When it comes to formidable outdoor adventures, completing the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Mexico to Canada is at the top of the list for many avid hikers.
The PCT has been a uniting passion for one Camas couple since the late 1970s.
Dave and Boni Deal fell in love with the epic trail on their first PCT adventure. That was in the summer of 1979. The couple had their 4-year-old son along for the journey and the family completed the backcountry trip across Washington State, from Canada to Stevenson, in one month.
In 2015, the Deals’ son, by then a 40-year-old man, completed the entire PCT in one season. His adventure prompted the Deals to finish what they’d started 36 years before.
Both in their mid-60s then, the Deals decided to hike the PCT from where they’d left off in 1979 — the southern Washington border — to Mexico in 500-mile chunks, starting with the entire state of Oregon.
In 2016, they hiked through northern California. In 2017, they conquered the central California portion of the trail. Last summer, the Deals completed the rugged southern Sierras.
“The high Sierras were a definite high point of the entire trail this far,” Boni said.
It was the couple’s first time in the high Sierras, which proved to be much steeper and more impressive than the Deals ever imagined. The high altitude, however, forced them to reduce their annual, one-month PCT journey from 500 miles to 250 miles.
The couple also took a few side trips and hiked off the PCT to get supplies.
One of those side trips — summiting the 14,505-foot Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States — proved to be the highlight of the Deals’ 2018 PCT adventure.
“We hiked 15 miles that day to the top,” Boni said.
The couple also hiked the 13,150-foot Forester Pass, the tallest mountain pass on the PCT, last summer, and said it was a “magical” section of trail loaded with hidden treasures, including high mountain lakes, waterfalls, meadows and outlooks to majestic glaciated peaks.
Desert terrain means earlier hikes in 2019 and 2020
This year, the Deals will start where they left off last summer. They have 702 miles to hike before they can say they’ve completed the entire PCT.
The lush forests and greenery that have surrounded the couple since the start of their PCT journey started to transform at the end of their hike last season, when prickly-pear cactus lined the trail.
To avoid hiking in the severe temperatures of California’s high desert during the hottest months, the Deals have decided to do their PCT journey in the spring instead of the summer this year.
“Hiking in the desert is totally new to us, and for me it’s more daunting, but yet exciting,” Boni recently told The Post-Record, talking on her cell phone while hiking with Dave on a still-snowy Hamilton Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge.
Finding fresh water will be a much bigger challenge in the desert, so the Deals will have to pack in more than they have on past PCT hikes, where fresh-water streams were abundant. Fortunately, the trip will require fewer clothes and less hiking equipment, but the extra water will still weigh them down a bit more than they’ve been on other hikes.
While the nights will be warmer, the couple will continue to tent camp each night.
“Dave would prefer cowboy camping (without a tent), but with scorpions and tarantulas, I totally appreciate my tent,” Boni said.
Dave will soon celebrate his 70th birthday, but the couple shows no sign of slowing. Boni and Dave typically challenge themselves to one serious hike a week and usually head into the nearby Columbia River Gorge for their weekly excursions. When they hike during the winter months, they simply add snowshoes to their regular hiking boots.
Asked what “a serious hike” meant to them, both Dave and Boni thought for a while, while they strolled down the 2,400-foot summit of Hamilton Mountain before answering.
“Our hikes need to be at least four hours long and have a minimum of 2,000 feet in elevation,” Boni said. “It’s worth taking the time to be strong and fit.”
The Deals hope to make it halfway through the California desert on their 2019 PCT journey, and complete the entire trail in Mexico in the spring of 2020.