PCT – A mental vs physical challenge 

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I was thinking it during my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike last year and I’ve been thinking about it a whole lot more since finishing.

I believe that hiking the PCT from start to finish is more a mental/psychological challenge than a physical one. Perhaps 60% mental and 40% physical.

Don’t get me wrong, it is physically challenging. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But you don’t have to be an athlete to attempt it, because as the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Of course, if you are thinking of embarking on such a hike, you’ll be trying to get as fit as possible in the lead-up, you might do a wilderness course, first aid course and you’ll make sure all your gear works for you etc etc…  but just as much as preparing physically, prepare mentally as well.

You might have friends, family, colleagues and even strangers thinking that you’re crazy for what you’re about to attempt, and some of them may even tell you that you can’t do it. You might even be thinking these thoughts yourself. But don’t. Start picturing yourself at the start (even if you’re not planning to do it this year or next year), and picture yourself at the end with an enormous smile on your face and tears of joy running down your cheeks because you’ve completed this incredible challenge.

Why do I think it’s more a mental challenge than physical?

Because it’s easy to quit. You just quit. Maybe you’ll find it too hot or too cold or too wet or too dry, too hard or too scary. Being fit won’t necessarily change these things, but being mentally prepared might.

Being fit won’t help you walk past the rattlesnake on the trail. Determination to get to the end will.

Being fit won’t help you in a storm. Determination to make it through the storm safely so you can get to the end will.

Being fit won’t stop thoughts of quitting come into your mind. Determination to get to the end won’t let those thoughts enter your mind.

Being fit won’t help you over the lava field in Oregon. Determination to get to end of the lava field so you never have to walk on it again, will.

Being fit won’t help you from being scared all night long if you’ve never camped by yourself and you think you’re hearing a bear/mountain lion outside your tent. Determination to not fall asleep will 😉

So if you are preparing to hike the PCT, start mentally preparing too. Envision yourself at the start, at the California/Oregon border, at the Bridge of the Gods, at the end and maybe even lots of places in-between. Tell people you’re going to do it, tell yourself you’re going to do it. Think about all the people who tell you that you can’t do it, and how good it will feel to show them that you can! When things get hard on the trail, and they will, motivate yourself, talk to yourself if you have to and tell yourself that you can do it, because you can. (“I’ve got this” is what I said to myself hundreds of times a day.)

Listen to your body and rest when you need to. You’ll know if you have to leave the trail. Just don’t quit on a bad day.

And if anyone thinks they can’t do it, take me as an example:

A 35 year old female who’s been on various walks before, but is scared of spiders, snakes, bears, mountain lions, scorpions, lightning, snowstorms, getting lost and I’m sure a few more things. I had never camped alone (in a country with bears and mountain lions) before doing the PCT. Three months before starting the PCT I slipped a disc in my lower back and had to have 5 injections in it (lying on the couch eating ice cream for these three months wasn’t ideal fitness training!). I think I had enough reasons to not even begin the PCT, but by this time I had told friends and family, I had blogged about my plans to hike the PCT and I could already see myself at the end. My dad calls me stubborn, I call it determination. (Most importantly, my doc gave me the go-ahead too.)

It wasn’t easy and I certainly had my fair share of break-downs – like the time I got stuck in a storm on Mt San Jacinto and told my husband I thought I was going to die right before we lost the phone connection. Or when I was camped by myself in a snow-storm and couldn’t see the trail in the morning. Or the time I almost stepped on a rattlesnake, but somehow managed to leap over it, before tripping and falling backwards down a slope, landing on a cactus. Or when I went so far off-trail to do a number 2 that I got lost and spent 10 minutes slightly panicked trying to find the trail again. Then there was the time I rolled my ankle at the beginning of an 8 day, 8 mountain pass stage in the sierras and tore my ATFL & CFL ligaments in my left foot (an MRI in December showed that it’s still unhappy). And Washington – it rained and snowed for days on end and nothing was ever dry…

It was physically and mentally challenging.

Just remember to mentally prepare too.

Happy Trails!

Kat – Hummingbird


Planning for the PCT

Blogging from the trail…

PCT Gear Review

Resupply – how, what & why

Post PCT Reflections


22 responses to “PCT – A mental vs physical challenge 

  1. I’m glad to see you still blogging about the PCT. thanks for this last post. I remember most of those stories and I remember how tough I thought you were for continuing every day. You forgot hitch hiking in that van in Idyllwild. That one really was really scary for me for you. A few years ago I attempted hiking Mt. Whitney. I was physically ready but mentally I let it beat me. I didn’t climb it that day. I will be attempting this year again. Differently but with a no expectations. The outcome will be different. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It hit home for sure.


