FKT: Ethan Hardacre - Pacific Crest Trail through OR (OR) - 2023-07-25

Route variation
Standard route
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
8d 7h 10m 20s
GPS track(s)

Pre - Had a big bowl of oatmeal and a few bars before heading to the starting line. I also ate a lot the day before my attempt in hopes that I could coast through the first half of day one on food I’d just eaten. Dustin drove me out toward the start. We took the Yale Creek Rd to Waters Gulch Rd. to NF-20 to NF-2025 route. The roads were well maintained and easy to drive. The junction with the PCT is about half a mile north of the border. 

Day 1 - PCT mile 1692 to 1744 (52 miles) I got down to the border sign, took a couple photos and tried to get my watch to read the GPS location. Waiting for GPS… this became somewhat of a theme throughout my attempt (I relished these short breaks). It was 6:38 AM on July 17th. Elk bugled in the background as I took off. My goal pace was always 4mph, day 1 and the last day might be the only days where I hit that. I cruised through the initial descent toward I-5. That’s where to fun began, there’s a good amount of climbing coming out of Ashland. I was passing through early afternoon and the sun was absolutely baking me, but I kept to my pace and charged on. Stopped briefly for water at the spring above Ashland and then kept moving, the exposed areas felt like they were killing me. I wasn’t able to put down much of my food in the heat. Once evening came and the temps cooled I didn’t have much left in me to hike, I had heat exhaustion. My heart was racing and I felt like I was going to puke. I set up an early camp around 8PM by the Hyatt Reservoir - 51 miles in. I choked down a couple spoonfuls of nut butter and went to sleep. 

Day 2 - PCT mile 1744 to 1796 (52 miles) Up at 4AM, and feeling a lot better after some sleep. The early morning miles were pretty cruisy which made for a pleasant morning. I got to the South Brown mountain shelter pretty early in the day and sat down to make sure I got in some calories, I was still having trouble eating while hiking. Met a few thru-hikers at the shelter which is always nice, up until this point I had passed a few people on trail, but never really got to chat. After a glorious 5 minutes of hanging around I got back up and started moving again. I began to hope as I got to each water source that there were hikers hanging out so I could chat for a few minutes while I filtered water. There rarely were. A few bigger elevation changes in the afternoon and evening, but for the most part they were short and snappy. I laid down a touch after sunset at the top of a pass near Luther mountain. Soon after laying down some big animals started moving through my camp. I had my head under my poncho which I pitched as a half-tent, but assumed they were elk. For the most part it was innocuous twig snaps and rustles, but at one point there were some huffs and puffs and some fast paced foot fall that left laying there with my heart beating faster than when I was hiking. Took me a while to fall asleep after that. 

Day 3 - PCT mile 1796 to 1849 (53 miles) 4AM again. Dark and early. I spent the early morning hours singing to myself about going to Crater Lake today, I thought about writing a musical. The elevation profile seemed pretty moderate for the day and I had early ambitions of a 60 mile day to get me back on course for an overall record. Downed tree after downed tree, I let go of my hopes for the day, and then leaned into the torture of the blowdowns. Maybe every hundredth tree I’d start crying, and then my cry would turn into a laugh. At a certain point it was almost comical, I thought the trees might never end. I took my mid-day beat-the-heat nap early afternoon and then went back to climbing over trees. The sun was lowering in the sky by the time I made it to the junction where the PCT official route links up with the rim alternate. The stark contrast between the two sections of trail made the next stretch feel so easy. I floated along making the most of these relieving miles. I hiked a bit after dark, pushing toward HWY 138, which I had marked in my head as the ⅓ point. 

