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Movie 'Wild' lures more people to hike Pacific Crest Trail (w/video)

A couple walks the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead on the Pacific Crest Trail in Cascade Locks, Ore. Requests have increased for permits for long-distance hikes on the 2,650-mile trail.
A couple walks the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead on the Pacific Crest Trail in Cascade Locks, Ore. Requests have increased for permits for long-distance hikes on the 2,650-mile trail.
Published Jan. 27, 2015

More hikers are expected on the Pacific Crest Trail this year thanks to the movie Wild, according to the Pacific Crest Trail Association, which preserves and promotes the trail.

The book Wild, which has been a bestseller for nearly two years, led to a small increase in inquiries about the trail, "but the movie seems to have had a much bigger effect," said Jack Haskel, trail information specialist for the Pacific Crest Trail Association. "This past December, compared to last year, our website traffic went up 300 percent."

Requests have also increased for permits for long-distance hikes on the trail.

The PCT starts near Campo, Calif., outside San Diego at the Mexican border, and stretches 2,650 miles through California, Oregon and Washington. It ends in Washington's remote Pasayten Wilderness at the Canadian border.

Since the 1950s, only 3,346 people have reported hiking the entire length of the trail, but that number has been rising each year — even before the book and movie brought more attention to the trail.

When Haskel through-hiked the PCT in 2006, 300 people set off to walk the entire route, and about 120 completed it. In 2014, more than 1,000 hikers attempted a through-hike, and about half made it.

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, hiked 1,100 miles of the trail as she recovered from drug abuse, divorce and her mother's death. Reese Witherspoon received an Oscar nomination for best actress for her portrayal of Strayed. Laura Dern was nominated for best supporting actress as Strayed's loving, free-spirited mother.

"Wild is the largest media event ever for the PCT and millions are hearing about it now and are being inspired," Haskel said.

Both the book and film offer a realistic look at the challenges and rewards of the trek. Strayed ran out of drinking water, slogged through snow and rain, and bloodied her feet in hiking boots a size too small. She had a few frightening encounters with people she met along the way, but also experienced kinship and kindness. Ultimately the trail's serenity and natural beauty helped heal her damaged soul.

There are no comprehensive statistics on female PCT hikers, but anecdotal observations suggest more women are hitting the trail, too, from fewer than 10 percent of hikers in past years to 30 percent now, Haskel said.

"There are definitely more women out hiking," Haskel said. "I hear from women who are inspired by Wild. And who knows what this season will bring."

Hikers hoping to do the whole trail typically start in April or May and end in September, walking more than 20 miles a day for five months, with a day off now and then to recuperate and re-supply. Timing is critical: Start too early in the spring and you face flooded creeks and snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains. End too late in the season and you'll hit snow in the Northern Cascade mountains.

In addition to endurance and careful planning, long-distance hikers also need to think about money. A through-hike can easily cost $6,000, including the flight to San Diego, food for five months and gear like maps, backpack, sleeping bag and tent. "People who head out with $3,000 often find they're running out of money," Haskel said. Through-hikers also typically wear out four or five pairs of trail-running shoes, which are the preferred footgear these days, rather than the boots that caused Strayed agony when she hiked the PCT in 1995.

But you don't have to hike long distances to enjoy the PCT. You can go for a few hours, a day or an overnight. The PCTA website recommends many popular, accessible options, including Mount Baden Powell near Los Angeles; Mount Rainier and Goat Rocks near Seattle; and the Cascade Locks and Bridge of the Gods near Portland, Ore., where a scene in the movie was shot.

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