PCT hikers once again hit the Eastern Sierra towns and trails

Jon Klusmire
Special to the Times

One of the Owens Valley’s most colorful and distinctive migratory species has returned after a year-long hiatus due to the coronavirus shutdown.

Long-distance hikers trek- king from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail are back in force this sum- mer. Mammoth, Lone Pine, Independence and Bishop all attract hikers who drop off the trail and into town to enjoy a few days of civilization, or to gather up additional food and supplies before resuming their long-distance journey.

The hikers are easy to spot in town when they are out of their natural Sierra high-coun- try habitat. They sport a color- ful assortment of lightweight packs, most not weighing more than 30-35 pounds fully loaded, and with a blue plastic bear canister tied on top.

High-end footwear, ranging from traditional hiking boots to ultra-light trail shoes, support uniformly tan legs, thanks to walking in shorts in high- altitude sunshine. The hats, scarves and shirts are as varied and colorful as the hikers themselves.

While reliable statistics are hard to come by, some observers noted there seems to be a bit smaller contingent of hikers this summer, with a notable lack of interna- tional hikers on the trail (see more on why below).

The economic loss, while not calculated exactly in any one place the reporter could find, is a real one to Eastern Sierra economies; the hikers ‘resupply’ at many small communities along the trail from Lone Pine to Bridgeport and when they do, they eat at local restaurants – and they eat a lot, trying to make up for the constant calorie deficit the hike incurs. They buy things; food and shoes and gear and anything that they might need that wore out or broke down along the long hike. They stay in motels, taking in the soft beds and air-conditioned rooms for a brief day or two.

The 2,650-mile long Pacific Crest Trail basically shut down in 2020 and the year before, it was hit with a late snow year that limited the number of hikers on the Sierra section of the trail.

That said, this year’s John Muir Trail class, a hike of “only” 211 miles, seems to be similar to past busier years, thanks to a pent-up desire to make the classic trek and an extremely low snowpack that opened up the trail early.

Several local businesses that cater to the PCT hikers noted that this year’s contingent have been a welcome sight.

“It’s really nice to see them again,” said Emmaleigh Hundley, the manager of the Mt. Williamson Motel and Basecamp in Independence. “The hikers are definitely back,” following 2020 she said. “We are swamped.”

The hotel caters to hikers coming off the trail at Kearsarge Pass for a bit of a rest and a resupply.

The lack of snow, especially in the southern Sierra, also is making this a better year for the PCT hikers. “It helped everyone get an early start,” Hundley said. PCT hikers have only about six months to reach Canada if they are doing the entire trail in one season, unless they are equipped to winter hike and camp.

The PCT hikers coming from Mexico typically hit the Owens Valley in June and early July. That short burst of the long trail hikers is followed by a steady stream of hikers on the John Muir Trail ramble from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, she said.

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