Day 123: Of NOBOs and SOBOs

As you know from reading this blog, we’re hiking the PCT from Mexico to Canada, heading north. This makes us northbounders, or NOBOs for short in PCT lingo.

As NOBOs, our challenge is this: don’t start too early — usually not before late April — or else the High Sierra will have too much snow on them to pass. At the same time, make sure you keep moving quickly enough to get to the Canadian border by late September, or else the north Cascades, in Washington, will start having major snowstorms come through and you’ll have to quit. All told, this requires hiking mileages in the low 20s on average to complete the PCT in a single season. This season, we got a break because there was extraordinarily little snow last winter (as in, some of the lowest recorded snowfall ever), so we got to start earlier, in early April.

About 90% of PCT hikers are NOBOs, but it’s not the only way to hike the entire PCT. There are also SOBOs, hiking from Canada to Mexico, who have a different challenge. For them, they can’t start until the north Cascades are clear of snow, which typically doesn’t happen until around July 1st. Once this happens, they can proceed south, but they have to get through Washington, Oregon, Northern California, and all of the High Sierra by early October, when the Sierra start getting big winter storms. Once they get to Kennedy Meadows and hence the desert, they’re basically home free and can take their time finishing the rest of the trail, since the desert just gets cooler and wetter the later in the season it gets. All told, SOBOs often have to do nearly 30 miles a day on average just to complete the whole trail in a single season — which is the biggest reason the vast majority of hikers go northbound. This year, SOBOs got a break, too, due to very low snow in Washington, and so some of them started as early as June 1st.

As you can imagine, this means that NOBOs and SOBOs meet somewhere in the middle. We saw our first southbounder starting two weeks ago, and, since then, have seen more and more of them — probably half a dozen a day these days. It’s always interesting to run into them, and often there are exchanges of questions — what’s place X like? How’s that water that’s coming up? — because they’re the only ones who know firsthand what you’re about to experience.

Note that I said we run into about half a dozen SOBOs a day. We stopped to chat with one particularly friendly southbounder yesterday, and she said she’s running into nearly sixty northbounders a day these days. No wonder many of them are plenty friendly, but clearly don’t really want to stop to chat — if you talked to every single northbounder you met, you’d practically never make any progress at all. There’s also clearly a shared cohesion among SOBOs, as you might expect, given that they are a small group; there’s a certain pride and camaraderie among them, because of their “differentness”. There’ve also always been amusing, not-taken-seriously rivalries between the two groups, including a motto I’ve seen written several places: “never trust a southbounder”.

We found this out painfully today, when we stopped briefly to chat with another southbounder. He wore a shirt I found highly amusing — a hand-inked job reading “I’m a SOBO. I know nothing about: – Next water – Campsites – Your friends”. (SOBOs get asked these questions constantly.) However, he did stop us to tell us great, great news: apparently there was some amazing trail magic less than a mile ahead, with “incredible food”. Yes! we thought, and picked up our pace, so eager to get to it.

And we walked…and walked…and walked. One mile. Two miles. Three miles. After an hour and a half, particularly with no roads anywhere in sight — trail magic almost always happens at roads, since that’s how people bring things in — it was clear he’d just made the whole thing up. While in other circumstances I might’ve appreciated the joke a bit more, out here we were both just kind of pissed off. I mean: you do not joke about food on the PCT. Food, especially trail-magic kinds of food, are something we all take very, very seriously.

Our next steps? As soon as we get cell-phone service again, we’re going to text Dilly, Dally, Sarge, and Stump, who are all about four or five days behind us on the trail, and tell them the story…and hence give them lots of time to plan revenge on this guy. I’m not quite sure what form it will take, but I look forward to some pretty great plotting and stories.

In other news, today we passed a couple more significant milestones. It’s now less than 900 miles to Canada — can that really be? — and we’ve now completed two-thirds of the entire PCT. (We made a marker at the exact spot!) That means we “only” have to hike half again as far as we’ve come, which simultaneously seems doable and yet so, so far to go still. It’s exciting, though, to have these markers go by and know we’re making progress. Our next big marker will be the three-quarters point, which seems kind of unbelievable to me still.

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One response to “Day 123: Of NOBOs and SOBOs”

  1. […] yet here we were running into people just constantly. As Bucket said, we finally understood how southbounders on the PCT felt — we were plenty friendly and said “hi” to, say, the first fifty or […]

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