Interview: Shawnté Salabert, Author of Hiking the PCT: SoCal

The Pacific Crest Trail — it beckons hikers, travelers, and wanderers with an almost mythical pull. Stretching 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through some of the most gorgeous scenery in the Lower 48, completing the PCT is a serious badge of honor — but even just putting your boots on small sections of the trail will have you itching for more and more miles.

Modern Hiker’s senior writer Shawnté Salabert just published her first book, Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail – Southern California on Mountaineers Books. The full-color nearly 400-page guidebook covers the PCT from Mexico north to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, and is part of a four-book series from Mountaineers that covers the entire trail. If you’re aiming of one day thru-hiking the entire route, you couldn’t find a more comprehensive or inspirational book for it — but even better for those of us who can’t always take several months off of earning paychecks and paying bills, the series also breaks the PCT down into digestible section-hiking routes.

We got Shawnté to take a quick break from signing books and designing author’s presentations to talk to us about her incredible achievement:


Did you always want to hike the PCT?

Thoughts of the trail crept into my head some years ago, not just via stories from other hikers, but also because I spent time exploring bits and pieces in the San Gabriels and beyond. I was completely enamored: What is this winding path from the Mexican border to Canada? Could I ever hike it? Should I ever hike it?  

How long did it take you to hike all your miles?

I spent two full years hiking and re-hiking the 942.5 miles (not counting side trips!) that I cover in the book. I had a full-time job for most of that time, so aside from a two-month sabbatical a few summers back, I had to get really creative. But then again, sneaking off for short trips here and there really solidified the idea that this trail is wholly doable for section hikers. Also, the fact that I was constantly on the trail – sometimes even leaving straight from work to drive to a trailhead – truly made it feel like a regular part of my life. We’re best buddies now, the trail and I.

So when we’re talking about “Southern California,” where exactly are we talking about?

Ah – excellent question 🙂 Well, the book covers the distance between the trail’s southern terminus in Campo, California and mile 942.5 at Highway 120 in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park. So – I’m a decade-plus in Los Angeles and I know that when we say “Southern California,” we’re really speaking of a specific place in California that doesn’t include the Sierra. Sadly, my editors weren’t keen on changing the subtitle to “Southern and Part of Central California,” so there you have it. Apologies to my fellow semantics freaks – trust me, I tried!

Is this book primarily for thru-hikers or section hikers? Is there a difference between the two on the trail?

This book is for hikers, first and foremost. Do you want to explore any part of the Pacific Crest Trail’s first 942.5 miles? Then this book is for you. Now, how you explore those miles is a personal choice. Do you have a few months to spare and want to fully immerse yourself in trail life on a long section hike or thru-hike? Have at it! Are you interested in experiencing the trail in shorter chunks as a section hiker? Go for it! Regardless of your mileage and style intentions, the photos, descriptions, and information contained in the book should serve you well.

Shanwté at Forester Pass

A big part of the long-distance hiking experience is trail magic – did you get to experience any?

Ah, trail magic! Yes, I did: water and candy bars and sodas and high fives and beer and ibuprofen, for sure. My favorite trail magic, however, was during a resupply I was attempting in the Sierra. I came over Kearsarge Pass and descended to the Onion Valley trailhead, then stuck out a thumb. I saw a minivan drive up, and a pile of backpackers emerge, headed back up the trail. I approached the driver – Mr. Burns was his trail name, it turns out – and asked if he was headed back down the hill. He not only offered my trail buddies and I a ride into town, he also gave us each a Capri Sun, a frozen Snickers bar, and – miracle of miracles – a cold orange! I was so nutritionally deprived at that point, I nearly cried.

What was the most surprising section for you?

The Piute and Scodie Mountains, between Tehachapi Pass and Walker Pass. I was nervous about this portion of the trail, since it was the only area I hadn’t explored before signing on for this project – I had in my head that it would be dry, boring, and full of ATVs. Instead, it was full of magic: springtime carpets of wildflowers, pinyon-topped ridgelines, views for miles, and even some glorious deep solitude. I look forward to returning and spending more time up there this spring.

If someone just wants to get their boots on the trail near Los Angeles or San Diego, what’s a good introductory section they can day-hike or backpack on?

Near Los Angeles, I think one of the most classic (and most accessible) segments of PCT is the 12 miles between Vincent Gap and Islip Saddle. You climb through an assortment of fragrant conifers to the shoulder of Mt. Baden-Powell, which is well worth the minuscule side trip, then continue along past several other high points and incredible views. Before you read the end, you’ll pass by Little Jimmy Camp, a popular rest stop for weary hikers. 

Near San Diego, I am completely enamored with the Laguna Mountains – in fact, I left L.A. at 6am so I’d have time to hike in them before giving a book presentation at Adventure 16 that evening! The views across Anza-Borrego are stunning. I highly recommend a short side trip to Garnet Peak while you’re down there exploring – it’s breathtaking. 

Shawnté at Foster Point

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone who’s set on thru-hiking the PCT?

No matter how you decide to explore the PCT, enter the experience with an open mind and open heart. The trail is full of magic and wonder, but it can also challenge you in ways you didn’t expect, moreso the longer you’re out there. “Scenery fatigue” can set in once you’ve been walking in chaparral for days on end; try to remember to acknowledge beauty every day, whether that’s admiring the sunset or noticing the way dew drops collect on the inside of a cactus bloom. 

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California by Shawnté Salabert is available at bookstores now. Shawnté is keeping track of appearances and other events at her own web site, and we strongly encourage you to check one of them out!

All photos courtesy of the author.

Tags: , ,