Editor’s Note, March 1, 2015: Justin Lichter and Shawn Forry completed this journey today at noon at the Mexican border. Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) has more information on their website and in this YouTube video. The PCTA disperses permits for the trail on behalf of the government and maintains the trail.
The original story, written during the last leg of their journey, appears below.
By Julie Pendray
IDYLLWILD, Calif. — Two Californians nicknamed “Trauma” and “Pepper” are due to complete the first known winter traverse of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) tomorrow in San Diego county.
Justin Lichter (“Trauma”) — a ski patroller from Truckee — and Shawn Forry (“Pepper”) — an Outward Bound trainer and program director from Midpines — set out Oct. 21 from the Canadian border. They arrived in Mt. Laguna in San Diego county last night and were preparing to leave when interviewed this morning.
The men expect to arrive between noon and 2 p.m. Sunday at the southern terminus in Campo, a small town on the U.S. side of the Mexican border. So far, they say they have completed at least 650 miles on snowshoes, 450 miles on skis and the remainder of the journey on foot.
The PCT meanders through 26 national forests, seven national parks, five state parks and four national monuments. Most “thru-hikers” (people who plan to do the entire trail in one season) leave Campo in April or May and reach the Canadian end (at Manning Provincial Park) at the end of September.
However, Lichter, 34, and Forry, 33, say they wanted a more challenging experience. Both had previously done the PCT. They met on the trail in the state of Washington in 2004.
Lichter has done more than 35,000 miles of distance hiking through Iceland, Africa, the Himalayas and the Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails. He also developed and hiked a route from Durango, Colo., to Las Vegas and, with Forry, developed a precursor to the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand. Forry has done more than 15,000 miles of hiking in 26 states and seven countries.
Lichter said in an interview this week that they’ve been thinking about doing this winter traverse of the PCT for about five years. He said some people have called it “an adventure” but he doesn’t see it that way. An adventure is when you don’t know the outcome, he said. They’ve always believed they’d successfully complete the traverse because of their experience level. They called it a “traverse” because of the use of multiple disciplines of travel,” Lichter said.
Along the PCT, Pepper and Trauma have faced many obstacles, seen wonderful sights, touched many lives and enjoyed their share of ice-cream.
In this video interview, they talked to teacher Christy Rosander‘s charter school students in Tehachapi , Calif. on Feb. 12. They offered details on their coldest nights of the journey, the wildlife they’ve seen, what they ate and how they got their trail names.
By email this week, Forry said they did the trail in the winter because, “With each new trail or route, we try to experience something new that will broaden our skill set or (provide) an opportunity to see a new landscape. Attempting the PCT in the winter would take the collective experiences we’ve gained over the last decade and put them to the test and allow for a rare opportunity to see the trail as few have.”
Forry said they had to prepare for the trip using “a blank sheet,” without any former attempts by anyone else to draw knowledge from.
“We had to figure out what we didn’t know first, before we could begin to find answers and solutions. We were dealing with needing to adapt gear for our purposes, modify resupply logistics due to road closures, etc. Even deciding what direction to head was a gamble as we were at the mercy of the weather,” he said.
Asked how their families and friends have responded to their trip,
Forry said, “At this point my family is accustomed to the adventurous life I live. My father did comment before we started that, ‘There is probably a reason why no one has attempted it before’. Sometimes you just have to find out what that reason was for yourself.”
Lichter said his family was a bit nervous about the idea “but overall I think they are used to us setting off on big trips.”
They’ve seen a lot of animal tracks but didn’t have any dangerous encounters, they said. One of the pleasures of traveling in snow was that the tracks were more apparent, they said.
As for the inherent physical complaints, Forry said, “There are never any easy miles on a long hike. Aches and pains are always relocating to new areas on the body. Both my knees are angry in the mornings. I got an Achilles tendon that could snap at any moment. I’m still nursing a stress fracture in my foot from the ski boots. The list goes on and on. It kind of comes with the territory of a long distance hiker.”
He said he hasn’t needed medical assistance but he’ll likely have a follow-up appointment after the hike to ensure he can continue doing these types of trips.
“I’m at the age now where I can start to feel the recovery process takes longer,” he said.
Were there any life threatening or bad accidents during their journey?
“Any day on skis felt like a life threatening day!” Forry said. “With the thin snow conditions and variable snow it was like skiing through a mine field. Trees and debris were barely covered and the faceted snow was unpredictable.”
