Please make me feel better about my partner hiking the West Coast Trail
June 7, 2016 9:52 PM   Subscribe

My partner is hiking the West Coast Trail in two weeks. They are going as part of a for-hire group that provides most of the necessities. But! They have not trained specifically for it, though they have SOME hiking and camping experience, and have the required gear. I am scared shitless that something terrible will happen. Please give me hope? More inside.

I am worried because my partner has not trained for this hike at all, and I worry that they will get seriously injured. It is a 49 mile trail, done over the course of a week, so about 7 miles a day. I believe they are taking the route which gets the harder terrain done first, so the last few days should be easier.

The good things: They are going as part of an organized tour group that provides food, tents, sleeping bags, filtered water (though partner has all of this stuff anyway), and emergency satellite communication if necessary. Partner is responsible for providing their own backpack, clothes, and snacks, and for carrying a portion of the group's food/housing/water load along the way in their pack. Probably 40 lbs of stuff to carry in their pack. Partner has good hiking shoes they have hiked in many times.

The bad: My main concern is that my partner hasn't done anything like this level of exercise EVER. We go on hikes in the Pacific NW every month or so during the not-freezing months, but they are day hikes where we carry maybe 5 lbs in our packs and are usually hiking less than 7 miles a day, with many days of rest after. We have done some "challenging" hikes like Mailbox Peak (if you are familiar with the Seattle area) and lived to tell the tale but they are few and far between. We have also overnight-backpacked ONCE (as in one night) in the last 5 years and did not have any major issues. That said, we haven't done any hikes this year so I don't know where their current endurance level is.

Partner assumes that 7 days will be no big deal since they have done single-day hiking before without an issue, especially since a tour guide will be managing the food and water detail. Is this true? Is this trail super easy for someone without any training?

Healthwise: partner is mid-30s, no major health issues, but doesn't exercise regularly (although they can randomly belt out a 5k run out of nowhere, so maybe they are in better shape than I think). Having never been on the WCT I just don't know how hard it is and whether it's something an out-of-shape-but-not-obese person can randomly decide to do for a week for funsies. I would really love to hear personal experiences about how this trail is challenging but doable, safe, and rewarding. Partner is bummed I am not excited for their trip and I wish I could be, but the fears drown it out. Thanks.
posted by joan_holloway to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's fiiiiiine. My partner did the WCT and he said he went for like an hour hike a few times to prepare but nothing really. He said most of it is a walk, so if your partner can walk for 6-8h a day then it should be fine. The tricky part is the harder terrain which he said is a bit scramble-y but totally doable (as a comparison we did a similar hike in that area with ZERO training and it was fine, just have good ankle support in the boots).

Partner suggests bringing energy shots / gel packs, that helped him when he hit low blood sugar in the begining.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:11 PM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

As long as their boots fit, it may be challenging but they will most likely be fine! It's an amazing trail (really, truly beautiful), and seven miles a day is doable for most reasonably fit people. Maybe they should bring some ibuprofen along to take before bed to minimize aches and pains. On a trip like this I am often sore the first and second evening, but then my body adjusts and I'm fine. Make sure they have appropriate foot gear (really can't overstate the importance of this) and layered clothing. Even if it's hard, your partner is going to be so proud of themselves when they finish!
posted by Otis the Lion at 10:13 PM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm a similar age and once or twice a year I do 2 or 3 day hikes that are pretty strenuous versus my weekend day hikes. The only issue is soreness. He's with a guided group which is going to make things about as safe as they get.
posted by MillMan at 10:13 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ibuprofen and duct tape for blisters. He'll be fine.
posted by jbenben at 10:17 PM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's hard to imagine a safer hiking situation than this. It seems possible your partner will get sore or not enjoy the hike, maybe even have to quit early due to knee pain or blisters or something, but I don't know why you would even be thinking about the possibility of a serious injury or something terrible happening. The tour guides will be watching out for everyone and helping them avoid injury. And in a group like that it will probably be possible to rearrange who's carrying what so someone who's struggling or gets a minor injury can carry less if necessary. Don't waste another second worrying about this.
posted by Redstart at 10:38 PM on June 7, 2016 [21 favorites]

You're totally right that he should have trained for it, if for no other reason than he'd enjoy it a lot more in good condition. But seven miles a day is a leisurely pace, nothing on the WCT compares to the grunt-and-grind of the old Mailbox Peak trail, he's going with a guide, and he'll be fed. I think the worst that's likely to happen to him is soreness and occasional bouts of misery.

