Gary Stevens wants to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

If the road is too hard, travel light

If you're planning to hike part or all of the Pacific Crest Trail, the good news is that you don't have carry the weight of the world on your back like your grandparents did.

The lightweight equipment engineered from space-age materials, however, comes at a cost.

Gary Stevens of Medford has hiked sections of the Mexico-to-Canada trail following the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges on two-dozen expeditions of varying lengths. His wife, Debbie, frequently joins him.

"Gear is becoming lighter as well as more expensive," Stevens said. "I've dropped my base hiking weight from over 25 pounds to between 18 and 22, depending on what stretch of the trail I'm on."

Ultralight hiking, made possible by new materials, is the rage among packers, but isn't always the final word.

"I'm not ultralight," Stevens said. "I'm in my 60s, and I can't sleep on the ground like a lot of young kids can.

"Some people take a ground cloth, pad, sleeping bag and tarp. I have a double-walled tent that weighs 2 pounds. Why should I just take a tarp (instead of a tent) when I have full enclosure? Especially in Southern California and you're dealing with fire ants, rodents and things like that."

Food and water become variables. Light eating on the trail gives way to massive calorie intake when stopping off in civilization, he said.

The PCT enters Jackson County east of Squaw Lake and west of Mount Ashland, crosses Interstate 5 not far from Callahan's restaurant and curls past Pilot Rock before heading north past Hyatt Lake and Howard Prairie.

It ventures into Klamath County before dipping back into Jackson County as it skirts Brown Mountain between Fish Lake and Lake of the Woods and then heads east of Mount McLoughlin and the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

Between Castle Crags in Northern California and the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia River, there are few steps of the trail Stevens hasn't trod.

Last year, Stevens extended his PCT experience by covering 250 miles from Lake Morena County Park near the Mexican border to Big Bear Lake. He joined 500 other hikers at the three-day Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off, simply known in the hiking world as ADZPCTKO, at the campground then meandered north over a 24-day period, 16 on the trail.

On each trek, Stevens reexamines what he's going to take on the trail.

"Even after I throw things out, I still look to see what I don't want to carry," he says.

The biggest change he's seen is the weight of the remaining ingredients in the pack.

Pads once weighing 21/2 pounds now weigh 13 ounces. Backpacks that weighed 61/2 pounds now weigh less than half that amount. Titanium pots and an ultralight cooking stove add just a few ounces.

But Stevens isn't giving up his pack cover.

"Gotta keep the bugs and scorpions out," he said.

Water bottles that years ago supplanted canteens have given way to bladders that weigh a few ounces before they're filled.

When it comes to hiking poles, Stevens prefers Black Diamond because of the way it breaks down to easily fit in the side of his pack when he flies.

"You hardly see anyone on the PCT without poles," he said. "They keep your upper body stable."

You won't likely see Stevens on the local stretch of the PCT during the early summer.

"We try to stay away from mosquito season, but true hikers have to deal with mosquitoes in Oregon," he said. But as a general rule, "we'll have our DEET and mosquito nets."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email

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