At 21, They Gambled Against the Odds

Impossible? Not for Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter.

Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter at the Appalachian Trail terminus.

In 2021, the twenty-one-year-olds became the youngest to complete thru-hiking’s triple crown during a calendar year. They are the eleventh and twelfth hikers to have conquered the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail in the same year.

They went through 12 pair of shoes each as they climbed and descended more than a million feet in elevation over 295 days.

Thanks to Backpacker, you can hear them describe the highs and lows of their nearly 8,000-mile journey on the podcast series Impossible Odds. Click on the link to get to know the pair of Stanford students, who are back at school—as roommates.

Thru-hiking’s Other Triple Crown

The year 2021 brought new focus to thru-hiking’s Triple Crown. Sammy Potter and Jackson Parell, a pair of Stanford college students, walked more than 7,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail in spectacular fashion–within a calendar year.

And three women, the Wander Women, all retirees in their 60s, completed the Pacific Crest Trail, achieving their Triple Crown, one thru-hike a year for three years.

Jim Rahtz’s book presents three thru-hikes for those who don’t have the many months or inclination to walk so far: Backpacking’s Triple Crown: The Junior Version.

Don’t let the “junior” in the title fool you into thinking these are casual adventures. Each is a section of the longer trails, and Rahtz argues they cover perhaps the most beautiful sections.

The John Muir Trail runs 220 miles from Happy Isle in Yosemite National Park to the summit of Mount Whitney. Many PCT walkers say it is their favorite part of the longer trail and maybe even the most difficult.

The Colorado Trail begins near Denver and ends near Durango. At 486 miles, it is the longest “junior” trail, nearly duplicating the length of Spain’s Camino de Santiago.

The Long Trail is 273 miles and winds the length of Vermont. The first 100 miles or so is also the Appalachian Trail.

Rahtz has walked all three and his stories make it clear these shorter versions are more approachable, but not to be taken lightly.

Which of the three is hardest? Most beautiful? Easiest?

Sue and I walked the John Muir Trail (with mules packing most of our stuff) in August 2021 and can’t imagine that any mountain trek could be more beautiful. But we yearn for further adventures. While Rahtz’ book makes it clear the other two could be even more difficult than the JMT, it tempts me to add a Triple Crown to our other trekking accomplishments. Are we up for the challenges? Could we carry everything we need?