Four years ago, over frosty margaritas and a giant plate of nachos, Tami Asars asked if I would be interested in writing a hiking guidebook. She had just released her first book, Hiking the Wonderland Trail, and was looking to take on a new project. A big one—the entire Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Tami and I had become fast friends the previous year when I had taken over editorship of Washington Trails, and we spent much time collaborating and sharing ideas. She pitched the idea of a new series of comprehensive, up-t0-date PCT guidebooks that would help make the trail more accessible to section and weekend hikers, and asked me to join her on her journey. Now, four years later, with her new book Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Washington arriving on shelves, we reflected on everything that’s led to this big moment.
What inspired you to take on a massive project like leading a new series of Pacific Crest Trail guidebooks?
Asars: I was hiking various sections of the PCT in Washington and noticed a pattern. There were hikers from all over the country, the world even, coming to enjoy the beauty and diversity of the trail. They weren’t thru-hikers, but rather, folks looking to enjoy the backcountry with their limited vacation time. There didn’t seem to be a good resource for them with the current selection of guidebooks, so I realized that there was a need. I originally approached Mountaineers Books about doing a small handbook for the most popular Washington section: Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass. They came back with the idea of doing the whole state. In fact, their ideas were much bigger—a guidebook series for the whole PCT.
What did you enjoy most about developing your PCT guidebook?
Asars: I met some amazing hikers while working on this guidebook. In fact, I spent several night bonding over steaming bags of hiker goo while watching sunsets with fellow hikers and listening to their stories. The trail lends itself to instant friendships. Hiking for a living has its pros and cons, but the people were the highlight for sure.
What was the biggest challenge in developing a guidebook that spans an entire state?
Asars: Data. Every mapping resource out there (including my own GPS) touted different numbers when it came to distances and elevation gains and losses. Even two GPSs carried down the same trail gave me different numbers! It begged the question, what is real? Does real exist? I had a serious brain explosion! In the end, I used a variety of trusted sources and arrived at what I felt was the closest number to “real” that I could possibly get.
There’s nearly 500 miles of PCT in Washington. Are there parts of the trail that could be improved?
Asars: In places, features such as bridges and signage are failing and it would be nice to see them replaced. Additionally, I’d love to see more hikers involved in lending a hand with trail maintenance projects. I’m guilty of a very full calendar too, but if we all dug around a little, I’m sure we could find even one day in the course of a year to help swing a Pulaski. (Visit the PCTA for opportunities to help maintain the trail.)
As the author of a PCT guidebook, what is your advice for new PCT hikers?
Asars: Take it easy and watch your mileage. If you are hiking in the summer, you’ll likely be out there at the same time as the thru-hikers, who are doing huge mileage days. Don’t feel pressure to rack up big daily miles, or hike until dark. Sometimes the best part of the hike is sitting in camp, wasting away time, and putting the backcountry to bed. Your back, quads and feet will be happier, too.
Tami Asars is an outdoors writer, photographer and a third generation Washingtonian with a passion for trails. She is the author of Hiking the Wonderland Trail, Day Hiking Mount Adams & Goat Rocks Wilderness and her latest, Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Washington. She is also a regional correspondent, columnist and contributor for a number of periodicals, hiking blogs and outdoor publications. Her photos have appeared in national magazines, books and outdoor branding campaigns. You can learn more about her at TamiAsars.com.