News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Annual PCT migration is underway

Once again, the annual migration is underway for thousands of backpackers trying to complete a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile footpath from Mexico to Canada.

Possibly you have seen them resupplying, doing laundry, going to the post office, or removing the miles of caked dust from their tanned limbs as they take a "zero" day (non-hiking) and move through Sisters for a quick return to the trail.

As in 2017, a previous heavy snow year, the remains of winter caused many hikers to postpone the 300 miles of the Sierra Nevada till late this summer or fall.

So technically it will not be a thru-hike, "a continuous footpath," as hoped. However, the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA), makes allowances for hikers to "flip flop" their way to finishing the 2,650 miles (6 million steps) of the PCT in any order. Although technically Sisters is 1,900 miles from the Mexico border, none of the hikers who have arrived in Sisters have done those hard miles through the Sierra.

Hiking and camping through the Sierra Nevada Mountains on feet of snow is not hard with the right training and gear. The danger comes in the potentially hazardous river crossings that are required. In 2017, two thru-hikers, slight Asian women from Japan and China, both drowned when swept away by raging currents. Many more hikers came close to that same fate in 2017.

With 2017 in mind, thru-hikers skipped ahead to Northern California or Oregon, some even "flip-flopping" to Washington State and then heading south back through Oregon and California to finish their hike.

Given the conditions, many flip-flopping hikers started arriving in Sisters in June. Usually we don't see these northbound hikers (NOBOs) till July.

Southbound hikers (SOBOs) usually cross paths with the NOBOs in Sisters Country. So far, the number of hikers making it from the Canadian Border to Sisters, (750 miles), has been nearly nonexistent, with those hikers having to battle the same heavy snowfall that blanketed the Sierra this year.

"Yes, they did start earlier this year, but business has been steady with more hikers expected," said Sharri Bertagna, owner of Hike n' Peaks, an outdoor store in Sisters.

Transporting hikers to and from McKenzie and Santiam passes and often housing them on their stay in Sisters Country falls to the good hearts of "trail angels," community volunteers who assist hikers on their short stay here.

Liana Ottaviano is the administrator for the Facebook group Central Oregon PCT Trail Angels, which bring angels and hikers together to facilitate a quick return to the trail.

"A good combination of international and domestic hikers, all so thankful for the assistance," said Ottaviano of the hikers the angels have encountered. "I'd say Central Oregon angels have helped hundreds this year so far. With rides and trail magic, probably 700 at least."

The work of angels, and the care exhibited by the citizens of Sisters toward thru-hikers, has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

"Crockett," a thru-hiker from Philadelphia was enthusiastic about his short time in Sisters.

"What I appreciated about Sisters was the great trail angel network as well as the local people that I met at the various stores and restaurants I visited," he said. "I will definitely come back to visit when I can spend more time!"

"Ratstrap," from Rochester, New York, was equally glowing in his appreciation of the people of Sisters.

"My time in Sisters was brief, but very lovely," he said. "(Our) Trail Angel, gave us a little tour around town, showing us where the post office, groceries, and coffee shops could be found. While hanging out at Sisters Coffee Company, a local couple of PCT 2014 alumni paid for our coffee and breakfast! The generosity of the people in Sisters toward PCT hikers was some of the best I've experienced on trail so far. And of course, I had to stop by Sno Cap for a milkshake! Sisters is definitely on the list of towns I'd like to visit again after I finish the hike."

"Navigator," a young woman from St. Ignace, Michigan, echoes the sentiments of nearly every thru-hiker who comes through Sisters:

"We love Sisters! People were very friendly and helpful, from trail angels, staff at our hotel, and Hike 'n Peaks!"

From the view of outsiders, it's easy to see why Sisters is regarded by thru-hikers from around the world as one of the great trail towns.

"To me, what stands out to me most about this trip is how everything has been an pure act goodwill, to the countless acts of open-hearted Americans who have let me into their homes and given me food, given me encouragement and help in anyway they possibly can," said a hiker by the handle of Muddy Waters. "Hiking alone across this wild, wild country would be impossible without the support of everyone along the way. It has been a fantastic way to bolster my faith in humanity."

Trail angel Blanche Tadlock cited the pleasures of the work.

"You really get to know them when you bring them to your home," she said. "I love it whenever I get a call from a thru-hiker from the trail needing a ride in or out of town! Each one has stories and often from various countries. Today it was a 68-year-old man from Taipei, Japan, that could only speak a few (words of) English. Last week it was a carload with Japan, France, Spain, and Arizona represented. Another time from the Czech Republic, and Australia. Then I picked up Pete from Palm Springs, who along with seven friends was the first to go through the High Sierras this year....What stories I got to hear. If it wasn't for doing trail-angeling I would never have a chance to meet so many from so many countries and languages. I am so lucky!"


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