- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The popularity of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” has led to increased awareness and use of the trail that runs from Canada to Mexico through Washington, Oregon and California. There are more thru-hikers - people who, like Strayed, attempt to hike the entire trail - and more day and overnight users of this incredible national resource.

Now “Wild” has been made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, and resource managers expect another surge of interest. Jack Haskel, a trail information specialist at the Pacific Crest Trail Association office in Sacramento, answered a few questions about the trail.

Is there a “Wild” effect on the PCT? Have you noticed an increase in users?

The “Wild” effect is real. It’s great publicity for the Pacific Crest Trail. Cheryl’s book has sold millions of copies and the movie “Wild” will be seen by millions more people. There’s a very real increase in awareness about the Pacific Crest Trail.

Besides the increased awareness, do you have numbers that show more people using the trail, either in sections or thru-hiking?

Because the trail is so long - it’s 2,650 miles - we don’t really have a firm picture of how many people are out using it. It’s anecdotal. We think there’s hundreds of thousands of people out on the PCT every year. We see the number of likes on our Facebook page going up very quickly, the number of hits on our website, the number of calls to our volunteer program.

And then when we’re out on the trail we see it getting busier. We have a self-reporting system for thru-hikers. That’s a small percentage of users and so far this year there are more than 400 people who have told us they have finished the trail, which is up substantially from five years ago when it was less than 200 people per year. But again, that’s a few hundred hikers. The thru-hikers are the hardy ones. Far more people go out on day hikes and overnight trips.

On your website there’s a way to one-stop shop for permits, and through that you know how many people indicate they’re going to attempt a thru-hike.

We’re going to release those figures later this month, but I can say we’re up about 30 percent or more.

How many people finish a thru-hike in an average year?

It’s really just guessing, but it seems like about a 50 percent completion rate.

That’s pretty good, given the difficulty and commitment. Was this year easier or harder because of the weather?

The past several years have been easier, largely because of the drought, which has facilitated earlier entry into the mountains and fewer snowy passes and flooding creeks. Last year, 2013, there was early snow that made it difficult on the thru-hikers. The biggest obstacle this year to hiking the whole Pacific Crest Trail was wildfires, which is pretty common, that sections have to be closed. A lot of thru-hikers had to skip sections or go around because of large wildfires in the Klamath Mountains.

If I was starting a thru-hike, when would I have to leave?

Most people start by late April or early May. It gets really hot in the desert.

How many miles a day do people average?

Within the world of the Pacific Crest Trail there’s an incredible subculture of athletes who are super-strong and can hike 35 miles per day and not injure themselves. It’s those people who are able to start at the end of May and still succeed. But for us mere mortals, we need more time. When I thru-hiked it took me five months, and that’s pretty normal. It’s the entire snow-free season.

What year did you do that?

2006. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

Congratulations. How many miles per day did you average to get through in five months?

It depends on how much time you take off in town. I was generally walking about a marathon a day and taking a day off every week.

How many men and women attempt a thru-hike?

It’s generally about a 70-30 split. More women are getting out there, and more solo women, than before.

It’s a solo experience, isn’t it?

Not totally accurate. I’d say most people are solo, but there’s a whole lot of people in relationships who attempt it. There’s married couples, people who are dating, friend groups. Really what happens often is people start individually and then form friendships and hike together. It’s one of the most wonderful things about the PCT, the community experience. I was so shocked by the amount of kindness and openness that surrounds the trail, both on the trail and in the small trail towns that are along the PCT.

Do the groups that form on the trail make up for all the couples that split up?

(Laughs) That’s an astute observation. Oftentimes relationships are made or broken on the PCT. We see go both ways: there’s been a lot of marriage proposals and a few couples that part ways after months in a tent.

“Wild” is far from the first book about the PCT.

Yes there have. I’ve just been waiting for one to be a bestseller, and it’s “Wild.” We actually had a few others if you (look) back in history, the first one being Eric Ryback’s account of being really the first long-distance hiker. I think he hiked it when he was 18. It’s called “The High Adventure of Eric Ryback.” We have a great article about these early books on our website.

Are you getting more inquiries from people that reference “Wild” or say they’ve been inspired by it?

I do get calls from people who say “I read ‘Wild’ and I’m interested in hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.” I got one yesterday from a 17-year-old girl. The first she told me was she’d read “Wild” and wanted to know about hiking the PCT and take off and do it. This past year we had at least a few hikers who were introduced to the trail because of the book.

If you’re going to go out in April, you’ve got to start getting ready now.

Yes. Just like Cheryl picked up a guidebook in an REI store and spent the winter working extra hours, saving money, researching equipment. Really the best place to start is our website.

What did you tell that girl?

That she needs to get out and start hiking every weekend, as much as she can. Find friends locally who are experienced backpackers and bounce ideas off of them. Dive into the research, and then you’ll need physical preparation and experience before you try the PCT.

Maybe not do everything just like Cheryl.

(Laughs) Cheryl has been very open about “Wild” not being seen as a guidebook. She did a lot of time preparing but she didn’t do the step of putting on her backpack. That’s a key step of the preparation - build personal experience. It’s one thing to read our website and go online and go to the store, but really getting out and having experiences is a key piece of planning ahead.

Are you anticipating more attention once the movie comes out?

We’re not only anticipating it, we’re experiencing it. It’s a busy time of year for us at the PCTA, and it’s great. This is a project of the people, and our public lands managed and supported through people’s volunteer efforts and donations. We’re trying to turn all this attention into donations to support the trail because it really needs it.

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The original story can be found on The Oregonian’s website: https://bit.ly/1AdqXRr

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Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com


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