Monument 78 is a short, tapering, gray-concrete marker that stands in a small clearing in the forest between Washington and British Columbia, some 78 miles east of Monument 1, which is the westernmost point of the U.S.- Canada boundary line.
A thin line of light shows through the trees east and west of Monument 78, marking the international boundary line, and there is also a little trail leading north to the Trans-Canada Highway six miles away. Leading south there is a trail too, but one of an entirely different sort. Starting off along Castle Creek, it winds through Northwest forests and meadows. Southward the trail follows the ridge of the Cascades through Washington and Oregon, penetrates high-mountain country, crosses deserts in California and comes to its meandering end at an old cavalry post called Campo, straddling the Mexican border 40 miles east of Tijuana.
If you started walking south from Monument 78 you would have 2,156 miles to go—almost all of it wilderness. It would be a pretty rough trip. It is one way to go from Canada to Mexico, but a hard way. The Forest Service recommends, for example, that you allow at least 30 days to get from Canada to the Columbia River, only 457 miles. But if the wilderness is real enough, much of it is parklike. In fact, the Climber's Guide to the Cascade Mountains , put out by the American Alpine Club, disparages much of the surrounding country because it is too easy—"flat valleys, gentle contours, open pine forests and a preponderance of brightly flowered meadow country...of more interest to the sightseer, horseback rider and sheepherder than to the mountaineer.... The weather can be expected to be good during most of the summer." And the Cascade forest is the friendliest woods known to mankind, with no dangerous animals, no poisonous snakes, no poison ivy—"a forest without poison," wrote Theodore Winthrop, who first described it in Canoe and Saddle, "without miasma and without venom." He might have added: and almost without mosquitoes. Why, then, is the Pacific Crest Trail so little known? There is an old northwestern story about a settler from Iowa who bragged so much about the farms back home that his whole family was instructed to kick him under the table when he went too far. With visitors at the next Sunday dinner he began, "Back in Iowa we had a corncrib six miles long—" There was the thumping sound of shoes against shinbones, and he added, "But it didn't amount to much. It was only six inches wide." The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,156 miles long, but it is only two feet wide, and there are places along it, overlooking precipitous drops into the canyons of beautiful rivers, when one wishes these dimensions were reversed, that the trail were 2,156 miles wide and two feet long.
It is a working trail, one that has been laid out, kept up and used by the rangers of the national forests. The Forest Service's manual stipulates that a trail should be wider than the standard 24 inches if there is a steep slope (more than a 40� angle) on one side. In such places the trail should be 30 inches wide. If the pitch below the trail is more than 165�—in other words, a sheer drop, since 180� would be straight down—the trail should be widened to 36 inches, and a little wall of stones, eight inches high, should be built along the outer edge.
It is by these stern standards that the Pacific Crest Trail is judged to be an easy one. But on any day's ride you can count on traversing a number of high, narrow places—great scenic terrain like that at Dutch Miller Gap, where you can look from the headwaters of west-flowing rivers on one side of the divide to a necklace of tiny mountain lakes on the east, or the ridge above the famous hunting grounds of Big Crow Basin, where you can peer down through the top branches of 200-foot firs and watch herds of elk—a scenic spectacular that would be much more appreciated if the viewer were less concerned that this wonderful sight might be his last.
This is particularly the case if you are traveling with a packtrain and riding a surefooted mountain pony. Every mountain pony is surefooted, as every surefooted mountain guide will tell you. But if you happen to be following the Pacific Crest Trail and you happen to watch the hind legs of the pony ahead, you are likely to note a disquieting amount of skidding and bumping and clumping, places where a hoof is planted on the edge of a hole and hastily moved when the dirt slides and, from time to time, for no reason at all, a sort of sideways kick, like a misplaced Charleston dance step. Never mind. You will somehow negotiate these narrow places and you will always find, on the far side, a neat green-and-white, diamond-shaped enameled marker bearing a picture of a tree and the comforting words " Pacific Crest Trail System," evidence that even a government has been there before you. The signs are fastened on tree trunks or on solid posts planted deeply in the ground. You find them ranged evenly across a mountain meadow where there might be some question as to the point at which the trail, emerging from woods on one side, plunges into woods again on the other. They run through stands of immense spruces, patches of Alaska cedar and groves of featherleaf maple. They lead through country that has never been really mapped or explored, past unnamed lakes that have never been fished. At first these green-and-white diamonds in the forest gloom seem interesting because of the way they are placed, at every vague fork where a traveler might be perplexed as to which way to go or at a bend hidden by tree trunks that he might miss. After a time they become friendly and reassuring symbols of human communication in the wilderness. And eventually they become almost hypnotic, leading on and on into airy spaces of tranquil solitude, past an endless succession of cascading streams, heather meadows, serene snow peaks and limitless expanses of velvet-green treetops. Thus, if the trail is narrow, it is also scintillating; if it is demanding, it is also beckoning.
One of the trail's unique geographical advantages is that it is accessible to so many people. From Seattle to Snoqualmie Pass, the spot where this remarkable north-south footpath crosses the Northwest's main east-west highway, is only 48 miles. There the trail curves through the big trees along Commonwealth Creek, in which amber rocks and sizable trout are visible in water almost as clear as air—a long way from wilderness but still a silent woods, except for the rush of the water, as soon as the highway is left behind. The riding clubs of Tacoma can take off early in the morning, unload their horse trailers at Silver Creek and within 15 minutes be deep in the solitude of the Norse Peak Trail, which intersects the Pacific Crest Trail at Big Crow Basin. Near Portland the trail spirals around Mount Hood. It can be picked up as it crosses Oregon's main roads, and a highway runs parallel to it for much of the 400 miles that it follows the summit ridge of the Cascade Mountains. In California it is a network of loosely connected riding and hiking trails. One section passes within 20 miles of downtown Los Angeles before it turns east past Lake Arrowhead, curves south through the San Bernardino National Forest and Cuyamaca State Park and reaches the Mexican border.
So the trail has the increasingly valuable advantage of providing innumerable ways to the woods and wilderness. The chain of 22 national forests that runs down the Pacific coast covers some 20 million acres, and the trail is a dark-brown strip woven almost through the center of them.
The trail's recorded history begins with Clinton Clarke, a big, shaggy retired conservationist from Pasadena, Calif., who was married to an actress, was one of the sponsors of the Pasadena Playhouse and was an amateur playwright when he was not out hiking. In 1932 Clarke formally proposed to government officials that a continuous wilderness trail be traced from Canada to Mexico. There were great trails throughout the western states—the John Muir Trail in California, the Skyline Trail in Oregon and old, unmarked Indian paths in the Cascades in Washington—and plans to unify them into a system that would run all the way down the coast had often been discussed, especially after the Appalachian Trail was built in the East. Clarke knew about Russian trails and had learned that the Russians, who were reputed to be good woodsmen because of their enormous forests, were cutting wilderness paths in the mountains and training their young people to use them. He wrote that the U.S. should follow the same policy for the sake of physical fitness and national defense. Somebody must have agreed.
"The project was approved and adopted," he wrote, referring to himself in the third person, "and Mr. Clarke was placed in charge." (This was a little mysterious, for he was not connected with the Forest Service, which would have to lay out the trail.) Clarke then organized the Pacific Crest Trail Conference, appointed himself the head of it and began publishing books, maps and reports at his own expense.