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THE GREAT OUTDOORS: A GUIDE TO ORANGE COUNTY RECREATION
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Border-to-Border Patrol

The Pacific Crest Trail, Which Stretches From Mexico to Canada, Beckons Those Who Long for a Challenging Hike

May 28, 1999|ARA NAJARIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's been an interesting discovery.

A corridor of land, about eight miles wide in some spots--and only eight feet in others--exists from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.

It includes the Bridge of the Gods and Devils Kitchen.

It is likely to move you, but it's not a fault line.

It's a trail. One heck of trail.

It's the Pacific Crest Trail, possibly hiking's last, best full-length adventure.

The secret is getting out.

"You know, we've had hikers from England, Russia, Japan; I met a couple of Dutch hikers not too long ago. Even some Finns," says Pete Fish, who is on the board of directors of the Pacific Crest Trail Assn. and has the responsibility of finding volunteers to maintain the lower 700 miles of the 2,650-mile trail. "Although the trail is not so well known in Southern California, it is a world class trail."

One of eight National Scenic Trails--the Appalachian Trail and Continental Divide Trail are two others--the Pacific Crest Trail traverses all the diversity of the west. There are many mountain crests, as the name implies, but the trail includes stretches through forests, deserts, lakes, rivers and volcanoes. And plenty of wild life.

How big an adventure is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail? Well, for one thing you should not attempt to traverse a major portion of it without the guide book named after the trail. For another, you shouldn't go without the second volume of the guide book either.

"The 'Pacific Crest Trail' book is like a bible for people who hike the trail," says Fish.

Fish, who has hiked the entire trail in sections, calls it a highlight of his life. But stresses that like with any hiking you have to be prepared.

The book has maps, landmarks to help guide you, history and anecdotes about the trail. Yet even Fish got a little lost in the fog of the Northwest.

"Of course if you know what you're doing and can read a map and have your compass, you've got some idea. I was lucky that I had a pocket altimeter--that really helps--so that helped me figure out where I was on the [topographical] map," Fish says. "Not that you ever, ever want to be lost, but part of the adventure is keeping on the trail."

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Indeed, Ben Ballou, executive director of the Pacific Crest Trail Assn., cautions prospective hikers to be as prepared as Fish.

"People with lesser [outdoor] skills get in the back country and are in over their head sometimes," Ballou says. "All the durable and lightweight stuff in the world won't help if you do something foolish."

The trail did not exist until the late 1930s. Conceived by Clinton C. Clarke, a Pasadena man who made his money in oil but had a passion for conservation, the trail was carved and mapped by Warren Rogers and 40 teams of YMCA youth volunteers. It took four summers of connecting established trails and creating new ones, but the results were spectacular.

Pictures from the initial trips show amazing views, abandoned dead cattle, log cabins, the results of brush fires and fawns and other wildlife continuing the life cycle.

The YMCA teams were typically three to eight teenagers from 14 to 18 years old. They would hike, map and create the trail for two weeks at a time before they were relieved by another team. Rogers guided all the teams the full distance.

His son Donald Rogers of Santa Ana has hundreds of pieces of memorabilia from those early trips. One eye-catching picture is of Mount St. Helens some 45 years before it blew.

"When it blew, it wiped out the trail completely so that part had to be redone from scratch," Rogers said. "It really is a huge undertaking just to maintain it because it isn't just a trail, it's a living thing."

Rogers also has numerous publications his father put out to promote the trail. He and his brother and sister would often spend hours helping in the production of pamphlets, booklets and mailings.

The irony is that he has never traveled the trail himself, other than short spans.

"I was so busy working with my dad that I never had time to hike the PCT with him," Rogers says. "Three years ago, I originally thought of doing the whole PCT as a way of saying 'Thanks Dad, for everything.'

"However, as time went by and I found out more about what was currently happening to my father's PCT legacy, my hike has changed to a hike to 'Forever Save the PCT.' "

Rogers is planning to start his hike on June 15, 2000. He invites anyone who wants to hike the trail to join him to mark the 65th anniversary of his father's first trip and to call attention to an outdoor treasure. He expects to go the entire distance although he figures others might only join him for sections.

His plans for the trip are not finalized: one idea is to recreate the YMCA relays that blazed the trail over four summers. Most likely, he will try to finish the hike in two summers.

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