Lichter added, “We carried a DeLorme messenger for the entire trip and then also a satellite phone through the High Sierra, the area we felt had the highest avalanche danger,” he said. “That way, each of us had a way to communicate if something happened to the other person or the other person’s backpack.”
One part of their journey was especially poignant.
“We walked by Middle Sister in Oregon only days after fellow long distance hiker Ben ‘Smooth’ Newkirk died of a mountaineering accident while attempting to climb the peak,” Forry recalled by email. “We never had the opportunity to meet Ben, but the morning we snowshoed by, the mountain was awash in morning alpine glow and the blustery winds from the previous days subsided. It was a beautiful moment to grieve the loss of a fellow hiker and it put into perspective how precious our lives are, to cherish each experience.”
There have been plenty of dry stretches on the PCT, during which Lichter and Forry have carried their skis.
They hit snow again on Mt. San Jacinto above Palm Springs as they discussed in this “selfie” video in the mountain village of Idyllwild where they stayed in a motel for a night this week.
“Consequently I enjoy simplicity and purpose, both of which are inherent with long distance hiking,” he writes. “As a kid I grew up car-camping with my family. Long distance backpacking has taught me a lot. Determination, problem solving, helping out your fellow neighbor and protecting what is dear to me (the environment),” he added. “Whether it be where I work, live, or play, the lessons of the trail are my guiding principles and are what carry me through to the next challenge.”
Forry said by email this week, “The wilderness makes you a master of patience. That way whenever you get to where you’re going, the thing you were longing for always means so much more.”
That patience has extended to family and friends who are eagerly following the mens’ journey via Facebook and planning a celebration in Campo.
This morning from Mt. Laguna, via Facebook, Lichter said the end of their winter traverse will be “bittersweet.” Asked whether they’ll be glad it’s over or whether they’ll miss the journey, he said, “A bit of both.”
Earlier this week, he said via email, “It is hard to be away from friends and family for nearly five months. It had also been tough for me to miss the majority of the ski season. There have been a lot of challenging moments. Perseverance pays off.”
Forry said his family will meet him in Campo.
“A long shower and a hot meal will likely be at the top of the list,” he said. “The San Diego Zoo is supposed to be first rate as well.”
Forry’s meal will likely be gluten-free. On his website, he discusses Celiac Disease, an autoimmune intolerance for this protein found in many grains, such as wheat, barley and rye. On the trail, he carries “nutritious, calorically dense gluten-free food,” which he states give him more energy than the splurges of greasy food and “an untold amount of saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol” that he used to dive into during hiking breaks.
PCT hikers are known for fantasizing about what they’ll eat at their next resupply town. What kinds of food did Forry and Lichter think about while hiking?
“Hot cheese has been a theme throughout the trip,” Forry said. “Any sane hiker won’t turn down ice cream either, even in the winter.”
Lichter’s Facebook page is resplendent with photos of eating experiences along the route, with special emphasis on ice cream and chocolate.
Speaking of food, Forry’s trail name “Pepper” came about when he was telling fellow hikers that he is originally from York, Pennsylvania. When people thought he meant New York, he would explain, ‘You know, York, as in Peppermint Patty.’ Eventually, it was shortened to ‘Pepper.’
Lichter (“Trauma”) said his trail name refers to a trauma he suffered on a previous hike.
Lichter is eager to get home for the rest of the ski season, he said. He’ll fly straight back at the end of the trail.
Forry will get back to work with Outward Bound.
“My work schedule is very flexible and of the season of my choosing. It doesn’t hurt that I love what I do for a career which also keeps me outside,” he said.
Among other healthy lifestyle choices, Forry and Lichter enjoy rock climbing, cycling, trail running, soccer, biking, surfing and skiing.
Both men offer richly descriptive and illustrated web sites depicting their adventures. On his site, Lichter states that he grew up in Briarcliff, NY, about an hour north of New York City. “After college I quickly shunned the traditional career path and lived in southern Vermont, Dillon, CO, and Truckee, CA, as I followed snow and my passion for skiing.”
Lichter’s site offers proverbs from some of history’s great leaders.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” — Confucious.
Forry said by email this week, “The first 1,000 miles (of this trip) were definitely a test piece. The constant rain and snow can wear thin on your morale. In those moments I always try to look at things logically. What am I really complaining about? What do I have control over? What do I not? Laughing about the ridiculousness of a situation is usually always a remedy.”
“Strength does not come from physical capacity; it comes from an indomitable will” — Ghandi — (Lichter’s home page).