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TRAIL TALK

PCT Author Shawnté Salabert

The Pacific Crest Trail had occupied Shawnté Salabert‘s mind for a long time. Three years ago, while writing for Modern Hiker, she couldn’t fathom how special it would to hike the PCT, much less to write about the experience. But then she was invited to join Mountaineers Books’ PCT guidebook team. That propelled her onto a new journey to discover the PCT for herself and, in turn, to encourage others to discover the trail and find their own place on it.

Now, in the pages of her new guidebook, Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California, Shawnté fills in another piece of the series. Covering 942 miles, from Campo to Tioga Pass, her SoCal guide provides all the details and info you you could possibly want for hiking from California’s southern deserts to its skyscraping Sierra mountains. We caught up with Shawnté to talk about her journey, and what went into her new guidebook.

What did you enjoy most about developing your guidebook?

I really like the section-hiking approach. You learn to appreciate each day you’re out there, and you’re less less likely to experience “scenery fatigue” as you move through each section. I like to do big mile days. But I also like to stretch those miles out all day long so that I can stop and ogle wildflowers or eat lunch next to a lake if I choose. I also truly enjoyed the time I shared with others. I made some incredible friends during my journeys, and met some incredible folks—trail angels, local business owners, day hikers—who brightened my day and left an impression. The trail is magical, but so are the people you meet.

What kind of challenges did you face during the process?

Logistics! I had a full-time job at the time, and even though my boss was incredibly gracious and supportive, I still had to manage my trail time wisely. I spent a lot of weekends, early mornings, and late nights writing, researching and editing photos. While I did take a two-month sabbatical during my field work, I had to squeeze a lot of my trips into long weekends, which meant organizing car shuttles. I’m forever indebted to the friends who made all of those wild logistics possible!

How did you manage all of the wildfires during those summers?

California experienced some of the most intense wildfire seasons on record while I was working on this book. There were several existing trail closures when I started my field work, and several that cropped up after segments burned. Some of these closures reopened, and I was able to go back in and reassess the trail (along with water sources and campsites); others remain closed to this day. Navigating around closures—and deciding how to cover them in the book—was a complicated process, but I attempted to scout and describe detours and alternates as best as possible. Participating in post-fire trail work with the PCTA’s Trail Gorillas really drove home the point that the trail is not a static thing. It’s shaped by natural and human forces all of the time.

Did you learn anything about the trail, hiking or yourself?

I learned that the trail truly provides, as they say. If you want companionship, there’s an entire trail family waiting for you; if you’re looking for solitude, it has plenty of that as well. I learned that Southern California is even more vast and beautiful than I’d ever imagined. I learned to appreciate its changing personality through each season. As for myself, I learned that I don’t need a lot to be happy. You spend two months wearing the same clothes and carrying nearly everything you need on your back. Life becomes a lot simpler in the long run!

How could the PCT be improved for a better hiking experience?

I’d love to see more hikers give back to the trail, whether by donating to the Pacific Crest Trail Association, the organization that maintains and protects the trail, or by getting dirty and participating in trail maintenance. The first time I joined a crew on the PCT, it felt like I was taking care of my home. It was a wonderful feeling.

Do you have a favorite section of trail on the PCT in SoCal?

I’ll say that the section of trail that most surprised me was the bit between Tehachapi Pass and Walker Pass—the Piute and Scodie Mountains. Unlike most of the other segments, I had never spent time here. It was all completely new when I began doing my field work. I discovered that it’s completely under-appreciated. The views are often spectacular. The wildflowers are stunning in spring, and the shift between the arid high desert and cooler pine forest is incredible.

What is your advice for new PCT hikers?

The trail is here for everyone, whether you’re interested in day hikes, weekend trips or longer adventures. That’s exceptionally true here in Southern California, where trailheads are frequent and relatively easy to access. You don’t need to spend five months on a thru-hike if you don’t want to. You can explore at your own pace.

Shawnté Salabert is the author of Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California, and a freelance writer with a taste for wild spaces. Her work has appeared in Backpacker, Alpinist, Outside Online, Adventure Journal, Modern Hiker, REI Co-op Journal, Land+People and other outlets. See more at shawntesalabert.com.

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