Through a thru-hiker’s eyes

A photographer captures the community he found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

  • Thru-hikers walk atop the Los Angeles Aqueduct as the sun sets. The Pacific Crest Trail parallels the aqueduct for a number of notoriously challenging miles. Because of how hot and exposed this section is, many hikers choose to trek it through the night or early in the morning.

    Danny Miller
  • Aidan, also known by his trail name “Dueces,” tries to get as many miles in as possible before the afternoon heat settles in near mile 515 on the Pacific Crest Trail.

    Danny Miller
  • Aidan, a thru-hiker from Wisconsin, collapses on his pack alongside his bag of food after a long slog out of Cajon Pass in Southern California near mile 364. The day included an elevation change of about 5,000 feet over the course of 20 miles.

    Danny Miller
  • Thru-hikers hitchhike in the back of a truck leading into the town of Agua Dulce near mile 455 on the Pacific Crest Trail. Agua Dulce is home to “Hiker Heaven,” a well-known oasis for thru-hikers seeking resources and relaxation.

    Danny Miller
  • Pascal, a thru-hiker from Luxembourg, floats on his sleeping pad in an RV Park in Acton, California, a popular pit stop for thru-hikers looking to grab a cold drink and wait out the afternoon desert heat.

    Danny Miller
  • Corey, who goes by the trail name “Chill,” takes a dip in an icy lake near Kearsarge Pass in the High Sierra.

    Danny Miller
  • Three hikers stride up the trail following the windy ridgeline of the Goat Rocks Wilderness section of the Pacific Crest Trail. The view of the surrounding Cascade Mountains is masked by smoke from nearby wildfires. In 2017, thru-hikers faced many sections of closed trail in Oregon and Washington due to wildfires.

    Danny Miller
  • Abby, also known by her trail name “Ranger Stabby,” a thru-hiker from Chicago, sets up her sleeping area in the evening sun after hiking out of Ashland, Oregon. She chose to forgo her tent for the night to sleep under the stars — a practice referred to by thru-hikers as “cowboy camping.”

    Danny Miller
  • Thru-hikers make their way up Forester Pass, the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail at 13,153 feet. In 2017, thru-hikers faced challenging conditions due to an unusually high snowpack in the High Sierra.

    Danny Miller
  • Thru-hikers depart down Muir Pass in the early morning light with miles of snowy conditions ahead.

    Danny Miller
  • Thru-hikers huddle for warmth at first sunlight, taking in the view atop Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet of elevation. Although Mt. Whitney is a day-long detour from the Pacific Crest Trail, many thru-hikers take the opportunity to climb the tallest mountain in the Lower 48.

    Danny Miller
  • Mark, also known by the trail name “Baby Lips,” signs a trail register at the Pacific Crest Trail midpoint, near mile 1,325. Trail registers allow hikers to see others’ progress and calculate how far ahead friends are on the PCT.

    Danny Miller
  • Hikers break for lunch during their last few weeks on the trail in Washington.

    Danny Miller
  • For north-bound thru-hikers, the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail concludes 2,650 miles of hiking across three states.

    Danny Miller
  • Laurel, also known by the trail name “Storyteller,” embraces another hiker, overcome with emotion after completing the nearly 5-month journey walking from Mexico to Canada.

    Danny Miller

 

On April 28, 2017, Danny Miller began walking alone in the California desert. Five months later he reached the Canadian border with a gaggle of comrades. He started the Pacific Crest Trail as a physical challenge and to test his limits. But the treasure of the trip, he says, was how quickly he found an incredible group of friends.

Last year, about 3,500 people had permits to hike the popular 2,650-mile thru-hike, which runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, through California, Oregon and Washington. Five years ago, achieving solitude was more possible — only a fraction of today’s hikers attempted the trail annually. But “if you’re looking for solitude” today, Miller says, “you’re not gonna have it all the time.” 

Thru-hikers share the camaraderie of constant, low-grade suffering. PCT-hikers walk an average of 20 miles each day and learn how to normalize pain — the persistence of blisters, feet punching through snow, and sore joints nagged by perpetual movement. 

As Miller, a photographer, trudged across the thousands of miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, he documented what felt most important to him. Like many other thru-hikers, his photos found an audience on Instagram, which helped him anticipate what lay before him. Images from hikers up the trail documented the conditions ahead. Mostly, he took photos to remember the experience, but his images tell a story of the landscapes as the ecosystems changed, the faces of those he shared the trail with — and the moments, both difficult and inspiring, that they experienced together. —Brooke Warren, associate photo editor

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