Pacific Crest Trail hikers increase through South Lake Tahoe
The number of Pacific Crest Trail hikers passing through the South Shore is increasing. A section of the well-known hike runs through Lake Tahoe Basin, including the trailhead at Echo Summit west of South Lake Tahoe. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through mountain, forest and desert terrains as it crosses from Mexico to Canada and challenges even experienced hikers.
Pete and Nancy Hussmann, owners of Lake of the Sky Outfitters, counted more than 677 hikers who signed the shop’s trail log in 2015. The business is located on Emerald Bay Road, and hikers are taken there by “trail angels,” volunteers who ferry people back and forth from trailheads. Lake of the Sky Outfitters acts as a stop for hikers coming into town.
The Hussmanns keep track of the hikers with portraits they post on Facebook. Stamp-sized photos of the latest Pacific Crest Trail travelers adorn the wall next to the shop’s changing room.
“It’s just a way to make them feel welcome and have their moment to shine,” Nancy Hussmann said.
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She added that posting photos is a great way for hikers to track their fellow Pacific Crest hikers, judge who’s come before them or see if others they’ve met have passed through town.
The Pacific Crest Trail Association issued 1,042 through-hiking permits in 2013 and 1,468 in 2014. Of those in 2014, 425 people completed the hike, up from 258 in 2013. The increase is thought to be caused by early snowfall.
In 2006, only 300 people attempted the complete hike.
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The Hussmanns opened Lake of the Sky Outfitters in 2009. An avid hiker and gear-lover, Pete said it was his dream.
In addition to its normal retail operations, the shop provides a back room for hikers passing through to cool their heels for a few hours and download photos to a computer.
According to the Hussmanns, approximately 1,400 people attempted the complete Pacific Crest Trail hike last year. This year, he said, it spiked to 1,600 based on trail permit data.
South Tahoe resident Leilani Connolly noticed an uptick in hikers as well. She helps ferry folks back and forth from the trailhead at Echo Summit.
“It’s certainly been a busy season,” she said, with eight hikers ferried just in the last few days.
Connolly and her husband, Mike, serve as “trail angels,” transporting hikers and helping with supplies. A few even provide free lodging for a night.
“It’s been absolutely delightful. The hikers are so polite and grateful that they have people to drive them to and from the trailheads,” Connolly said.
Most hikers she ferried have been young people coming from across the U.S. and other countries, in no small part because of the movie/book “Wild.”
“Wild” was written by Cheryl Strayed and depicted her soul-searching 1,110-mile hike along the trail in 1995 at the age of 26. Strayed’s book was later adapted for a 2014 critically acclaimed film staring Reese Witherspoon.
“It made the trail more known,” Connolly said of the movie. “And it looked like a good idea to do it this year because there wasn’t much snow.”
Two Pacific Crest Trail hikers — “Groucho” and “Harpo” Miau — visited Lake of the Sky Outfitters on Thursday, Sept. 3. On their way to the Mellow Mountain Hostel on Cedar Avenue, they said they haven’t read the book or seen the movie yet.
“Groucho” and “Harpo” began hiking the trail in June from the U.S.-Canada border in Washington. Their trail names pay homage to the Marx brothers, a classic comedy legend.
“We’ve been spending the last few years searching for the ‘true America’ outside of the commercialism and celebrities,” said Groucho. “Traveling the Pacific Crest Trail has allowed us to meet small-town people and visit small businesses.”
Pete Hussmann has a lot of respect for hikers making the journey.
“You have to really love what you’re doing, and there are some people who are changed when they’re done,” he said.
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