Day 4 - PCT mile 1849 to ~1901 (~52 miles) Up before light, you know the schedule at this point. I was able to split up a longer water carry to Thielsen creek by doing a good portion of the miles last night and the rest early this morning. While making the early morning climb, I came around the bend to a truly incredible sunrise view of Mt Thielsen. This is one of my only truly happy moments of this attempt, where I didn’t feel the weight of the miles to come. I rolled up to Thielsen creek right as other hikers were rolling out of bed. With these next couple 16 to 17 mile water carries it would mark the end of what I considered the dry stretch of the trail. There were a couple more long hauls, but for the most part water would be more consistent from here out. From Thielsen Creek the next checkpoint in my mind was the Oregon high point. When I got to the top of the climb a bunch of hikers were on their phones talking to their families. I woke up my phone, snapped a quick selfie, and sent it off to let everyone know I was okay. Then the phone was off again. I didn’t pack a battery bank, and just figured I would use my phone sparingly. I relied on a small paper map I made, and knowledge from having hiked the trail before, but at times I wished I had enough battery to spend a few minutes on the phone with my mom. Digital support is allowed in unsupported efforts, but I didn’t give myself much of an option. In the afternoon I was on the hook for the climb between Six Horse Springs and Summit Shore. I shuffled along and had to take multiple breaks to lay down and close my eyes. Multiple hikers passed me on the climb, this was the first time my hiking had slowed to the point where I was getting passed. Of course, once I was up and over, and stopped at Summit Shore, and the sun started to dip, I felt less like I was going to die. I leaned on my mantras and did another 10 miles. When I finally put out my ground sheet and laid down I was 4 days in and still shy of the halfway point. It felt impossible that I could do another 4 days of this. 

Day 5 - PCT mile 1901 to ~1955 (~54 miles) I’ll be honest, day 5 is not a cohesive memory in my head, but I’ll do my best to report the day's happenings. 4 AM the alarm went off, I hit my fist on the ground and cried for a second. I was confused by the smell of smoke. I had also been having somewhat intense auditory hallucinations at this point: ambulances, elephants, music. I assumed the smell of smoke was a hallucination or that I was having a stroke. Once the sun rose I could clearly see that it was smoky out and I remembered that there could be forest fires. I stumbled across Highway 58 and up toward the maiden peak shelter. I had to backtrack briefly because I almost passed Rosary Lake without grabbing water which would have left me with a 15 mile dry carry. I arrived at Charlton lake, and had to pass up my only opportunity for trail magic. I grabbed water at the lake, ate a handful of chewy candies from my bag as a treat and then headed out. I knew there was a burn zone from last year on this stretch of the trail, but I didn’t realize how extraordinary it would be. I have never seen a burn zone like this before. For 2 hours I trudged through a near desert. Nothing taller than 10 feet stood, the trees had all been burnt fully to ash. The sand kept prints really well, and I entertained myself watching the cougar tracks appear and disappear into the wasteland. It was a bizarre and surreal section of the trail. At the end of such an exposed section I was dizzy, nauseous and my heart was screaming, beating out of my chest. I laid down for an hour or so to cool off and wait out some of the heat. I remember that my goal was to make it to Sisters Mirror Lake, but I know I didn’t make it because I passed it early the next morning. Around 10PM I took a 1 hour nap on the side of the trail, and then woke up to keep chipping away miles. I think I hiked for another 2 hours to 1AM before laying down to get another 3 hours. When I laid down, I couldn’t find one of my 1L bottles. I had a moment of panic because I knew the next day had some exposed slow moving sections with longer water hauls. I decided I’d deal with that problem in the morning and passed out.

