My hiking friends are going to read this and say… Yeah… this is a no-brainer! But, there are millions of non-hikers who know nothing of the Pacific Crest Trail and the hiking world. This includes the news media.
Did Stacey Kozel thru-hike Pacific Crest Trail? Read the following facts about the Pacific Crest Trail, and you tell me if a woman (who is a paraplegic that walks with braces which won’t let her bend her knees and walks at ONE MPH) MOUNTAINEER’d the PCT this year. She claims to have hiked every inch of the trail, alone and unseen. Kind of like a Ninja! Did she do it?
Let me start at the beginning. A few weeks ago, a story of a 41 year old woman, who suffers from Lupus that left her mostly paralyzed and unable to walk on her own, started to populate my social media news feeds. The story says she completely thru-hiked the 2100 miles of the Appalachian trail in 2016 and just completed all of the 2650 miles of the Pacific Crest trail this year. Wait, What? Dang! I felt like a total lard ass! I didn’t hike as I did last year because of lingering snow, then it was too hot and yeah I had my excuses.. The story of this woman gave me a little motivation and the kick in the butt I needed. And, that was a good thing. So, if anything good came out of this story, this was it. I didn’t remember her name and I didn’t dig any further about her story. I just assumed she had a posse of people helping her. I thought if a paralyzed lady got out and thru-hiked the PCT in this CRAZY year of snow and fire, there was hope for me, a completely fit, able-bodied person!
Then, all of a sudden a very well known trail angel who runs a well-known rest and re-supply stop for PCT hikers in Agua Dulce posted the following on the PCT class of 2017 Facebook group: “Did anyone in the Class of 2017 see Stacey Kozel on the trail this year? Just wondering. No one we hosted mentioned a word about her.” I thought.. OH NO! Not another lost hiker! (there were a few this year) But, this wasn’t the case. Stacey Kozel was the physically challenged hiker that I read about a few weeks earlier. Then, I started reading the responses to the inquiry.. NO ONE saw or heard of her on the PCT this year. Not ONE hiker! This FB group has over 10,000 members and a good chunk of these people are hikers who are on-trail either through, section or day hikers sharing info about trail conditions, asking for rides, looking for lost hikers, and need info on re-supply etc. So, it’s a VERY busy page indeed. As soon as the PCT hiker community started to question Kozel about her hike, she immediately took down all of her social media pages. hmmmm…….
So, this led me to sleuth even more because, I found this all very interesting! This lady got major network news-time, is doing public speaking, and who knows what other money-making opportunities were coming her way because of all the press she was getting.
I’m going to give you her claims, then I’ll give you some simple math, what I know about the trail through my own experience and others that I personally know who thru-hiked the PCT and then you can then come to your own conclusions. Did she or didn’t she.
Here is what SHE says:
She claims to have hiked the entire 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada in 2017
She started at the southern terminus (Campo) on March 28
She claims to have gone through all of the Sierra, over high mountain passes and forded all of the water crossings. She claims to have scaled Forester pass (the highest on the PCT at over 13K feet) but didn’t take a photo because she “didn’t have time”
She claims to have hiked solo the entire time
She claims to have hiked 1 mph and did 30 miles a day
She claims to NOT have signed any of the trail registries because she didn’t want any of the other hikers to follow her, and wanted to be anonymous.
She claims to have finished the entire 2650 miles either the end of August or in September – she can’t remember.
Here are my thoughts:
First of all, let’s talk about the prosthetics she was wearing to help her walk. On the AT she used the Ottobock C Brace. This is a high-tech prosthetic that is computer controlled and battery operated.
Did she wear this apparatus on the PCT? No.. in her own words in a podcast from this past April (which has recently been deleted from the web), she used an old type of brace called a KAFO. These are non-computerized braces where she has to walk stiff-legged. She cannot bend her knees. She explains in detail on this podcast how she moves in these braces.
