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1 Summer, 300 Miles, 15 Friends

Annalise had two plans for the summer before her senior year of high school: take the SAT and hike 300 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.

By Annalise Pree

I had two plans for the summer before my senior year of high school, and both required a lot of prep work and planning.

  1. Take the SAT.
  2. Hike 300 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington, along with as many friends as wanted to join me.

Annalise Pree. Photo by Britt Le.jpg
Annalise Pree sewed her own backpack for her summer trip on the PCT. (She’s holding a hand-drawn photo of herself, a gift from Britt Lê, of WTA.) Photo by Britt Lê.

It is my goal to get as many people outside as possible, because I think it’s an opportunity everyone should have. I’m no stranger to the outdoors; I’m a youth ambassador for WTA and I’ve also volunteered on day- and weeklong trail work parties for several years. However, as I was assembling a group of my high school friends for my PCT trip, I was saddened by how many people expressed feeling intimidated by backpacking. I told everyone, “It’s just walking,” and that become our motto.

I wanted the hike to be comfortable for everyone, so I kept that in mind as I planned the trip. Ultimately, we had sections where we did 20-plus-mile days and others where we only did around 10 miles per day. This gave my friends with varying levels of experience an opportunity to drop in and out of the trail at their discretion. Throughout the length of the trip, about 15 people joined me, averaging from about two to five folks per section. My hiking companions ranged from those with no backpacking experience at all to a very experienced search-and-rescue leader.

Before hitting the trail, I created an excessive number of spreadsheets to keep track of trip logistics. I used my knowledge of backpacking, acquired on my own and on WTA trips, to create a minutely detailed plan for our trip. I made a gear spreadsheet to help my hiking companions know what they needed to bring, what they could share with me and what they needed to borrow. I also created spreadsheets for resupply details and an itinerary with our projected miles per day. Our food spreadsheet was by far the best. I used miles per day to calculate how many calories on average each person should pack based on their suggested daily caloric needs.

YAP reunion.jpg
Annalise is a youth ambassador for WTA and a regular participant on trail work parties. Photo by Britt Lê.

While I was looking at the big picture of the trip, I was also preparing the gear I would need to hike across the state. After researching ultralight brands, I decided those options were just too expensive. However, due to a back injury, it was important for me to have a lightweight pack. So I decided to make my own. I had already made an ultralight sleeping bag with my dinky little sewing machine, so I thought, “Why not make everything else too?” I watched YouTube videos to learn techniques. Then I drew my own patterns, bought fabric online and got to work. When all was said and done, I had a homemade hammock, tarp, puffy jacket and backpack, all clocking in at a total of 8 pounds. All I needed to do was chop my toothbrush in half, pack my Chacos (yes, I hiked in Chacos) and I was all set.

Preparing all of our gear and food and creating an itinerary was fun on its own, but the actual hiking was even better. Every day, I walked miles and miles with a fun group of people. We saw craggy peaks, colorful meadows, crystal clear lakes, sparkling rivers, lush forests, epic ridgelines and snow-capped mountains. It was awesome to see all my hard work and planning come to life and witness people who had never been backpacking before discover a new hobby — and create new memories. One of the most memorable moments of the trip was also the funniest — and the scariest. A chipmunk stole my Garmin inReach GPS and dropped it right next to the edge of a cliff!

There were also certain places that really stand out in my memory. Arch Rock Campsite was particularly special because a friend and I did trail work there a year ago. We had cleared the campsite, which was in a burn zone, to make it safe. It was cool to see how our work held up a full year later. I also really enjoyed seeing the meadows and waterfalls just to the north of the Knife in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. It all felt so surreal. From that area, we could also see Packwood Lake and the Coyote Trail, which are other places where I have done trail work.

Annalise on Bridge of the Gods. Photo by Britt Le.jpg
Annalise and her friends cross the Bridge of the Gods at the end of their trip. Annalise wished she could have kept on hiking. Photo by Britt Lê.

In the middle of all that hiking, I had to make a plan to check off my other summer to-do item, which was to take the SAT. Just after emerging from the Goat Rocks, we got off trail briefly to take the test — and then we headed back for more hiking. It was an inconvenient but necessary detour.

Being outside on the trail and part of trail culture was the best part of the trip. We met thru-hikers with wild stories to share and trail angels who inspired us with their generosity. Even though the hiker population was composed primarily of 20-something-year-old white males, the trail is becoming more diverse each year. I am glad to be a part of the shift toward a more inclusive and diverse trail that welcomes everyone’s identities. And maybe, by welcoming new young people on the trip and showing them the joys of hiking, we’re a few steps closer to that goal. 

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Washington Trails magazine.  Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.