ACE’s Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crews just wrapped up another season on the trail! These unique crews get to travel throughout California working on various parts of the iconic PCT, creating a safer and more sustainable trail for thousands to enjoy each year.

The PCT is a 2,654 mile trail that runs from the border of Mexico to Canada. The trail was first proposed in 1932 by Clinton C. Clarke. By 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson defined the PCT and the Appalachian Trail with the National Trails System Act and the trail was officially declared finished in 1993. The trail was built in cooperation with the federal government and volunteers organized by the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA). The PCTA continues to work on the trail and since 2013 has brought on ACE crews to work alongside them!

Approximately 700-800 hikers attempt to thru-hike the PCT each year, but the PCT also hosts weekend backpackers and day hikers all the same. The trail passes through the Laguna, Santa Rosa, San Jacinto, San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Liebre, Tehachapi, Sierra Nevada, and Klamath ranges in California, and the Cascade Range in California, Oregon, and Washington.

The ACE crew began work this past spring, working on southern parts of the trail and made their way north as the California summer weather crept in. We caught up with the crew while they were working out of the ACE Pacific West North branch in South Lake Tahoe in various locations including the Sierra Buttes, Donner Peak, and Echo Summit.

The work included everything from general trail maintenance to reroutes. The rugged terrain and bare mountain tops along the PCT brought a lot of complicated rockwork for the ACE crews this season. The crews were led by ACE crew leaders Matthew Rump and Sarah Phillips and ACE’s traveling project manager, Ginger Wojciechowski.

It’s not easy to sum up a season of work especially on a trail like the PCT but ACE crew leader, Matthew Rump reflected on the “why” of trail work, a concept that might be overlooked by many. 

Why do trail work? Don’t animals make the trails that we hike on? It’s remarkable how much is hidden from the user enjoying a hike on an established trail. The subtle changes in grade, cleared brush, buried retaining structures, or sneaky steps; all meticulously engineered to create a sustainable travel surface that allows the user to focus on the surrounding scenery, rather than the burn in their legs. Most well-designed trails will hardly look as though human hands carved them into a landscape.”

“Inevitably nature always has the final say, she may wish to move her rivers and replace your trail with a 15ft cliff. In these cases, the subtlety of trail work is pushed to the wayside and the evidence of our work is revealed. This is the process of creating a safe, sustainable passage for those wishing to explore the Sand to Snow National Monument and San Gorgonio Wilderness. Eliminating erosive scrambles up the cliff, sediment deposition into the nearby Whitewater River, and user-damage of the sensitive desert riparian area. A staircase of native rock, carried by hand, set without mortar. The work is backbreaking and occasionally makes one neurotic. This was an appropriate capstone to mine and my crew’s trail-building season.”

ACE crews are already looking forward to the next season on the PCT.

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