Matt Is Back On The Trail!


I'm currently attempting a thru hike from Key West to Canada along the Eastern Continental Trail. Along the way I'll be hiking the Florida Trail, parts of the Pinhoti and Benton MacKaye Trails, and of course the Appalachian Trail.

For a summary of what my plans are see 
Matt's 2021 Hiking Plans

Ways to follow my adventure

I post daily -ish updates to my Instagram/Facebook Live Story which you can see by following me at 

I have a YouTube Channel where I'm planning to do periodic video logs at
https://youtube.com/user/matthewhengst

I post irregularly to Instagram and Facebook usually at big milestones or at particularly pretty spots

You can also email me directly at 
matthew.hengst@gmail.com

Matt's 2021 Hiking Plans - Florida Trail / Appalachian Trail / Eastern Continental Trail


Hey all! 

I spent last summer hiking the 2,653+ mile Pacific Crest Trail all the way from Mexico to Canada. It was often difficult, sometimes miserable, and ever since finishing I've found myself really missing the constant feelings of progress and accomplishment.

So what's next?

Pacific Crest Trail 2020 Gear Deep Dive: Electronics


Being a geek I'm very passionate about the electronics that I carry on the trail. I enjoy fiddling with new devices and figuring out how they can make my hike more fun or effective. When I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2020 I had the goal of not using any disposable batteries and this is what I carried.

For an overall picture of my gear see lighterpack.

Washington: Thru Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the Summer of COVID-19

September 2nd to 29th, 2020
505.6 miles, 28 days
Cascade Locks to Canadian Border 

After 119 days on trail I'd reached the state of Washington and now I only had 500 miles to Canada!

After my relatively smooth experience through Oregon now I was now facing a more difficult trail and a smattering of new challenges like: historic wind events, seemingly the entire west coast catching fire, unhealthy levels of smoke lasting for days, and rainstorms. And then throw in a snowstorm at Rainy Pass and a still closed Canadian border just to round out the experience! 

And then 28 days later I was standing victorious at the northern terminus having to contemplate life after the trail.

Oregon: Thru Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the Summer of COVID-19

August 13th to August 31st
456 miles, 19 days
Ashland to Cascade Locks 

Oregon! The land of flat trail, green tunnel hiking, lava flows, and burn areas! And grand mysteries like who left a bunch of crabs laying out on those train tracks near Shelter Cove.

I crossed the California / Oregon border 97 days after leaving Campo and by the latter part of that adventure I was joking about being in full support of the State of Jefferson movement just so the PCT would get into a new state earlier! And then after all of that Oregon took just 19 spectacular days!

Northern California: Thru Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail In The Summer of COVID-19

July 13th to August 10th, 2020
601.7 miles, 29 days
Tahoe to Ashland
[Mileage Log]

I'd sweated my way through the desert, limped through the Sierra on crumbling shoes, and now...I was still in California for another 600 miles. Bloody hell this state is long!  

The Northern California section of the Pacific Crest Trail has a reputation for getting people down and I can understand why. After finishing the Sierra it feels imposing to still have over half the trail and 1,500 miles to go. Also having left the epic views of the Sierra behind and having to deal with the fact that ever town stop involves a big descent followed by a steep climb to get back out causes things to drag. Especially after a large town meal and a few beers.

I also really didn't expect the heat. Suddenly we were back in mid 90s and now there was high humidity to boot.

But there were also spectacular rivers, lush vegetation, and some of my favorite town stops of the entire trail.

Sierra Nevada: Thru Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the Summer of COVID-19

June 20th to July 11th, 2020
388 miles, 22 days
Kennedy Meadows South to South Lake Tahoe

Brace yourself because I'm about to utter high heresy. Are you ready?

The Sierra wasn't my favorite section of the Pacific Crest Trail. In fact it was the least memorable.

I know, I know. Pitchforks down please. Let me explain. 

I've done quite a bit of backpacking and climbing in the Sierra. I have countless remote little corners that I absolutely adore and I can jaw your ear off about all the underappreciated areas and how nothing can compete with the feeling of sitting on top of some remote peak looking out across the high sierra.

