No one does epic quite like Greg Barber.
The North Vancouver resident went for a 4,270-km hike and returned home four months later.
The 57-year-old adventurer embarked on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail on March 28 in Campo, Calif., on the Mexican border and completed his journey on Aug. 1 in B.C.’s Manning Park.
“It was amazing, so beautiful,” Barber says. “Going through the Sierra Nevadas by myself, it was three or four days without seeing a soul. It’s very isolated and absolutely gorgeous.”
The trail follows the highest portion of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, which rise 100 to 150 miles east of the U.S. Pacific coast.
“It was quite a bit different because it wasn’t so much a climb as it was a true hiking trek,” said Barber. “It was up and down a lot, we did so much vertical.”
The trek was not Barber’s first journey on the road less travelled. The Home of Champions (Trail, B.C.) inductee is one of a select group who has completed the Seven Summits Challenge, which entails climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents.
Of those, Barber climbed the world’s highest, Mt. Everest in Nepal, in May 2017, where he donned a Trail Smoke Eaters cap at its summit for a photo.
He also ascended Mt. Cho Oyu in Tibet, the sixth highest in the world, in addition to mountains in Chamonix, France, and several in the Pacific Northwest.
But the Pacific Crest was a different beast.
The altitude differential varied dramatically, peaking at more than 13,000 feet at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada down to sea level at the Oregon-Washington border.
“We went through the High Sierras in winter time, we hit that in April, which was still full-on winter up there, so a lot of snow and ice and cold,” Barber says. “Nowhere near the technical climbing that some of the other mountains require, but it was a lot longer.”
The route passes through 25 national forests and seven national parks. Its midpoint is near Chester, Calif. near Mt. Lassen, where the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges meet.
The trek is also a journey of climatic extremes from intense rain, wind and snow while travelling in the High Sierras to hiking through desert heat just days later.
“Your feet and your shoes and your socks are wet for over a month, day and night,” said Barber. “Then it freezes at night so you have to smash your shoes against a rock to make them soft and pliable enough to put your feet back in them.
“Then the desert is, of course, very hot and dry, so we had maybe 60 miles between some of the longer water periods.”
Barber intended to complete the journey as a self-supported trek from the trail. He occasionally replenished his supplies by heading off-trail to visit small towns along the way, but more often than not he relied on what the trail provided.
“I crossed that bridge when I got to it, so I would plan one stop ahead per time,” he said. “Usually I’d stop every seven to 10 days, and hit a little town in the morning so I had time to get to the grocery store before it closes, but that’s the only planning I did and, the rest, I sort of just winged it.
“It made it a little more of an adventure.”
The father of two started the trek with three hiking friends but after two months, he went off on his own in an effort to make it back for the birth of his grandchild, who his daughter ushered into this world Aug. 16.
“A lot of it for me is just to see if I can do it. And once I’m out doing it, I love just to be in nature, especially by myself. It’s really fun doing it with friends, and I got to do it two months with friends and two by myself.”
Barber is now retired and planning his next adventure, which may bring him to a more genial hike through northern Spain and the Camino de Santiago, or another ‘epic’ five-month journey in the remote south of New Zealand on the Te Araroa.
He doesn’t expect many to follow in his footsteps but does encourage people to be active, challenge themselves and occasionally take a trail less travelled.
“Just get out there and do anything, even if it’s just a two-hour walk in the woods,” Barber says. “We are blessed living where we do and at the time we do.
“We’ve already won the lottery so just get out and enjoy it.”
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