My friend Lise vowed to airlift in champagne to me while I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. “You can’t possibly go six months without champagne,” she said. “I won’t stand for it.”
“I’ll just have to make do,” I said.
“Make do? You mean like with prosecco or cava?”
I was hard pressed to explain that our trail beverages would be water, water, and water. If my husband, Porter, and I were lucky. If water was in too short supply, we risked thirst, dehydration, and possibly death.
Carry enough water to make it to the next source.
I knew I was in trouble when Peanut, the volunteer who drove us from San Diego to the PCT’s southern terminus on the border between Mexico and California, handed us five gallons of water.
“How will we carry all that?” I asked as he and Porter transferred it into our water bottles and soft-sided water bags.
“It’s twenty miles to the next water,” Peanut said. “In this hundred-degree heat, you’ll each need a quart an hour each plus some for cooking and cleaning.”
How much water you actually need varies by person, exertion level, temperature, and your cooking method. Porter and I drank as much as we could, then loaded thirteen quarts into our packs. We made it on that to our next source, the Lake Morena campground.
Don’t sit on your water.
One day, when we stopped for lunch, I threw down my pack and sat on it to eat my sandwich.
“You burst your bladder!” Porter said of the puddle spreading across the sand.
Sure enough, I’d blown the stopper off the largest soft-sided water bottle I carried. Water we needed for drinking now soaked the inside of my pack, clothes and all. Try not to do that.
Filter or purify your water, and sometimes do both.
Some water sources are so silty or filled with debris you should filter it. One way is with a pump filter, although they can be heavy and slow. Another is with a gravity filter, but you need something, like a tree, to hang it from, unless you’re willing to hold your arm up in the air for a while. Both pump and gravity filters can clog, although the best of them have a backwashing feature to clean them. We prefer a gravity filter with a backwashing feature, such as the Platypus gravity filter, or the Sawyer Squeeze water filter adapted to be a gravity filter by attaching to a water bag.
For water sources clear enough to purify without filtering first, we used Aquamira water treatment drops. We measured out the two parts of the solution, mixed them together, waited five minutes for the chemical reaction, poured it into our water bottle, and waited twenty minutes to drink it. But now chlorine dioxide tablets are available to drop into your bottle of water and wait twenty minutes to drink. Some people prefer the SteriPEN Ultra ultraviolet water purifier. It’s lightweight, but uses batteries, so make sure to keep the batteries charged.
Plan your hiking mileage from water source to source.
Much of a thru-hiker’s day on the Pacific Crest Trail is focused on water: finding it, filtering and purifying it, and carrying it. It’s great to camp near a water source when available, whether a creek, lake, or spring. On some long waterless stretches, volunteers, called trail angels, leave gallons of water at trailside water caches for hikers. For other stretches, such as the forty miles across the western edge of the Mojave Desert, you have to carry what you’ll need in the hundred-degree heat. Thru-hikers share water info up and down the trail. Although water sources vary by season and weather, guidebooks, particularly the Pacific Crest Trail Data Book by Benedict “Gentle Ben” Go, give the mileage between sources, to help you plan.
I came to appreciate water so much while hiking the PCT that I never missed imbibing anything else. Although once in a while, standing on a rocky mountaintop in the remote wilderness, my heart leapt at the sound of an airplane.
“That must be Lise,” I’d say, “flying in with my airdrop of champagne.”