Me in my happy place

So why didn't I enjoy this section as much as the usual punching bag sections like SoCal or NorCal? 

First off I'd done most of the Sierra section just last year. In June 2019 I went from Kennedy Meadows to Horseshoe Meadows grabbing multiple peaks along the way and then I did Yosemite Valley to Whitney southbound on the John Muir Trail. in August That meant that I knew what to expect around every corner or on the far side of every climb which ended up taking me out of the moment a bit.

I was committed to the idea of a continuous footpath from Mexico to Canada so I wasn't about to skip anything but I did find myself constantly thinking of what was ahead vs just being in the moment.

Also after enjoying solitude for long sections of SoCal the Sierra was where things started to feel busy. There still weren't near as many thru hikers as the last few years but we did start to see a lot more section hikers jumping on and we hit a massive flood of JMT'ers fleeing the lockdowns.

Southern California Desert: Thru Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the Summer of COVID-19

May 5th to June 19th
702 miles, 46 days
Campo to Kennedy Meadows 
[Mileage Log]

During the summer of 2020 while absolutely nothing was going on in the world I thru hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. Since all I had with me was my phone I wasn't able to do my usual style of blog posts on this site and had to settle for posting pictures on my Instagram / Facebook story quasi daily (which you can still see archived by clicking on the little circles here.

That still left me wanting to better capture the experience especially since this year was so unique. I don't have the temperment for a typical vlog (which would have been a lot of "today my feet hurt and I'm tired") so I decided that I'd do a post for each major section relating some of the highlights of my adventure. This covers the first 700 miles of the trail from Campo up to Kennedy Meadows. Stay tuned for posts about the Sierra, Northern California, Oregon, and of course Washington.

The Southern California section of the Pacific Crest Trail tends to get a lot of flack from hikers due to the high temperatures and lack of water. In fact it seems like so many people are so focused on rushing through it in anticipation of the Sierra they don't properly appreciate all it has to offer.  

While it is labeled as desert the trail runs through a wide variety of terrain. Desert scrub gives way to local mountains, lakes, hot springs, big grassy plains, and so much more. Tired of what you're seeing? Wait a day and it'll probably change. (Well, except for around Tehachapi where if you're anything like me you're going to get really really sick of wind farms!)

Along the way I did encounter heat waves, earthquakes, water borne illness, an achilles injury that almost ended my hike, and the occasional curfew due to civil unrest. But looking back it's the section I look back at the most fondly since it was such an iconic start to the trail.

Planning & Preperation For Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail


Whenever I talk to people about my 2,653+ mile 149 day thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail they almost always comment on how it must have taken a massive amount of planning and want to know how you can do such a big trip and return to a normal life afterwards.

Well I'm here to share how it doesn't take near as much planning as you might think and how I decided normal life is overrated, threw caution to the wind, and had one of the most amazing experiences of my life thus far.

Pandemic Crest Trail: Thru Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the Summer of COVID-19


Hello, my trail name is Masochist and I am one of the dirty rebels who thru hiked the Pacific Crest Trail during the summer of 2020.

In the highly uncertain early days of the shutdown, talk about whether it was responsible or even possible to hike this year reached some slightly excessive levels of vitriol. Now that it's several months down the line and we've all hopefully regained a bit of perspective I feel it's important to relate the thought process leading up to my decision to hike and also document how COVID-19 actually affected life on trail this year. Because I still see people online repeating statements that are just wrong.

I started down in Campo on May 5th when things were past the peak of uncertainty but still very much up in the air. I finished at the Canadian border on September 29 when life still wasn't back to whatever passes for normal these days. Along the way I encountered heat waves, earthquakes, landslides, fires, unhealthy levels of smoke, rain, and finally a bit of snow. And for what it's worth the only disease I personally encountered or even heard of others having on trail was waterborne giardia. 

