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Glorious grit: Heather Anderson shares her record-setting PCT trek

Jan 5th, 2014 | Category: Features

Last June, Bellingham resident Heather Anderson set out on the 2,633-mile Pacific Crest Trail. It was 6:30 a.m. when she wrote in the log book at the northbound starting point at the Mexican border, “Well here goes. To Canada!” Sixty days, 17 hours and 12 minutes later, she took her final steps reaching the end of the trail at the Canadian border.

Anderson, whose trail name is Anish Hikes, is now the record holder for hiking the complete trail in the fastest known time, solo and unsupported. She sent and retrieved her own resupply boxes along the entire route, carried all of her gear, and received no planned assistance.

Heather Anderson, also known as Anish Hikes on the trail, at Goat Rocks Wilderness, along the Pacific Crest Trail.  PHOTO COURTESY OF HEATHER ANDERSON

Heather Anderson, also known as Anish Hikes on the trail, at Goat Rocks Wilderness, along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Her record-setting PCT trek is bringing her attention from across the country, including being named in the Top 10 Adventurous Women of 2013 by Women’s Adventure Magazine. She previously thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2003 (also solo), and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest (2005) and Continental Divide (2006) trails with a partner.

Anderson, who is now working on a book about her journey, will share her experience at upcoming presentations, including Friday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Deming Library and Thursday, Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Bellingham Public Library.  Until then, Anderson shared some thoughts from her adventure and following is what she had to say.


What inspired you to do a solo thru-hike of the PCT? Why did you seek the fastest known time (FKT)? 

I love backpacking, especially long distance thru-hikes. I wanted to push my physical and mental limits by attempting to do the trail faster than anyone had ever done before.


How did you prepare for the hike, and what were folks’ reactions to your plans?

I prepared for the hike by gathering my supplies and preparing my boxes. I had spreadsheets everywhere! I also plotted out an itinerary that would keep me on schedule. I knew where I would camp every night before I left. To some extent that was accurate, but I did end up moving faster and getting ahead of that schedule here and there. People were very supportive.


How many miles did you average each day on the trail? What did your pack weigh, and how many pairs of hiking boots did you walk through? What did your body feel like?

Over the course of the hike I averaged about 44 trail miles per day. I also walked into and out of 21 resupply points (as well as off trail for water) which added 30-plus miles to my hike, which increases that average. Some sections of trail I was averaging 40-41 mpd, others I was averaging 48.

My base weight without food and water was nine pounds. The pack weight fluctuated significantly depending on how much water I was carrying and how long it was to my next resupply point. In the desert I carried up to six liters of water. Several stretches I carried six days of food. I would guess my pack maxed out around 35-40lbs leaving Kennedy Meadows.

I went through five pairs of trail runners. I don’t wear boots.

My body was in a lot of pain for the first 10 days as I adjusted to the demands. After that it continued to grow stronger all the way to Canada. I reached a breaking point in Oregon, but with some adjustments to my calorie consumption and the timing of my protein intake I rallied.


What kept you going each day, especially getting started in the mornings?  

The desire to see if I could keep going. I would tell myself, “The record isn’t going to break itself.” Then I’d sit up and pack.


Tell us about your daily food intake. Did you dream about certain foods? What did you eat when you finished? 

I ate hourly the entire hike, even if I was feeling nauseous. I dreamt about Coconut Bliss Ice Cream (Ginger Cookie Caramel) and a BBQ Tempeh sandwich from border to border. In the early part of the hike I also craved avocado non-stop. I think that I ate salad when I got home. And a pint of Coconut Bliss. I don’t really remember eating a special meal. I just went back to my normal diet.


How did you get resupply boxes, and were there times you were out of something important between boxes?

I mentioned this above. I prepared the boxes in advance and collected them from businesses, post offices and private citizens that hold mailed packages for thru-hikers. I got my information from Yogi’s PCT Handbook which is used by the vast majority of hikers. I often sent myself more or less food than I needed and one time I forgot to send batteries. I had a very dim headlamp the next few days!


What moments of trail beauty will always stick with you? What were the most difficult stretches of land to cover? The least difficult?

There are too many beautiful moments to list! In the Station Fire burn in Southern California I saw a bear in a dead tree ripping it apart for grubs. It remains one of the moments most ironed in my mind. I will also never forget the last sunset on the trail: watching it sink behind Mt. Baker and knowing I was looking right at home.

The most difficult landscapes are the Glacier Peak Wilderness, the southern California Desert, and the High Sierra. The least difficult is Northern California and southern Oregon.


What wildlife did you view or unexpectedly meet along the trail? 

Tons! A few of the more interesting: a skunk, multiple bears, a fox, and four mountain lions.


What were some of the funniest moments along the way? 

I think the absolute funniest moment was when I got to the end and no one was at the monument. I found them in camp a short distance away, but they were inexperienced backpackers and couldn’t get out of their sleeping bags/tents!

I also enjoyed hiking on and off with various thru-hikers. There’s always a lot of laughter and ridiculous conversation when you put people who’ve been in the woods for way too long together.


How did you get your trail name and what does it mean? 

Anish is short for Anishnabe which is a Native American people that my great-great grandmother was a member of.


How has this experience changed you? Did you enjoy it, and would you do something like this again?

It has taught me that I am capable of more than I ever thought and that dreams are always worth pursuing. I enjoyed this more than any other thru-hike and will definitely attempt similar things in the future.


Are you considering writing a book? Do you have other speaking events coming up?

Yes, I am in the process of writing one. I have several engagements lined up. I will be speaking for the Whatcom Literacy Council’s Whatcom READS! program in January and February as well as for Animal Athletics in Portland, OR the first weekend in February.


What’s one question you haven’t been asked about your experience? And the answer? 

Did you expect there to be notoriety if you succeeded? No. I actually didn’t think anyone aside from family, friends and a few “trail groupies” would even notice.


What do you say to other folks who want to try something – whatever or wherever it is – but are unsure they can do it?

Try. You might surprise yourself.


What are you looking forward to in 2014? A couple of big 100 mile races and attempting some Fastest Known Times on long trails. Supporting my boyfriend in his athletic goals.



–interview by Becca Schwarz Cole, published in the January 2014 issue of Grow Northwest

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