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リズ・トーマスのハイキング・アズ・ア・ウーマン#33 / ワクチン接種後のアメリカハイキング事情(ハイカーへの影響について)

2021.07.07
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The Status of Hiking in the US in 2021

In 2020, the US experienced the highest rates in the world of coronavirus and death by coronavirus. But things improved in 2021. Vaccination rates soared. This made it possible for thru-hikers to hike again. I interviewed hikers and trail organizations to understand the status of hiking in 2021 and how the pandemic has impacted long distance hiking this year.


A 2020 CDT thru-hiker in Colorado by Robert Walker

Who is long distance hiking in 2021?

Most thru-hikers start in the desert in early Spring before it gets too hot. Many hikers were pessimistic they would be vaccinated in time for a March or April start.

However, the US prioritized older adults to be the first to receive vaccinations. As a result, many of the hikers on long trails early in the season were people in their 60s who had already completed vaccinations.


A water cache on Section J of the desert along the PCT includes a large container of hand sanitizer and a note to use the hand sanitizer before filling water jugs

I interviewed Teresa Martinez, CEO of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, who told me, “This year, it’s mostly domestic hikers. There are few, if no, Europeans. Almost all the thru-hikers I’ve encountered have been vaccinated.”

In the past, the CDT has been popular with Germans, particularly after a German-language documentary aired about the trail. But with international travel restrictions and German vaccination rates at 9.6% as of mid-June, it’s impacted this year’s thru-hiker demographics.


Teresa Martinez is executive director of the CDTC. photo courtesy CDTC

Are there more thru-hikers in 2021?

While international tourism related to the CDT has gone down, numbers of thru-hikers are bouncing back. I expected wild growth in 2021 from everyone who was cooped up for the past year deciding to take a big trip. However, numbers seem to be on the same steady increasing trajectory with pre-pandemic times, without a large uptick.


CDT hikers have extra challenges with a high snow year in 2021. photo by Francesca Governali.

This year, the CDTC estimates that there are 350 northbound hikers. These numbers are impressive because in 2021, the CDTC did not run a shuttle bus across the rugged desert to the southern terminus. Reaching the southern terminus is a logistical challenge–one that stymies would-be thru-hikers. Luckily, the shuttle will reopen for southbounders, so they can get back home.


Jeff Kish is Director of the Pacific Northwest Trail Association. photo by Jeff Kish

Similarly, when I asked Jeff Kish, Director of the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, he told me “based on printed maps and app downloads, I think there will be more PNT hikers than last year. But it will be more of a ‘return to normal’ instead of real growth.” Before the pandemic, there were 70 PNT thru-hikers per year. Although most PNT hikers haven’t started yet this year, Jeff estimates there will be fewer than 100. Last year’s pandemic numbers were closer to 40.

More day hikers and locals using long distance trails

During the pandemic, people flocked to the outdoors because it was one of the only safe places to gather with family and friends. With indoor forms of entertainment like movie theaters closed, Colorado public land agencies reported trail use up 30-50% compared to pre-pandemic times.


A 2020 CDT thru-hiker near Alpine Tunnel East photo by Francesca Governali

That interest has translated to the CDT seeing the most use ever from locals. Martinez told me, “I used to not see people [besides thru-hikers] on the CDT during the middle of the week. Now I run into day hikers. That’s different than in past years. Most of them live in town.”

Interest in long trails isn’t just true for hiking. “Our field programs,” which are volunteer trail building and maintenance programs, “are almost all full,” Martinez says. The CDTC is even planning on opening up more volunteer trips for the summer due to the level of interest.

“There’s no COVID-19 on the PCT”

In late April, I interviewed two friends of mine, a PCT hiker and trail angel. We met outside the trail town of Idyllwild, California, about 150 miles from the US-Mexico border. The hiker and trail angel were of retirement age, so had qualified for early vaccination.


Liz meets with a trail angel and PCT hiker in Idyllwild in 2021

Hikers are aware of the low rate of transmission of the virus while outdoors. She told me, “Hikers act like COVID doesn’t exist on the PCT.”

That being said, most PCT hikers had masks and pulled them up over their faces when passing other hikers. They followed precautions like wearing masks indoors when visiting towns–which was required by California state law until June 15th. Similarly, Martinez told me that, CDT “Thru-hikers have been great ambassadors for the trail and are thoughtful, conscious, and respectful in town.”


Many hikers wear neck gaiters as masks while hiking and will cover their mouths while passing other hikers

Long Trail closures

Last year, large sections of trails around national, state, and regional parks were closed for COVID-19.

Now, as of 2021, no section of the CDT is closed due to the pandemic. However, sections of the PNT which cross the coastal Indian Reservations in the most western part of the trail are still closed.

Although COVID closures are no longer an issue, last year’s big wildfire season means that most trails require long road walks or shuttling around burnt forests, especially on the PCT.


Waterton Lakes on the US Canadian border is a favorite finish photo for CDT hikers at the Goat Haunt northern terminus, which is inaccessible due to the border closure

Long trail termini closed

As of the writing of this article, the US-Canadian border is still closed. This has impacted thru-hikers, especially southbounders who start at the Canadian border. While the border is expected to reopen this summer, it has left thru-hikers with some logistical challenges.

The Canadian border patrol has already caught and fined southbound CDT hikers who tried to start at the Goat Haunt northern terminus. Goat Haunt is only accessible through Canada (or by about half a day’s travel on trail).

Luckily, the alternate Chief Mountain northern terminus of the CDT does not require entering Canada, so is currently accessible.


2021 is a big snow year for the CDT. Photo by Francesca Governali.

Chief Mountain is also the eastern terminus of the PNT. However, as recently as April 2021, that terminus was also inaccessible. To access Chief Mountain, hikers had to drive across the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, which was closed for much of the pandemic. Luckily for hikers, the road is open and Chief Mountain trailhead is a viable starting point again.

As for the PCT northern terminus on the US-Canadian border, even before COVID-19, it was never legal for southbounders to hike from Canada into the US. However, Northbound PCT hikers, with the correct visa, used to be able to hike from the US into Canada. But with COVID-19 and the Canadian border closed, NOBO hikers will have to turn around and hike 32 miles back to Hart’s Pass to get back to civilization.


A water cache near Hiker Town on the PCT has seen little traffic in 2020 and 2021

This is Part 1 of a series. The second article will focus on the perspective of trail angels, trail towns and how other long trails have been impacted. While 2021 has some changes to thru-hiking, in many ways, it has been a return to normal.

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Liz Thomas

Liz Thomas

2011年にアパラチアン・トレイルを女性の最速タイムで踏破した記録(当時)を持っていることで知られている。彼女はトリプルクラウンを達成しただけでなく、米国に15以上あるトレイルでのスルーハイクを経験し、今まで15,000マイル以上ものトレイルを歩いてきた。また、彼女はその経験をロング・ディスタンス・ハイキングのコミュ二ティに還元することにも熱心で、American Long Distance Hiking Assosication-West(ALDHA-West)のバイスプレジデンドも務めている。彼女がハイキングを本格的に始める前は、イエ-ル大学の森林環境学部で環境科学の修士課程を修了し、彼女が手がけた、ロング・ディスタンス・ハイキング・トレイルとその保護およびコミュニティに関するリサーチは、名誉あるDoris Duke Conservation Fellowshipの賞を受けた。スポンサーはAltra, Gossamer Gear, Probar, Vermont Darn Tough socks, Mountain Laurel Designs, Sawyer filters, Montbellで、アンバサダーとして活躍している。
http://www.eathomas.com/

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