Snow Stalls Hikers on Increasingly Popular Pacific Crest Trail

Oct 2, 2013

Bad weather is posing a hurdle for dozens of long-distance hikers determined to finish the Pacific Crest Trail. 

Rescuers are searching for two hikers stranded in snow in Skamania County. A Coast Guard helicopter rescued two other hikers stranded on the trail on Tuesday night. And many more hikers are trying to decide whether to continue on, or give up.

Kelly Bolger, 43, is an experienced hiker who has hiked the Appalachian Trail several times and finished the PCT in 2008. But the record rains last weekend nearly did her in.

“It was pretty brutal," she said. "I was on my third day of heavy rains. It was cold. Once I got up in elevation, I encountered sleet and snow. That’s what made me start to think, 'This is a bad situation,' when I start losing feeling in my toes and my fingertips."

Bolger couldn't hydrate because drinking made her too cold. She says broke down several times on the trail, disappointed but knowing she shouldn’t go on.

“It was tough, tough to say, 'You've got to get out of here. This is not the place for anyone to be,”' she said.

Bolger came off the trail about 20 miles south of Stevens Pass and took refuge at Dinsmore’s Hiker Haven, where she says she’s part of a group of 15 or 2o hikers who are going stir crazy, trying to figure out what to do. Bolger says she's been listening to the younger hikers talking about continuing on.

"I keep trying to remind them, 'I've had experience with 3 feet of snow. You can't get through it. It's so exhausting to do 7 miles,"' she said. "They think they're going to be able to do the miles you're used to, and you can't. It's just not that easy, even as determined as we are, and even as physically fit as we all are at this point."

As many as 50 thru-hikers are thought to be still trying to complete the trek between Mexico and Canada. The Pacific Crest Trail Association says it has issued a total of 1,044 permits for the entire trail this year, and another 822 to long-distance hikers planning to do sections. That's more than ever before for the scenic trail which stretches 2,650 miles from border to border.

Bolger is planning to head back out Thursday. But she says she'll hike on roads parallel to the trail to avoid the snow and stay  safe. 

"It's still an adventure," she said. "I'm still walking to Canada ... I'm just going to have to do it in my own unique way. But to me, I'm not giving up." 

Related Stories: 

On Pacific Crest Trail, a Flourishing Culture of Trail Names and Trail Angels

Hiking Trail from Mexico to Canada More Popular than Ever