Writing the Pacific Crest Trail: The Beginning

In early 2016, Jordan Summers and I hopped on a conference call with the good folks at Wilderness Press in Birmingham, Alabama, to talk about updating a guidebook series on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT). The excitement was palpable among all the participants, even over the phone, even from 2,000 miles away.

The award-winning PCT guides have been an important part of Wilderness Press since the early 1970s, when founder Thomas Winnett set out to create a groundbreaking guide to the newly minted trail running between Mexico and Canada. The books quickly became an essential resource for PCT hikers, full of rich details on the geology, biology, and history of the trail, from the Pliocene sediments that lurk above Cajon Canyon to the three-needled, vanilla-scented Jeffrey pines lining the Kern River.

But the guides hadn’t been updated since 2003. It was time.

Sun shining on a tree-lined field on the PCT.

Jordan and I spent the next two years planning, hiking, and photographing the PCT. I covered Southern California and he took on Northern California, plus all of Oregon and Washington. We encountered all kinds of minor and major challenges along the way: sprained ankles; tick bites; blisters; record snowfall; delays and closures due to mudslides, swollen rivers, and wildfires; body aches that lasted long after we were off the trail; and a brief, unforgettable encounter with the deceivingly pretty poodle-dog bush. Still, we never forgot our obligation to Winnett and his co-hikers, who tackled the trail with little more than notebooks and surveyor’s wheels. And we never stopped being dazzled by the trail’s beauty and its power to inspire and heal. It was the experience of a lifetime.

Thanks to a dedicated team of editors and graphic designers, the 7th editions of the guides to Southern California and Northern California, as well as the 8th edition of the guide to Oregon/Washington, are finished and on shelves—with color photos, charts, and maps to reflect the trail as it is today. They arrive at an uncertain time for hikers all over the world, as air travel restrictions and thru-hiking permits remain in flux.

Hiker sitting by a river on the PCT.

On this blog and on social media (on Facebook and Instagram), we aim to spotlight the PCT in a variety of ways, with updates on closures and permits, and tips on gear and accessible day hikes. Plus, photos—lots of photos. We hope that you will follow along and that the trail’s wild landscapes and amazing diversity will motivate you to hike your own hike, whether it’s now or some time in the future. 

Laura Randall is the author of Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California. It is available wherever books are sold.