north. I was simply amazed. People from all walks of life. From college students to retirees. With one common goal: To hike from Mexico to Canada. It planted a seed in me, and ten months later I had quit my job in Oslo and was sitting on an airplane across the Atlantic. Ready to start my own hike.
Most people, including me, hike the Pacific Crest Trail from south to North, and the hiking season generally lasts from late April to early October. The key is to start late enough to allow the snow in the Sierra Nevada to melt, but early enough to make it to Canada before winter sets in again, and it takes the average hiker about 5 months to thru-hike the trail. This means getting up with the sun, hike for 10-12 hours carrying everything you need to survive for several days in your backpack, then go to bed, wake up the next morning and follow the same schedule over again. If you do this and hike 20 miles a day you get to take a day off every ten days. This may sound tedious and boring to some, but in a strange way it isn’t. At least it wasn’t for me. Every day on the trail would take me through some new scenery and offer new views and experiences. Not to mention all the people I got to meet. Although I started out from Campo alone, I was never lonely on the trail. By the time I reached Sierra Nevada I had teamed up with 4 other solo hikers and we ended up hiking together almost all the way to Canada, forging friendships for life.
Like most Norwegians I also have relatives in the U.S. More numerous and closer in kin then I was first aware of actually. I’ve come to learn that I have relatives along the entire Pacific Crest Trail, from San Diego in the south to Seattle in the north, and I was very happy to take this opportunity to connect with my Norwegian-American side of the family. First as I was moving north on the trail, and later as I was moving south after the trail. The kindness and hospitality that I experienced from my Norwegian-American family was just amazing, also forging friendships for life.
Late in the afternoon on September 3rd of 2012, four months after I set out from the U.S. – Mexican border, I made my way down the switchbacks to Monument 78 on the U.S. – Canadian border marking the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. I was bearded and weary after months on the trail, and as I reached the monument a blissful feeling of accomplishment set in. I was happy to have succeded and was looking forward to some long needed rest. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad that the journey was coming to an end. But hey, there are still more trails to be hiked. Don’t be surprised if you see me on one of the other National Scenic Trails some day.
To read more about Stein’s hike, and see more pictures from the trip, check out his website at www.rypdal.net.
This article originally appeared in the Mar. 29, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.