2,650 miles, 37 miles per day, 71 days
November 30, 2008
TRUCKEE ” After another long day’s hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, Truckee’s Scott Williamson sat down next to a High Sierra creek in the darkness and began to fill his water bag.
Minutes passed as he scooped water from the snowmelt-driven rivulet when the tall, wiry, long-distance hiker looked down to see he was pouring each cup over his maps and guidebook pages ” not into a container.
“With the lack of sleep I had minor hallucinations and altered perception,” Williamson said. “A lot of the hike seems like a blur now.”
Williamson, who holds the record for yo-yoing the Pacific Crest Trail ” walking from Mexico to Canada and back again ” found himself in this semi-lucid, sleep-deprived state this past summer with the goal of a thru-hike speed record.
His hiking partner, Joe Kisner of Huntington Beach, held the previous record on the 2,650-mile path at 79 days, 21 hours, and 42 minutes.
And despite sleep depravation, heat, smoke, fire and all the other challenges of the trail, the duo reached Canada 71 days, two hours and 41 minutes after setting off from the Mexican border ” and beat the record by more than eight days.
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To put that in perspective, an average thru-hiker spends four to five months making the long trek, averaging 20 miles a day through the desert, over high mountain passes and through raging creeks.
But to reach their goal, Williamson and Kisner put in an average of 37.6 miles per day, carrying food, water and everything else they needed on their backs, many days topping out over 40 miles before dropping to the dirt for a short night’s sleep.
Through smoke and flame
The obstacles started early when the two set off on June 8 into the blistering heat of Southern California, seeing temperatures of up to 118 degrees, Williamson said.
“If any small wound happens to your feet, it’s not going to heal, Williamson said. “I carried three blisters all the way to the finish.”
From there, Kisner said the two walked under a shroud of smoke from the Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles to Crater Lake in Oregon.
“It was like being incubated under the smoke; you start to understand how global warming works,” Kisner said.
In Northern California, Williamson and Kisner walked through fire.
“We were literally walking through burning forest for 15 miles with trees falling around us and trying to find places to step,” Williamson said. “I wouldn’t do that again in retrospect.”
Toward the end in Washington, Williamson and Kisner faced a dizzying tight-rope walk across a downed tree over a surging river.
“It was this churning gray mass,” Williamson said. “Joe just walked right out across, but I got I new if I fell in there was no way I was coming out alive,” Williamson said.
Icons on an iconic hike
The two made an amicable team on the trail, Williamson said, generally content with each other’s pace and style, although Joe started out over 200 pounds.
“He has a large portion of his body covered by tattoos so when he was coming down the trail with his shirt open, he’d look more like a biker than a hiker. But he’s an incredible athlete,” Williamson said.
Kisner said Williamson gained them recognition along the way.
“Scott is sort of an icon on the trail and people seemed to jump out of no where looking for us,” Kisner said.
They shared one critical trait in common, however.
“We’re both comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Kisner said.
Being together may have made the difference between breaking the record and not finishing.
“The trail is 2,700 miles of beating you up,” Kisner said. “It’s quitting or not quitting.”
“Walking with someone is a tremendous mental advantage,” Williamson said.
Still, in spite of the mind-altering miles, short nights, heat and fire, Williamson said he wasn’t exhausted when the arrived in Canada Aug. 18.
“If I had the time and money I would have turned around and gone south,” he said.
Walking in a changing west
With 11 trips on the Pacific Crest Trail over the last two decades and more than 40,000 miles of Pacific Crest Trail in his legs, Scott Williamson has witnessed some changes in the west.
Fire has stripped many of the shade-bearing trees in the first 700 miles of trail in Southern California, Williamson said.
Likewise pine forests are retreating to higher altitudes, Williamson said.
“My first hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1992 there used to be some reliable streams. They’re no longer reliable,” he said. “And the last few years every summer hikers are running a gauntlet of fire.”
Smog has found its way into the High Sierras, Williamson said.
“There has been a little magic lost,” he said.