The Pacific Crest Trail (commonly abbreviated as the PCT, and occasionally designated as the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail) is a long-distance hiking and equestrian trail closely aligned with the highest portion of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, which lie 100 to 150 miles (160 to 240 km) east of the U.S. Pacific coast. The trail’s southern terminus is on the U.S. border with Mexico, and its northern terminus on the U.S./Canada Border on the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia, Canada; its corridor through the U.S. is in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.
The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,663 mi (4,286 km) long and ranges in elevation from just above sea level at the Oregon-Washington border to 13,153 feet (4,009 m) at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada. The route passes through 25 national forests and 7 national parks. Its midpoint is in Chester, California (near Mt. Lassen), where the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges meet.
It was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968, although it was not officially completed until 1993. The PCT was conceived by Clinton Churchill Clarke in 1932. It received official status under the National Trails System Act of 1968.
It is the westernmost and second longest component of the Triple Crown of Hiking.
The route is mostly through National Forest and protected wilderness. The trail avoids civilization, and covers scenic and pristine mountainous terrain with few roads. It passes through the Laguna, San Jacinto, San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Liebre, Tehachapi, Sierra Nevada, and Klamath ranges in California, and the Cascade Range in California, Oregon, and Washington states.
The Pacific Crest Trail was first proposed by Clinton C. Clarke, as a trail running from Mexico to Canada along the crest of the mountains in California, Oregon, and Washington. The original proposal was to link the John Muir Trail, the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail (both in California), the Skyline Trail (in Oregon) and the Cascade Crest Trail (in Washington).
The Pacific Crest Trail System Conference was formed by Clarke to both plan the trail and to lobby the federal government to protect the trail. The conference was founded by Clarke, the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and Ansel Adams (amongst others). From 1935 through 1938, YMCA groups explored the 2000 miles of potential trail and planned a route, which has been closely followed by the modern PCT route.
In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson defined the PCT and the Appalachian Trail with the National Trails System Act. The PCT was then constructed through cooperation between the federal government and volunteers organized by the Pacific Crest Trail Association. In 1993, the PCT was officially declared finished.
Main article: Thru-hiking
Thru hiking is a term used in referring to hikers who complete long distance trails from end-to-end in a single trip. The Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide Trail were the first three long-distance trails in the U.S. Successfully thru-hiking all of these three trails is known as the Triple Crown of Hiking. Thru-hiking is a long commitment, usually taking between four and six months, that requires thorough preparation and dedication. Although the actual number is difficult to calculate, it is estimated that around 180 out of approximately 300 people who attempt a thru-hike complete the entire trail each year. The Pacific Crest Trail Association estimates that it takes most hikers between 6 and 8 months to plan their trip.
The first thing prospective thru hikers have to do before attempting a thru hike is to plan out and sketch out their trip. In general the decision of which route to take needs to be considered. While most hikers travel from the Southern Terminus at the Mexico Border northward to Manning Park, British Columbia, some hikers prefer a southbound route. In a normal weather year, northbound hikes are most practical due to snow and temperature considerations. If snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is high in early June and low in the Northern Cascades, some hikers may choose to ‘flip-flop.’ Flip-flopping can take many forms but often describes a process whereby a hiker begins at one end (on the PCT, usually the southern end) of the trail and then, at some point, like reaching the Sierra, ‘flips’ to the end of the trail (Manning Park in B.C.) and hikes southbound to complete the trail. However, it is not currently possible to legally enter the United States from Canada by using the Pacific Crest Trail.
Hikers also have to determine their resupply points. Resupply points are towns or post offices where hikers replenish food and other supplies such as cooking fuel. Hikers can ship packages to themselves at the U.S. Post Offices along the trail, resupply at general and grocery stores along the trail, or any combination of the two. The final major logistical step is to create an approximate schedule for completion. Thru hikers have to make sure they complete enough miles every day so they will be able to reach the opposite end of the trail before weather conditions make sections impassable. Deep snow pack in the Sierra Nevada can prevent an early start. The timing is a balance of not getting to the Sierra too soon nor the Northern Cascades too late. Most hikers cover about 20 miles (32 km) per day.
In order to reduce their hiking time, and thereby increase their chances of completing the trail, many hikers try to substantially reduce their pack weight. Since the creation of the Pacific Crest Trail there has been a large movement by hikers away from large heavy packs with a lot of gear. There are three general classifications for hikers: Traditional, Lightweight, and Ultralight. Over the past few years the number of traditional hikers has dropped considerably. The Pacific Crest Trail Association cites Ray Jardine’s book, Beyond Backpacking, as a great resource for hikers during the planning process. Beyond Backpacking is a “how-to” book for ultralight hikers. In this book Jardine explains how to trim every extra ounce from one’s pack weight by doing everything from cutting extra straps off your pack to eating only food that does not have to be cooked.
On October 16, 1970, Eric Ryback completed the first PCT thru-hike. His personal congratulations came by telegram from no less than Edward P. Cliff, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.  Eric Ryback, an 18-year-old student, is credited, recognized, and has been honored by the Pacific Crest Trail Associated as the official first thru-hiker of the entire trail. Ryback completed the Appalachian Trail in 1969 (as a 16-year-old); the Pacific Crest Trail in 1970; and a route approximating today’s Continental Divide Trail in 1972.  Ryback’s 1971 book The High Adventure of Eric Ryback: Canada to Mexico on Foot focused public attention on the PCT. Ryback carried an 80-pound pack on his 1970 thru-hike. He had only five resupply packages on the entire trip, and was loaded with 40 pounds of food at the start of each leg. He often ran out of food and foraged or went hungry. Ryback also helped the Forest Service lay out future plans for the PCT.
Before the PCT was planned, Martin Papendick was the first known person to hike across three states of the PCT in 1952. After being one of the first to finish the Appalachian trail in 1951, Papendick hiked between July 4 and December 1, 1952, from British Columbia to the Mexican border over the crests of the mountains along the Pacific Coast, a feat he reported in a periodical under the title “Pacific Crest Trails”.
The first person to hike the PCT from south to north was Richard Watson, who completed the trail on September 1, 1972. Watson was often credited as the first PCT thru-hiker, because Papendick was generally unknown, and Ryback may have accepted rides. The first woman to complete the PCT was Mary Carstens, who finished the journey later in 1972 accompanied by Jeff Smukler.
The first person to thru-hike the entire PCT both ways in a single continuous round-trip was Scott Williamson, who completed the “yo-yo” circuit on his fourth attempt in November 2004. Williamson traveled a total of 5,300 miles (8,530 km) in 197 days, covering an average of 35 to 40 miles (56 to 64 km) per day when not in snow – an overall average of 27 miles (43 km) per day – wearing an extremely ultra-lightweight pack, which “without food, weighed about 8.5 pounds (3.9 kg)”. Williamson then went on to complete a second round trip on November 28, 2006, cutting two weeks off his 2004 time.
The youngest person to thru-hike the trail is Sierra Burror, who hiked the trail from April through September 2012 at the age of 9. She completed her hike with her mother, Heather Burror.
Other notable young hikers include Mary Chambers, who hiked the route from April through October 2004 at the age of 10. She completed the trek with her parents, Barbara Egbert and Gary Chambers. A book about their experiences on the trail Zero Days was published in January 2008 by Wilderness Press.
An autobiographical account of a woman hiking a portion of the PCT alone in 1994, at age 26, was written by Cheryl Strayed. Her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail was published in 2012 and reached #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list.
The oldest person to thru-hike the trail is not known.
On August 7, 2013, Heather Anish Anderson set a new unsupported speed record completing the entire PCT in 60 days, 17 hours, 12 minutes.