With a healthy amount of respect, nervousness, and some trepidation, I begin my second thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail on May 7, 2016. One would think that there would be no trepidation since I have already hiked this trail once. To the contrary, that is why I have so much respect for the trail.
In many ways my 2012 CDT thru-hike was the most difficult to date. Why do I want to do this again? I’m not sure I can answer that question. Long distance hiking, the CDT especially, seems to have an irresistible draw upon me. Like many an alcoholic, I almost need to be on the trail to feel normal. That is arguably the place where I feel my true self.
Some Basic Facts
The CDT is a 3,100-mile primitive and challenging back country trail from Canada to Mexico along the backbone of America. It follows the Continental Divide along the Rocky Mountains and traverses five U.S. states — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. In Montana it crosses Triple Divide Peak which separates the Hudson Bay, Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean drainages.
Approximately 70% of the Trail is complete. The other 30% is not protected by federal land and is on highways, forest service roads, jeep roads or cross country. Thankfully, the highway portions are shrinking and are few and far between. There are very few blazes and trail markers on the CDT, and the trail is not well traveled, which makes map and compass skills a must. However, that is also one of the great draws of the CDT. A friend of my father’s once told me that when he became lost while traveling, instead of becoming distraught, he simply viewed it as an opportunity for more adventure. That perspective has stuck with me during the times when I have been misplaced.
Like the PCT, Trail towns tend to be further apart and further from the trail requiring that a hiker either carry more food or hike more miles per day, and then hitch hike further to resupply. I expect to average 4 to 6 days between resupply but there will be several sections that will be 8 to 10 days.
There are no shelters on the CDT and I will stay either in my tent or sleep under the stars every night on the trail. Water is also a constant concern while hiking this trail. It is not uncommon for water sources to be 30 miles apart and I will need to carry 5 or 6 liters of water frequently.
Like the PCT, there is an optimum window to complete the trail and avoid winter weather. I will not begin my trek until early May to give the snow in Colorado’s San Jauns time to diminish. I will be carrying an ice axe in Colorado and there is a possibility for many days or weeks of snow travel. As a result of this late start, I will need to average about 20 miles per day to reach Canada ahead of winter.