PCT Author Philip Kramer
Philip Kramer has been a shoe salesman, bulldozer operator, janitor, newspaper deliveryman, forklift operator, travel photographer, thru-hiker, hiking guidebook author and, most recently, a husband and father. He spent three years hiking, photographing, writing and researching the Pacific Crest Trail in Northern California for his new guidebook, part of Mountaineers Books’ Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail series. His featured stretch of trail took him from the spectacular High Sierra to the foot of the volcanic Cascades to the remote Marble Mountain Wilderness. As he prepares for his new guidebook to hit store shelves, we caught up with Philip to discuss some of his PCT-writing experience.
What inspired you to write a PCT guidebook?
I was excited by the chance to share a trail and experience that I’ve come to love and believe has a unique place in our rapidly developing world. Also, I got to go hiking and call it “work.”
What did you enjoy most about developing your guidebook?
Sharing some beautiful places with people and acquainting myself with the communities and histories of the PCT in a more in-depth manner than I would as a recreational hiker.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during the process?
Leaving my wife and infant daughter for two to four week periods at a time. And then finding the time and energy to keep writing when returning home to a baby that won’t sleep and a growing list of responsibilities and financial demands. I also found that processing the amount of data required for a book of this scope was hugely overwhelming. Between mileage numbers, campsites, water sources, town info, trail junctions and general PCT info, my brain nearly melted.
What did you learn about hiking or yourself during the process?
Hiking keeps me young, engaged, curious and solidly situated in beginners mind. The PCT connects an amazing amount of people, some travelers and some locals, and many of them stay connected to the trail for their lifetime. I also learned that I am more fond of soft mattresses and home cooking.
How could the PCT be improved for an even better experience?
I think campsites and Leave No Trace practices could be improved. To me, it makes sense to take select areas that see high overnight usage by hikers and establish camp areas to concentrate impact. I saw a depressing amount of garbage (especially used toilet paper) being left behind by PCT hikers. In some cases, the fringes of popular camp areas would literally be dotted with feces and toilet paper. Perhaps pit toilets would be prudent in these areas.
What is your favorite section of trail on the PCT, and why?
Having walked the entire trail once and Northern California 2.5 times, I find it extremely difficult to pick just one. Generally, I love the desert—maybe because it’s so foreign to my home in the Northwest. In the desert, I love sleeping under the stars, waking early to stay cool, and afternoon siestas are great! Otherwise, the stretch of trail through the heart of the High Sierra is stunning, I could stay there forever.
What is your advice for new PCT hikers?
There are plenty of resources out there that will give you a basic sense of what you need, what you might want, and how to go about a PCT hike. Use them, but don’t over plan. Be prepared but also be prepared to change the things that don’t work for you. Start walking and see how your body, your pack, your gear and your mind shake out. Then reevaluate and keep moving. Your experience is just that—yours—and you’ll have different motivations and priorities than others.
Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Northern California will be available this spring—just in time to start planning a PCT hike for this summer! Philip Kramer lives on Orcas Island, in Washington State, with his growing family. His next hiking goal is to revisit the Washington portion of the PCT, particularly the stretch between Stevens Pass and Canada which was entirely under snow during his 2013 thru-hike. To view his photography, visit philipkramer.com.