Woman breaks an all-time fastest Pacific Crest Trail record


On August 9, The Seattle Times published a story titled “‘I couldn’t give up:’ Grueling hike for man on a mission,” about vegan hiker Josh Garrett, a 30-year-old fitness coach from Santa Monica, Calif., who broke the speed record for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Josh hiked with sponsorship (and PR help) from Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, and did it to raise awareness about factory farming and show that a vegan diet can be nutritious enough to power a 2,650-mile walk from Mexico to Canada – in 59 days, no less.

The media loved Garrett’s story, and papers across the country proclaimed him the fastest person to ever hike the PCT. And indeed, Garrett broke the record for the fastest supported PCT hike, meaning he had a team that supplied him with food and gear, which lightened his load and reduced his need to stop in towns along the way.

But most papers didn't mention another thru-hiker who reached the Canadian border a day before Garrett. Heather Anderson, 32, arrived in the dark around midnight on Aug. 7, exhausted and alone. And she set two even more impressive records, becoming the fastest woman to hike the PCT (in 60 days), and the fastest self-supported hiker – male or female – breaking a 2011 record by nearly four days. By doing a self-supported expedition, Anderson tacked on an additional 30 miles by walking into towns to pick up her resupplies. She also planned her own logistics, food and gear.

Anderson, who is from Bellingham, Wash., and goes by Anish on the trail, doesn’t seem at all bitter about the attention lavished on Garrett. The girl simply loves to hike. “I don’t have anybody promoting me,” she said. “I don’t go and seek that out.” I recently talked with her about her two months on the PCT.

Anish on the trail. Courtesy Heather Anderson.

High Country News: Welcome back to civilization! What are some of the things you looked forward to most in getting off the trail?

Heather Anderson: Sleep. That and hot coffee and good food. When I was on the trail I ate while I walked. Clif bars and cookies and chips and Ritz crackers and dried fruit were probably 98 percent of my diet, so it was nice to come back to a world where food is cooked.

HCN: What motivated you to try to set a speed record?

HA: I first thru-hiked the PCT in 2005, and it’s one of those funny things you think about while you’re out there. I saw people attempting speed records and wondered how fast I’d be. I like the idea of seeing how far I can push my body. (I had) a lot of fears and weaknesses that I wanted to address, and there had never been a woman that had done a self-supported attempt of this length.

HCN: What was your hiking experience before this?

HA: Growing up in the Midwest, my family didn’t put a huge emphasis on exercise. It wasn’t until I was in college and hiked in the Grand Canyon that I was like, ‘wow, you can go really cool places just by walking.’ It appealed to my sense of adventure. But my first few hikes were very, very hard. I’d never done anything active in my life.

Right after I graduated college (in 2003) I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and that cemented my dedication to long-distance hiking. I (also) thru-hiked the Continental Divide Trail in 2006.

HCN: What really challenging moments did you have on the trail?

HA: There were a lot of times when I questioned what I was doing and whether I was going to make it. I remember lying there at night trying to sleep and my legs and feet were aching and spasming. The only sleep I got in the first ten days was because I was so exhausted I passed out, and then the pain would wake me up again.

HCN: How many miles a day were you hiking?

HA: Between 40 and 50 miles every day. I hiked a lot in the dark. That was one of the challenges that I knew I wanted to overcome. I was scared of mountain lions, and I’ve always been terrified of being out at night. In the past, if it was starting to get dark and I hadn’t found a place to camp, I’d literally be running down the trail almost crying. So on this trip I made myself hike three or four hours each night. I saw four mountain lions.

HCN: Do you have a favorite piece of gear?

HA: My tent; I absolutely love it. I have a ZPacks Hexamid tent — basically cuben fiber and bugnetting. I don’t like bugs and things crawling on me so I sleep in my tent every night, and especially when you’re on this long expedition, there’s something super comforting about that. You crawl in and you’re home.

HCN: Having done several thru-hikes before, what was different this time?

HA: Forming a community with other hikers was something I missed a lot. Also, I’ve always taken at least a day or two off to rest, and there was none of that. It was relentless. And because I was attempting to break the self-supported record that Scott Williamson set, I wanted to do it the way he’d done it: when you get your resupplies in town, you don’t hitchhike. You walk.

HCN: Were you timing yourself?

HA: Yeah, it’s the honor system. I carried a SPOT beacon and used that for independent verification. But when I got to the Canadian border it was almost midnight and there was no one there. I was so tired and emotional and I was trying to figure out how long it had taken me so I could write it (on the trail register) and I counted wrong and wrote 61 days. When I posted on Facebook, five people sent me a message saying I counted wrong. Other people were tracking it more closely than I was.

HCN: So that’s what it was like in the end? Nobody was waiting for you?

HA: My boyfriend and a good friend were on the Canadian side camped about a quarter mile away. There was some miscommunication and I thought they were going to be at the border, so I had no idea where they were. I was like, um, this is kind of a big deal! I wanted people there cheering, but they were sleeping. My friend’s dog heard me and started barking and they got up and we sat and talked a little bit.

The next morning, we got in the car and drove home and it was like it had never happened. It was so surreal. I took a shower and ate the food I wanted to eat and that was it.

Krista Langlois is an editorial intern at High Country News.

Clarification: This story has been changed to reflect that Josh Garrett hiked with sponsorship from Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, not the company itself.