So, did she walk the entire 2650 miles in the 5 months she claims? After seeing her walk in this video, it’s my assumption she could keep up with a 1 mph gait on a level flat surface. The PCT is FAR from being a level flat surface. The PCT is filled with long climbing grades with a several thousand feet elevation gains, loose shale, fields of slippery granite and big step ups and step downs. This year there was so much snow the trail disappeared for hundreds of miles. There were more downed trees on the trail than one could count. Hikers had to scramble over or under these trees. Some are huge! Navigation was required as well as micro spikes and ice axes even in the high mountain passes in what is called “the desert” portion of the PCT. During the “drought years” with minimal snowfall it took an able-bodied PCT hiker 5-6 months to complete the entire 2650 miles with town stops, re-supplies and working up to hiking 20-30 miles a day. In my opinion it would be hugely difficult and/or impossible for a person who can’t bend their knees to traverse this at the same pace as an able bodied person. I went on a trail magic hike on the PCT at mile 1160 on July 14 wearing micro spikes and I slipped and fell twice! It was slow going! Vid here.
Then there were the water crossings in the Sierra. She claims to have hiked up or down streams to find good crossings. This is something all hikers who traversed the Sierra had to do many times and made it well-known on social media. Once you get off the trail to hike up or down a stream you are in a “bushwhacking” situation where you are hiking through thick brush, scrambling over boulders, climbing over downed trees, and this year, plowing your way through snow! This would slow her hiking down to a literal crawl to ford the raging streams. And she did this alone? It was a team effort for most hikers to get over these raging torrents.
Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE takes a photo of themselves after scaling the mountain passes in the Sierra, especially Forester Pass which is the highest pass on the PCT at 13,200 feet with a sign at the top for your photo op! She claims that she “didn’t have time to take a pic.” Here is a vid on what it was like to hike to the top of this pass this summer and you tell me who in their right mind wouldn’t stop and take a selfie after tackling that mountain, especially if you were wearing leg braces! GEEZE!
Then there were the non-photos of her at Muir pass where there is a cool stone hut at the top, and many many more huge milestones along the Sierra where she didn’t seem to have any photos. Yeah… so there’s that? The only photos found of her are very near a road access or in a town.
30 MILE DAYS
Let’s do some math here. I know.. I hate math too, but this is simple even for me. One mph at 30 miles = 30 hours. So that means she NEVER stopped. Even Forest Gump said he stopped when he was tired and ate when he was hungry! OK.. but seriously… Say she actually walked 12 hours a day, which is about the average for a PCT hiker who walks between 2-3 mph. Some studs and studdettes walk even faster. She would have walked an average of 12 miles per day. It would take her over 7 months to complete the trail and that’s beyond the hiking season. This year it would have taken her longer because of the tremendous snow pack for hundreds of miles. Hikers were going at a slower pace this year just trying to find the trail using their maps, and having to wear crampons on their shoes and boots for these long stretches of slippery and steep slopes. The normal PCT hiker shoots for Oct 1 to be their end date, or close to it if not sooner. The Cascades in Washington start to get very wet and snowy in October. Hiking at 1 mph on flat level ground and probably a fraction of that in the snow, Stacey would still be hiking at Christmas trying to reach Canada! For her to say she made it there the end of August or 1st part of Sept (she can’t decide) at her speed is simply not doable. AT ALL! Unless…..wait for it…… she skipped and drove… A LOT!
FIRE CLOSURES AND SKIPS
Because the high water flows and deaths in the high sierra this year, many hikers decided to skip up to South Lake Tahoe and further North to possibly come back and finish the Sierra later in the summer when things calm down. Some of the thru-hikers I followed online this summer did the entire trail (not skipping the Sierra) and reached the Northern Terminus the first couple of weeks of September and some are almost there as of this writing. (Some are in the Sierra right now finishing up and some decided not to go back after they reached Canada. However, most all hikers were detoured because of the many fire closures in Oregon and Washington. Some skipped by getting rides around, some road walked. There may have been a few that got through on the actual PCT before the fire closures, but I don’t think many. I think those folks were the faster hikers.. those studs and studdettes I mentioned earlier. There is a small video clip of Kozel with Crater Lake (in Oregon) in the background that the news was showing, but anyone can drive there. It’s not a remote location that one can only hike to.
