As an Unusual PCT Season Wraps Up, One Hiker Tells All

This article originally appeared on Backpacker

It's been a wild year on the PCT: Record snowfall hindered thousands of hikers from completing a "true thru" northbound trek; still others pushed through to face treacherous conditions through the Sierra and beyond. Backpacker's 2023 PCT Correspondent, David "Zookeeper" Gleisner, is among the estimated 100 or so hikers moving continuously north from Mexico to Canada. But even as Gleisner enters the final week of his journey, the challenges keep piling up. When we met up with him at Steven's Pass, less than 200 miles from the northern terminus, Gleisner was dealing with logistical challenges and extra miles posed by wildfire closures along the trail. With the end in sight, we asked Gleisner to reflect on some of the most memorable moments of his thru-hike.

RELATED: Confessions of PCT Thru-Hikers

Backpacker: What is the best trail magic you’ve received?

David Gleisner: It was Labor Day weekend, and I was pretty close to Seattle, which meant a ton of people came out to do some trail magic. They were all amazing, but there was one that was put on by a local church group that had a grill serving up burgers. It had a bunch of fresh fruit from Washington; I had one of the best peaches I’ve ever had. They had homemade baked goods, including vegan baked goods. They had a ton of to-go snacks to take, tons of soda. They had comfy chairs. They had a tent, and a bag full of freeze dried meals. That was incredible.

BP: What was your longest day on trail so far?

DG: Back in northern California, I did a 40 mile day. I got up at 5:30 and for some reason I just thought, "today is the day." So I got out there. The first half was great, I was feeling super motivated. The second half, I was definitely feeling it in my feet. I got done around 8 p.m. and just pretty much immediately went to sleep. I was pretty gassed at the end of that.

BP: What is the weirdest meal you have eaten during your thru-hike?

DG: I have unfortunately had a lot of really bad trail meals. I think the worst, which I guess is also the weirdest, was when my stove ran out of fuel near Big Bear in southern California. I had some rice and beans that I had put a bunch of Tajin in, and all the Tajin settled to the bottom. So I just had really salty, limey, cold, crunchy rice and beans. That was not good.

BP: What was the hardest climb on the trail?

DG: Actually, it was pretty early on, just after mile 200 coming out of Whitewater Preserve. I think it was close to a 6,000-foot climb, up and up and up. You crossed over this creek back and forth so your feet were also wet the whole day. I went up to Mission Springs camp that night and all my stuff got frozen because it was below freezing overnight. So I had some frozen shoes the next day. That was a long climb.

BP: Have you seen any interesting wildlife?

DG: I really love all of the pikas that I’ve seen lately. I think they’re really cute and now they all have little wildflowers that they’re making their nests with in their mouths. I really like those.

BP: Tell me about the worst weather you've experienced.

DG: I think this was just a bummer because it was on my birthday, but there was some really bad weather early on when we were in the Sierra on June 12th. There was hail and freezing rain and a little bit of liquid rain all at once and I had to set up my tent in that. That was pretty bad.

BP: What has surprised you the most about hiking the PCT?

DG: I think the amount of group conversation and group dynamics that you deal with throughout the whole trail. That’s been a really cool thing to learn. You have to be emotionally mature and really good at communicating out here because you’re around a bunch of people that you’ve just met and you’re in these really life-threatening scenarios. It’s been really cool to practice communication and learn how to communicate your needs out here.

BP: What are you most looking forward to about finishing the trail?

DG: Shaving my beard! I had never had facial hair before this and I never want to have facial hair again after this. I’m very excited to shave.

BP: What are you going to miss most about trail life?

DG: I think I’ll miss coming upon unexpected things. It’s really special to come to these places that people spend weeks and months planning to get to and just be able to walk into them, sometimes unexpectedly. I’m really gonna miss all the surprises along the way.

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