Clarice KeatingAt summer’s end, one Portland “Hotshot” will have hiked the entire 2,663 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Of the Catholic Sentinel
An intrepid outdoorsman, Father Pat Donoghue has been tackling the trail, which runs along the mountain crest from Mexico to Canada, in segments since 2006. PCT hikers gave the priest his trail name, Hotshot, when he squelched a ground smolder-turned-blaze in Diamond Peak wilderness north of Crater Lake. Congregants at St. Anthony Church find the nickname’s double meaning apropos for their leader who hikes hundreds of miles during his vacation time.
This month Father Donoghue hikes his second-to-last leg, several hundred miles along the edge of the Mojave desert in California. In August, he completes his final 60-mile stretch in Washington, ending at the Canadian border.
“Then I’ll retire and sit with the remote and the television,” the clergyman quips about the end of his mission. Or, he says, he may look into long-distance cycling trips. He also hopes to walk the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Born in Portland, Father Donoghue and his four brothers were raised hiking wilderness areas of the Pacific Northwest. His family camped on vacations, which was perhaps the only affordable option for a family of eight children, Father Donoghue says.
He started by hiking portions of Oregon’s trail. In 2008, he hiked the first 450 miles from Mexico to Agua Dulce through the desert and mountains that circle San Diego and Los Angeles. In 2009, he completed most of the Washington trail.
Long-distance backpacking trips require considerable pre-planning. Father Donoghue mails supply packages to himself for pickup at small post offices along the trail.
Most hikers supplement these boxes by hitchhiking into towns to stock up on nuts, dried fruit, lentils and other trail grub. Father Donoghue eats a lot of energy bars.
The “carrot at the end of the stick,” that keeps him going 20 miles per day is a hot meal at the end,” usually a packaged freeze-dried meal. That’s an old-fashioned way to eat, though, Father Donoghue says.
Much of the information about the trail and how to hike it can be found online or in books. To keep his pack at 35 pounds, Father Donoghue tears out and rebinds portions of books that relate to trails he will be following.
He carries with him a small OCP missal book, hosts, and sacramental wine in a plastic bottle, so he can celebrate Mass on the trail. A metal sauce holder serves as chalice.
With an official document in hand from the Archdiocese of Portland that states he is a priest in good standing, Father Donoghue is often invited to concelebrate Mass in the tiny towns he passes through. He stands before the small congregations wearing a scruffy beard and hiking boots under his vestments. The Catholics welcome his services, especially in the smallest missions that only have a priest visit once or twice a month. In Sierra City, Calif., population 221, he celebrated Mass on the Assumption of Mary, a holy day of obligation.
Small-town Catholics, like Fran Burgard in Sierra City, sometimes put him up for a night after services, providing a shower, hot meal and a bed to sleep in.
“Whether they know it or not those people are ‘trail angels,’” Father Donoghue said. People who live along the trail will drop off jugs of water or coolers filled with soda at spots where the trail passes over a road. One time Father Donoghue encountered trail angels passing out beer and chocolate chip cookies.
Most of the time, though, is spent alone in God’s creation.
There are occasional setbacks: Father Donoghue woke up one morning to discover mice had chewed off a portion of one of his shoelaces. He reverse laced the boot until a substitute could be found.
He spotted a cougar near the trail, but has never encountered a bear. The most common animals besides mosquitos are people. Father Donoghue passes other hikers on the trail every day, most northbound but some heading southbound.
There are the ‘thru’ hikers who attempt to go the entire distance in one trip, and sectional hikers, like Father Donoghue, who break the adventure into numerous smaller trips.
Earth Day is observed on April 22. Father Donoghue will celebrate in the wilderness. There he will appreciate the beauty and wonder of God’s creation, in a way unaltered by the influcence of humans.