A field estimated at 130 hikers, presumed to be a near-record number, is hoofing its way over Southern California’s mountains and across desert foothills in the early stages of a daunting annual ritual.
They are pursuing one of the crown jewels in the undeclared sport of “extreme hiking” - the 2,638-mile odyssey from Mexico to Canada along the backbones of California, Oregon and Washington on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Front-runners among this year’s crew of “through-hikers” - including Bob and Joy Turner of Coeur d’Alene - pass through forests outside Los Angeles that are obscured by dust, burrs and close calls with cactus spines.
Soon, they will be slogging through snowfields at the northern end of the Sierra Nevada Range.
Over the last three years, about 125 hikers have completed the trail - 60 each in 1994 and 1996, but only five in 1995, when strong late-season storms clogged the Sierra with deep snow.
PCT hikers still don’t know what kind of trail conditions they’ll find in Oregon and Washington, where big storms pounded the mountains this winter.
But before they finish, they’ll be experts in dealing with the sneaky, food-mooching tactics of the Sierra black bear, the hordes of mosquitoes waiting in Oregon and the jaw-dropping elevation changes in Washington.
For information important to distance hikers, even updated snow measurements, contact the Pacific Crest Trail Association, (916) 349-2109 or on the Internet at www.gorp.com/pcta/
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map: Pacific Crest Trail