Aged just 17, a girl attempts to tackle the 4,200km Pacific Crest Trail from the borders of Mexico to Canada by herself.
Laina Rose climbs a steep, shale-strewn trail just outside Sierra City, California. It’s before noon on a mid-June day and warm enough for her to remove her light jacket.
Fellow hikers in town warned her that this stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail was a tough uphill, but to Rose, it’s just another stroll on a months-long journey.
Her light brown braided pigtails have been bleached by high-altitude sun, and her tan nearly conceals her freckles. Her voice is high and she grins as if it would hurt her not to.
Rose, 17, chuckles at an old wooden plank nailed to a fir tree at a fork in the path. The carved sign has “Canada Baby!!” scribbled on top.
Canada. That’s where Rose is headed, on a trail that’s come to symbolise both human independence and endurance.
Spanning 2,650 miles (4,265km), the Pacific Crest Trail drops one pin at the US-Mexico border and the other at the front door of our northern neighbour. The trek through California, Oregon and Washington largely covers mountainous terrain and avoids civilisation, passing through 25 national forests and seven national parks.
Rose is making the excursion almost exclusively on her own. On her “thru-hike” – a term that refers to hikers who travel a long trail end-to-end in a single trip – she has gone from desert brush to the snowy Sierra. But on this day, she is in Northern California.
Rose stands just over five feet (152cm) tall and carries a 30-pound (13.6kg) backpack. Since starting her journey April 1, she has bushwhacked, post-holed and climbed more than 1,200 miles (1,931km). She’s fast approaching the halfway point in Chester, averaging 20 miles (32km) a day.
Life in a bag
Chester is cause for celebration, but Rose knows she still has a long way to go, both physically and mentally. Half of the people who start a thru-hike on the PCT don’t finish, according to the Pacific Crest Trail Association.
But then again, half do. And her time on the trail so far has gone quickly, despite the blisters, sore ankles and loneliness.
Was it really months ago that her mum was driving her down to the Mexican border? At the start, her greatest fear about hiking alone wasn’t starving or getting lost or kidnapped. It was simply not finishing the three-state hike.
“Once I became less afraid of not finishing, which was probably when I started getting in shape after a month (on the trail), I was like ‘OK, I’m going to be able to do this,’” she said.
Rose rummages through her forest-green pack which is the size of a small dorm refrigerator and contains her entire life.
Stuffed, shoved, packed and squeezed in it are at least US$1,000 (RM3,242) worth of supplies including her tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, flashlight, water, first aid supplies, stove, pot, a solar charger for her iPhone and food.
Nuts, dried fruit and jerky are staples. Beans and corn chowder are on the dinner menu. She restocks supplies by picking up packages sent to various post offices near the trail.
It took all winter to plan this trip; buying supplies and figuring out where to strategically mail them. Rose had the help of PCT-planning smartphone applications that give estimations on when and where to mail restock items.
But planning was not the only work that went into her preparation. Rose had to add some bulk to her small frame. “She purposely gained weight this winter,” said her mother, Paula Rose. “People told her, ‘Don’t get on the PCT thin.’”
Food for her trip cost $2,000 (RM6,484), Paula Rose said. And that’s not including the expense of driving her to Mexico and picking her up in Canada if she makes it.
Rose made money for her trip by working on her parents’ ranch. She thought this would be the perfect time to hike the trail since she has the time and support from her parents. Rose was home-schooled and plans to start college in January.
Last summer, Rose was hiking with her dad in Northern California and he pointed out where the PCT crossed their path. The more he told her about the trail, the more interested she became.
“She said she wanted to do something epic in her life,” Paula said.
It is particularly unusual for young women to hike the trail alone. While Wikipedia puts the youngest person to hike the entire trail (accompanied by others) as 9 years old (and the youngest woman to do it solo at 26) the Pacific Crest Trail Association said there is no official record.
“There has been a decently long list of those who hike with their parents,” said Jack Haskel, the association’s trail information specialist.