On August 25, 2020 the Pacific Crest Trail Association posted this bombshell for the hopeful hiker PCT class of 2021: “Applications for the 2021 PCT Long-distance Permit will not open as planned in October. The PCTA will continue to assess the situation and may deem it appropriate to issue permits by January 15, 2021.”
For perspective, the permits issued for the PCT 2020 season were cancelled and the PCTA advised that those already hiking get off the trail. The heart broken class of 2020 may have been hoping for a second chance in 2021. There has been speculation that the 2020 permit holders be reissued permits for 2021. In the same statement linked above, the PCTA announced there would be no special accommodation for the 2020 permit holders, and new permits will be issued as usual.
I can relate to all the others planning and preparing to hike the PCT in 2021. Just ask my wife, I talk about it every day. This does not account for the time I spend reading blogs, forums, gear reviews, and watching videos.
The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been very confusing in the United States, to say the least. You have to wear a mask. You can’t wear a mask. You should stay at home. Your kids should go to school. Hiking and access to nature has been equally conflicting. The initial surge of the virus in the US also coincided with the beginning of the long distance hiking season in Spring of 2020. The hiking community responded quickly and appropriately by urging hikers off the trail; however, as the American news cycle and public grew tired of our feeble attempt to quarantine and contain the spread, as businesses, bars and beaches reopened, so did national parks, state parks, and hiking trails.
Right now, you can hike continuously for hundreds of miles in many states and parks, but as summer and the hiking season draws to its close, we are being told to prepare for another cancelled thru-hiking season in 2021.
I understand and appreciate the PCTA making this announcement early, rather than at the last minute before the October permit issuance. As a larger entity, they are setting a good example for limiting unnecessary travel, like long-distance hiking. PCT thru-hikers would be travelling to get to the southern terminus, arranging rides with family, friends and strangers. Hikers would also be congregating at the trailhead, campsites and in town until the herd spreads out. These are all things that would not promote flattening the curve of COVID-19.
When the response and precautions, or lack thereof, to overcoming COVID-19 seems so arbitrary and ununified in this country it is hard to accept that the PCT permits fall into the cancelled column. However, I respect the PCTA’s decision to lead by example in doing their part to minimize the spread of the virus.
I remain hopeful that come January 2021 the subjective climate surrounding this pandemic will land a PCT permit in my hands. Until then, I’ll weigh some alternative options; like a PCT SOBO hike beginning in July 2021, or a CDT hike which has no overarching, long-distance permit. I’ll explain more later about those long distance hiking prospects.