I was surprised to see the spring issue of The Communicator, the quarterly magazine of the Pacific Crest Trail Association, with a long article (including a picture of the main Anza water cache two miles south of me) about how bad water caches were for the trail and for hikers and how the PCTA is hoping to get rid of all of them. (This article is repeated on the PCTA blog here.) Since I’ve had a cache and equestrian rest area on my property abutting the PCT for a couple years, I thought … Hmmm, should I get rid of mine? Even if I don’t get rid of it, should I remove the small ground sign next to the trail, bringing its existence to the attention of hikers. (Technically, it is visible from the trail, but it is about 50 feet off the trail, down a small hill, and, unless you know its there — or are looking for it — you will walk right by.)
One of the main claims of the PCTA was that water caches were ruining the wilderness experience offered to hikers by the trail. As a philosopher who has thought pretty deeply about the concept ‘wilderness’ and the role it has played in shaping the American consciousness, I said to myself: “Well, whether caches are ruining the hikers’ wilderness experience(s) is an empirical question, settleable by empirical means. Why don’t I ask some hikers what impact they see water caches as having on their experience of wilderness and their perceived safety.”
I went to my local RiteAid and bought a spiral notebook and Tupperware container to shield it from the rain, slapped a ‘note’ on the front inviting hikers to respond to these questions, and left it near my water cache just as the nobo thru hiker season got underway. (Admittedly, I am getting a biased sample of hikers. — Those who find water caches to be offensive are unlikely to stop by, and hence are unlikely to see the notebook. But, I thought the sample would at least give me an indication of feelings about water caches among a subset of thru hikers in 2015.) I was overwhelmed by the number of responses. It appears that there is a significant number of hikers who feel pretty strongly that the PCTA was wrong and water caches should stay.
I include below the note I taped to the front of the notebook, as well as the scanned pages of the notebook, which I removed in late May.
Dear PCT thru hiker,
If you are taking your afternoon siesta here and have a couple hours to kill, I’d be interested in reading your thoughts about water caches along the trail. The PCTA recently published an article on their website and in PCT Communicator in which they argued that all water caches should be removed from the trail. They made some good points, so I thought I’d ask you what you prefer. In your mind, do water caches detract from the wilderness experience of the trail? Does their existence tend to make you more or less safe, particularly in areas with little naturally-occurring water like southern California? Does their existence make a PCT thru hike less of a challenge than it could or should be?
I’m not fishing for praise for this particular water cache. It is a year-round cache, primarily for endurance riders who use this section of the PCT for training. (Hence, the horse-related stuff.) The sugary food, sodas and trash can are only put out during the NoBo thru hiker season. At other times of the year, it is just water. The cache and picnic table are on private property and not subject to control either by CA State Parks or by the PCTA. However, if the consensus among hikers is that water caches should go, I would happily remove the ground sign along the trail that led you here.
Thanks for your feedback and have a safe journey!
(Trail Angel) Mary
Pages from the notebook. (Names — both trail and real — have been removed.) All pages are clickable and should enlarge enough for all writing to be legible. The first three pages are the article from The Communicator as reference, so the hikers could respond to the PCTA’s reasoning.