By Katie Neitz

Ben Shmaruk ’22 took a gap year to put himself to the test.

Ben Smaruk stands at Pacific Coast Trail trail sign in Mexico wearing hiking gear

Ben Shmaruk ’22 began his 5-month trek from Mexico to Canada on March 30.

Ben, an avid hiker and adventure seeker, is through-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a 2,650-mile trek that stretches from Mexico to Canada and runs through the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. The civil engineering major, who had been a member of the Class of 2021, made a carpe diem decision to take a year off from classes to pursue this quest, a dream he has had since childhood. 

His motivation goes beyond wanting to test his strength, endurance, and mental fortitude. His expedition is dedicated to his father, Alan, who is battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Ben and his family started the nonprofit PCT 4 PC with the goal of raising money to support pancreatic cancer research. They have raised more than $20,000 so far. 

“My dad raised me hiking. We did Mount Washington when I was 8 years old; we hiked in Peru and New Zealand. He created a monster because I’m all about doing these crazy hikes now,” Ben shared from a pit stop in Palm Springs, Calif., about 285 miles into his journey. 

“I decided to take it an extra step. He’s dealing with an awful situation, and I wanted to take the opportunity to fundraise and put money toward a cause that has impacted our family.” 

Ben and dad Alan with arms around each other on mountain summit

Ben ’22 and Alan Shmaruk on a hiking trip in New Zealand.

Ben’s sister, Julianna Shmaruk ’23, is supporting her brother’s efforts by handling his social media during his journey, which he expects to conclude around Aug. 20. 

In late April about a month into the trek, Ben shared that he had logged his highest mileage day (24 miles), had abandoned oatmeal (“I’m so sick of it”), and was happy to reduce his pack load by sending his snow gear north (he’ll retrieve it before hitting the Sierra Nevadas).

The Sierra Nevadas is the section he’s looking forward to the most because it’s known to be so stunning. But the journey has already been fulfilling.

“I have had a moment where I’m like, ‘wow, I’m out here. I’m doing this.’ It’s wild.”

Follow along!

  • Lafayette Today will be keeping in touch with Ben and posting periodic updates from the trail. You can follow Julianna’s coverage on Facebook and Instagram and read Ben’s blog and donate to his cause at

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