DANVILLE — Two down, one to go.
Identical twin brothers Garrett and Landen Napier recently completed the second leg of long-distance hiking’s “Triple Crown” by hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail.
They did it in just 100 days. To do that, the 22-year-old West Virginians had to walk the equivalent of a marathon each and every day of the 14-week adventure.
They said it made last year’s hike of the Appalachian Trail seem like a cakewalk.
“The Pacific Crest Trail is 450 miles longer than the Appalachian Trail,” Landen said, “and we did it in 64 fewer days.”
And they did it over terrain wholly unfamiliar to them.
“We’re used to hiking in the Appalachians, because that’s where we’re from,” said Garrett, from Ottawa in Boone County. “The terrain out west is completely different from what we have here in the east.”
The PCT begins in Campo, California, on the U.S.-Mexico border, and follows the spine of the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges all the way to Canada. Garrett said it has “a lot more altitude and a lot fewer trees.”
“We heard a statistic that said the AT was 90 percent trees and 10 percent views and the PCT was 90 percent views and 10 percent trees,” he added. “We thought, ‘No way.’ But it was exactly right.”
The brothers’ trek began May 4 at the trail’s southern terminus. The first part of the hike snaked through the Laguna Mountains, a part of the Sonoran Desert. Landen said the term ‘snaked’ was appropriate.
“We would see four or five rattlesnakes a day,” he explained. “We’d hear them rattle and we’d jump, and hope we were jumping in the right direction.”
Seven hundred miles into the hike, after passing through the Santa Rosa, San Jancinto, San Bernadino, San Gabriel and Tehachapi ranges, they reached the Sierra Nevadas.
“In one section of the Sierras, we didn’t go below 10,000 feet for 300 miles,” Garrett said.
Those miles turned out to be, by far, the hardest of the trip.
“When we entered the Sierras, there was 200 percent more snowpack than usual,” Garrett said. “That forced a lot of hikers to skip around and come back after the snow had melted, but we decided to push on through.”
“We ended up mountaineering for 300 miles. We had to carry ice axes and wear micro-spikes. There wasn’t really any time on the Appalachian Trail we considered scary, but it seemed like every day on the Sierras we were scared at least once. It was a high-stress situation. One wrong step and we were getting flown out of there on a helicopter.”
To avoid “post-holing” through soft snow, the brothers often woke up at 3 or 4 a.m. to cover ground while the snow was still frozen.
“We were able to get in a lot more miles that way,” Garrett said.
The early starts also allowed them to ford streams more safely.
“As the snow melted during the day, the water in the creeks would rise,” Garrett explained. “So we’d hike to a stream, camp there overnight, and ford the stream early in the morning.”
Even so, the twins said they had to endure more than 30 waist-deep crossings through ice-cold water.
“We also ended up helping other hikers to cross,” Landen added “We’re both EMTs. We’ve had swift-water rescue training and we spend a lot of time in the New River Gorge, so we knew what to do.”
In the 300 miles across the Sierras, the Napiers estimated that only 50 miles were dirt or rock. The rest was snow and ice.
“Sometimes the trail would just disappear,” Landen said. “We used a phone app with GPS that showed us exactly where we were, so we could figure out approximately where the trail should be.”
They traveled surprisingly light.
“A lot of times we were mistaken for day hikers because our packs were so small,” Garrett said. “Last year we carried huge backpacks with tents and everything. This year our packs weighed 8 pounds without food and water, 15 to 18 pounds with.”
They didn’t carry tents. Instead, they carried a bug net and a two-man bivouac rain fly. “When the weather was good, we didn’t even use the fly,” Garrett said.
The brothers didn’t purchase much food along the way, either. Instead, they had their parents mail food caches to post offices in 30 towns near the trail. “Our mom went from being a PTA mom to a PCT mom,” Landen cracked.
“We didn’t carry a stove,” Garrett added. “We went stoveless, eating cold stuff or stuff you don’t have to cook. We ended up eating a lot of Pop Tarts, just as we did on the AT. We ate a lot of instant mashed potatoes, too. We’d just open a pack, pour some water in and eat it cold. Hey, it was calories.”
“We started off cold-soaking ramen noodles, too,” said Landen. “We ended up just sprinkling some seasoning on them and crunching them up dry. We were so tired by the end of each day we didn’t want to do anything that required effort.”
The northern part of the trail, through the Klamath and Cascade ranges, turned out to be much easier than the Sierras.
“Except for the mosquitoes,” Garrett said. “After we got into Oregon, we were in a constant battle with mosquitoes. We had to wear head nets to keep them away from our faces.”
Intent on making up time they’d lost crossing the Sierras, the twins zoomed through Oregon and Washington.
“We were doing more than 35 miles a day after we hit the Oregon border,” said Landen. “We had several 40-plus-mile days.”
As they neared the trail’s northern terminus in Manning Park, British Columbia, the Napiers realized they’d have to push hard to make their 100-day goal.
“Our last ‘day,’ we did 86 miles and hiked for 36 hours straight,” Garrett said. “In that time, we took two 30-minute naps. We really wanted to finish on day 100. We’d worked so hard, we couldn’t stand the thought of finishing on day 101.”
The remote, extreme nature of the PCT prompted both of the brothers to reconsider their career paths.
“I wanted to be a flight nurse, and Landen wanted to be travel nurse,” Garrett said. “But after hiking out there, especially in the Sierras where some people had to be rescued, we think that after nursing school we’re going to try to get on with a search-and-rescue team so we can combine our medical knowledge with our passion for hiking.”
Nursing school will have to wait, however, until the twins complete the third leg of the Triple Crown — the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail through the Rocky Mountains.
“Not many people have ever done the Triple Crown in three years,” Garrett said. “They say fewer people have done all three trails in consecutive years than have been in outer space. As far as I can determine, we’ll be the first twins ever to do it.
“We’ll do it a little slower, though — maybe 101 days.”