Smokejumper Flips His PCT

On the Camino de Santiago, the world’s most-traveled long-distance trek, pilgrims like to say, “Everyone walks their own Camino.”

In Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Mexico to Canada, Bruce Wilson describes how he inserted a “flip” in his 2,650-mile endurance test. He began at the Mexican border in April and arrived in the Southern Sierra Nevada early, with dangerously high snow levels ahead. He got rides to Ashland, Oregon, where he flipped his PCT and walked back to the southern Sierra, where he left off. He still faced snow and snowmelt-fed waterways, but his PCT was safer, more passable. To complete his flip, he got rides back to Ashland and resumed his trek.

Nelson’s book brings home the challenges of backpacking for months on difficult terrain that reaches more than 13,000 feet. I am addicted to experiencing the PCT through hikers’ books and YouTube posts and, like many I have followed, Nelson paints a vivid picture of the beauty and the problems he faced. A retired smokejumper from Alaska, he preferred walking on his own, but accompanied others for stretches. There are days that sound just like other days and I yearned for more about his personal journey, but, in the end, I was drawn to turn the pages by an appreciation of his strength, physical and mental.

Via Alpina: Don’t Look If Heights Scare You

The Via Alpina boasts numbers that would intimidate even the most ardent long-distance trekkers.

The walk, which begins in Triest, Italy on the Adriatic Sea and ends in Monaco on the Mediterranean, spans 1,200 miles, travels through eight countries, and (close your eyes if you are scared of heights) ascends and descends nearly 700,000 feet. It also takes trekkers through the best the Alps offers on a path shaped like a giant, rounded mountain.

Before you cross it off your list, you could consider choosing a section or one country (Switzerland?) and save the rest for later.

Brandon Wilson and his wife Cheryl, though, wanted it all, and in Over the Top and Back Again: Hiking X the Alps, Brandon narrates their 110 days of walking through Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France, and Monaco. They stay mostly in huts or albergues. Most of the time, they travel on the red trail, rated the toughest, even though Cheryl battles knee problems. She takes a couple of breaks to rest her knee and meets up with Brandon later.

Brandon and Cheryl are no ordinary couple, having completed other tough treks, including a walk across Tibet. Longtime Hawaii residents, they secured a one-year visa in Italy to allow time for the Alpine walk. The Via Alpina offers accommodations, but Brandon complains about accessibility; some were closed or full when they arrived. He was also unhappy when accommodation hosts complained that he had not called ahead. But, he was intent on living in the moment, easier to do on a walk like the Camino de Santiago, another trek Brandon completed–twice.

I was drawn to Over the Top and Back Again because Sue and I are always looking for our next adventure. Brandon’s descriptions and honesty helped me gain insight about the Via Alpina and I compared it to our Alpine walk on the Tour du Mont Blanc, which travels 110 miles with 60,000 feet of elevation change, slightly less climbing and descending per mile.

Brandon describes a host of problems he and his wife endured on the trek, but, in the end, he is proud (as he should be) that they completed it. And, it reminded him why he walks. The self-discovery, simplicity, and rhythm of walking with an up-close view of Earth’s raw beauty.

Could we do it? Ten times the mileage of the Tour du Mont Blanc, 11 times the elevation. But, it is not a race, so with breaks, we could take even more than ten times the days. But that presents an issue: Linger too long in the Alps, and weather will end your trek, like it or not. Distance trekking is never easy, but that’s why Brandon and Cheryl (as well as Sue and I) love it.

Should we try it? Or, you could go first and let us know how you like it.