Be excited for him! It's a magnificent trail. It will be a wonderful adventure. Don't bum him out with worry, bum him out by reminding him that mid-30s is nearing the end of when a guy can get away with taking such a cavalier approach to a trip like this.

posted by mammoth at 10:44 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Your partner will be fine. An average of 7 miles per day, for someone who does even reasonable amounts of walking, and is relatively young? No problem.

They might be a little sore, but they'll be well-supported and get plenty of rest. And they won't be alone, which will help on the challenging bits.

It looks like a great trip, I hope they have a lovely time.
posted by suelac at 10:45 PM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'd encourage you to get past your worry. If your partner sprains an ankle or something, there will be other folks around to help. Doing this in a group with a guide seems like a very reasonable approach.

I'd also suggest that, even if you are worried, you decide that's unreasonable and bottle it up. Your partner is an adult. Your worry helps nothing and detracts from your partner's enjoyment of the trip.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:02 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

4 of my friends have all done it separately with their 60ish year old moms who have no hiking experience. They all had a hoot. Some of my friends brought SIX bottles of wine with them when they did it.

I live close enough to the WCT trail that probably about a third of the people that I know have done it at some point, and I don't know anyone very athletic. Without having to carry your own food or tents I think it will be especially okay.

Send them with some benadryl in case they run into something they haven't encountered before and turn out to be allergic, and lots of painkillers because walking in the sun is a great recipe for a headache. And maybe some immodium, just because I feel like that situation seems miserable.

But other than extra drug precautions, I think you're safe to relax. Accidents can always happen, but you might be overestimating the ruggedness of the WCT.
posted by euphoria066 at 11:11 PM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Statistically, they're probably much safer than they would be if they were commuting on the highway to a 9-5 job.

I'd want good quality, well-fitted boots, lots of good socks, a good rain layer, a camera, liquid benadryl in case of an allergic reaction, and a backpack that distributes weight down into their hips-- those things will make the hike more fun. But it sounds extremely safe, such that even with inadequate gear, they might be a little sore, but not unsafe.

Sneak a couple of funny little notes and some candy into their pack, and try not to worry! Plan some fun things for YOU to do while they're gone.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:20 PM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

If they're going with support there should be no problem. My sister did it when she was 43. She did not train and she has health issues. She did sort of wreck her knee though. That's the thing to be worried about the most.
posted by My Dad at 11:31 PM on June 7, 2016

7 miles a day is still dayhiking mileage. summer days are so long that the pace can be as leisurely as they want and still have hours and hours to recover. the second and third day will be the hardest, but by day 4 he'll have hiked himself into better condition and barring blisters or an injury the miles will be easier. long hikes are mostly mental, as long as he has good morale he'll have a blast.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:32 PM on June 7, 2016

It's run by professionals. They won't let anything happen to your partner. It's their job to make it easy. You seem incredibly worried about a really quite do-able week of hiking. Distances my five and seven year olds regularly did when we lived in the foothills of Himalaya. Is there more to this than you're acknowledging?
posted by taff at 11:37 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

It is a 49 mile trail, done over the course of a week, so about 7 miles a day.

This is a pretty short distance, even with a fully loaded pack.

Probably 40 lbs of stuff to carry in their pack.

This is a reasonably light pack.

The good things: They are going as part of an organized tour group that provides food, tents, sleeping bags, filtered water (though partner has all of this stuff anyway), and emergency satellite communication if necessary.

So you have trained pros, with pro gear. Your partner won't get lost, and even if they do get injured they'll have someone with training on hand to fix them up and get them out.

Healthwise: partner is mid-30s, no major health issues, but doesn't exercise regularly (although they can randomly belt out a 5k run out of nowhere, so maybe they are in better shape than I think).

Seriously? They are reasonably fit. They will be fine. Nothing you have detailed suggests that they won't be.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:59 PM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I guess I’d just say that if you’ve got literally all day to walk it — presumably dawn to dusk if necessary — 7 miles a day really isn’t that far. At normal walking pace it’s maybe 3 hours. Even over variable terrain with a heavy pack, that gives them masses of time to stop for breathers, have snack breaks, enjoy the scenery and generally take it very gently.

Prepare for the kinds of minor problems that can make a walk less enjoyable. i.e. if they ever have knee problems, take an elasticated knee support just in case. Athletic tape and compeed for blisters. Immodium, painkillers. But seriously, it sounds like they will be fine.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 12:13 AM on June 8, 2016

The worst thing I could think is what My Dad mentioned above with a repetitive strain type injury to a joint. But if they randomly run 5ks it sounds like they aren't that fragile.

