Future Bottleneck?

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The application process for 2021 Pacific Crest Trail long-distance permits will not open as planned in October, the Pacific Crest Trail Association announced on its website on Tuesday, August 25.

“Because of the ongoing pandemic, we don’t know whether it’ll be safe to hike or ride long distances next year,” the PCTA said. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and we plan to update everyone about potential 2021 permits by January 15.”

The PCTA said that as of August 20, there were 477,331 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in all counties that the PCT crosses, and 14,005 people had died of the disease in California, Oregon, and Washington, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

“For these reasons and after consulting with our agency partners, we agreed that we can’t predict whether long-distance trips will be appropriate in 2021,” the PCTA said. “We will wait and see how the situation develops and will not accept permit requests until we’re certain we can fulfill them.”

The PCTA said that federal land management agencies decided not to provide priority access to 2020 PCT long-distance permit holders who canceled their trips.

“If the permit system opens for trips in 2021, it will be administered the same as in previous years: equal opportunity for all,” the PCTA said. “Everyone will have the same chance at getting a PCT long-distance permit in 2021.”

Beth Boyst, PCT administrator for the US Forest Service, said, “The COVID-19 virus has upended our lives and created so much uncertainty. As we manage for these unprecedented challenges, we concluded that the variable situations and actions hikers took in 2020 have created a complex situation where there is no clear fair strategy to award 2020 permit holders priority over others. Also, it is important that 2021 permit issuance be timed in a manner to ensure compliance with each state’s travel guidance.”

Last year the PCT permit season opened on October 29, 2019, for trips starting at the Mexican border, with 35 permits a day available. All other trip permits opened on January 14, with 15 permits a day available.

And for the first time starting in 2020, permits for SOBO hikers starting at the Northern Terminus were limited to 15 long-distance permits for thru- and section-hikers and horse riders starting their trips between June 15 and July 31. After that, 15 long-distance permits starting at the Northern Terminus area were available each day for section hikers and riders starting between August 1 and September 15.

Fifty permits a day were issued for long-distance permits for trips starting at the Southern Terminus between March 1 and May 31

The PCT thru-hiking season was thrown into turmoil in March when the PCTA asked all hikers to get off the trail because of COVID-19. That was followed by the PCTA asking hikers in June not to attempt a SOBO thru-hike.

The US Forest Service weighed in in late March, saying thru-hikers with long-distance permits “can no longer complete a thru-hike due to public land and facility closures.”

“Be advised that your PCT long-distance permit is valid only on public lands that are open for travel,” the Forest Service said in a statement.

The Forest Service also said that hikers with a permit after April 1 could not change their start date.

“As you are likely aware, the terms of your PCT long-distance permit require you to start at the permitted location on the permitted start date and comply with local regulations,” the Forest Service said. “Permit holders must comply with all terms and conditions of the permit or the permit may be invalidated and revoked.”
Despite the warnings, an undetermined number of thru-hikers continued their journeys.

Oregon is also implementing changes in 2021 in the Cascades wilderness area, but if PCT permits are issued thru-hikers will not be affected.

Some day hikers and all overnight backpackers and PCT section hikers will be required to obtain limited-entry permits for Oregon’s Central Cascades wilderness areas: Three Sisters, Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson. PCT thru-hikers holding a long-distance permit are exempt from this requirement.

The permits are available through the recreation.gov website, and can be obtained in advance of trips. Similar to other limited-entry wilderness areas (Yosemite National Park, Inyo National Forest), hikers will need to identify their intended entry and exit dates and adhere to those on their hiking schedule.

What will happen to us in 2023?

With people thinking 2021 will still be in the COVID Bubble some young people will wait a year like 2022 and will be itching to hike. With so many permits… it will be interesting to see what 2023 brings and how many people will want to hike it. This year some people have just finished up hiking in 2020 when COVID is crazy. Some towns are welcoming hikers and some are not. Will be interesting to read things as they come out with people planning in 2021 and 2022.

Ask The Public?

If you use a clever website called “Ask the public”… you can see what people are googling to find out more about the PCT. What they are curious about or what they fear.

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