If the idea of packing up to hike hundreds of miles through the woods for three straight weeks sends you straight to the nearest Sportsman's Warehouse store for supplies, then this story might get you moving.
District 9's Scot Hampton completed a once-in-a-lifetime challenge last summer, hiking more than 200 miles through the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in Central California – and he did it all in less than three weeks!
The Cambria County operator currently serves as yardman and has 31 years of service with PennDOT. He says making the trek across the John Muir Trail has been a long-time goal, so when he finally was able to secure the needed wilderness permits, he knew he had to be ready.
"The lottery process for the permits is competitive. If you miss your pick-up deadline, you just miss it," says Scot. "I applied around February/March and finally landed one."
Scot also struck a rare bit of extra fortune with his permit. He won what's known as a "golden ticket" permit that allowed him to hike the entire trail from start to finish. Lottery winners commonly secure permits only to hike a portion of the trail at a time.
The 213.7-mile trail is named for Sierra Club founder, John Muir; the Scottish born American known as the "Father of the National Parks system." It passes through Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks and lies almost entirely at or above 8,000 feet in elevation.
Scot says his inspiration to try hiking came from reading about Emma "Grandma" Gatewood, the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail in the early 1970's. "Her story really lit the fire, and I started learning more through YouTube videos about trail hikes," Scot explained.
The high altitude of the trail required him to prepare for hiking with less oxygen. So, he spent about three months climbing locally at higher elevations to strengthen his body and lungs.
"I hiked a lot of miles with a backpack, spending nights in the woods here at home to get ready," Scot said. "I'd look at the forecast and if it called for rain or hot days, I went out to prepare myself for these conditions."
Hikers typically carry about eight days' worth of food and supplies, making nightly camp at spots of their choosing. This adds another layer of complexity to the adventure. Each person must plan ahead and pre-mail their necessities to towns along the trail. On top of hiking the normal route, Scot either walked or hitchhiked several 20-mile supply pickups throughout his journey.
He packed everything into five-gallon buckets and shipped them to stores and trail heads. "Sometimes, when in a town, I'd try to grab a real meal somewhere, as well. You can get sick of nuts and dried fruits pretty quickly," Scot joked.
"I had an unexpected crisis when I went into one town and discovered my supply package never made it. Eight days of food just got lost in the mail," Scot told us. "Fortunately, I was able to round up enough food for five days and pushed myself to make eight days of travel in only five."
And of course, with any trail in nature, there is a rule of leave no trace. Hikers must bag up ALL waste they create, carry it with them and dispose of it on their next supply stop.
Scot also says hikers are truly on their own, walking according to one's own schedule. There is no contact with friends or family unless you are lucky enough to get cell service during a supply stop.
"I talked to my wife 3 times. Otherwise, a text here or there to say I'm alive was my only communication," he remembers. "There are no EMS stations if you get hurt. My Garmin system had 9-1-1 to get a locator beacon to the nearest police station, if needed."
These grueling circumstances might make someone reconsider his choice to embark on such an excursion, but not Scot. In fact, he is planning a hike for later this year – a 170-mile trek along the Vermont Long Trail, which begins at the Massachusetts border of Vermont, ending at the Canadian border. After retirement in a few years, Scot also plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in California, from Campo, Mexico north to Washington State.
"Many of these areas have never been touched by modern man. The views, the serenity, the wildlife – it's all just spectacular," he describes. "On the last day of my trip I hiked Mt. Whitney, which at 14, 508 feet is the highest elevation on the trail. I started out around 2:00 a.m. with a very bright, very large full moon lighting the way entirely through the darkness." Scot said.
"The sound of silence is amazing. I spent three hours at the summit just taking it all in."
Scot ended his journey in the town of Lone Pine, where he took a shuttle to a small airport in Bishop California, then onto San Francisco to make his way back home to his family.
The biggest piece of advice Scot has for anyone considering a hike – make sure you are in shape! "Hiking at that elevation is really hard. Start training as soon as you can and just go do it."