Molley and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

By: Ashley Vitiello | Last Updated on December 22, 2023

Molley is an avid outdoor enthusiast who enjoys hiking, van life-ing, surfing, and skiing, and she’s currently training for her first half-marathon! In 2017, Molley thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with her boyfriend (now husband) Matt. She loves spending time outside, but she hadn’t backpacked more than 40-ish miles before taking off on the PCT. In fact, Molley and Matt only had about a month to plan their adventure because it was such a last-minute decision.

Molley’s story is full of adventure, funny stories, and even some scary moments that forced Molley and Matt to reconsider their time in the Sierra Nevadas. Molley has a great perspective about their time spent on the trail and offers up some advice for PCT dreamers and fellow adventurers as well. Read on to learn more about Molley and you’ll see why she’s featured in our Adventurer Series here at Know Nothing Nomads.

If you want to talk to Molley about the PCT, van life, or hiking, add her on Instagram @Guacamolley.

“Do what makes you happy! Don’t worry about what others think of you and don’t waste your time trying to live up to other people’s expectations. We only have this one life so make the most of it!”

Molley

Have you completed an incredible outdoor adventure? Contact us for a chance to get featured in this Adventurer Series! Share your questions and thoughts below in the comments section!

Only 2,647 more miles to go!

Ashley: Start off by telling us about yourself!

Molley: Hi all – my name is Molley. I live in San Diego with my husband, Matt, and our dog, Ky. I work as a public accountant, which means my free time revolves around tax deadlines. I recently just started this job in January after going back to school when we finished our thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. It took me about five years to finish my bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree in accountancy, and take the CPA exam. Life lesson here is that it’s not too late to go back to school after living out your dreams! But I am definitely glad I had a big adventure before continuing my education.

Ashley: What is your favorite thing to do in the outdoors?

Molley: Matt and I are really into traveling in our self-converted sprinter van. Yes, we are “van-lifers” and love the experiences that this lifestyle has brought us! We love taking trips to the mountains in Southern California, or all the way up to the Sierra Nevadas. We have taken our van all the way up the coast through Oregon and Washington and have been to Toronto, Canada twice now to visit family. We are currently making upgrades to the van and putting in work to make it an even more comfortable space.

Currently, I am in the middle of training for a half marathon. I am hoping this is not my first and only race and that I can eventually move into trail races or ultimately, an ultra race.

I am also very passionate about skiing! I am writing this in November and ski season is rapidly approaching. Matt and I were able to make it to Mammoth for the opening weekend of the 23/24 and are looking forward to many more days of skiing this season. We both also surf and of course, hike.

Ashley: In 2017, you hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. In your own words, what is the PCT?

Molley: The PCT is a huge adventure! It is more than just a thru-hike or hiking trail. It is a life experience that will push you to your limits and test your mental and physical strength. The PCT taught me how to make hard decisions and to keep pushing through even when you are tired, cold, and hungry. It taught me to believe in myself and my abilities and affirmed to me that I can do hard things. It taught me how to use my resources wisely and to humbly ask for and accept help from eager strangers.

The PCT also gave me confidence in myself and helped me to let go of the idea that I should care about what others think of me. When you are walking into a town looking dirty, you stop caring about what others think of you. This carried over into my everyday life which has given me so much peace because I am not constantly trying to live up to other people’s expectations.

The PCT also taught me to let go of my personal expectations over things that I cannot control. I could not control Mother Nature and the insane amount of snow or the extreme fire conditions. I had to let go of my expectation that we were hiking straight to Canada with no detours. It was in our best interest and safety to make the decision to skip parts of the trail that were dangerous, even though it seemed like a huge decision at the time…it was still a very hard decision to make.

Even though your feet hurt at the end of the day, you might have blisters or gear issues, and you’re always hungry, you still wake up the next day stoked for the adventure. I believe that the personal gain and of course, the views, far outweigh any cons of hiking.

 

Ashley: What hiking experience did you have prior to this adventure?

