Right about now, northbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers are pushing hard through the 100-Mile Wilderness to get to Katahdin before the cold weather arrives and the park closes for camping on Oct. 15.

A similar scenario is playing out on the other side of the continent, as hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail race through the Cascade Mountains, trying to reach the Canadian border before the inevitable mid-October snowstorms.

Tom Jamrog of Lincolnville knows all too well this type of mad dash to finish off a long-distance trek. It was just a year ago that he was out there on the Pacific Crest Trail himself, hiking fast and furious through Washington to stay a few steps ahead of Old Man Winter.

In fact, Jamrog hiked an astounding 25 miles a day for 17 consecutive days to reach Monument 76 and the official end of the trail on the U.S.-Canada border. That’s a big effort to close out an already grueling five-month journey covering 2,700 miles.

“The whole hike was quite a physical challenge,” admitted Jamrog. “Basically, it was wake up early and start hiking by 7 a.m. Then hike until after dark, day after day after day.”

And that’s what Jamrog did in 2010 for 166 days, starting at the Mexican border on April 15 and putting one foot in front of the other until he reached Canada on Sept. 28.

How does a hiker from coastal Maine end up trekking through the wilderness of the PCT some 3,000 miles from home?

“It all started with thru-hiking the AT in 2007,” Jamrog said. “I hiked with a great bunch of guys and we developed a close relationship. After the hike, we got to talking and decided to try the West Coast thing, the PCT.”

The PCT is a totally different hike from the AT, which is primarily a walk in the wooded mountains from Georgia to Maine. The AT is no walk in the park by any means, and every one of its 2,180 miles adds up to a daunting challenge.

On the PCT, however, hikers are exposed to extremes of terrain and weather, from the scorching deserts of southern California to the high alpine passes of the Sierra Nevada — the high point at Forrester Pass is over 13,000 feet — to the high desert and mountains of Oregon, and finally the difficult terrain of the Washington Cascades.

“Despite what many guidebooks say, the PCT is much tougher than the AT,” said Jamrog.

Starting from the Mexican border, PCT hikers fresh from civilized life must negotiate 700 miles of desert, where each day it’s 85 to 90 degrees or more and there isn’t much water.

Never mind that the 10,000-foot mountains that must crossed in this section are still choked with snow. So the going is never easy or straightforward.

Beyond the desert, the trail enters the High Sierra at Kennedy Meadows. Most PCT hikers arrive here around mid-June when the trail is buried under snow — 20 to 30 feet of it in places — for the next 400 miles.

Traversing this section of the PCT requires lots of map use to recognize terrain features, most often by post-holing through the deep snow.

“It was unrelenting, and our feet were always wet,” said Jamrog. “And the river crossings were tough because of the melting snow pack. Scary, terrifying even.”

By Oregon, the footpath was more forgiving, and with months of trail hardening behind him, Jamrog began to make some miles and enjoy life.

There were still plenty of ups and downs, and there would be more ahead over the final stretch across Washington, but the thru-hiker dye was cast and there would be no excuse for not reaching the end goal.

Jamrog’s tips for prospective PCT hikers: “Bring a GPS. With it, I wouldn’t have been lost every day in the snow! And learn, really learn, how to read maps.”

Next up for the 61-year-old Jamrog: the Continental Divide Trail in 2013.

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is an avid hiker and freelance writer. Comments are welcome at:

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