Photographer Ian Tuttle was driving when he saw three backpackers resting under a tree near the Pacific Crest Trail in California.

He pulled over. Did they need water or a ride somewhere? Maybe a beer? Just the beer, the hikers told him. And so Tuttle ended up spending the next hour with them, talking over beers and taking their photos.

As Tuttle resumed his drive, he had a lingering thought: “How amazing it would be to meet more of these hikers.” He understood the allure of the arduous trail; he himself had once taken a long journey by bike across the country — an experience he calls “indelible.”

So he returned to the PCT three more times this past summer, geared with a heavy 1951 press camera — the kind you see in old movies with the big flash, Tuttle says — and a cooler full of fresh, hard-to-pack treats for the hikers. Each time, he set up camp for one to three nights in hopes of connecting with through-hikers. Unlike sectional hikers, these hikers attempt to finish the entire 2,650-mile trail in one stretch, a feat that typically takes five months.

Some encounters were shorter than others; “these guys are hiking 20 to 24 miles a day, and they can’t dawdle,” says Tuttle. But long or short, each meeting offered an intimate glimpse into what Tuttle calls each hiker’s “odyssey.”

“I like backpacking, but that’s extraordinary — five months on the trail,” he says. “You’re at the mercy of the landscape, of the weather, of other people, certainly,” he says.

In all, San Francisco-based Tuttle photographed 38 hikers from near and far and heard their stories. He shared the following photos and captions, which contains each hiker’s trail name.

You can see more photos from Tuttle’s “Through-Hikers” collection on his website.