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Masterton couple walk 4000km trail

A Masterton couple with a passion for hiking, travel, and the outdoors have successfully walked one of the longest wilderness trails in the United States.

Ian and Jenna Blair already had a few walking kilometres under their belts when they started the Pacific Crest Trail [PCT] last July.

By the time they finished in November, they had a few thousand more, having walked 141 days, with 13 rest days.

Walking by day [and sometimes by night], they covered more than 4,000 km, from the Canadian border in the north, down through the West Coast of the USA, and finishing at the Mexican border in the south.

Often carrying more than 15 kilograms in their backpacks, they encountered bears and even a mountain lion.

Heading over multiple mountain passes, they moved fast to dodge incoming winter weather over the Sierra Nevada.

The PCT is a long-distance trail adjacent to the highest part of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, between 160 and 240km east of the U.S. Pacific coast. It passes through the states of California, Oregon, and Washington, to end near Mexico.

The PCT is 4,270 km long and ranges in elevation from about 34 metres above sea level at the Oregon–Washington border to more than 4,000 metres in the Sierra Nevada.

The pair averaged just under 40km a day, carrying a base weight of 12kg. However, they often carried more with regular restocking of supplies. They carried everything they needed with them, and slept in a tent.

“With food and water, I’d say it would have been about 15 to 16 [kg],” Jenna said.

“Every four to six days, eight days at the most, there was a town where we could stop and buy more food,” Jenna said.

“We had two eight-day stretches in the Sierra mountains where there were no towns, and the packs were really heavy,” Ian said.

“It’s a different lifestyle. Carrying your whole life on your back, and sleeping in a tent,” Jenna said.

“In the High Sierras for about eight days, you’re doing a pass a day, and one day we had two passes. It’s hard going,” said Ian, who lost 20kg during the trek.

They seldom saw people and were completely self-sufficient. Rather than accidents or injuries, their main worry was the weather. The Sierras are known for a rough climate, especially snow. They carried ice-axes and microspikes in case of ice on the trails but were lucky.

“When you are in the Sierras there’s no escape,” Ian said.

“They say you need to be out by mid-October. But we started on October 20th, and got out by the start of November,” Jenna added.

“Lots of local people leading up to the Sierras were telling us we’d be lucky to avoid the first storms,” Ian said. “Some of the valleys you walk through are really enclosed, and you could easily get caught in there in a storm.”

They avoided the bad weather, which started about a week after they passed through but did run into some interesting four-legged locals.

“For a long time, I had to carry a ‘bear box’, a canister we carried on top of a pack that you’re supposed to have all your food in it so the bears can’t sniff it out,” Ian said.

Despite this precaution, the couple had two bear encounters.

“We came around a corner and were listening to music, so we weren’t paying attention and startled a bear. It got up on its hind legs and just stared at us. It was about three metres away. It was about my height,” Ian said.

“He was staring at me, it seemed like forever, but it was probably only a few seconds. Then it got down on its forelegs and carried on eating berries. It really wasn’t fussed.

“We just stood there until it carried on eating and wasn’t paying much attention to us, and then we walked past.”

After the incident, a ranger told them they were lucky the bear had been docile, as they can be unpredictable if surprised.

The second time the pair saw a mother and three cubs, but from a distance.

“It was beautiful seeing them,” Ian said.

After the mountains of the High Sierra, the last stage goes through the Mojave desert, where the pair had another close encounter.

“It was at night, and Jenna saw glowing eyes staring at her,” Ian said.

“It was terrifying,” said Jenna.

“We were night hiking to get miles in. And she [Jenna] said, ‘there’s something staring at us’. We put our torches on full because we didn’t know what it was. And then it moved, and we could see it was a mountain lion,” Ian said.

Both agreed the highlight of the trip had been California’s Sierra Nevada.

The experienced hikers have previously walked the 800km Camino Frances to Santiago in Spain, and most of the great walks in New Zealand.

They have also hiked in Australia and Nepal.

More adventures are already being planned, with Mount Fuji in Japan and Hexatrek in France both on the list. Watch this space.

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