SLO man who had hip replacement to hike Pacific Crest Trail

Jim Harper of San Luis Obispo is setting out at the end of April to hike the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Jim Harper of San Luis Obispo is setting out at the end of April to hike the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

On April 28, Jim Harper of San Luis Obispo will shoulder his backpack, grab his walking sticks and begin hiking the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail — more than 2,600 miles.

He is undertaking the arduous trek as a celebration of his restored health and as a way to raise money for a charity that helps relieve people of the kind of chronic joint pain that he suffered for more than a decade.

“It’s something I’m compelled to do,” he said. “Most of my family is all for it, but a few think I’m crazy.”

The Pacific Crest Trail follows the highest portions of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges and runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Along the way, hikers experience more than 420,000 feet in elevation change.

“I’ll probably also hike Mount Whitney when I’m there,” Harper added.

He estimates that it will take him from three and a half to four months to complete the hike going from south to north. To achieve that, he will need to cover more than 21 miles a day carrying a 30-pound backpack.

Harper estimates that at the beginning of the hike he will cover 20 to 25 miles a day. After that, he’ll ramp it up to 40 miles a day as he nears the end.

“By then, you are lean, mean and about ready to get the hike over with,” he said.

His wife, Susan, will not accompany him on the journey but will act in a critical support capacity, mailing him supplies and clothing to various post offices along the way.

Harper will turn 62 while on the trail. His journey along the Pacific Crest Trail really began in 2010 when he had hip replacement surgery.

Decades of working as a landscaper and electrician left him suffering from chronic hip pain. He was amazed at how effectively the replacement surgery eliminated the pain.

“I went through 12 years when I don’t think a day went by that I wasn’t hurting,” he said. “Every day I walk without pain is a wonder.”

In 2012, he started hiking because his doctor said that would help strengthen his hip. He lost 30 pounds and hiked to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

It was then that he began to entertain the ambitious idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, but he also wanted to use the experience to help other people who suffer chronic joint pain. Hip replacement surgery typically costs $100,000, a cost that is unaffordable for people without health insurance.

Harper went on the Internet and found Operation Walk USA, a nonprofit that provides free hip and knee replacement surgeries for those who cannot afford them. He decided to use his hike as a way to raise money for the group.

He established the website www.hike4hips.com, where people can learn more about his hike. He also plans to use the website to post occasional photographs and updates of his journey via an iPad with Wi-Fi and a solar-powered charger.

Those interested in supporting his effort can either donate a lump sum or make a per mile pledge. His goal is to raise $26,000 for the organization.

Dr. Adolph Lombardi, president of Operation Walk USA, said he hopes Harper’s story will motivate others to help out.

“Jim’s personal story, his understanding of what so many others experience and his commitment to creating a program that will benefit those in need, make him a true ambassador of our program,” he said.

Meanwhile, Harper is getting ready for the journey by taking frequent three-hour hikes, reading books about the trail and studying topographical maps. He is expecting excellent trail conditions because the state’s severe drought has left the trail free of snow, even in April.

“It’s going to be a life-changing experience,” he said. “I’m anxious to get going, and hopefully I’ll make it all the way.”