If they are with a guided group they will be a-ok.
posted by christiehawk at 12:29 AM on June 8, 2016

7 miles a day with 40 lbs for someone who can manage a 5k surrounded by professionals who chose the trail for their clients and who can call in emergency backup just in case? I'd be more worried about him throwing his back out while lifting the econopack of dogfood into his cart at Costco. Seriously, you are worried about nothing. He will be sore as hell on days two and three but I don't think sore muscles will kill him.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:35 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I worked in outdoor education for about 10 years (i.e. taking sort of out-of-shape teenagers on their first ever overnight backpacking trips in the mountains).

Our average trip was 7 days long, 6 miles a day. The average pack weight was 30-40 lbs. We generally calculated the pace as follows: with a loaded pack, you go about 1-2 miles per hour on the flat (depends on if you're on a trail or bush-whacking). Add an extra hour for every 1,000 feet up you go, and add half an hour for every 1,000 feet down you go. We would aim for a 5 to 10-minute break every hour and a 30 minute break for lunch. So, on an average day, we would hike for 5 to 6 hours with about 2 hours of breaks altogether.

Or, in other words we would leave around 9 am and get into the new camp around 4 pm.

In all that time, I heard a lot of complaining (mostly on the uphill), and dealt with lots of headaches and mild dehydration issues. I fixed a lot of blisters, dealt with a couple of sprained ankles, one sprained wrist, and one spider bite. Once, half of my entire group came down with a bad cold at the same time, so we hung out in one camp for a couple of days and had to call basecamp and change our pick-up spot. My friends, who were instructors on other trips, had to deal with similar issues.

What sort of injuries are you worried about? Did your partner have to sign some terrible acceptance-of-risk form that freaked you out because it listed the million different unlikely ways that your partner could die or maim themselves? Those forms freaked me out the first time I ever saw them.

Here are things the tour leaders can do to help keep your partner and everyone else safe: they can teach people how to pack their packs and how to put on a loaded pack safely. They can adjust the hiking pace as they see fit. They can even call their basecamp with the satellite phone and make adjustments to their route (like getting picked up at a closer trailhead). If somebody gets injured hiking, then the leaders have a satellite phone and they can call for either emergency services or for non-emergency help. They will have protocols in place for what to do if someone gets injured and can't continue the trip. They will have gone over in advance where, if necessary, the best helicopter landing spots are, for example, and where the closest roads and trailheads are. At any rate, in all of my years of working outdoor education, the only helicopter evacuation I heard of was a kid who had diabetes, but didn't tell his instructors about it (because he was afraid it would disqualify him from going) and then fell into a diabetic coma and freaked everyone the hell out.

Which reminds me: if the tour operators ask your partner about their medical history and/or their fitness level, it's important that your partner be honest about it. Your partner won't get kicked off the trip if they say they're not in great shape, but it will help the tour operators manage the group better if they know.
posted by colfax at 2:53 AM on June 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

Partner is bummed I am not excited for their trip and I wish I could be, but the fears drown it out.

Yeah I think you're getting a little catastrophizing here. As everyone else has said, not only is this not a very strenuous hike for reasonably fit people but being in this situation with a support team means there really is no worst case scenario here that merits worry. You care about your partner and want them to be okay, sure, but there is no reasonable reason to believe they won't be. You need to manage your own irrational concerns about this and understand that what your partner is undetaking is basically reasonable, does not require a lot of advanced training (it's walking at a leisurely pace for a few hours each day) AND there is a support network in place on the off chance that something goes wrong. I'm with others, if they have a pair of decent fitting boots and stay hydrated and avoid overheating they will be fine.
posted by jessamyn at 4:57 AM on June 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

I bet you five bucks he gets blisters, but that's about the extent of it. He's got guides, food, a tent to sleep in, water, and company. Sounds like a blast to me.
posted by lydhre at 6:15 AM on June 8, 2016

Your biggest risk is that your partner will be too tired to get out of bed for a week after... seriously, that's one thing he needs to budget for. I've done longer distance things like a 2 day bike tour or a 100 mile bike ride. This is not the sort of thing that puts you into cardiac stress, and the environmental risks, as others have said, are greatly mitigated by experienced support. You get sore during, and you get tired after. That's all.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:14 AM on June 8, 2016

I'm curious what type of serious injury you think is even possible here? It seems like the worst that is even possible here is blisters, soreness, and maybe a twisted ankle? And since your partner is on a guided tour with pros, I'm sure they have a plan for getting people to safety with minor injuries like a sprained ankle (or even just deciding to drop out due to not wanting to continue). It is possible your partner will be sort of miserable if he's not "in shape" enough, but honestly 7 miles a day is really minor for someone who is in reasonable shape.

