The bulk of 2009 thru-hikers seem to be several days into the PCT right now. Yesterday and today dozens have passed through Scissors Crossing at mile 78. Of these, most have foot problems, the most common of which is blisters. A couple blisters may be manageable, but some hikers have reached a critical mass where they can no longer walk.
Luckily, I hardly ever get blisters or even hot spots, but I don't know why. I have been hiking in thin nylon dress socks and Inov-8 shoes. But I got a foot cramp at the end of the first day that has lasted till the present. I thought it would go away during the day at Lake Morena, but it didn't. It seemed to be walking itself off on the fourth day, but on the fifth it was back, along with some slightly sore ligaments on the top of my foot due to overcompensating for the painful area on the bottom of my foot. On the walk to Scissors Crossing, I was almost limping to avoid pain.
In my opinion, many or most of the people I've met so far are trying to do too many miles too soon (including myself). Although the trail is easy and it's easy to put in 20+ miles a day from the very beginning, the body is not yet prepared to handle the strain on feet, joints, ligaments, and muscles. Last summer on the Colorado CDT we started slower and had no foot issues. Based on what I've been seeing here on the PCT, I would say the ideal schedule for most people would be:
1st week: 10-12 miles / day
2nd week: 12-15 miles / day
3rd week: 15-18 miles / day
4th week: 18-20 miles / day
5th week: etc.
(for some people, it may be 12-15, 15-20, 20-25, etc., depending on packweight and level of fitness)
What's happening is that people are putting in 20+ mile days from the very beginning. A scarcity of water sources encourages this mileage. But just three days of this right at the beginning of the hike is enough to put many thru-hikers out of commission. Some are trying to push through to Warner Springs (mile 110) where they will crash, enjoy the hot springs and nurse themselves back to health, while others are taking breaks at Julian (mile 78) to recuperate. In my opinion, it's best to catch problems right at the onset rather than "push through." That's why I'm relaxing now for 2 days rather than potentially losing many more days than that later on due to a chronic condition. On long distance hikes, chronic ailments need to be avoided at all cost.
See this great article on medical issues and prevention on the PCT at postholer.com.
To avoid blisters, you need to have footwear that fits well and feels naturally comfortable on your foot. You need to have socks that don't slide around on your foot, but allow sliding between the sock and the shoe. You need to change socks regularly and keep them as clean as possible, and address hot spots before they become blisters, by applying moleskin or athletic tape. Airing out your feet and shoes during frequent breaks (1 per hour) is important. Heat promotes blistering. Once a blister has formed, it may need to be popped if it gets in the way.
ADDED MAY 14: Yesterday I got my first two blisters out in the Deep Creak - Lake Silverwood area. Reason? Having to hurry to a meetingplace with relatives and not taking off my socks and shoes to air out my feet often enough. I ended up having to pop two blisters and put bandaids on them. I managed to arrest a hotspot before it turned into a blister by wrapping the two in medical tape. Worked great.
No need to rush!
If you started out at the border on April 23 and want to get to Kennedy Meadows on June 8. That's 45 days for 700 miles, or roughly 15.5 miles per day. You could average 12 miles for the first 23 days and 19 for the last 22 days and get there on schedule. Why would you want to get to Kennedy Meadows much earlier than that and have to sit around waiting for snow to melt?