Photo Essay: Starting the Pacific Crest Trail

The many times I’ve hiked the Pacific Crest Trail I was always hosted by Barney “Scout” and Sandy “Frodo” Mann. They open their home to hundreds of hikers every year, providing not just a place to crash for the night but also a pickup, dinner, a ride to the border and plenty of information and other aid. Having stayed there in some years as a helper, I spent some time documenting the process a hiker goes through from pickup to their first footstep north on the Pacific Crest Trail.

A Hiker Awaits Pickup at Union Station

Coordinating pickups is one of the hardest jobs for Scout and Frodo. They live in constant fear that they’ll “forget” someone and leave them stranded at the airport for hours.

Sandy Mann, also known as Frodo, studies the complex web of pickups and drop-offs for the day.

Step one for preventing that is their schedule board and the dozens of hours they spend making and studying it.

Barney Mann, AKA Scout, emailing and coordinating with the hundreds of hikers they host.

Scout does his part. Much of the coordination work happens on a computer, especially since many of the hikers that stay with them will be from outside the United States. Email is the easiest communication tool.

A PCT hiker begins the deep introspective process that starts with realizing they have way too much stuff.

Hikers spend much of the time at Scout and Frodo’s home on a process of reduction and shakedown. Most hikers have been scrambling to get the preparation process complete before departing for San Diego — subletting apartments, selling or storing cars and other possessions, and much more. Once they escape their hometowns they still have to attend to the final details of preparing to hike.

PCT Hikers Packing by Headlamp
PCT Hikers stuff their packs by the light of their headlamps. Today is the day of their departure.

The day of departure can be a stressful time. PCT Hikers at Scout and Frodo’s typically sleep in their gear — which means the first operation in the morning is getting it all back in their packs and making sure nothing is forgotten. Some hikers, having been taking care of other small details to the last minute, haven’t even yet packed their backpacks with all their gear inside until this moment.

Some are exuberant and others tense during breakfast on the morning of departure.

Once ready to go, hikers settle in for a breakfast provided by the Manns. Many don’t eat much, despite the fact that they will walk 20 miles this day. The start of their hike begins to seem very real and some can become anxious.

Hikers stream out the door in an orchestrated loading process. As many as 25-30 hikers will leave this house for the border each morning. They load into 5 or more cars in under 10 minutes.
Between 5:30 and 5:40 hikers must load their gear and themselves into the fleet of vehicles ready to take them to the US – Mexican border.

It’s a rare occasion that this event doesn’t go as scheduled. Scout and Frodo provide excellent guidance and information the night before.

PCT Hikers, strapped into Barney and Sandy Mann’s minivan, go through a variety of emotional states on the hour long drive to the start of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Now, in a car and unable to move, emotions begin to run high. Some people get jittery and excited, others become quiet and introspective.

Dawn begins soon after leaving Scout and Frodo’s home in San Diego. These palms will soon be traded for Yucca.
There is often a long queue each morning of hikers starting their trek with a photo of themselves at the monument. Every driver is enlisted to help shoot photos.

Even once at the border, Scout’s job isn’t done. Time now for another role he plays — documentary photographer.

Looking north from the monument. This eroded dirt road is the first few hundred feet of the PCT.

From this spot hikers begin their 2650 mile trek. At least half will quit within the first 1100 miles, either becoming disinterested by a journey that takes half a year or falling to injury or some other malady. Six months in the wilderness is very hard to conceptualize for those who haven’t done it.