Many hikers “hike solo” meaning they started out by themselves. They didn’t plan on hiking with a partner. However, there are many people on the trail going the same direction. In the months of April and May, the desert has the majority of hikers on the PCT. This is the beginning of the trail for the north-bounders. As hikers start on different dates in Campo, the faster hikers will soon start to catch up to the slower hikers and “bubbles” start to form. Hikers are never really solo. In the desert portion the herd of hikers is pretty thick. A hiker with such an extreme physical challenge would very easily be noticed. Also, word travels fast on the trail. If there was a solo woman hiker that was paralyzed from the waist down and couldn’t bend her knees when she walked, pretty much everyone in that section would have heard about it, including the trail angels. Even if she hiked at night she would have been noticed. Many hikers hike at night in the desert to escape the heat.
After the desert section, the herd started to spread out this year because of the situation in the Sierra. However, hikers still met up in towns, re-supplies, etc. A hiker can find themselves alone for stretches, but you are pretty much guaranteed to run into other thru and section hikers many times during a 2650 mile journey-even camping with them.
There are hikers who say they hiked with so-in-so in the desert then got separated and didn’t see that person again. Then by surprise, they meet them again hundreds of miles up the trail.
Did she hike solo and was never seen by anyone if she was really on the trail the entire 2650 miles?
Although it’s not a requirement, it’s a right of passage to sign the trail registers throughout the trail. It’s fun to see if someone you hiked with had signed the register and visa versa. It can be a safety thing if you get lost. People can see where you last checked in. People use trail names and not their real names. She claims she didn’t want to be found or followed by other hikers. If you are hiking the PCT, hundreds of people are right behind you or ahead of you going the other direction. The PCT is a very social trail. So, she wanted to remain anonymous. However, she seemed to end up on the news and get her photo taken by media in very strategic spots and found time to do podcasts interviews. Why didn’t she at least sign the LAST trail register? The big finish! What you hike 2650 miles for!
Unless she had someone at every trail head where she would get off trail for a re-supply, she would have had to hitchhike. That’s the norm on the PCT. There are just a few re-supply points within walking distance of the PCT. Some are miles away. Anyone give Stacey a ride? I think you’d remember the girl with leg braces with an incredible story!
One of the big re-supply spots is Kennedy Meadows South. This is the spot where hikers collect their gear to get through the Sierra. They are required to carry bear canisters and in most cases, micro spikes or crampons and ice axes. (this year especially) It’s also an exciting spot for hikers because their journey in the desert is over! This is another spot everyone get’s their photo taken! A huge milestone. Mile 700. Did anyone see her at Kennedy Meadows? No, really? Did anyone see her there?
So, did she?
In her podcast she claimed to have started March 30th. The same time as many many others. She also claimed to end either end of August or first week of Sept. I think she finally settled for Sept 3rd. She also claimed to leave the trail twice during her hike to fly back east for speaking engagements which would put her behind even further. At 1mph and probably less than that most times, well…it’s the math that doesn’t add up for me.
Why does it matter? Why did I exert energy to write this? Who cares? I’m human. I have curiosity. I had a free afternoon. I love a good mystery. I also have a huge respect for the folks who have hiked every inch of the PCT and other long distance trails. It takes stamina both mentally and physically. Check out this mini-documentary of three women who did 75 miles on horseback this year and ran into all sorts of obstacles. These are friends of mine and I’m going to hike behind them on their next leg of the PCT next August. Yikes.. I have to get my butt in gear!
So here are questions. Why did Stacey take down all of her social media channels, her website, etc.? If she really did do this hike, why isn’t she defending herself with her many photos and GoPro footage of her trek. She mentions she had her gopro in the podcast. Why don’t any of the trail angels or other hikers remember her? Not one person has come forward to say they hiked with her, camped with her, saw her, fed her or gave her a ride! NOT ONE person in the 2650 miles of the famous Pacific Crest Trail!
So, did she?
Editor’s note. There may be typos in this extremely long post. After trying to edit for the 5th time, my eyebals started to bleed… so sorry bout that!
This post is just my opinion and not to be considered FACT.
Watch this video of getting through the Sierra this summer!
Here is another example on how it takes a team of people to ford a fast moving river along the PCT in the Sierra this summer.