College duo become youngest hikers to complete a calendar year Triple Crown

Backpacking in Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia
Two 21 year-old college students have become the youngest hikers ever to complete a calendar year Triple Crown of hiking, (Image credit: Getty)

Two 21-year-old college students have become the youngest hikers ever to complete a calendar year Triple Crown of hiking, meaning they hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail in a single calendar year. 

Jackson Parell and Sammy Potter completed their 7,940-mile journey on October 22, less than 11 months after setting off. As we reported in December 2020, the duo took the year off from their studies at Stanford University to pursue the mammoth hiking goal which has only been achieved by nine others so far.  

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At the time, Parell told the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper in his home state that while the pair had been training and prepping for their adventure, they were well aware that things might not go to plan:

“We are going into this Triple Crown attempt with a sense of humility knowing that anything can go wrong and a large part of our journey is subject to weather, which is something we cannot control,” he said. “There is a chance that one of us could get severely injured and have to call off the hike. Our schedule can be thrown off very easily. Every day has to be a race day. It will feel so good if we can hopefully reach the end.”

As it turned out, the epic thru-hike was far from straightforward. The men stepped onto the AT in Georgia on January 1 and began hiking northward. However, they diverted off the trail in Pennsylvania in March, explaining to their Instagram followers that they were concerned the snowy conditions would slow them down too much.

“A note to our more hardcore backpacking followers - we realize that the section of the AT above Pennsylvania is not “impassable” in the winter. In fact, it has been done by many a thru-hiker and (a few) triple crowners. However, because we have to get back to school by September, we don’t want to risk mileage deficits from winter storms in the northeast.”

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Parell and Potter traveled west and picked up the CDT in New Mexico, hiking northwards once again for a few weeks before transferring further west and beginning the PCT at its southern terminus in Southern California. In April, when the east coast weather started to warm up, they headed back east once again to Pennsylvania and became the first hikers to finish the AT in 2021 on May 28, the 100th anniversary of the day Benton MacKaye proposed the trail.

Next, it was back to warmer climes of the PCT where they reported on Instagram that the summer’s wildfires were a major concern.

“The heat brought with it wildfires and smoke. We had a pretty close call with a fire in Etna... and for a few days before, we only had a few hundred feet of visibility.”

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They completed the trail in July and the final leg of the journey was to finish up the CDT from New Mexico to Canada, which they accomplished on October 22.

According to an Instagram post that day, the entire journey took them 295 days, over ten million steps and covered one million feet of elevation gain. On the way they encountered seven bears, endured one cavity and went through 12 pairs of hiking shoes

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What started out as a personal journey became an opportunity for activism. Along the way, the pair was confronted with the effects of climate change and began a fundraising campaign to support Protect Our Winters. POW helps passionate outdoor people protect the land they love by promoting non-partisan policies designed to protect our world.

“Over 6000+ miles and 9+ months later, we’ve seen a lot. It’s one thing to read about temperatures increasing by 4 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 10 years because of CO2 emissions, but it’s a whole other thing to witness the effects of climate change up close. Since January, we’ve seen fires shut down large swaths of the PCT and CDT, historic heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest threaten us with heat exhaustion, and unusual weather systems all over the country.”

So far, the team has raised over $6k for the non-profit.

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.