But when 500 of those miles are covered in snow, what begins as a test of endurance can turn into a test of survival.
Kristen Grund, 30, and Ville Jokinen, 31, boyfriend and girlfriend who split their time between Bend and Finland, chose one of the toughest years in recent history to "thru-hike" (hike from end to end on a single journey) the Pacific Crest Trail -- but they made it.
On Sept. 29, five months after starting out at the United States-Mexico border town of Campo, Calif., Grund and Jokinen reached the trailhead in Manning Park, British Columbia.
Their longest break along the way was a three-day stay at Grund's parents' house in Bend.
According to Jokinen, estimates indicate that fewer than 80 of the 400 or so hikers who started out with the intention of thru-hiking the PCT in late April will finish this year. And more than half of the hikers who started out quit their journey before reaching or while in the snow-packed Sierra Nevada, as last winter and spring brought historically deep snowpacks to the American West.
Indeed, the toughest portion of the entire hike for Grund and Jokinen was Yosemite National Park in central California, which included 150 miles of extreme climbing through snow and dangerous high-river crossings as the snowpack began melting rapidly in July.
During some of the river crossings, the water was up to their necks.
"There were moments we could have been swept away," Jokinen said this week while recounting the journey. "The last river crossing in Yosemite was so intense. I was worrying about myself, and then worrying about (Grund), because she's shorter than me. I was thinking we might have to skip a section (of the trail). But that ended up being the worst. After that, it was just waist high or so."
Aside from crossing the rivers, trekking through snow is no easy task.
To find their way with no clear trail to follow, the hikers relied on topographic maps, compasses, GPS and occasionally even the footprints of hikers ahead.
"It would be trail, and then a giant snow heap, over and over," Grund recalled. "By the end of the day, I've never been so exhausted. We couldn't eat enough calories to keep (up with) what we were burning. We were skin and bones, and just starving."
Grund and Jokinen wore running shoes with Yaktrax (fitted devices placed over the soles of shoes for traction in snow) and used trekking poles.
On average, they covered 18 to 20 miles of trail per day. That average dropped to as few as 10 miles per day in the punishing Sierra Nevada, but it reached as many as 37 miles per day in Oregon.
After meeting 3½ years ago on a scuba diving boat in Vietnam, Grund and Jokinen have maintained a long-distance relationship, embarking on several travel adventures together.
Per immigration rules,
Grund, who was born and raised in Bend, can stay 90 days in Jokinen's home country of Finland, but then must leave for at least 90 days.
Jokinen has a tourist visa for the United States, so he can stay in the U.S. for six months at a time, but then he must leave the country for at least the next six months.
Grund competed in soccer, swimming, basketball, track and cross-country at Bend's Mountain View High School, and Jokinen played professional soccer in Finland and Algeria.
The two have always stayed fit through running and hiking. They backpacked together through Southeast Asia, Central America and Mexico, and they sailed through the Caribbean.
They were driving across the U.S. on one trip when Jokinen noticed a PCT trailhead.
"She (Grund) started telling me more about it," Jokinen said. "She met some thru-hikers four years ago. I started getting more interested, and we started talking more about it. Last fall, we said, 'Let's do it next year.' "
The couple was living in Helsinki, Finland, last spring just before the start of their hike. Grund was working as a nanny and Jokinen in finance. They quit their jobs and returned to Bend to plan their adventure.
They made several REI and Costco trips for gear and food, packing resupply boxes that Grund's family would send to predesignated post offices along the way. The boxes were filled mainly with food, maps, batteries and toilet paper.
Grund and Jokinen traveled by air to San Diego, then hitched a ride from a friend to Campo, where they began their PCT trek on April 29.
They hiked from sunrise to sunset each day, camping each night in a tent with sleeping pads and a sleeping quilt.
After slogging through the torrid Mojave Desert of Southern California and encountering a number of rattlesnakes, the hikers entered the southern Sierra Nevada at Kennedy Meadows in mid-June. They used ice axes at times to traverse steep, icy slopes, and on June 23 they even took a side trip to climb to the summit of Mount Whitney -- at 14,497 feet, the highest peak in the continental U.S. The highest point along the Pacific Crest Trail is the Sierra Nevada's Forester Pass, at 13,153 feet.
The couple finally made it through most of the snow just north of Lake Tahoe at the end of July.
"Most people, if you ask them, their favorite section is the Sierras -- not us," Grund said. "We hit a pretty good depression after the snow. We all of a sudden realized how many miles we had to put in because we were two weeks behind (the planned schedule). We had to do 30 miles a day after doing 15 to 17 miles."
Grund and Jokinen needed only 14 days to cover the 458 miles of the PCT's Oregon section, averaging 34 miles per day. The 1,602-mile California stretch had taken 3½ months.
After leaving Grund's parents' house in Bend, the hungry couple used the popular breakfast buffet at Mount Hood's Timberline Lodge as motivation for a series of 30-or-more-mile days. They made it from Santiam Pass to Timberline (100 miles) in just three days.
They reached the start of the 500-mile Washington section of the PCT in late August, hiking past Mount Rainier National Park and North Cascades National Park. During one river crossing in northern Washington, Jokinen recalled, a large black bear came within 30 feet of Grund just before she crossed a log spanning the river.
Grund never saw the bear, but Jokinen started cursing and shouting to warn her and it eventually walked away. It was one of six bears they saw along the PCT.
"I was stressed trying to cross that log," Grund said. "I didn't turn around."
Grund's parents picked the two weary hikers up last week in Manning Park, giving them a ride back to Bend after their walk of a lifetime.
Jokinen lost 28 pounds and only recently shaved the long beard he grew during the hike. Grund lost 15 pounds from her small frame.
They each went through five pairs of shoes, four backpacks, three sets of trekking poles and about 20 pairs of socks.
Jokinen looks at life challenges in a different light now.
"Finally, I have REAL problems," he said of their time on the trail. "I work in an office, so my problems are, like, 'Why is the Internet down?'
Or, 'My printer doesn't work.' (While out on the trail) I'm like, 'I don't have enough food. Or, we're running out of water.' "
Grund says her favorite sections of the trail were the Shasta Trinity National Forest in Northern California, the Three Sisters Wilderness in Central Oregon and the Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington.
The emotions of finally completing their thru-hike of the PCT were hard to describe.
"I was crying, but I was so happy," Grund said of her feelings at trail's end. "Some of the most absolute amazing memories I will have in my life are on that trail … with him. We went through stuff that most couples never have to deal with."
The Pacific Crest Trail runs 2,650 miles from Campo, Calif., to Manning Park, British Columbia, covering the entire length of California, Oregon and Washington. The National Scenic Trail passes through the Mojave Desert, the Sierra Nevada, Yosemite National Park, Marble Mountain and the Russian Wilderness in Northern California, the volcanoes of the Cascades, Crater Lake, the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Rainier and the remote northern Cascades. The trail includes 750,000 feet of elevation gain.
Over the past decade the PCT has become a favorite of thru-hikers — the hardy souls who attempt to hike the entire trail in a single season.
Each year, an average of 300 hikers attempt to cover the full length of the PCT.
Most thru-hikers make planned stops in towns close to the trail (usually hitchhiking from highways crossed by the trail) to resupply with food and gear and pick up supply boxes that were mailed ahead by family or friends.
On the web
For more information on Kristen Grund and Ville Jokinen's journey, visit dumbanddumberpct.blogspot.com.
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