Bottom line: a 30-year-old with no underlying health issues can push themselves exercise-wise for a week without becoming severely injured. Even if this does end up being a little outside his fitness comfort zone, he's not going to die from walking 7 miles a day. I'm a semi-in-shape person (probably a similar fitness level to your partner, except there is no way I could run a 5K without walking part of it), and I've pulled off some hikes that were way past my skill level/comfort zone. I ended up pretty sore, occasionally got irritable, but mostly it was a fun experience and not one I would trade away! And that's even without professional help to make sure I didn't get dehydrated or push too hard. It will all be ok. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:28 AM on June 8, 2016

Thanks everyone! It sounds like I am overreacting due to lack of knowledge about the trail difficulty and some other external factors. I think the parts I was most worried about are the ones where you aren't just walking - I hear there are numerous long ladders to climb or descend, and the tour guide said to bring bouldering gloves? I just don't know what other terrain to expect.
posted by joan_holloway at 7:36 AM on June 8, 2016

It's only an adventure if success is not guaranteed. We all need adventure.
posted by trbrts at 8:45 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, for blisters, I highly recommend this stuff:*Version*=1&*entries*=0
posted by Brockles at 8:53 AM on June 8, 2016

I've been reading a little about the West Coast trail. Here are some pictures of the ladders, ladders, and more ladders (if you haven't found them already). To my eyes, they look like they are sturdy and at a reasonable angle. They are not in a super-exposed place, so your partner won't be dealing with wind pulling at him like on the top of a mountain. Basically, they look like the sort of thing that might be intimidating at first, but would be okay as long as you went one at a time, went slow and took your time.

From my reading, it sounds like the bouldering gloves are probably recommended because there's a fair bit of scrambling on the West Coast trail: you're hiking in a thick rainforest and so sometimes it helps to grab tree roots, tree trunks, etc, as you're going up or down. And you're probably doing some beach walking and the Northwest beaches can be rocky and slippery. All of which adds up to: it's probably nice to have some gloves that have some grip so you can hold onto a rock as you avoid a tidal pool or scramble up an incline or feel more confident holding onto a ladder rung. I don't think it means that they're going to be doing any technical bouldering with their packs on.
posted by colfax at 1:50 PM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seems like a very safe, well-supported trip. The biggest annoyances are going to be lots of mud and lots of mosquitoes. Be equipped accordingly. Extra socks and lots of bug dope. A headnet takes almost no room in a pack.
posted by JackFlash at 2:47 PM on June 8, 2016

I've done two 5 day hikes with similar difficulty and mileage without training or being particularly in shape and it was fine. Sure, it would have been more fun if I had trained and wasn't quite as tired, but the worst case is blisters and sore muscles. He'll be fine.
posted by asphericalcow at 7:43 PM on June 8, 2016

7 miles/day is less than many waitresses walk as just an average shift.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:25 PM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I hear there are numerous long ladders to climb or descend, and the tour guide said to bring bouldering gloves?

Everyone talks about the ladders. The terrain of the WCT is utterly flat (and gets flatter as you go North), so most of the ladders are for getting in and out of the spots where the rivers have cut into the sandstone terrain. The elevation change is tiny in the scheme of things but close-up, they're pretty impressive. They're way better and safer than they were even when I did the trail twenty-odd years ago.

The worst thing that happens on the trail is usually eating all your best food on the first day or having to hike it with blisters. Even if someone gets hurt, there's Coast Guard and Parks and locals with boats at both ends and in the middle.
posted by klanawa at 12:23 AM on June 12, 2016

Also, bugs aren't bad in areas like this -- nowhere near as bad as the wet alpine areas (blackflies) or, God forbid, the arctic.

7 miles/day is less than many waitresses walk as just an average shift.

What makes the WCT different than other medium-distance hikes is that much of it takes place either in mud filled with roots, which sort of takes the form of deep, muddy potholes, or on boardwalk which can be extremely slick, or on sand/cobblestone beach, which is extremely exhausting when carrying 50 lbs. Most of the reputation for toughness comes from the old days when the trail was undeveloped, but it is not just a "walk in the park." It's still a challenging trip, just not dangerous, per se.
posted by klanawa at 12:30 AM on June 12, 2016

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