Pacific Crest Trail prep – the nerves and the butterflies

The nerves and the butterflies are normal, right?

It’s just 6 weeks until I fly from London to Seattle (1st of July 2019)  to begin the massive adventure of walking the Pacific Crest Trail.

This is my third – and penultimate monthly blog about my prep for my SOBO (south bound) PCT attempt.

In this blog I touch on both the factual / logistical elements of preparing for a trek like this, and the very real feelings of the nerves and the butterflies in by belly.

I’ve found this blog the hardest one to write thus far. Its content is dependant on my working out details of food resupply and timings.

Whilst part of me quite enjoys geeking out on logistics, I also find it hard, and so I procrastinate seeking easier rewards.

(My February prep blog HERE and my March one HERE).

Quick Reminder of what I’m doing

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2650 mile long distance walking trail across the U.S.A.

I’m hiking south bound, walking through the States of Washington, Oregon and California. I’ll be carrying all my kit and camping on the trail and passing through towns about once a week to pick up food resupply, shower, charge my phone etc.

What have I done to prepare since my last blog?

  • Purchased and tried out more kit – namely sleeping bag and jackets.
  • Body and weight training, running and walking to stay strong, fit and injury free
  • A two night expedition in the Scottish Fisherfield mountains carrying all my kit (plus a few hills weekends and a scrambling course in Skye)
  • Made a very rough plan of the towns I’ll be stopping in for food resupply and a rough time line.

Arriving in Seattle & what I’ll do when I get there

I’m flying Heathrow to Seattle on 1st July and I’m being met by Anne (a friend of a friend).

I’ll stay with Anne and her husband for a couple of nights and in this time I need to do a massive supermarket shop. I need to pack over 100 days worth of food into US postal boxes. I’ll also buy any last minute bits of gear at the REI store.

A recent pic of me near Suliven mountain

A recent pic of me near Suilven mountain

Starting the Trail (and going the wrong way)

By the 4th of July I need to find my way from Seattle to Harts Pass to start the trail.

There’s quite a bit of snow at Harts Pass at the moment and I’ll monitor it’s melt online. The snow needs to have melted here before I can start the trek. By early July it’s usually melting (finger crossed because the later my start date the faster I need to walk).

It’s not possible to drive to the start of the PCT Northern Terminus as there is no road so I will get transport to Harts Pass, the nearest trailhead.  I’m going to try and find a Trail Angel in one of the PCT Facebook Forums to help me.

What’s a Trail Angel?

A ‘Trail Angel’ is a generous individual or group of individuals that provide acts of kindness to folks on hiking trails. They are closely associated with trail magic.

What’s Trail Magic?

Trail magic’ is a tradition of charity on long distance trails in the US. It takes many forms. Sometimes, people will leave cold drinks and snacks at trail crossings for thru-hikers, or they’ll pick hikers up on the road and take them home for a few days of rest and food

From Harts Pass I’ll walk 30 miles north to tag the Northern Terminus ‘Monument 78’ at the Canadian border.  And then I’ll head south again, back again to Harts Pass. I can leave a food supply with the Rangers at Harts Pass to pick up on my way south.

This means I’ll take about 4 days/ 60 miles before I even begin the trail proper. Being a life coach I’m all about reframing stories. I’m reframing this as a warm up.

If I head to Harts pass on 4th July, I should be back at Harts Pass 8th July.

Distances and towns I’ll visit for resupply

Below is a VERY rough plan of my timings and town’s I’ll visit to pick up my resupply boxes. But I’ll need to adjust it in real time.

It doesn’t yet account for rest days (or ‘zeros’ as they call them in the States). I’m hoping to rest at least every 500 miles. It also doesn’t yet take into account the days of the week I’ll get to the towns. I need to be there on week days so the post offices are open.

A very rough plan of towns I'll resupply at on the PCT

A very rough plan of towns I’ll resupply at on the PCT

I find it hard to get my head around walking 2650 miles so to make it more digestible I’ve divide it into 5 back-to-back hikes.

Last year I walked 250 miles on the Cape Wrath Trail (the nerves and the butterflies were there then too). Each PCT Section is like two Cape Wrath Trails. The whole thing is ten!

