In April of last year, Nina Bridges set out to solo hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail, 2,600 miles from the Mexican to the Canadian border. Little did she know at the start that she would end up hiking twice that much mileage, because, in a spur-of-the-moment decision, when she had reached the northern terminus, she turned around to do it all over again in the opposite direction. This puts Bridges in elite company — she is now the seventh person to complete a round-trip hike of the PCT, called a yoyo, and only the second woman to do so. Not only that, but she is now the fastest woman to yoyo the mighty trail.
Bridges, 23, is originally from San Francisco, but has lived in Homewood the past two years and is a kids ski instructor at Alpine. She grew up backpacking with her family in the High Sierra and Big Sur, and started backpacking by herself when she worked at Camp Mather in Yosemite during college summers. Before the PCT, her longest trip was in 2021 when she hiked the John Muir Trail, 211 miles from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney. The journey took Bridges a little over three weeks, averaging 15 miles a day. Not only did she hike an extra 40 miles because she didn’t have a permit for the right trailhead, but she also backtracked 5 miles in order to spend more time with a group she got along with really well. Both were telling signs of her prowess at hiking.
Bridges fell in love with being in the wilderness and seeing the topography transform on extended hikes.
“I love spending time outside and seeing the terrain change as you move through it, especially when you are out for multiple days at a time and walking through different climates and elevations,” she said. “I enjoy the physical challenge and mental challenge that comes with it, and the fact that you are self-sufficient as you carry all your stuff in the outdoors.”
She originally planned to hike the PCT after graduating from Syracuse University in 2021, but realized she was not mentally prepared to be on her own for five months on the trail. By the spring of 2022, Bridges was ready. She began her trek on April 15 at the border town of Campo, California. For the first month, she averaged 15 miles per day and went through what she calls the “growing pains” of hiking that many miles on a daily basis.
“You can train and be super fit, but what you can’t train for is being on your feet that long,” Bridges said. “What mainly hurt me at the beginning of the season, after 12 hours on my feet, is that they wouldn’t let me walk on them anymore. The other thing to adjust to is the motion of unrelenting forward momentum, to do something this long and turn around and keep doing it.”
After 550 miles, around Tehachapi, Bridges’ body started becoming accustomed to the relentless hiking and she became more efficient at setting up and breaking down camp. Her daily hiking average jumped to 25 miles. Bridges was also traveling light. She didn’t carry a stove and survived on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, couscous, and lime tortilla chips. She would pack enough food for 30 miles, then hitchhike to a grocery store to resupply. Her lack of food helped earn her the trail name Mooch for mooching food and other supplies off fellow hikers.
On July 29, after hiking an average of 42 miles a day for 12 days in Washington, she reached the PCT’s northern terminus at the Canadian border. Her final day was a 52-mile push. The next morning, a friend she had met on the trail who goes by the trail name Gasket made her a proposition.
“’Should we keep walking? Should we keep hiking the whole PCT again?’” Bridges recalls Gasket saying. “We shook hands on it and started planning our hike south.”
On Aug. 3, the pair turned around and began hiking back toward Mexico.
Bridges decided to undertake this herculean task for several reasons. One was simply because of the challenge.
“In this day and age when everyone has done everything, it’s pretty cool to be one of 10 people to do this,” she said. “And it’s a challenge I didn’t know I could be successful at but had a really good chance.”
Bridges knew this was a prime opportunity for yoyoing the PCT because of the weather. Unlike during previous years, where wildfires or snow had shut down parts of the trail, the conditions were perfect for hiking. The key to the yoyo is to exit the Sierra on the south side by the beginning of October, when snow can start falling. Coincidentally, the first person to yoyo the PCT was Scott Williamson, a Truckee local, who after four failed attempts prevailed in 2004 and 2006.
“When he was successful, he left around Aug. 3, which was the same day I turned around,” she said. “I thought if I can match his pace and reach Forester Pass by Oct. 1, I can do this.”
At 13,153 ft., Forester Pass, on the boundary between Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park, is the highest pass along the PCT and, when heading south, signals the beginning of the end of the Sierra range.
Her final reason for wanting to re-hike 2,600 miles is that she had set aside 150 days to reach the Canadian border. But Bridges did it in a mere 100 days.
“In my mind, I had allotted this amount of time to do something. In my head I always though it would take this long, so I was still mentally able to do this,” she said. “I just kept walking.”
But her journey south was far from easy. Although she hiked it faster than when she was walking north — it took her 84 days to reach the Mexican border since she was, by that time, “a walking machine” — it was lonelier than the other direction. She hiked with Gasket on and off for about 60% of the way south, but since the large majority of PCT hikers are northbound, there were times when she didn’t see another person for multiple days. The days also started getting shorter, contributing to her loneliness.
Bridges also suffered from physical ailments. She contracted Giardia and ammonia breath, which happens when your body starts breaking down muscle to produce energy caused by, in her case, lack of food and overexercising. She also hit the heat wave in Northern California where temperatures reached 110 degrees. At that point, Bridges wanted to quit. Her dad came and picked her up in Burney, California, and took her home to San Francisco to recuperate for five days, where she took antibiotics and ate a ton of food. He convinced her to get back on the trail.
On Oct. 22, 190 days and six hours after Bridges first set out to hike the PCT, she was back at the southern terminus. She averaged 31.5 miles a day on the return voyage. This made her not only the second woman to complete a yoyo of the PCT after Irishwoman Olive McGloin completed the 5,200 mile journey in 2014 in 195 days, but it also made her the fastest woman to do it.
Gasket reached the border about one hour before Bridges, making him the sixth person to yoyo the PCT. However, since neither tracked their time with a technology device, you won’t find their accomplishments in any record books.
But Bridges is okay with that. She is already planning her next big trek — hiking 500 miles of the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail in Colorado at a fast pace of 40 to 45 miles a day this summer.
“What the PCT showed me is that I can do these things day in and day out, moving fast and light, carrying the bare necessities,” she said, noting that anyone can do it. “I am not walking any faster than anyone out on a hike in Tahoe, but instead of walking for a few hours I am walking from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.”