Tanja found Sisters beautiful. PHOTO BY STU EHR
Tanja found Sisters beautiful. PHOTO BY STU EHR
One of the great annual human migrations is underway. From mid-July to mid-August thru-hikers from roughly 45 countries and nearly every state pass through Sisters in an effort to complete one of the world’s great thru-hikes, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

Stretching 2,650 miles from Campo, California, at the Mexican border to Manning Park, British Columbia, Canada, hikers start out from either border in attempt to complete the hike in a four-to-six-month period before the snows fly. Northbound hikers (NOBOs) start in spring and southbound hikers (SOBOs) begin in summer when the snows of the North Cascades melt enough to reveal the trail. NOBOs started arriving in Sisters last week, and a few SOBOs have also started trickling into Sisters, a slower-than-usual start given the high snow conditions in Washington State. Those arriving from the south have backpacked 2,000 miles, while those heading south have put in a tough 650 miles. Both NOBOs and SOBOs access Sisters from a short “hitch” via Santiam or McKenzie Pass.

A thru-hike is defined as hiking the entire trail end to end, with continuous footsteps. Many cannot afford to take the time to do the trail as a continuous hike. Those that hike the entire PCT over multiple years are known as section hikers.

Thru-hikers unanimously agree that Sisters is a great town to take a “zero” day, a day to resupply, shower, do laundry, and take advantage of many of the great eateries Sisters provides. And eat, they do. While the average person consumes 1,500-2,500 calories a day, the needs of a thru-hiker, who covers 20-30 miles per day, all while carrying 30-40 pounds on their back, require 5,000-7,000 calories per day. Even at that intake, many hikers report a condition known as hiker-hunger, an insatiable appetite to eat anything and everything set before them.

The PCT thru-hikers ambling through town are easy to spot; well-toned and tanned bodies sporting a compact “kit” (backpack) and covered in trail dust make them stand out from any other visitors to town.

Many thru-hikers have also left their identity behind, taking on a trail name bestowed by other hikers, often by a visual quirk or habit they have displayed on trail.

Although Sisters is regarded as a great trail town, one thru-hiker, Ben Ball (Still Smokin’), 32, from Florida, sat at Creekside Campground and wished for one thing Sisters lacked: “The only thing that could have made this stop even better would have been an all-you-can-eat buffet!”

Despite that, other thru-hikers were unconditional in their effusive praise. Elon Ginsberg (Caveman), 55, Israel, a NOBO, remarked, “This is really a great town! The people here are so friendly. A couple I met bought me lunch and even invited me to their home for dinner.”

Caveman went on to remark at the natural beauty of the state and said it has been the highlight of his thru-hike so far.

NOBOs Maggie Wise (Shazam), from Ohio, and her hiking partner, Mark Hassett (Jabberwocky), New York, both taking time off from their post-grad work, commented on their favorite stops while in town: “Sisters Bakery was fantastic! The people at Hike-N-Peaks were very helpful and allowed us to store our gear there while we explored the town.”

Steffan (Crazy Diamond) 50, from Germany had high marks for our coffee: “I enjoyed sitting outside, having breakfast, drinking excellent coffee, and meeting the many friendly people who were curious about my journey. The beer, the IPAs, are so delicious! I want to take the coffee and beer with me back to Germany.”

René (Wrong Way), 37, from France, said, “Although the views are amazing it is really the people you meet, on trail and in the towns, that make the PCT the most best thing I’ve ever done.”

Tanja, a 19-year-old SOBO hiker from Switzerland, was wide-eyed and enthusiastic about her short stay in Sisters.

“This Western town is so beautiful and the people I meet, all of them, have been so helpful giving me rides from the trailhead and to the stores,” she said. “I would like to come back and spend time here.”

In a small way, Sisters has drawn the world to their doorstep. If you spot a thru-hiker, a SOBO or NOBO, and have a chance to chat, most are happy to engage and tell the stories of their hike, what drew them to the trail from faraway homes, and how the PCT, and trail towns like Sisters, have changed how they view the world.