Day 6 -  PCT mile 1955 to 2006 (~51 miles) I gathered my things in the dark. I was overjoyed to find that the 1L bottle I thought I’d lost was just hidden under my groundsheet. In the excitement I left camp without both of my soft flasks and my filter. So in the end I lost 1.2L and my filter, which was a big blow. I didn’t notice until I was already 2 hours out. If you are the lucky hiker that found my flasks and filter, you have a beer on me, thanks for picking up my trail trash. My goal for day 6 was to cross HWY 20 (Santiam Pass). I knew from hiking last year that there was a formidable 6 mile stretch of lava rocks the size of softballs. They had given me foot issues last year when I was hiking about half the distance, so I considered this to be the crux of the hike. I moved past each of the Three Sisters smoothly in the morning. The water was nice for most of the day and I wasn’t overly concerned about the lack of a filter. However, the big carry for the day was an almost 20 mile stretch from 1980 to 2000. There was a “marginal spring” in 1994 that could split it up, though my memories of that water source were not kind. At Scott Pass Lake I had to camel up for the long carry. This was difficult for me as I watched people and dogs swim in the small pond I was about to drink out of. I downed 1L right there and then filled up my 2L and headed out, I put an electrolyte flavor tab into the bottles to mask the flavor of the pond a bit. The lava rocks went fairly smoothly, they were difficult and exposed and my feet hurt, but they weren’t quite the hell that I had convinced myself they would be. I did, however, go through water faster than I had budgeted for. 10 miles into the carry I was out of water. I decided I’d have to stop at the hole in the ground at mile 1994. When I got there I laid down belly first on the grass and lowered my bottle down into the hole about 2 feet in diameter. The water I pulled out was yellow, and had small things swimming in it. Little shrimps and things the size of a pen tip. I brought the liter of water I’d grabbed with me just in case, but had resolved to do everything in my power not to drink it. I occasionally would swish some around in my mouth and spit it out, or splash some on my forehead to keep my cool, but I knew that if I ingested that water I’d be going to the doctor in 2 weeks. I moved fast out of desperation and luckily the terrain for the next 8 miles cooperated. I made it to the pond at mile 2000 and despite it being stagnant pond water, I was so excited to see it. I drank up as much as I could and sat on the shore to eat. The calories I had packed were so dense that they couldn’t go down without water. So, 20 miles with limited water meant 20 miles with limited food. I choked down as much of my trail butter mix as I could to make up for the calories I’d just lost. I was visibly much thinner now than I was at the start, and the half tights I’d worn were now loose on the skin. I knew that I was burning off reserve fuels and the calories I was putting in were barely making a dent, I just hoped I had enough reserve left to make it to the end. At this point I was about ⅔ of the way through the route, and it almost felt like I could touch the finish line in one big push. I did a lot of mental math “What pace would I have to go to finish in 2 days?”, “Could I do it if I stopped sleeping?” I was doing all kinds of tricks to try to shave a day off of my projected finish, I just couldn’t imagine 3 more days. I set up camp before it was fully dark, and I shared the area with someone else’s tent. I didn’t often get to sleep around other hikers but it gave me a lot of comfort, like if I got too cold at night I could just quit and go cuddle up with a stranger. Or, if a bear attacked me in the night we could fight him off together, and then in the morning I would have a good enough reason to quit and I could go get a real meal. I never had a good enough reason to quit. 

Day 7 - PCT mile 2006 to 2061 (55 miles) This day was mostly new to me. Last year, when I hiked there was a large closure in this section due to the lion's head fire. The early part of the day was very slow moving with another large section of downed trees and a decent amount of elevation change. Based on my time between checkpoints early in the day it seemed like I was only averaging about 2.5mph. I had trouble being discouraged this close to the finish, but I also had trouble feeling hopeful. I knew that however bad I felt now, I’d feel so much better in a few hours, and then a few hours after that I’d be back in the dumps. I got used to just riding the wave. What my mind was doing stopped influencing what my body was doing, they worked almost separately now. In the afternoon I took a short 25 minute nap at the top of a big climb at the end of the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, the signs of heat exhaustion were here for their afternoon check-in, and a nap always worked wonders. Being in the caloric deficit I was in at this point, I had trouble regulating my temperature. I went to sleep feeling like I was dying of heat exhaustion, and after my nap had to hike in my puffy jacket for a few minutes to warm up (this was mid afternoon). It worried me slightly about the nights to come, but I figured barring any significant changes in weather I’d be alright. The rest of the day was downhill and cruisy. Past Olallie Lake I actually ended up running a bit, I was 100 miles out and I had delusions of running through the night and finishing the next day. Of course once it was dark out, it became harder and harder to maintain motivation. I’m not sure how long I hiked at night but I remember having my headlamp on for quite a while and singing the song 16 tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford to scare off any cougars. The song was a threat, but I’m sure I sounded more like a wounded animal crying out. I would catch my voice trailing off as I got out of breath. 

