Oregon has thousands of miles of hiking trails, but the granddaddy of them all is the Pacific Crest Trail which stretches a total of 2,659 miles. It is one of three major long-distance trails in America. In Oregon, it covers 460 miles and offers what many argue is the best wilderness experience along its entire length, especially some would say, in Central Oregon. "The desert was very interesting and beautiful in its own way," says Cat Addison, one of an elite class of "thru-hikers," joining many other Central Oregonians who have hiked the entire distance of the PCT.
Addison says that hiking the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada, brought an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and empowerment.
"It makes you realize you can do almost anything that you put your mind to," she says. She also acknowledges experiencing a bit of post-trail depression that came from wondering what would be next.
Addison found that her successful hike helped reset her life and change her perspective of what's important. She had moved to Bend from the East Coast, where she hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. Soon after moving to Oregon, she knew she wanted to hike the PCT's entire length, happy to have hundreds of miles of the PCT right outside her back door. She began her hike on the Mexican border on April 14, 2014, and on the 30th of September, she completed it at the Canadian border. At the end of the trek Addison admitted that the hike was exhausting and she was glad it was over.
"It was bittersweet because all the people I met on the trail were special. I was faced with going back to regular life again." Addison enjoyed being in control of her daily routine on the trail (except for the weather), which she found empowering. "It was a shock to come back to regular life," she says. "Coming back and finding work was really hard." She now works part-time for REI and helps lead discussions about hiking sections of the trail and what to expect.
Along the PCT, for example, she saw two rattlesnakes. "They scared the heck out of me. The first one I didn't know was there until it was right next to me, and I probably jumped four feet and screamed." Though she enjoyed the desert wildflowers and the High Sierras, Addison says she was glad to hike out of California and into Oregon. For her, Central Oregon offered the wilderness experience and beauty she wanted. "When you get into the Three Sisters Wilderness, it's gorgeous," she says.
Addison also noticed differences in the numbers and types of animals from California to Oregon to Washington. In California there were deer and rabbits, but she wanted to see more. In Oregon, she spotted a large black bear in the Jefferson Park near Mt. Jefferson. It was the only bear she would see and it posed no danger, running off into the wilderness as she approached. In Washington State she encountered mountain goats and large herds of elk. "If you got up early and started hiking before the sun was up, you saw a lot of elk up there," she says.
Today Addison volunteers for the Pacific Crest Trail Association and helps keep a 162-mile section of the trail cleared and open to the public. She marvels at the amount of wilderness in the West and in Oregon. "Coming from the East Coast, it wasn't that way, and I love Oregon for that."
The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail was first conceived by Clinton Churchill Clarke in 1932. It received official status in 1968 but wasn't completed until 1993. The lowest point of the trail is at the Oregon-Washington border. Its highest point is 13,153 feet at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada. It passes through 25 national forests and seven national parks. The Pacific Crest, the Appalachian, and the Continental Divide Trails were the first three long-distance trails in the U.S. Successfully thru-hiking all of these three trails is known as the Triple Crown of Hiking.