Having recently finished the PNT, here are my final thoughts:
Overall, this was a very tough trail. But, my experience on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) was harder… mainly because my time on the CDT was almost twice as long. Even though I did not hike every inch of the PNT, I was able to see the best parts and have a better time doing so BECAUSE I skipped most of the road-walks. Yes, there is quite a bit of road-walking on the PNT.
Initially, I had planned to hike the entire thing, what we hikers call a “true” thru-hike. But… early on a member of our Warrior Expeditions team bailed out for a foot issue and another hiker chose to stay and baby-sit. So, it all steamrolled downhill from there. Once people start skipping sections of the trail, others are forced to do the same or risk breaking the team apart. At that point there was no way we could all keep the same schedule and stay together to scout out the trail for Warrior Expeditions – our primary objective. Anyway, you know what they say – a team is only as strong as its weakest link.
Trail drama happens, it is the nature of the beast. But, when you are in a place this beautiful, it quickly vanishes in the rearview mirror.
One really interesting thing, there are many alternate routes on the PNT, so, in a sense, you get to choose your own adventure at many different forks in the road. The described “bush-whacks” were not bad… and most were not actual bush-whacks since there was often a trail (even if poorly marked/traveled).
Fortunately, compared to last years hike on the Buckeye Trail, I stayed healthy, kept my feet in great condition (never had a blister!), and therefore had a better attitude toward the overall experience. For me, the more realistic approach is to enjoy the journey by stopping to smell the roses along the way.
Climbs — Yes, this trail was mostly about the views. There were many, many climbs, and some were quite strenuous. As someone who periodically runs ultra-marathons, I did not have trouble on any of them. I love to climb… and hate the downhills, which I tend to bomb as fast as I can. What made this trail so much different than the CDT was the elevation. The highest point on the PNT is around 7,500+ feet, whereas that is the average elevation over the length of the CDT. The highest point on the CDT is approximately 14,200 feet.
One major issue I had with the trail is that almost everyone I spoke to during my hike thought I was on the Pacific Crest Trail! Even when I was geographically nowhere close to the PCT. Yep, there are some ignorant people out there, as we all know. Bottom line: The PNT has a marketing problem! Maybe that’s by design? Great way to keep it hidden! My choice for a name, “Crown to Coast Trail” — the east coast has its Mountains to Sea Trail… so why not the CCT?
Okay, moving on to my favorite part: Wildlife. It was fairly abundant on the PNT. I did expect to see a lot more, but I am not disappointed by what I did see. Being such a remote, and less busy trail, there were many opportunities to witness wildlife in their natural surroundings… and with the addition of extremely beautiful backdrops. Here is a short list (not comprehensive) of what I did see… if my memory serves me correctly.
Bear (Black and Brown), Beaver, Canadian Lynx, Blacktail Deer, Douglas’ Squirrel, Elk, Common Garter Snake, Ground Squirrel, Harbor Seal, Least Chipmunk, Moose, Mountain Cottontail, Marmot, Mountain Goat, Mule Deer, Northwestern Garter Snake, Pika, Pine Marten, Sea Otter, Snowshoe Hare, Townsend’s Chipmunk, Western Gray Squirrel, Whitetail Deer, Yellow-pine Chipmunk.
I also saw various fish (trout, salmon, sculpin, etc), sea life, insects, amphibians and other small critters… way too many to list.
And, of course, I saw WAY too many birds to count and list here. Originally, I started logging them but found that I’d lose valuable hiking time by pulling out the notebook for every new bird. I do carry a birding app on my phone so I can always use that to make a list of what I did see, just by selecting the state and type of environment.
For me, these were my scenic highlights of the PNT:
Glacier National Park, Selkirk Mountains, Kettle Range, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Olympic Mountains, and Pacific Coast.
In summary, this was a fantastic trail, and a great way to spend most of the summer. If I had to do it over again, I’d do nothing different.
My advice: skip the pavement and many of the boring forest roads (tunnel of trees) and focus on the single-track trail through the mountainous areas, as well as the Pacific Coast, which was my favorite part of the entire PNT.