Shawn Forry and Justin Lichter, experienced hikers and outdoorsmen, accomplished something that nobody has ever done before, what some people said amounted to a death sentence. They completed a hike-thru of the Pacific Crest Trail in the dead of winter.
Forry, a wilderness instructor for Outward Bound, and Lichter, who works on a ski patrol, began traversing the 2,650-mile trail southward from Canada on October 21 and reached the Mexico border on Sunday, March 1.
It was raining when the pair started their 4 1/2-month journey and it was raining when they completed it. In between, Forry and Lichter dealt with frostbite, blizzards, tumbles into frozen rivers, strong winds, rain and 1,750 consecutive trail miles without encountering a single other hiker, according to The New York Times and other reports.
"For them to be able to plan a hike that completely goes against that norm and faces all those challenges, rather than structuring their hike to avoid them, makes what they've done unique and exceptionally challenging," Heather Anderson, who holds the self-supported speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail of just 60 days, told Outside.
Each year, between 1,300 and 1,500 hikers attempt a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail—the trek made more popular by last year’s movie "Wild." Almost all of them travel from south to north, and begin in April or May and finish in September to avoid the winter, according to Outside. Just over half of them finish.
The only other attempt at hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the winter ended in tragedy in 1983. A couple traveling south to north got lost in the mountains of Wrightwood, California, slipped on a steep, icy slope, and fell to their deaths off a cliff face.
"People said it [their winter trek] was a death sentence," Forry told The New York Times, adding half-jokingly even he had estimated at the start that they only had about a 17 percent chance of succeeding.
But succeed they did.
At the southern terminus monument near Campo, California, Forry's mother held up a sign that said, "Thank God You Made It!" according to KUOW.
"It's hard to feel like it's the end right now," Forry told Outside. "We had this big celebration and everything. But it feels like it's just another resupply day and we're going to get back out there."
Forry told KUOW it has been one the best trail experiences he's personally had in the last decade, adding, "I think it will be something I continually reflect back on and pull nuggets of wisdom from."
Lichter told KUOW that "you learn a lot about yourself—what you can tolerate and overcome."
"Part of the intention of the trip was to show people that winter tends to be an accessible time of year to get outside and is really beautiful," Lichter added.
Of course, you probably don't want to start with a winter hike-thru of the Pacific Crest Trail. It's definitely expert only, and better negotiated during the summer.
"Justin and Shawn are both extremely experienced long-distance wilderness travelers," Jack Haskel, trail information specialist for the Pacific Crest Trail Association, told KUOW. "They had all the right skills and knowledge. It was very risky. I’m impressed."