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A Historic Outdoor Achievement for a Bren Alum

Monday, March 9, 2015  
Posted by: Monica Illes on behalf of James Badham

On Sunday, March 1, Bren School alumnus Justin Lichter (MESM 2013) and his partner in adventure, Shawn Forry, became the first to through-hike (and ski and snowshoe) the Pacific Crest Trail in winter.

The partners had covered 2,650 miles in 131 days, starting in British Columbia and finishing near the Mexican border. Only two other people are known to have attempted the feat. The husband-and-wife team began at the southern end of the trail in 1983 but perished in the mountains near Los Angeles.


Justin Lichter (left) and Shawn Forry atop 13,200-foot Forester Pass, the high point of their trip.

Lichter, who works winters as a ski patrolman and gear tester, has written two books on the subject of ultralight long-distance hiking: Trail Tested: A Thru-Hiker’s Guide to Ultralight Hiking and Backpacking and Ultralight Survival Kit, a collection of backpacking tips. Forry is the High Sierra Program Director for Outward Bound California. Together, the two have walked more than 55,000 miles.

They established what would become the 850-mile Te Araroa trail through New Zealand's Southern Alps. They traversed the Himalaya range across Nepal, and they were the first to complete the 850-mile Hayduke Trail in the Grand Canyon.

The feat has caught the attention of the long-distance backpacking community. An article that appeared on Outside magazine's web page the day after the pair completed their journey included the following quote:

“What Shawn and Justin have done is really remarkable,” said Jack Haskel, trail information specialist for the PCTA. It’s not just their willpower that is impressive. The outdoor skill and planning involved in such a feat push Forry and Lichter into the upper echelon of long-distance hikers. “For them to be able to plan a hike that completely goes against that norm and faces all those challenges, rather than structuring their hike to avoid them, makes what they’ve done unique and exceptionally challenging,” said Heather Anderson, who holds the self-supported speed record on the PCT: 60 days.

Read the complete article at outsideonline.com.

Bren School media liaison, James Badham, caught up with Jason several days after he finished the walk. Here's what he had to say.

Bren: How was it to complete the journey?
JL: Getting to the end was amazing. Friends, family, and supporters were at the monument cheering us on. It was an experience that I will always remember.

JB: What keeps you looking for these new adventures?
JL: I love to see new places and experience the natural beauty while being immersed in it and moving through it in a human-powered mode of transportation. I love the challenge of moving through different landscapes in different seasons.

JB: What were one or two of the most powerful memories from the trip?
JL: The final quarter-mile up to the border is a very powerful memory. The other memory that really stands out is after descending from the headwall of Forester Pass, the high point on the PCT and the final pass in the High Sierra. Shawn and I stood there looking back at the pass as it was snowing. It was like a weight was lifted off our shoulders. We took a deep breath and then hooted and hollered for a few seconds, before pressing on. After about 1,900 miles of uncertainty, we knew we were going to complete the trip.

JB: Was there ever a time, aside from when your feet were frost-nipped, that you thought you might not make it?
JL: Yeah; we had really wet conditions the first two months of the trip. It was arduous and not rewarding at all since we never got any of the views that we had worked so hard for. Also, we thought there might be a decent chance of one of us getting injured when we were skiing through the Sierra. The snow conditions were horrible and highly variable. There were many times every day where each one of us easily could have blown out a knee or crashed on a rock.

JB: Do you have “next trips” you want to do, and if so, what in particular?
JL: I don't know what's next yet. That will come with time after I decompress a bit from this adventure.

Justin Lichter puts his ski patrolman skills to the test while skiing down the barely visible trail from Forester Pass.

Justin Lichter puts his ski patrolman skills to the test, negotiating poor snow and rocks while skiing down the barely visible trail from Forester Pass, highest point on the journey. After safely descending from the pass, he says, "We knew we were going to complete the trip."

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