Hiking off into the ‘sunset’ for 2,660 miles
By Karen McLean
SPEEA publications editor
BELLEVUE, Wash. – After graduating from college, Casey Burt pursued a dream that involved 27 boxes of supplies, six pairs of hiking boots and just over five
months to complete before starting at Boeing
Burt, a SPEEA member and engineer in
Propulsion Systems, hiked the Pacific Crest
Trail (PCT) from Canada to Mexico – a journey of 2,660 miles.
The inspiration for the journey stemmed from
her demanding schedule during college. In
addition to earning a mechanical engineering degree at Gonzaga University in Spokane,
Wash., she belonged to the college rowing
team all four years.
“When things got tough, I’d fantasize about
walking off into the sunset,” she said, joking that her only social time with friends was
either homework or exercise.
After graduation, she scrounged for backpacking equipment in her parents’ garage and
organized boxes of supplies she arranged for
shipping to points along the trail for pick up.
The experience was not about the destination,
she’s quick to say, adding that the trail ends on
the U.S./Mexico border with police guarding
the area. “Not exactly romantic.”
It was all about the journey – which took her
10,000 feet above sea level for about a week – and
swept her off her feet literally (getting put in a helicopter by mistake during a fellow hiker’s medical
evacuation). The photos she took can’t do it justice
in her opinion.
“It was so beautiful, and pictures would fail to
capture it,” said Burt. “You worked so hard to
get there, the camera can’t capture that.”
Even the stories she tells might not seem real. She
recalls signs warning hikers to stay on the trail
in Lassen Volcanic National Park because the
ground (mud) on either side was literally boiling.
She saw three bears and a baby rattlesnake. The
baby snakes, she learned from fellow hikers, are
more dangerous because they don’t know how
to limit their venom. She almost stepped on it.
And if that’s not enough to make you wonder
why someone would want to embark on this
kind of journey, ask her about the infection from
a blister on her ankle. If she hadn’t found a doctor
who volunteered at a bible camp near the trail
(he was only there one day a week – the day she
happened to be there), the infection might have
led to blood poisoning.
She’s quick to point out the ‘magic’ of the trail
– experiencing random acts of kindness from
strangers who, for example, allowed through-hikers to camp on their lawns or borrow their
washing machines. At a brewpub near the trail, a
pint jar has a sign for ‘trail magic’ collecting donations to buy a beer at the pub for a through-hiker.
Although she set out to hike on her own, she
walked with other hikers for nearly the entire trail
(with the exception of one day). “The majority
of hikers were forced to walk by themselves at
one point or another. I just got lucky,” she
said, of meeting other hikers who walked the
same pace as her.
Prior to this journey, the longest hike she completed was 50 miles. She firmly believes no
experience is necessary if someone can take
care of him/herself. A fellow hiker only had
car camping experience prior to hiking with
her for hundreds of miles on the PCT.
After walking the PCT through three states
and coming to the end, you’d think Burt
would be relieved it was done. Instead, she
was overwhelmed. “One mile from the border,
I thought this is my goal – all that serious
planning, when the hills were so steep or the
water was freezing (in her water bottle) – my
heart was beating fast,” she said.
For now, she continues to day hike, and daydreams
about her next long-distance hike. She’s contemplating the trail on the Continental Divide.
When she has one of those days that she could
just picture herself hiking off into the sunset,
she remembers what she learned on the trail
when ‘magic’ happened. “I’m exactly where
I’m supposed to be, exactly when I’m supposed
to be there.”
• Pack base weight – 20. 5 pounds
• Pack weight with food and water -
40 pounds +/-
• Miles per day – 25 to 30
• Days of walking through snow – 20
• Through hikers who complete the
journey – about 14%
Frequently asked questions
• Did you see any bears? “Yes – a total of
• Did you read/see ‘Wild’ (the book/movie
about a young woman who hiked the
PCT)? – “Yes – and my life was a little
less dramatic (chuckles) – fewer drugs.”
• Would you do it again? “Hands down –
it was an amazing experience. I would
encourage anybody and everybody to
Pacific Crest Trail
Casey Burt is shown here at Forester Pass. At 13,200 feet, it is
the highest elevation on the trail. The elevation gain for the entire
trail ( 2,660 miles) is 489,418 feet.
SPEEA member Casey Burt is on the right with MacBeth
and Bags (trail nicknames) on the Pacific Crest Trail at the
end of their journey, Dec. 5, 2015. Burt, a former Boeing
intern, now works in Propulsion Systems. The fence behind
them is on the U.S. border with Mexico.