As far as I'm aware I didn't get anyone sick or contribute to anyone getting sick though that's impossible to know for sure and I would personally feel horrible if I had. I set out taking what felt like an appropriate amount of precaution and despite the early weeks of uncertainty this became the best year I could have asked for to do the trail.

Section Hiking The Condor Trail: Lower Rancho Nuevo to Piedra Blanca

April 22nd to 26th, 2020
48 miles, 7,000'
[Pics] [Caltopo]

I'd now been  backpacking the Condor Trail since April 9th. I'd started at the northern terminus doing 85 miles Section Hiking The Condor Trail: Bottchers Gap to Kirk Creek and then when they closed some of those trails I jumped south for another 58 miles Section Hiking The Condor Trail: Cuesta Pass on the 101 to Adobe TH on the 166.

Now I only had about 5 days left before my Pacific Crest Trail plans were starting. Jen and I had booked an Airbnb for a week starting on April 27th so that I would have a chance to recover before kicking off  what was potentially 5+ months of nonstop hiking on May 5th.

I'd originally eyed continuing the last section and coming out at Manazan but Brian Sarvis had described the trail as involving some significant bushwhacking and as much as I was enjoying the solitude I was really hoping to get in more hiking and less manual tick removal to better prepare for the PCT.

I also debated doing Piedra Blanca to Lake Piru allowing me to see the southern end of the trail but that also reportedly had some  bad sections.

I decided to do the section from Tina / Lower Rancho Nuevo along the 33 down to Piedra Blanca aka the trailhead most people use for Sespe & Willett Hot Springs.


So this time I did the yellow section of the map above and while there was still some significant brush and an ungodly amount of ticks it was another enjoyable section of the Condor Trail.

Section Hiking The Condor Trail: Cuesta Pass on the 101 to Adobe TH on the 166

April 18th to 22nd
Condor Trail
58 miles, 8,800'
[Pics] [Caltopo]

This is the second of three sections I backpacked along the Condor Trail during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. For more information on the trail itself please see the first post Section Hiking The Condor Trail: Bottchers Gap to Kirk Creek. It covers the first 85 miles along the northern end to the point where I was forced to exit at Kirk Creek due to county trail and road closures.

Since then my girlfriend and spent two nights in an Airbnb. This mostly involved sitting in bed researching options on my laptop, taking some very well deserved showers, and resting up my feet while eating everything in sight.

So why did I settle on the the section between the 101 and 166? I'd originally intended to continue the trail south from Vicente Flat but I didn't want to flagrantly violate a trail closure even if the chances of getting caught where I'd be spending most of my time were slim.

Also near the area marked Ragged Point on Google Maps there's a somewhat unfortunate 50 ish mile section of "trail" which involves walking along the beach / PCH. If I had a shot at doing the entire 400 miles then I would have powered through that section but considering I had a hard stop date when I needed to pivot to the PCT I was inclined to spend what time I had along the more wilderness-y section.

Talking to the always informative Brian Sarvis I settled on starting at the 101 near Cuesta Pass and heading south. He said the trail was likely to be in better shape than what I'd been through and he said it was a spectacular section where he'd seen more bears than anywhere else along the trail.

So the morning of April 18th I threw everything back in my pack and I was off for another round of tick infested bushwhacking.

Section Hiking The Condor Trail: Bottchers Gap to Kirk Creek

April 9th to 16th, 2020
Condor Trail
85.5 miles, 15,000'
[Pics] [CalTopo]

Life has been rather interesting the last few months. In February my girlfriend and I gave up our apartment in favor of living out of a conversion van in a local campground. It seemed like the perfect fit for our lifestyle which rarely involves sitting around at home these days and would hopefully allow us extra flexibility when it came to travel.

With all the planning that went into downsizing and the move itself I felt like I'd considered everything. Except, oh I don't know, a worldwide virus pandemic causing mass closures of campgrounds, businesses, ect.


And so here we are in the times of COVID-19. The campgrounds we used are all closed. An issue with our vans solar system left us without reliable power and forced us to throw it in storage and temporarily move into an Airbnb so we could meet our teaching commitments. And then I got sick.

