National Geographic : 1971 Jun
from supplies cached by friends. He walked the soles off his boots three times. On his 129th day he reached Mexico-the first man to span the route in one trip. Lest Eric's odyssey appear easy, let the novice beware: Traveling alone, fighting deep snow, he took extreme risks. Of such stuff are tragedies made-and great achievements. Barry Murray of Home Valley, Washing ton, his wife, and their three young children also went all the way. But they traveled on horseback for two summers, a total of seven months-"a lot of that time spent looking for grass for the horses," Barry remembers. A border-to-border trail was advocated as long ago as 1932 by Pasadena businessman and conservationist Clinton C. Clarke. He urged the Forest Service to knit together and extend the threads of high-country footpaths already existing, such as the Oregon Skyline Trail and California's John Muir route. The father of the Pacific Crest Trail achieved partial success before his death in 1957; he prevailed upon the Forest Service to call the footpaths in Oregon and Washington by the collective name "Pacific Crest Trail System." But the realization of a border-to border system had to wait until 1968 when Congress, responding to growing legions of hikers and horsemen, created the Pacific Crest as one of two national scenic trails, with the Appalachian as the other. Trail Blazers Favor the Tenderfoot As they laid out the trail, sometimes fol lowing the route Clarke had proposed, Forest Service engineers and recreation specialists kept in mind the average hiker, not the expert mountaineer. They skirted arduous rock climbs and placed signs so well that much of the trail can be followed without a map. But I always carried one for safety's sake-as well as a first-aid kit and two signal flares in case of emergency. Signs notwithstanding, hikers do occasionally get lost or break a leg. Even on a trail as safe as this one, rangers advise caution and preparedness. The planners made the trail wide enough for single-file horsebacking or hiking, but no more. Who wants a highway intruding on his highland reverie? They tried to avoid roads, logged-over tracts, and other evidence of man's presence. However, they sometimes placed the route within a mile or so of camp grounds with fireplaces and log tables. Now 1,500 trail miles meet the planners' standards, mostly in the Cascades and the 748 High Sierra. Elsewhere the traveler must de tour on roads and paths or go cross-country. The Pacific Crest Trail doesn't exist yet in the Shasta and Trinity National Forests of northern California, for example, nor in parts of California south of the Sierra. Half a dozen gaps exist in Oregon and Washington. Com pletion will cost an estimated $5,000,000.* Trek Begins in Withering Desert I used the trail as the majority will, in short bursts, hitting high spots, passing a day or two seeking peace and pleasure in some grove of pine or fir, or a week in the fastness of a wilderness. Some of the trail's grandeur (and some of its sadness) I saw merely by walking from my car; regulations prohibit motorized vehicles on the route itself, but the trail occasionally crosses roads and super highways. I viewed the lofty peaks from horse back and from a helicopter. For 175 miles I tramped with a pack on my back. Meridith, my 10-year-old daughter, went with me as I explored paths from Mexico to the High Sierra (pages 744-5). In May we rose before the sun, the relentless sun that glazes the desert of southern California, and set out with our packs. Lightweight materials and modern food processing techniques have greatly lightened the load of the backpacker. Two freeze-dried pork tenderloins weighed no more in my pack than a few sheets of notebook paper. Our nylon tent added only 31/2 pounds. While horsemen often ride into the chapar ral, few hikers other than Boy Scouts in quest of merit badges follow the dusty path Meridith and I took due east of San Diego one of the most inhospitable trails I saw from Mexico to Canada (map, opposite). A blustery wind seared us. The earth radiated heat; blisters the size of quarters puffed up on the soles of my feet. The heat wilted Meridith. "Dad," she sighed, fighting tears, "this hike would be a lot more fun if a blizzard came up." What did rise up, and none too soon, was a string of mile-high peaks, snatching moisture from the clouds to nourish emerald meadows and cool forests. Ah-ha Cuyamac, Indians called this verdant highland: "Land of the (Continued on page 753) *Maps of the California sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, with detours shown, are available from the Forest Service Regional Office, 630 Sansome St., San Francisco, California 94111. Maps of the Oregon and Washington routes may be obtained from the Forest Service Regional Office, P.O. Box 3623, Portland, Oregon 97208.