PCT gets its AARP card
ASHLAND — When Angie Panter needs a quick respite from the urban world, she ventures to her little place of heaven at Pilot Rock along the Pacific Crest Trail.
It’s just a few turns off Interstate 5 at the Siskiyou Summit, but it’s the PCT, and just a short time on it resonates with her.
“It’s one of my favorite parts of the PCT,” says Panter, of Eagle Point. “It’s an opportunity to get outside and touch nature when you’re not able to get to the backwoods of a wilderness area.”
The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail officially turned 50 years old Tuesday, joining the Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States as the country’s oldest national scenic trails.
Both were designated Oct. 2, 1968, by President Lyndon Johnson. He signed the National Trail Systems Act the same day he signed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which designated portions of the Rogue River and seven other rivers across the country as Wild and Scenic.
Roughly 1,000 hikers a year log 2,650 blistery miles on thru hikes along the PCT from Mexico to Canada, but locals don’t need five months off and the cardiovascular strength of a Sherpa to enjoy the trail.
The PCT sports dozens of local access points for forays lasting from a few hours to a few days, and many are within minutes of Medford.
Old Highway 99 off the Siskiyou Summit crosses the PCT and leads hikers to the Pilot Rock Trail for another rendezvous point. Several trail junctions are off the Mt. Ashland Road up to the ski area and beyond on Forest Road 20.
The trail bisects Highway 66 at the Greensprings Summit, offering short hikes to Little Hyatt Lake Dam, which leaks so badly that summer thru-hikers use it to shower.
Other key PCT links are at Mount McLoughlin, the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area and Crater Lake National Park.
The trailheads are marked with the PCT’s distinctive logo. Day-hikers often cross paths with thru-hikers, perhaps fueling visions of one day testing their mettle on the trail’s full length.
“The thru hike is a challenge they can take at any point in their lives, to walk this long walk and see pieces of the country that change, from Southern California to Northern Washington,” Panter says.
The idea behind the trail dates back to the 1920s, when Washington schoolteacher Catherine Montgomery broached the idea of a trail through California, Oregon and Washington to a few people, including Clinton Clarke, founder of the Pasadena Playhouse and chair of the Mountain League of Los Angeles.
Clarke, later known as the “Father of the PCT,” wrote letter after letter espousing the trail’s creation, and in 1932 he organized the Pacific Crest Trail System Conference to promote the concept among outdoors and youth groups.
Clarke hooked up with a young outdoorsman named Warren Rogers to create YMCA-PCT Relays, during which groups of teenagers hiked sections of the route from 1935 to 1938, carrying a journal to record their adventures.
In 1939, the Forest Service literally put the PCT on the map, giving it a leg up for National Scenic Trail status when Congress followed Johnson’s lead 50 years ago.
“He was a pretty audacious guy who put the PCT on the map before it was on the map,” says Mark Larabee, a former Oregonian reporter and current Pacific Crest Trail Association representative who co-wrote the book “The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America’s Wilderness Trail.”
In the ensuing decades, the trail has undergone some form of rerouting almost annually, and sometimes those upgrades prove to be a boon for day-hikers.
Unlike thru-hikers, day-hikers have to account for getting home. That means hiking out and back, organizing shuttle hikes with a second vehicle, or seeking “lollipop” loops that begin and end at the same spot.
A PCT reroute at the Greensprings summit off Highway 66 more than a decade ago created the 2.2-mile Greensprings Loop off Old Hyatt Lake Road, and the old trail was left in to create the now-popular loop.
“It’s become really popular among families from the valley and school groups, generally because it’s fairly easy, short and accessible off the Greensprings Highway,” said Ian Nelson, the Medford-based regional representative for the PCTA, which manages and maintains the PCT.
“This particular piece gets a lot of day use and weekend use, and that’s true of a lot of the Pacific Crest Trail.