I don't have confirmation what I had thanks to the testing situation but I had all sorts of potential exposure thanks to a public transportation trip a few weeks ago, campground living, and contact with a friend who did test positive for COVID-19. I ended up having a rough few weeks health wise.

Meanwhile the shutdown forced us to end the Wilderness Travel Course early without the snow travel or snow camp outings and then I had to cancel the Spring Advanced Mountaineering Program course completely. And without a home to shelter in per the state orders I started to look at options to get on a long trail as soon as possible.


Amongst the other issues the virus caused shutdowns of local trailheads and so I wanted something relatively obscure that would get me away from any crowds. Starting the Pacific Crest Trail early was an option but that situation has been fluid with more closures potentially on their way and reports from people on the trail of getting doxxed or even death threats from slightly obsessive Facebook keyboard warriors. All of which left me inclined to stay away until my May permit date.

The end result was that I found myself taking a hard look at the Condor Trail.

The Condor Trail is 400-ish mile thru hiking route that runs the length of Los Padres and promises a remote wilderness experience. It first came onto my radar after my Hot Spring Trail trip back in February and had the advantage of going through a lot of areas I've yet to visit.


The dashed black line is the entire trail. I ended up doing three sections and this write up covers the northern red section which I did across 8 days before a local road and trail closure caused me to skip south.

Thru-Hiking The Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail (BBT)

March 4th to 8th, 2020
Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail
73 miles, 11,600' gain
[Pics] [Caltopo]

The Santa Monica Backbone Trail (aka the BBT) is a long distance trail running the length of the Santa Monica Mountains. It has been around in various forms since the 80s but it first hit my awareness in 2016 when I saw a press release announcing that it was now complete. I promptly got excited, looked into it, and was discouraged by the warning that it was a long trail that wasn't intended to be thru hiked because of the lack of backcountry campsites. The recommendation of doing it as a series of dayhikes just didn't have the same appeal considering the drive to get there but they did mention plans to add campsites in the future. So I filed it away in my list of things to do someday.

Fast forward to spring of 2020. I've been trying to get ready for an attempt of the Pacific Crest Trail and looking for PCT-like hikes where I could get some distance in. That caused me to take a more serious look at the BBT and start asking questions of friends in the area.


The backcountry campsites still don't exist and fire damage over the last few years has made the developed off trail camping options even worse with the closure of Circle X Ranch. However after my experiences on the Desert Trail and Hot Spring Trail sections I was ready to be a bit more flexible.



I ended up doing the trail east to west over 5 days and I had a spectacular time. I've done my best to compile everything I used, saw, or looked at and hopefully this can help spur interest and the further development of the trail so that more people get to experience this remarkable trip.

Section Hiking The Hot Spring Trail: Santa Barbara To Ojai

February 5th to 9th, 2020
The Hot Springs Trail National Scenic Trail Proposal
Santa Barbara to Ojai
5 days, 57 miles, 10,300' gain
[Pics] [CalTopo]

After my last big excursion Section Hiking The Desert Trail: Mexican Border to Borrego Springs I was eager to get out again on my next PCT 2020 prep hike.

I'd already looked at and discarded the California Coastal Trail for not really being a trail down here in Southern California and the big trek through urban Mecca had me a bit less excited for the next Desert Trail Section. Fortunately I had another prospect and turned my eyes to the Hot Springs Trail National Scenic Trail Proposal.

Paddling Black Canyon & Visiting Arizona, Boy Scout, Gold Strike, and Sauna Hot Springs

January 19th to 21st, 2020
[Pics] [Caltopo] [Map]

An overnight paddle trip within driving distance of LA / Orange County with access to multiple hot springs? Sounds awesome doesn't it?

Black Canyon is an area just south of Hoover Dam that is known for the hot springs that flow out of the various side canyons.


It's the northern part of a 30 mile designated National Water Trail stretching from Hoover Dam (mile 64) to Eldorado Canyon (mile 39).

