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Heard of "the Herd"?

There has been quite a bit of discussion on PCT-L about a wave of hikers heading northward from Lake Morena after ADZPCTKO, ravishing everything in its path like a swarm of locusts. By some accounts, you get the feeling that there's a conga line of hikers on the trail; campsites that look like third-world refugee camps; post offices overflowing with resupply boxes; grocery stores sold out of anything edible; and hordes of hikers crowding into a single motel room.

Is it true?

Yes and no.

There is a cluster of hikers heading north from the border each year. To avoid the worst desert heat, mountain snow, and raging rivers, there's a fairly narrow window of opportunity for northbound thru hikers. In some years, it's possible to start as early as mid-March; the window closes in early June for hikers planning to make it to Canada before winter snows begin. In a normal year, most hikers consider the optimal starting time to be late April, and -- with or without ADZPCTKO -- there is a larger number of hikers during those few weeks. But according to most of the thru hikers, post office personnel, and business owners that we surveyed in 2005, the "herd" was not a problem.

The real question is whether the wave of hikers is a problem -- and that's largely a matter of perspective. Some folks seek complete wilderness solitude, whereas others specifically want to be with a group of hikers, whether it's for safety, camaraderie, sharing expenses, or other reasons. If you're in the former group, you'll want to avoid hiking north from Lake Morena on Sunday after the kickoff. The crowd disperses over the next several weeks, but you'll encounter it again at favorite stopovers, such as Kennedy Meadows, because some folks just don't want to leave!

What are the ADZPCTKO organizers doing to tame the wave?

Beginning in 2005, each spring we send letters to post offices and major hiker-destination businesses near the trail in southern California to alert them to the impending hiker assault. We also visit some of them personally to alert them, to ask about any problems, and to ask for suggestions. In most cases, they tell us that a) of course they know there'll be a bunch of hikers coming through soon; b) they've got plenty of supplies on hand; and c) they welcome the hikers and look forward to the annual wave.

Also beginning in 2005, we surveyed all registered ADZPCTKO attendees to get their feedback on a number of issues, including "the wave." We had an outstanding 25% response rate for the survey, including many responses sent back from the trail. Regarding the wave, most (but certainly not all) commenters said the wave effect caused by ADZPCTKO was either nonexistent or not a problem. Some offered suggestions on minimizing the effect.

Since 2001, we have operated an electronic Ride Board, which allows hikers to get to the kickoff from anywhere on the trail.

To educate hikers about damage to the trail (which can be exacerbated by crowds of campers in a small area), in 2006 we added seminars on Leave No Trace techniques. Observing the LNT ethic lets us enjoy the land without destroying it.

What can you do to minimize (or avoid) the wave?

If you don't want to be a part of it, don't! Perhaps these ideas will help your planning:

  • First and foremost, plan your own hike based on the best information you can get on snow, weather, and water conditions; school and job schedules; etc. Remember, our Day Zero isn't necessarily your Day Zero. If you decide to start earlier or later than ADZPCTKO, we'd still love to see you at the kickoff. Visit our Ride Board to arrange for transportation to/from the kickoff. We have lots of trail angels, past hikers, and PCT wannabes who're suckers for helping out this year's hikers and will gladly give you a ride just to take in the, er, aroma and hear a few stories from the trail.
  • Plan to stay at Lake Morena for a few days after the kickoff. Let the herd move on without you.
  • Do a mini flip-flop by hiking some southern California sections southbound in early April (thereby avoiding some desert heat) until you reach the border. Then after the kickoff, get a ride to where you started -- and you'll be ahead of the herd.
  • Boycott ADZPCTKO. We'd love to see you at the kickoff, which we think has a lot to offer for this year's thru hikers. But honestly, it's no skin off our nose if you decide not to come. Enjoy your hike.