Pacific Crest Trail, Pacific Crest Trail Association, Wilderness Press 50th anniversary

The Time Before the Pacific Crest Trail

The trails in the Sierra and the PCT are so engrained in our 50 years as guidebook publishers that it’s hard to imagine a time before the iconic Pacific Crest Trail weaved its way from Mexico to Canada. Yet Wilderness Press was already a year old when President Lyndon B. Johnson officially designated the PCT as a national scenic trail with the signing of the National Trail Systems Act in 1968. To help us reflect back on the trail’s beginnings, we’ve been pouring over the new book by the Pacific Crest Trail AssociationThe Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America’s Wilderness Trail by Mark Larabee and Barney Scout Mann.

Despite the lack of “official” national scenic trail status, backpackers had been already hiking the PCT for decades. It all started in 1920 when a young assistant forest supervisor named Fred Cleator was working to survey the Cascade Highway and Oregon Skyline Trail and had a vision to extend “the Skyline Trail the full length of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon, joining a similar trail in the Sierras of California, as a great tourist advertisement.” With that, Fred gave the first written record of the idea of the PCT.

A few years later, Catherine Montgomery, a schoolteacher and avid outdoorswoman from Bellingham, Washington had the idea to “do something big for Western America.” In 1926 she suggested to Seattle mountaineer Joseph Hazard that he help build “a high winding trail down the heights of our western mountains with mile markers and shelter huts…from the Canadian border to the Mexican Boundary line.” And with that ambitious dream, Montgomery became the “Mother of the Pacific Crest Trail.”

Clinton C. Clarke followed Montgomery’s vision and in 1932 approached the U.S. Forest and National Park Services to create and map out a trail from Mexico to Canada. He originally wanted to call the entire route the John Muir Trail, but after meeting objections from the Sierra Club, the acting director of the National Parks Service named it the Pacific Crest Trail.

Now, where does Wilderness Press fit into all this rich PCT history? Tom Winnett, the founder of Wilderness Press (check out our post about him here), started by publishing Sierra North, Sierra South, and Trails of the Angeles. And Winnett wanted to capitalize on the increasing popularity of the PCT and publish a guidebook for it as well. So Winnett and four other backpackers spent the summer of 1972 scouting the California portion of the PCT, then published the first edition of our Pacific Crest Trail guidebook.

45 years after our first PCT guidebook, we are still just as enamored with the winding trail from Mexico to Canada. Authors Jordan Summers and Laura Randall are hard at work on the long-awaited seventh editions. Stay tuned!

For updates on our PCT guidebooks and stories from the trail, sign up for the Wilderness Press newsletter.

Tanya Twerdowsky

I am a Jersey girl living in Alabama who loves to run far and eat lots.

1 Comment
  • While making a big set of color PCT maps recently, I paused to clean up my office and ran across an early Wilderness Press PCT guidebook to California, published around 1973 (recently rescued from Mom’s basement). By that date, instead of a pullout map inside the back cover (as in Sierra North/South), WP’s maps were black and white screened topographic maps, with red dots for the definite and temporary routes, mostly snippets 7.5 and 15-minute USGS quads (done as camera art). It took half as many maps (and pages) to show all of California than either of the two guidebooks I’m working on now. Amazingly (though pieces get relocated and refined to this day) the PCT’s “golden spike ceremony” took place only two decades later.

    Comparing the new and old maps, In some places the PCT route (still being pinned down in 1973) pretty much matched today’s, but a lot of places it diverged wildly, and there were parallel temporary routes that went on for pages. More than once they advised something to the effect of “talk to the ranch manager and they’ll let hikers go through.” We are still waiting for a good route through Tejon Ranch, 40 years later. (Soon, they say).

    Any way you do it, the PCT involves a LOT of map art. Around 1997, I put together a proposal to redo the California guide maps, but I’d have basically had to hand-trace all the streams (which Tom insisted should be in color like the old book, so the water sources were evident). It would have been more than the available budget. (A task that others have taken on since, with newer methods). I got to play with the folder of old not-quite camera-ready art, which was instructive. This year, I was able to find all the quads online, take screen shots, make a big mosaic, then carve it up into the sections and legs. About 20 GB of data including drafts. By the time I reached California I figured out how to dissect the USGS’s new US Topo quads in Illustrator and drop crisp, vector art lakes and streams precisely on top of my scanned quads. We’re just about to the point where one can draw all the maps as vector art. (And follow along in your GPS device, phone, plus carry quality, PCT hiker-made maps). As I was drawing Southern CA my niece was hiking north from Campo faster than I could draw it. 🙂

    August 4, 2017 at 9:40 am

Post a Comment