Since the PNT is really more of an idea, the route is thick with alternates, and even alternate officials (and Practical Routes and Ideal Routes as noted in the guide book). Mapping it is a complicated, crowd-sourced affair, and each year the scant few hikers who walk the route contribute to the pool of knowledge about how to complete this hike.
The original guidebook, The Pacific Northwest Trail Guide by Ron Strickland, was last published in 2001 and the trail has changed since then. Trails that were impassable received maintenance, burns cleared blowdowns, or alders choked out once easy roads. The first half of the guidebook has been updated (2009) and can be obtained as an electronic copy to aid hikers. The second half stands as is.
Just this year another book of support materials came out as a series of GPS waypoints along with trail description. Pacific Northwest Trail Digest, by Tim Youngbluth, is a text-only description of the route, with input from past hikers.
I’ll be carrying the following assortment of maps and information:
- A map set produced and updated yearly by Li Brannfors, with comments, alternates, and suggestions from past hikers. I’ll have both paper copies and a GPS track of this map set.
- A printout of the updated first half of Strickland’s guidebook The Pacific Northwest Trail Guide, two pages to a side of 8″x11″ paper.
- The second half of the 2001 guidebook (cut away from the first half).
- Pacific Northwest Trail Digest by Youngbluth loaded as an ebook onto my smartphone, as well as paper copies cut out of the book.
- Atlas maps of the route (cut from an atlas with route drawn in) so I have a high-level view of where the route is.
- Pages from Melanie Simmerman’s Pacific Northwest Trail Town Guide.
There are beautiful maps available for printout on the Pacific Northwest Trail website, produced by Ted Hitzroth who handled the maps for the original guidebook, but Brannfors’ maps have more detail and more current updates. Tim Youngbluth had maps available in previous years, but given the success of Brannfors’ maps, has turned his attention to a text-support of Brannfors’ maps in Pacific Northwest Trail Digest. So, lots of materials, some overlap, but by no means a tidy package.
As a personal experiment with available technology, I’m starting with both a GPS (Garmin eTrex 20) and a GPS-enabled smartphone (iPhone 5) with a good GPS app (Gaia GPS). Both will have Brannfors’ PNT track and waypoints loaded. I’m curious about the effectiveness of the smartphone as a GPS, given the obvious constraint of battery life. I’ll also be using my smartphone to post to this blog, so demands on it’s battery are rather high. I have a solar charger to try to extend it’s function in the back country, which may prove successful. Stay tuned for thoughts.
Other than route finding, logistics come down to resupply. I’m mostly planning to resupply at grocery stores and gas stations in small towns along the way. Sometimes I’ll walk right into a town and back out again, and sometimes I’ll hitchhike because towns are so far off route. There are only a few places where resupply requires a mailed package, notably Ross Lake Resort WA and Polebridge MT, and possibly Yaak MT.
What to eat? Gas stations and small stores offer a restrained bounty, but resupply is certainly possible. I eat a lot of Fritos. Bags of peanuts, granola bars. Sometimes bean dip. Snickers are a beloved classic in the hiker crowd, with nearly 300 calories in a compact 2 oz package. Larger grocery stores are richer spreads, and invariably noodles enter my pack via mac and cheese, ramens, and other fast cooking dinners. When I can find it, I love to carry miso paste to flavor dinners, some garlic cloves, a small bottle of olive oil, and a container of salt. With these, quick-cooking quinoa makes a savory meal. If I’m making a shorter haul between resupply, I carry broccoli, cucumbers, potatoes, and other heavy, resilient, fresh vegetables when I can find them and add them to my dinners.