Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Preparation Update

Today I mailed off the forms for my permits (see earlier post). I decided to pay the $15 for the Mt. Whitney permit just in case. U.S. wilderness authorities aren't exactly known for corruption and embezzlement, so I don't feel bad contributing a bit beyond what is absolutely necessary. Now I just have to remember to send in my ADZPCTKO application in March when it becomes available.

Printing PCT maps
I went to a print shop to find out about options for printing out Halfmile's free PCT maps. I learned it would cost me $50 to print all the California section maps on regular 8.5'' x 11'' paper, with two maps on each side of the sheet. This would be the optimal solution, as you can still make out all the detail and have to deal with 4 times fewer pages than if you just printed out all the maps straight. $20 of the $50 would pay for the work of arranging the pages so that they print at half size.

I had tried to paste the maps into a Word document to make it easier to print two maps to a page, but this drastically reduced the print quality. The same map printed at half size from the original .pdf file printed out crisply. 

I decided to take my girlfriend up on her free printing privileges as the university and just print out double-sized, full-size maps. $50 is too much for me. 

Once I print out the maps in a couple weeks, I'll start making notes on them regarding water sources and towns -- information that I plan on gleaning from the web. I'm hoping I don't have to pay for any guide books. Really, all I need are detailed maps, reliable information on water sources, and info for post offices, food stores, and public libraries in trailside towns. All of that is available online. I don't see why I'd need any more than that for my hike, even though everyone says to get the guide books and Yogi's guide. 

I've been going to the gym off and on since fall, and did a strenuous 9-day hike in the Peruvian Andes in January, so I'm in decent shape. With the PCT little more than two months away, though, it's time for a daily concerted effort to get in the best shape possible. I plan to mix running with stair steps, cycling, and elliptical machines (sp.?) to give my legs a full workout, in addition to the standard upper-body stuff. I don't want to overstrain my knees running every single day, and these other machines will focus on muscles that are used when hiking, but not when running. 

Poles or no poles?
I have not decided yet whether I'm going to take trekking poles on the PCT. I've found that the umbrella trumps poles hands-down, and most of the time I don't use the poles anymore. Shielding myself from the sun is more important. The reason I might take them is to help my knees on downhill segments. However, I think my knees strengthen up after a while, and by just slowing my pace I can do fine. Plus, the PCT is gently graded, unlike trails in Crimea (Ukraine). 

UPDATE 18 FEB: I've tentatively decided to leave the poles at home. If I find I need them, I can have them mailed to me.

Value of trekking poles
I recently happened across an article in the Jan/Feb 2009 edition of Men's Health magazine that talked about the fitness value of trekking poles. It cited research that said that people who used trekking poles had a 6% higher heart rate (e.g. 106 bpm vs. 100 bpm, or 141 bpm vs. 133 bpm) and a 10% higher oxygen consumption rate while walking at the same speed as people who did not use them, but they did not report a higher subjective level of exertion. I have done little mini-experiments on myself, just observing my sensations when hiking at a certain pace with and without poles, and came to similar conclusions. It takes a lot more energy to do with the arms what one can easily do with the legs (i.e. propel oneself forward). This research suggests that trekking poles increase cardiovascular fatigue; however they may reduce other kinds of fatigue. See the links below for more details.

Here are links to research reports regarding the use of trekking poles:

- hiking downhill (with and without poles)

These studies suggest that poles reduce impact on the lower body and slightly reduce perceived exertion, despite a small increase in heartrate. 

Trip financing
I'm probably going to have to sell off some more of my fancy backpacking gear to finance my thru-hike. With no rent or various living expenses to pay for the duration of my hike, I suspect I will actually be spending a little less per month than if I stayed where I am now. 


  1. Hi, Rick
    I thoroughly enjoyed your blog. It is fantastic someone took the time to analyze the act of hiking scientifically and systematically.
    In this article about trekking poles, you cited research reports suggesting the use of trekking poles are not beneficial and may even slightly increase the amount of energy needed. However, most of the studies were conducted using treadmill. I think you will agree that approach is not very realistic. My own experience is that poles are very beneficial over rougher terrains such as rock field or switchbacks, mainly as a tool to maintain balance. On smooth dirt trails it may not worth the added weight but it can be a leg/life/energy saver during other situations, which the research may not reflect.

    Thank you for the wonderful work!

  2. Thanks for the comment!

    I agree that poles are useless for most people on even or lightly graded trails. They're neutral (for most people) on somewhat rougher or steeper trails and truly beneficial on steep ascents and descents and on trails with numerous creek crossings. The difficulty is deciding whether you really need them or not on a trail that's 90% even or lightly graded and only 10% more challenging terrain.

    If, or when, I do the PCT again, I will probably either not take poles at all or use them only between Kennedy Meadows and Donner Summit.