Day 8 - PCT mile 2061 to 2114 (53 miles) I don’t remember going to sleep, but I remember waking up and my groundsheet looking like a crime scene. I got a bloody nose in the middle of the night and didn’t wake up, rolled around in it a bit. I just packed it all up and got moving, nothing I could do to clean it up. The big task of the day was the last big climb up past timberline lodge. Last year while I was hiking I passed Timothy Lake overnight. I was grateful to be able to see it in the morning light this time around, and that the trails were so well maintained. Time passed effortlessly on well maintained trails. I made good pace through the morning and as I approached Timberline Lodge in the early afternoon it started to rain on and off. Big clouds rolled over the peak with stunning force. I tried really hard to appreciate the view, as I knew deep down there was something inspiring in it. I stopped at the top of the climb and ate my last handful of soft candies. A few miles out on the Timberline section of the trail, I accidentally passed a switchback on a sandy bank. The trail tapered off slowly and soon enough I was bushwhacking. I bushwhacked for longer than I should have before thinking “this can’t be the PCT.” I turned on my phone, now at 15% battery, and navigated back to the trail. Every navigational error became a major stressor with my phone battery so low. Minor wrong turns cost about 1-2%, a major wrong turn might leave me stranded. My garmin inReach had an SOS button, so I wasn’t overly worried, though in the dense forests it seemed to work extra hard to get a signal. I had done this timberline section of the trail 2 other times at this point and was hopeful I could navigate it without too much effort, though I was becoming increasingly disoriented. I came to a river crossing at mile 2109. There was another hiker on the other side. The river was loud, but I could make out the distinct sound of music, it was the song “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas. I remarked in my head about how obnoxious he was for playing music so loud, and such an annoying song choice as well. When I crossed the river I found a perfectly pleasant hiker with no music. My brain had pulled sounds from the river and misorganized them into 2000s pop. I thought “I should sleep next to a river and see if I can find a podcast channel.” I was starved for conversation. In the last 8 days, I averaged less than 1 conversation per day, of about 5 minutes in length. I made an inspired push toward the end of the day up the switchbacks to leave the Mt. Hood Wilderness. The rain had stopped a while ago and it was clear skies again. We seemed to be up on some sort of a ridge, so I pitched my poncho half-tent to keep my head warm. I ate a few tablespoons of peanut butter to power me into town the next day. 

Day 9 - PCT mile 2114 to 2149 (35 miles) I woke up around 1 or 2 am, it was raining. I hadn’t prepared for rain the night before when I set up, I made a poor assumption that the rain was gone. It had obviously been raining for a while already and I hadn’t noticed, because the tent site I had chosen was becoming a swamp. The loose dirt was no longer holding the stakes I had placed and my poncho tent collapsed over me. The more I tried to fix things the wetter and colder I got. It was a losing battle, and to save myself from hypothermia, I curled myself into a ball in my emergency bivvy and rode out the night. I was surprisingly warm if I didn’t move, but the position was intensely uncomfortable on my hips. Despite desperately wanting to get to Cascade Locks early, I decided I couldn’t move until sunrise. Once I got out of my bivvy there was no going back, and I was already wet. I needed to know the day was just getting warmer. As soon as the sun rose I packed up my things, all of it was saturated. I put on all my layers and wrapped my bivvy around my waist as an insulating skirt. I ran through the rain, clicking off miles pretty consistently. From what I could workout I was averaging at least 4 mph, and I hadn’t even started the big descent into Cascade Locks. It was still raining, and the plants all carried water, and hung out onto the trail, I continued to get more and more wet. My puffy jacket was now heavy with water. I couldn’t feel pain the first part of this morning, I had such single focus that nothing else mattered. In fact, I was so focused that 20 miles into the day I realized I hadn’t drank any water or eaten anything. I sat down, took a breather, and licked the last bits of my food processed cheetos and doritos out of the plastic bag. The big descent was coming up, and I didn’t know what to expect because last year I had done the Tunnel Falls alternate into Cascade Locks. Despite a few burn zones, a couple downed trees, and some lava rocks, the descent was smooth. I used the last bit of everything I had, destroying my feet and quads on the tough downhill with reckless disregard. I hit the deck a couple of times, and scrambled back up unphased. I felt possessed. At this point I was desperately trying to chip minutes off of my arrival time. In my head there was a massive difference between finishing at 1:45 and finishing at 2:15. I couldn’t stomach that extra half hour. When I got to Cascade Locks I tagged the bridge and cried uncontrollably. My mom was there to meet me, and we walked out onto the bridge together. The moment was exactly how I had dreamed it would be for the last 8 days, it was perfection. 

Post - We immediately went to a thrift store to get me some clothes and some new socks. I smelled horrendous. And as much as I wanted real food, my mom would not let me go into a restaurant like that. We got a motel room and I took a shower. I revealed my feet for the first time in days (foot care was not my strong suit out there). A few big blisters, some sores, and a good amount of bruising, but nothing was obviously wrong or infected. We went over to Thunder Island for food and beer. For the first time in over a week I could kind of just sit. After a hefty mid-afternoon nap, another meal and a night's sleep, I felt so much better. French toast and coffee in the morning tipped me over the edge and I felt like I could run again. Writing this a couple days out, I’m glad I didn’t. Things are still pretty whacky in my body. There are joints in my feet and hips that burn when I walk. I lost around 15 pounds in 8 days, so I’m focused on getting the weight back up before I potentially get giardia or crypto. I told myself while I was out there that I would never again attempt something like this, but I have a short memory.