  2. I have found that to be true as well. Your will is more important than anything else to keeping you moving down the trail.

    The storm on San Jacinto had me spooked as well; the only time on the trail I ever gave any thought to the possibility of not surviving.


  3. I think this post is helpful not only in preparation for a long trek, but for any goal one might be working on. I’ve really taken it to heart and appreciate your willingness to share unpleasant moments you experienced to help us be more prepared!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well said!
    Not to mention having the determination to blog the entire way too!
    Thank you so much for sharing your adventures! I’m planning on hiking the PCT this year and your words have been a huge inspiration and point of reference for me ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Hikedrawhike,

      Thanks for your lovely comment.

      Blogging everyday is certainly a challenge but it’s nice to have a diary that I can now look back on and I do recommend to write about your experience as you go (even just in a notebook). You’ll appreciate the effort when you look back in years to come and can read about all the little details.

      Stay safe and happy trails!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I followed you daily on your PTC stroll. You are right on about the psychology. It is a matter of telling yourself it is ok that sometimes life has aches and pains. That is normal so put it to one side and enjoy the beauty of each moment. Laugh at yourself when you cannot find that beauty and let it seem ridiculous but never let it be in charge. Remember things are all temporary and that there will be a nice cup of tea soon. Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is such an awesome post, it’s really inspiring me! I share almost all your fears and I’m going to walk the Te Araroa (TA, New Zealand’s long distance walk) but I’m still afraid of pronouncing it on my blog 😉 Thanks for sharing this, I really liked reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for sharing this perspective. I am getting ready for the PCT in April and I’m trying to keep a balance between really, really wanting to finish and yet not pushing myself so hard that I get injured, fall into a depression, or view myself as a failure if I don’t. April will be here before I know it, and hopefully I’ll be as ready as I can be!


    • Hi Laura,

      HYOH (hike your own hike) is something I heard a lot on the PCT and I completely agree with it.

      You need to listen to your body and rest when you need it, that might be one zero day, 2 or even more.

      I found it overwhelming because it’s such a long hike but if you break it down into stages and focus on each one then it’s a sense of achievement each time you finish a stage. And even if you don’t get to the end for whatever reason, no-one can call you a failure – because you tried!
      Just take each day as it comes and enjoy yourself 🙂

      Ask away if you have any questions & happy trails!


  8. You are spot on, it is mostly mental. You had every reason to quit many times but kept on going. You are one of the most stubborn, I mean determined people I’ve hiked with. Good luck with future hikes, I hope to share the trail with you again at some time in the future. Cheers, Shepherd.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol, thanks Shepherd!

      I’m not sure what I would’ve done if you hadn’t introduced me to Zigzag the night I rolled my ankle… Thank you for being so supportive 🙂

      I look forward to reading your CDT posts.



  9. So true. Very proud of you for finishing it. I’m sorry to hear you rolled your ankle, too. I rolled it in Shikoku, and have since rolled it again twice. I’ve not done a scan, but I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of scar tissue. Even more than the physical pain, it’s the worry of doing it again that haunts me. I’m sort of glad someone else was even crazier to continue on the PCT with a rolled ankle.


    • Ouch, sorry to hear you rolled yours too. I don’t know how I stayed upright on a lot of those mountain trails on the Shikoku pilgrimage!

      I was incredibly lucky to be camping with a physio the day I rolled my ankle and he showed me how to tape it up and made me get an ankle brace at the first opportunity – the brace helped incredibly and I never rolled it again after putting it on.

      I’m very impatiently waiting for it to heal now and all I want to be doing is walking…

      Might be an idea to get a brace if you are thinking of doing more walking…

      How was Shikoku?


      • Shikoku was an incredible experience. I think it’s gotten me on the walking bug. I’m constantly on the hunt for more places to do long walks, so I’ve been following your PCT posts! I still sometimes doubt if walking on it continuously was the smartest decision because of these longer-term consequences, but I’m pleased with myself for continuing, and therefore finishing. Plus, continuing means I met all the people afterward!

        In my recent roll in India, I had an ankle brace that was meant for sports usage, but it did the job quite well. I just made its job hard by continuously walking on it still as I was in India and really wanted to see all the places I was going to and didn’t have 2 weeks to sit on it while the cities passed me by!

        I’m also impatiently waiting for mine to heal too. If you have any tips on rehab, would appreciate it! Maybe do a post on how to continue after such injuries? I don’t know if you feel this, but I think that as you mentioned in your post, it’s psychological. I’m torn between psychologically knowing that I can still walk wherever I want (pure determination) and knowing that I’ll have to be that much more vigilant about my ankle.


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