Molley: Not much at all! Matt and I had backpacked the Lost Coast Trail (30ish miles total!) and had done a few overnight trips in the Sierras with our dog. Matt had done some more backpacking than me and had a better idea of what gear we needed and what being on trail was like.

Funny story – when Matt and I had first started dating and probably before we had even backpacked together, he told me about the PCT and that it was a trail that takes about five months to hike. I remember him telling me that he would probably never hike it and I think I told him that it sounded crazy!

Ashley: What was your inspiration to do this thru-hike? What was your “why”?

Molley: Another funny story! Matt and I had just moved back into his parents’ house. We were working at a sporting goods store and were trying to figure out what our next steps were and what we wanted to do with our lives. We were sitting at the kitchen table one morning, probably in late March, when Matt’s dad walked downstairs and said “You guys should do the PCT.”

I was hesitant but after a few days, we had already started planning our trip with the help of Matts’s parents. I quit my full-time job and my boss was certain we would not finish the trail. We did all the planning and started our hike in about a months time. Which is crazy to think about because a lot of people spend up to a year or more planning for the PCT. To that point, I highly recommend taking all the time you can to prepare!

Looking back on this, I would say my inspiration was to have a great life experience. I was ready to do something different and push myself. It really was perfect timing that this opportunity presented itself and I knew it was now or never.

Molley and Matt at the top of Mt. Whitney, the highest point on the PCT!

Ashley: Take us back to before your trip in early 2017 – where were you mentally and physically as you prepared to depart on this adventure?

Molley: Physically I was not prepared or in “backpacking shape”. I had gone on one or two real backpacking trips prior to the PCT and had no idea what I was really getting into. However, I would say that getting into “backpacking shape” is not something you need to over-prepare for. You will get in shape once you start hiking your miles and your body adjusts to the routine. By the time we got a week or two in, I felt like my body had already adapted. The hiker hunger also sets in during that time frame and only gets worse!

Mentally I was in more of a “full send” mindset. We made the decision to hike and prepared in such a short time frame that I had not built up any expectations or ideas of what I wanted for this hike. I never felt like I wasn’t ready, and went into the hike with an all-in mindset.

Ashley: What was your highest high of the whole trip?

Molley: The highest high of the whole trip was getting to Kennedy Meadows and all the trail leading up to this point. This is an infamous point on the hike around mile 700 and marks the end of the desert and the beginning of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The reason this was such an awesome point on the hike was because we had created a great daily routine, were in a groove, and hadn’t had any interruptions where we would need to skip a section or come off trail for any amount of time. We also got to hike through Southern California (where we live) and experienced a part of that area that we hadn’t seen before.

Ashley: What was your lowest low?

Molley: The lowest low came soon after entering the Sierra Nevadas. We hiked in 2017 which was a monumental El Nino year. The snowpack was more than usual and we were in the Sierras during peak melt. This meant that we were putting our lives on the line almost every day. Being in the Sierras was more than stepping outside of our comfort zone, it was just plain dangerous.

The way the Sierras go is you usually hike up a mountain pass, descend into a valley, cross a river, then repeat this process. The mountain passes were dangerous because they were packed with snow that you had to traverse up with no real trail, just footholds of previous hikers. The descents were equally dangerous for the same reason. But the biggest danger was the river crossings. The rivers were raging, swollen, and incredibly cold because they sat in valleys where all the snow melt ran down.

Log crossing in the Sierras.

The most dangerous river crossing was White Fork, which wasn’t even listed on the PCT water report. For context, the water report is a resource where hikers can report recent conditions, it is something you usually check before entering the next section of the trail.

We arrived at the crossing in the afternoon and along with some other hikers, determined it was uncrossable that night. We decided to wait until morning in hopes the water levels would drop overnight and before the sun hit the snow the next morning. We woke up early and made a game plan with the other group.

One of the guys from the group felt like he could cross and then help us on the other side. He made it through, then Matt took a shot at it. He also made it across but lost a trekking pole in the process. With the two guys on the other side, they told us not to cross and to hike up to search for a rumored ice bridge. Me and a few others hiked up, found the ice bridge, and crossed there. We all made it across safely but it was the most stressful point of the entire trip. Unfortunately, one of the girls in the group we crossed with died further into the Sierras while crossing a river.