Hike and State Start Location Finish Location/ Towns I’ll send resupply boxes to Total miles of section
Hike 1: Washington. Harts Pass north bound/ 4th July –

7th to tag Manning Park monument

Harts Pass south bound / 8th July.

Cascade Locks/

30th July

1)    Stehekin

2)    Steven’s Pass

3)    Snoqualmie Pass

4)    White Pass

5)    Cascade Locks

506 miles
Hike 2: Oregon. Cascade Locks Ashland 6)    Timberline Lodge*

7)    Big Lake Youth Camp

8)     Shelter Cover Resort

9)    Mazama General Store

10) Ashland

428 miles.
Hike 3: Northern California. Ashland Kennedy Meadows (Sonora Pass) 11) Siead Valley

12) Etna

13) Dunsmuir

14) Burney

15) Chester  (HALF WAY POINT!)

15b) Belden

16) Sierra City

17) Echo Lake (S. Lake Tahoe)

18) Kennedy Meadows (North) **include bear canister

702 miles.
Hike 4: High Sierra/ Central California Kennedy Meadows (Sonora Pass) Agua Dulce 19) Red Meadows (Mammoth)

20) Independence

21) Kennedy Meadows (South) (sell bear cannister)

22) Tehachapi

23) Agua Dulce

562 miles
Hike 5: The Dessert/ Southern California Agua Dulce Campo 24) Wrightwood

25) Big Bear Lake

26) Idylwild

26b) Warner Springs (visit but don’t send box)

27) Julian

27b)Visit Mount Laguna but don’t send box)

454 miles


I’m aiming to walk about 18 miles per day, ideally more at times.

This sounds a lot – especially considering elevation. BUT all I need to do for the next 5 months is eat, sleep and hike.

And I might not manage due to injury, blisters, illness, fitness, snow, flooding. All I can do is try my best.

I am so lucky and privileged to be able to do this. Any time I’m finding it hard and feeling moany I’ll try and remember this.

Time Pressures when South Bounding the PCT

There’s more time pressure when you hike the PCT southbound compared to hiking it northbound.  About 90% of folks walk it northbound.

The time pressure is due to the fact you need to get through the High Sierra, in Central California, before it starts to snow.

It’s 1900 miles from the PCT Northern Terminus to the end of the Sierra and the hiking window of opportunity varies depending on date of snow melt in Northern Washington and the start of the snow in the fall in the Sierra.

Ideally I should be through the High Sierra before mid to late October.

My hope is that I’ll get better and fitter as I proceed. And the reality is that I could get injured or sick. Either way, I’ll deal with it.

I don’t want to be too exhausted and caught up with making miles to stop me being present with the beauty and the energy of the places I find myself in.

I’m not doing this to prove anything nor to go super-fast. I talk more about why I love long walks here.

Kit List

I’ve shared my kit list in the last 2 blogs and it’s still a work in progress, so I’ll share the final version in my last prep blog before I go.

The things I still need get are:

  • Super light weight Toilet Trowel
  • ”          ” Cooking pot
  • Phone charging unit
  • Leggings
  • Light waterproof trousers
  • Water purifier: Sawyer Squeeze
  • Socks
  • Mini gaiters
  • Gloves
  • Cap
  • Light stuff sacks.
  • Super lightweight body warmer
  • Medical insurance

Sponsors and discounts

Massive thanks to Cathy Macdonald from The Art of Communication for sponsoring me. I’ve used the funds to buy a light weight emergency location beacon. (Something I hope I’ll never have to use but good to have).

Also, thanks to Expedition Foods and Run for It Inverness for very generous discounts.

Run for It Inverness serving me 4 pairs of trail shoes!

Run for It Inverness serving me 4 pairs of trail shoes!

I’m raising money for Mikey’s Line – an Inverness based mental health charity. They are currently setting up Gift Aid and as soon as this is ready I’ll share my sponsorship page on all my social media (Facebook, Insta and my website).

Physical Training

I’m reasonably ‘hill fit’ as I go out in the Scottish hills at least twice a month. I also run and weight train in the gym about 4 days per week.

