PCT 2021 SOBO Alternate | Daniel Gerken

SOBO Alternate

What is SOBO?

You may or may not have read my previous post about PCT 2021 Permits. My primary plan is to hike the PCT from south to north. The start of the season peaks around mid-April to early-May for those hikers departing from the US-Mexico border. The US has recently been shattering its own records for daily COVID cases, well in excess of 100,000 everyday. Congratulations. Unsurprisingly, the daily deaths have been increasing as well in the US. The icing on top of this Corona-Cake are devastating wildfires this past summer and autumn that will cause reroutes along the PCT. What will the landscape look like hiking through burned out sections of forest? Creepy at best, and depressing at worst.

The would-be first round of PCT permits at the end of October, came and went, being postponed and possibly cancelled altogether because of COVID. The PCTA delayed possible permits until January 15, 2021. I was much more optimistic when the COVID numbers were on the decline. As the ‘Rona numbers are increasing, my optimism for a PCT 2021 NOBO hike is dropping. Assuming there are no permits issued in January for a NOBO hike, then what are my options?

My first alternative would be a PCT SOBO hike in 2021. SOBO, stands for southbound. This means I would start at, you guessed it, the northern terminus on the border of Washington and Canada, and hike SOBO to the border of California and Mexico.

To give credit to the great SOBO PCT hikers that came before me, and have documented and provided valuable information, I highly recommend you check out the following resources:

In a perfect world I would save a SOBO hike for my second time hiking the PCT. “You would do this again?! On Purpose?!” I’ll let you know after I have the first one under my belt. However, 2020 has been the opposite of perfect, and 2021 has a lot of ground to make up. My unscientific hypothesis is that with the latest talk of a possible COVID vaccine, that a SOBO hike may be possible. The ideal start for a SOBO hike is mid-June to early-July. SOBO hikers can begin their attempts as soon as the snow melts, making Hart’s Pass accessible and the trail navigable. A SOBO hike would allow an additional three months for the pandemic to be managed and/or a vaccine to be distributed, as compared to a NOBO hike beginning in April. Pandemic issues aside, there are numerous pros and cons to a SOBO hike.

How is SOBO better?

Fewer Hikers

Fewer Mosquitos

Better Weather & Hiking Conditions (sort of)

Well, if SOBO is all rainbows and unicorns why doesn’t everyone do it?

Difficult from the Start

Starting Alone

  • “Is this a good campsite?”
  • “Am I carrying enough water?”
  • “Am I hiking the right direction?” even though you just checked your map ten minutes ago.

I think those freeing moments of solidarity can work against you in certain situations. It will be a mental challenge like most of a thru-hike. Along with this, the culture of the PCT is to hike it NOBO and can be a memorable part of the experience. Hence 50 permits per day for NOBO hikers, but only 15 permits per day for SOBO.

Wildfire Risks

SOBO Permit

Some other considerations going SOBO are getting to the PCT, resupply logistics in the Sierra and total time frame to complete the trail.

The best bet seems to be starting from Hart’s Pass in Washington, since Americans are not allowed into Canada right now. This is a task in itself but with a combination of flights, buses and hitches, it’s manageable. There I can cache a food resupply for the return trip. “Return trip, you say?” Yes, I’ll hike 30 miles north from Hart’s Pass to reach PCT monument 78 on the border. Then I’ll turn around and hike the same 30 miles back. I can pick up my food cache and continue on my way. The good news is this is supposed to be a stunning section of the trail. In the grand scheme of hiking 2,650 miles, what’s another 30 miles?

I’ll also need to keep tabs on the resupply locations in the Sierra once I get closer. It will be nearing the end of the hiking season and some services will be closed. This will affect where I can resupply and how much food I’ll have to carry. Having hiked the JMT in 2018, spending two days hiking out of the mountains, going to town to get resupplied and then hiking back into the mountains is both a blessing and a curse (I’m looking at you, Kearsarge Pass). The Sierra is one of the most remote sections of the PCT. The temptation of a trip into town for conveniences like a hot shower, clean clothes and fresh food will be heavenly. The addition of dozens of miles and thousands of feet in elevation change will be the hefty price tag.

It is often mentioned that hiking SOBO limits your time frame. I think that depends. If I look at a NOBO hiking schedule, I could start in early April and finish in late September. I could stretch this to almost 6 months of hiking. I wouldn’t plan on it taking me 6 months, but if for unforeseeable reasons I am delayed (like consuming town-pizza and imbibing craft beer), I have the time to make it up. If I go SOBO and begin the first week of July, then I have 3 months to make it to Forester Pass, in hopes of staying ahead of the first consequential snowfall. This gives me about 90 days to hike 1900 miles from the Canadian border to Forester Pass. My daily average would be 21 miles per day with no days off. This is the same average mileage I was anticipating going NOBO, to finish in about 5 months with one zero day per week. Going SOBO means fewer rest days. Also, for every nero or zero day I will have to make it up to keep my average at 21 miles per day. More hiking, less lollygagging.

Plan A: Obtain NOBO permit and begin in April.

Plan B: Obtain SOBO permit and begin in July.

Plan C: Next article, coming soon…

Originally published at https://www.danielgerken.org.

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