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Know the West

Through a thru-hiker’s eyes

A photographer captures the community he found on the Pacific Crest Trail.


On April 28, 2017, Danny Miller began walking alone in the California desert. Five months later he reached the Canadian border with a gaggle of comrades. He started the Pacific Crest Trail as a physical challenge and to test his limits. But the treasure of the trip, he says, was how quickly he found an incredible group of friends.

Last year, about 3,500 people had permits to hike the popular 2,650-mile thru-hike, which runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, through California, Oregon and Washington. Five years ago, achieving solitude was more possible — only a fraction of today’s hikers attempted the trail annually. But “if you’re looking for solitude” today, Miller says, “you’re not gonna have it all the time.” 

Thru-hikers share the camaraderie of constant, low-grade suffering. PCT-hikers walk an average of 20 miles each day and learn how to normalize pain — the persistence of blisters, feet punching through snow, and sore joints nagged by perpetual movement. 

As Miller, a photographer, trudged across the thousands of miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, he documented what felt most important to him. Like many other thru-hikers, his photos found an audience on Instagram, which helped him anticipate what lay before him. Images from hikers up the trail documented the conditions ahead. Mostly, he took photos to remember the experience, but his images tell a story of the landscapes as the ecosystems changed, the faces of those he shared the trail with — and the moments, both difficult and inspiring, that they experienced together. —Brooke Warren, associate photo editor