I had the joy of spending a few days in the Scottish wilderness and summiting the ‘Fisherfield 6’ in April. This involved summiting 5 Munros and a Corbett. A total of 23 kilometres, 2382 metres of ascent and similar descent in 12 hours and a solo wild camp.

From my recent Fisherfield 6 round in the west coast of Scotland

From my recent Fisherfield 6 round in the west coast of Scotland

Psychological bits

“How are you feeling?”

is a common question at the moment and up until recently my response has been along the lines of:

“Fine. It doesn’t seem real. I feel I’m telling people a story but that I’m not actually doing it”.

These last few days this has shifted.

I feel very aware of time passing and I stress that I’m running out of time and that I won’t be as prepared as I’d like to be.  The stress feels like a buzzing distraction in my head and my heart beat is turned up a few notches.

I’m running two Retreats and two weekend Treks for Wellbeing before I go. And need to get my house in an ‘Air BnB-able’ state.

And then I breath.

And I remember that I’m the luckiest woman in the world and it’s all going to be okay.

“Stress is a perverted relationship with time”

wrote the late poet John O’Donohue.

I remember this and I breath again.

And I remember my preparation doesn’t need to be perfect.

None of this needs to be perfect.

I’ll do my best and I’ll let the rest unfold as it unfolds.

And alongside the stress there’s an old feeling I’d almost forgotten.

I feel butterflies dancing in my tummy, and I’m an excited little girl again.

In these moments I feel as alive as I’ve ever felt. Like I’m living in a world where each day is still new with unexpected things.

I don’t know if it’s connected but I feel super close to my 4 year old niece Rae at the moment. I wonder if she senses this new playfulness? This child like sense of wonder?

I feel like a little girl again, excited by each day.

Another question I’m often asked is

“Are you doing it alone?”


I am walking alone and I’m glad of it.

I’ve learned over the last few years that I love solo trekking.

I’m an introvert and enjoy my own company. I don’t tend to get lonely – although I’ve never been alone for such a long period so who knows. I’ll soon find out.

I also enjoy walking with others and I know I’ll meet new folks along the way. I may become part of group, a ‘trail family’ or may make a close friend. Or I may ebb and flow between other hikers. I’m open to what and who come up.

Drawing this together

So I’m getting there.

I’m getting as logistically ready as I can.  I’m having moments of fear and stress about time passing and about my ability to do this. I remind my self The nerves and the butterflies before a big adventure are normal. All emotions are there to tell us something – these ones are telling me I’m alive-excited-scared all at once.

And then I’m breathing, engaging my prefrontal cortex rather than my limbic brain, and the excitement and wonder come to play.  And I again remember how incredibly lucky and privileged I am.

I’ll write another blog just before I go at the end of June and then on the trail you can follow me on Instagram. I’m hoping to post photos and diary entries as often as I can on Insta. (These may also make it to Facebook on occasion). My dear friend Shauna Reid is also going to send out emails to my list on occasion with updates. You can sign up here.

Thanks so much for reading and your support and interest on my journey.

When I come back I’ll be back to Life Coaching, Counselling and Treks for Wellbeing with a renewed vigour and fresh eyes.

6 thoughts on “Pacific Crest Trail prep – the nerves and the butterflies

  1. Kirsty says:

    After reading this I spent my tea break at work tracking the PCT on Google Maps and doing Streetview at any point it crossed a main road (I could lose hours on Google Maps!).
    I love reading about how you’re mentally approaching such an epic challenge and can’t wait to follow your updates 🙂

    • Shona Macpherson says:

      Ha ha – thanks Kirsty! I wish you were doing my logistics, you sound much more on it than me!! 🙂 x

  2. Esther says:

    So totally awesome. My new name for you in my head is ‘crazy awesome brave!’ I hope you have such an amazing time and that your experiences and daily vista fill you with wonder. Go well xxx

    • Shona Macpherson says:

      Hey Esther, ha ha, I’ll take that new name! I’ll probably be getting a “trail name” when I’m out there. My Mountaineering Club think it should be “Bear bait” but I like yours much better 🙂 Thanks so much kind lady x

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