The PCT is amazing, but sometimes the perfect tread / easy grade can get a little monotonous. Here are some options for getting off the PCT and into some amazing (higher) places. None of these are very long nor add many miles to your hike, but all are quite spectacular and worthwhile if you are confident with navigating off-trail and some class-3 scrambling.
10 minute thru-hike planning guide (for non-planners)
(written for an aspiring northbound thru hiker)
You got your long distance hiking permit from the PCTA. You got your gear. You quit your job. Now what? Here is how to get on the trail and start hiking as painlessly as possible.
Getting to the trail
First get yourself to San Diego. Then search Google Maps transit directions to Campo, CA. This should take you on a trolley to El Cajon ($2.50) then Bus #894 to Campo ($5 cash). The bus driver should drop you off at the turn where Forrest Gate Road intersects. Walk south on this road to intercept the PCT and reach the Mexican border (in about a mile).
Maps / navigation / information / resources
All you need is Halfmile. It is all free. The Halfmile maps (+mobile) and GPS files (+mobile) and app (iphone/android) and databook/resupply notes all work together seamlessly, layering time tested information in whatever forms best suit you.
The fastest way to get what you need is to download the app (itunes store/android store) and the resupply notes (pdf download). I would also highly recommend downloading the mobile maps for at least the first few sections, but in many situations this is not truly necessary. It is also a good thing to have paper maps, but also not essential.
You do not have to purchase/package/send 2650 miles of food to yourself before stepping onto the trail. Figuring it out as you go will work. You will probably want to send yourself boxes in Oregon and Washington, but that’s 1700 miles away! You’ll have some time to think about it… The beginning of the trail has a lot of opportunities to get food. Consult your Halfmile resupply notes to figure out your first stop and get food while you’re in San Diego or El Cajon to get you to that point on the trail. Be realistic with your mileage! The desert is hot and breaks are nice. It’s a loooong way to Canada. Starting slow and listening to your body is the way to make it there.
Alright, you said you have your gear, but do you really? The weather on the PCT is generally pretty pleasant, but you really need to be prepared for when it is not. Don’t be that guy who doesn’t bring any rain gear with them to the desert. A northbound thru-hiker should be prepared for temperatures between 20° and 115° F and the potential of significant precipitation. You may have heard that someone completed a thru hike without a drop of rain falling on them, but if a big storm does come you need to be prepared to face that possibility. Do you have what you need? The PCT is the perfect place to go light and fast, but do not cut corners and add unnecessary risk.