Paddling up river from Willow Beach to the hot springs has been a trip I've been wanting to do for years. There's been at least three times I was all set to go only to have to cancel the trip at the last minute due to weather extremes or other issues.

With big changes on the horizon that may limit our access to our kayaks Jen and I decided we really wanted to make doing this trip a priority. And when weekend plans cancelled in mid January we jumped at the chance and headed off for two nights and three days paddling up from Willow Beach.

Section Hiking The Desert Trail: Mexican Border to Borrego Springs

January 12th to 16th, 2020
Desert Trail Section Hike
Bucktrack's Desert Trail Info
Dirtmonger's Desert Trail Info
[Pics] [CalTopo] [Map]

I've been back from Thailand for a little over a week with only a brief three day excursion to backpack Santa Cruz Island with Jen and I'm having a bit of a hard time adjusting to being back. I've been eyeing contract work options but at least so far the options I've found haven't worked with the timing of the next big outdoor event: attempting the Pacific Crest Trail starting on May 5th!

So, priorities being what they are I started to look around for ways to use the time to better prepare for the PCT since I'd spent the last few months diving instead of hiking. I wanted to get out and backpack, it needed to be fairly local, and I didn't want to repeat any of the sections I'd be hiking on the PCT come May.

That led me first to the California Coastal Trail which I put aside due to the fact the southern section is basically just walking down the streets around San Diego and anyone who had thru hiked it ended up having to stealth camp in urban areas. Not ideal for a guy that dresses in neon green.

I also came across a proposal for something called the Hot Springs Trail but I wasn't able to find any sort of a map online and I didn't feel like laying out $50 for another print guidebook that would end up rotting away in my closet.

Then I came across the Desert Trail. A proposal by Russell Pengelly back in the 60s for a desert route stretching from Mexico to Canada that seems to have largely fallen into obscurity these days particularly in the California section. There are two solid sources for information Buck and Dirtmonger who have both hiked the entire trail. Outside of that information is sparse.


The blue line shows the Pacific Crest Trail while the red is the Desert Trail. (To see the entire Desert Trail route from Mexico to Canada see Dirtmongers page here.) So it was in range, went through areas where I'd done peaks but hadn't done any sort of distance backpacking, and the weather was almost ideal. So I had a plan!

A Return To Cold Water Diving At Crescent Bay

January 8th, 2020

I think I've been starting to go into diving withdrawals.


I spent November and December diving my butt off in warm clear water while working on the SDI Divemaster certification. And then once Christmas hit it was a hard stop as I flew back to the states to visit my family. I did get in a quick freshwater drift dive in San Marcos (the best drift dive in Texas!) but come on!

So once I was back from Santa Cruz I pinged Jack seeing if he was up for another two tank morning dive like we'd been doing before I left. He grumbled that he hadn't had to set an alarm since I'd left town and then cheerfully agreed to meet me at Crescent Wednesday morning.


And so just like that we were back!

Backpacking Santa Cruz Island: Prisoners Harbor to Scorpion Harbor

January 3rd to 5th, 2020
El Montanon Peak (1,808')
High Mount Benchmark (1,581')
Day 1: 3.2 miles, 1,250' (+4.3 miles, 750' oops)
Day 2: 11.5 miles, 2,200'
Day 3: 0 miles, 0'
[Pics] [CalTopo] [Map]

After two months spent out in Thailand diving my butt off I'd spent a week in Texas visiting family and now I was back in Southern California.

While plans have changed a bit from the initial plans Jen and I have been working under the assumption I would spend the next few months doing contract work until we start the Pacific Crest Trail. Initially I was going to be available for work on the 1st of January

We'd been eyeing backpacking across Santa Cruz Island ever since we did the Trans-Catalina Trail in 2018 but the timing and weather hadn't ever been right. And then it turned out they were closing the main anchorage Scorpion Harbor in late 2019 due to the construction of a new pier.

But they reopened the harbor for a brief period and we managed to snag campsites right before it closed again on January 5th.