We ended up leaving the Sierras after getting to Mammoth Lakes. It was too dangerous to be in there and made the hike not enjoyable.

Hiking up Glen Pass in the Sierra Nevadas. The trail was really hard to follow (and could potentially be dangerous) in these conditions.

Ashley: You hiked the PCT with your boyfriend, Matt. How do you feel hiking with a partner made your experience different from someone who is by themselves? How did you manage your personal journeys while also enjoying your journey together?

Molley: I think I didn’t have the mindset going into the hike that it was about to be a journey. Looking back on the whole experience, it was a total journey and if I were to do the PCT again, I would prioritize the whole experience from the viewpoint of being on a personal journey. In other words, I would be more intentional about learning more about myself and living in the moment.

Hiking with my then boyfriend, now husband (we got married this year, yay!) was really great! I loved having company and knowing someone else was going through the same things as I was. That their feet also hurt, and that they were also tired, but that we were both seeing the most incredible things throughout our trip. We still find ourselves talking about random things that happened or that we experienced on the PCT. It is nice to have someone else to supplement my memory and fill in any gaps that I have and vice versa.

Most hikers do hike individually. However, some hikers choose to hike in groups called “tramily’s” and that is also an awesome way to experience the hike. There were a few tramily’s that we saw throughout the whole hike and some groups that met on day one and hiked together the entire time. It is all about meeting people that you trust and who will have your safety in mind when you hike. Even if you choose to hike solo, you still get to know the other hikers around you and people are generally always looking out for one another. It sounds so cliche, but it really is a whole community out there.

Molley hiding from bugs on the PCT.

Ashley: What are some tips you have for someone who’s interested in hiking the PCT

Molley: I say go for it! Plan ahead of time and keep your eye on the snow levels. If they are high in the year you want to hike, don’t let it stop you but just be prepared to make the decision to skip north to avoid putting yourself in danger. To that point, my advice would be to not get caught up in expectations such as aiming to hike to Canada uninterrupted. There might be points where you need to skip or flip because of dangerous trail conditions or perhaps fires. Have your own personal goals in mind and put those first when making decisions. Be fluid, enjoy the trail, and hike your own hike!

Ashley: What are some resources to get them started?

Molley: A great resource is the PCT Instagram. They will post about trail conditions, closures, and when permits are available. Matt and I also follow a few hikers who document their thru-hikes and talk about what gear they are using. One of my favorite hikers on YouTube is Jupiter (JupiterHikes). He keeps it real and although he is an “ultra-lite” hiker, he has great gear recommendations and overall thru-hiking tips. I would recommend watching his PCT documentary on YouTube to get an idea of what the trail is like. Another great PCT doc on YouTube is by Dixie (Homemade Wanderlust).

I would say to take in as much information as possible about gear reviews before making purchases. If you’re already planning on going all in and doing the PCT, buy good and light gear. There are many gear reviews and comparisons on YouTube. some that are specific to the PCT. This will help you make decisions on what kind of gear to buy. When we hiked the trail, we started heavy and ended heavy. If I were to do the trail again, I would aim for a lower base weight and carry only what I need. Every ounce matters and being lighter will improve your overall hike.

I would also check the PCT webpage for resources like the water report, fire closures, and snowpack. Look into downloading the GutHooks app. We still use GutHooks for other trails we have done since the PCT. The app will show topo maps, elevation profiles, landmarks, water sources, tent spots, and other hikers can leave information regarding each point. As always, you can connect with other hikers on the PCT subreddit.

Ashley: If you had any advice for any dreamer out there, what would you tell them?

Molley: Do what makes you happy! Don’t worry about what others think of you and don’t waste your time trying to live up to other people’s expectations. We only have this one life so make the most of it!

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About The Author

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to's based on all the stuff she's learned on her journey. If she isn't writing an article, she's probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

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