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Every Step of the Way
Jill Rennicke, Alumni Coordinator

Considered one of the greatest and most challenging footpaths in North America, the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail is the dream of nearly anyone who has ever put on a backpack. Many dream but few actually make that dream a reality. Recently, CS3 Alum Madeline Gould and her partner Zak completed the dream journey she calls “the greatest accomplishment of my life, so far.” Here, in her own words, is the story of this milestone hike.

“On March 17, 2019 I found myself in the Southern California desert. Rows of barbed wire and a rusted wall represented the border between the US and Mexico, 20 feet to the south of me. Nervously glancing north, my partner, Zak, and I posed for a picture next to the monument that marks the Southern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail; It read, ‘Mexico to Canada 2650 Miles.’ I shouldered my pack and started walking. 

For the next five and a half months, we walked. Thirteen hours a day with 25-50 lbs on my back. Through desert and forest, over mountain peaks and through valleys, rivers, and, across snowfields. With California seeing record high snow levels, we spent weeks walking with crampons tightly cinched over our trail runners. We carried ice axes in one hand in case of a sudden fall, GPS in the other as there was no trail to follow. We were lucky to make 12 miles a day despite hiking from sunup to sunset. Ultimately, we made the difficult decision to skip past part of the highest and most remote section of the trail, the Sierra Nevada range, and continued to hike farther north on the trail and return in August when conditions were more favorable. 

In Oregon and Washington, we were treated to the dryish trail, massive old-growth trees, and stunning wildflowers. Our spirits lifted and we were able to make up lost time. After spending three months in California, we crossed Oregon in 18 days, hiking 50 miles one day, our longest day of the trip. On August 10th, we touched the monument at the Northern Terminus, marking the Canadian border, but it wasn’t over yet - we still had 500 miles to go back to California. On September 2nd, we sprinted down Kearsarge Pass, just north of Mt. Whitney, in the pouring rain and hail, where we had left off almost four months earlier. We had walked every mile of the trail. 

I consider thru-hiking the PCT one of the greatest accomplishments of my life so far, but I don’t know if I would have ever taken the first step had I not been introduced to the sport of backpacking at Conserve School. Although a far cry from walking across America, the one week in the Porcupine Mountains (Exploration Week) sparked the fire of what can only be described as a backpacking obsession and taught me the skills that led to countless other adventures. I am so grateful to have been taught not only how to live out of a pack but how to make educated decisions in the backcountry. This ultimately allowed me to complete my goal of walking every mile between Mexico and Canada and will definitely lead to even grander adventures in the future!"

Hiking the PCT
Hiking the PCT

Pictures contributed by Madeline Gould