Phil Briggs
Phil Briggs
Aug 26, 2013 09:50 PM
Congratulations on achieving your goal of obtaining the speed record. My only query would be did she actually get to see any of the countryside? 35 miles/day is my record, and about 15 miles in, the only scenery I saw was the rocks under my feet, trying to not trip and fall.
Jana Gibson
Jana Gibson
Aug 28, 2013 05:29 PM
Nice story about Anderson's superb effort, which is only marred by the misinformation she has spread on her Facebook page, and apparently elsewhere, about Garrett's. There was nothing corporate about his sponsorship and there was no team -- he was personally supported by one woman, hired by an individual -- fellow passionate vegan and hiker, John Mackey -- not by Whole Foods. It is a point worth raising, not just for the sake of accuracy, but because Garrett's philosophies are clearly in line with those of Mercy for Animals, for whom he raised money and awareness, not with Whole Foods.
Jason Martin
Jason Martin
Aug 29, 2013 10:45 AM
Your reporter needs to do some fact-checking. Garrett did not have PR help from Whole Foods. (Or any kind of corporate sponsorship.) Mercy for Animals, a small group that sends undercover workers into factory farms and slaughterhouses, for whom Garrett was raising money, handled Garrett's PR and did a fantastic job of it. You can learn more about their work at www.MercyforAnimals.org
Krista Langlois
Krista Langlois Subscriber
Aug 30, 2013 09:42 AM
Hi Jana and Jason: Thanks for your comments and clarifications. I didn't mean in any way to diminish Josh's achievements, but simply to draw attention to Heather's as well. From what I understand from the Mercy for Animals website, Josh had several sponsors that supplied food, gear and other behind-the-scenes support, though just one person who delivered the goods to him on the trail. We still think that "team" is accurate, but please note that we changed his sponsorship from "Whole Foods" to "Whole Foods CEO John Mackey." Thanks for reading.
Thomas Riddering
Thomas Riddering
Sep 09, 2013 09:57 PM
You're right Krista. In the interest of accuracy, we met Josh while playing trail angel and his mother, who we met twice, was following him in her car and resupplying him at every opportunity. Even so, Josh's accomplishment is impressive, but it has to be easier if you don't have to carry a lot of weight.
Jason Martin
Jason Martin
Sep 10, 2013 05:53 PM
First Anderson fantasizes, so the High Country News reports, that Garrett "had a team that supplied him with food and gear." Now somebody here says he was followed by his mother! Too funny. He was actually met on the trail by a woman whom John Mackey hired to bring him vegan food whenever she could, whose trail name is "Ma." Garrett didn't have his mother on the hike with him.
And, Krista, if you claim your reference to Garrett's support "team" is accurate because he had various sponsors, then it seems you should also refer to Anderson's support "team" as she also had sponsors, such as a battery sponsor. (Not really suggesting you should do that as it would be misleading, as remains your description of Garrett's hike.)
 Also your opening paragraph still says that the Whole Foods CEO offered Garrett PR help. Not sure what your source is -- but it's wrong. A little research on Garrett's page makes it clear that Evolotus PR, a tiny husband/wife PR firm that specialize in animal related causes and who know Garrett personally, worked with Mercy for Animals to do the PR. They did such a fantastic job that you might assume that Whole Foods (later miscorrected to read John Mackey) did the PR but an assumption really shouldn't form the basis of a claim in a news report.
Sorry for being skeptical as to your claim that you "didn't mean in any way to diminish Josh's achievement" as you insisted on painting his hike as some sort of corporate Whole Foods venture, aided by a full team, rather than as one young man walking 45 miles a day for 59 days in a row (and achieving the fastest known time on the Pacific Crest Trail) to do his best to get the word out about plant-based diets and raise money for a Mercy for Animals, a grass roots group that documents the horrors of factory farming.
It isn't fun to nitpick like this but when people Google PCT records and see a headline like yours (and an article with misinformation about Garrett's hike) it certainly does diminish Garrett's effort -- it takes something hard won away from him.
Krista Langlois
Krista Langlois Subscriber
Sep 12, 2013 09:26 AM
Again, thank you for taking the time to ensure that information here is accurate. My intent in writing this was only to give Heather Anderson some exposure, as she received less media coverage.

I did not interview Josh myself, but several news stories refer to his support team and/or state that Mackey hired "Ma." Regardless of additional sponsors, Ma is one person and Mackey is another, and together they are a team.

The Seattle Times and other news outlets ran what they referred to as a "prepared statement" from Mackey, which is what I meant by PR help. Another site included a lengthier statement from him, which included the following: "It was an honor to provide the financial and logistical support for (Josh) to accomplish this."

I agree that this kind of nitpicking isn't fun, but I appreciate your attention to detail.
Chris Chase
Chris Chase
Dec 20, 2013 06:49 PM
Yah know, I have no interest in being a member here, but I just had to join to leave a comment. I guess you guys completely missed the point of the article. The goal was to recognize Anish's accomplishment! All anyone can do is argue over, and comment about Garret's hike, and who/what entity supported him. And, screw the financial sponsorship! Having a company supply gear has nothing to do with the absolute assault on the body during an endurance hike. Also, it doesn't matter if a hiker is supported by 1 person, or a MASSIVE team of people. Supported is SUPPORTED! I thru-hiked the AT last year, and I'll tell you right now, being able to drop food, gear, and possibly water weight from one's pack, completely changes the game. There's a reason records exist for supported and unsupported, it's two totally different hikes! So, with that said, Anish, helluva job girl! Also, I have the deepest respect for the fact that you didn't hitch to town! I'm sure most of these nitpickers have absolutely no idea what it's like to hike 30+miles, just to get to a road, only to have to cover another 5-10 miles...and all of this just for a re-supply! Also, it really should be pointed out that you're a member of the Triple Crown Club! I know you completed that a while back, but that alone is something to be proud of!