CDT Final Thoughts-Julie

Just to wrap up our CDT hike and feel some closure to it, here are my final thoughts about it.

cdt, crazy cook, southern terminus of cdt

Standing at the border of New Mexico and Mexico at Crazy Cook, wondering what in the world we’d gotten ourselves into.

-The CDT is hard. Bottom line, I think it’s the hardest of all the trails I’ve done because of the route-finding, the remoteness, the high elevations across the board, and the need for good planning yet flexibility when stuff goes awry.

-The Flexibility Factor. I planned the hell out of this hike, with spreadsheets, lists, boxes of food sent to each town, and still I had to be sooooo flexible. One day we wouldn’t get in the miles we hoped for because we got lost on a treadless path, one day our box of food wouldn’t actually be at the location we mailed it to, or one day hours of storms would delay our hike. Planning was so worthwhile yet so worthless at the same time. We had to be prepared for so many situations because of ever-changing terrain and weather and yet making plans was very difficult. The few times we made plans to meet up with people on the trail were the times we did some crazy mileage pushes because we just couldn’t count on getting miles in each day with the ever-changing trail.

-Colorado is the hardest state. It’s amazing scenery, day in and day out, but damn it’s hard. The weather is very volatile, there are daily thunderstorms with lightning being life-threatening, the entire state is at a very high elevation, easily above 10,000 for much of the time, and the climbs and descents are relentless.

-Wyoming was my favorite state because of its diversity and ease of hiking. It had the Great Divide Basin, a unique section on dirt roads through a deserted dust bowl, the Wind River Range, a relatively unknown section of the country yet more beautiful than a lot of National Parks, and Yellowstone. While we didn’t see the prettiest parts of Yellowstone, we walked by some astoundingly beautiful geysers and had fantastic trail magic from our friend Zippers, from the AT.

-New Mexico will always have a special place in my heart because the people were so nice to us along the entire way. I also loved it’s warmth, its dryness, its remoteness, and its landscape. If I ever do trail building, New Mexico needs the most love out of all the states and I’d gladly retun there to make the hike better for future CDTers.

-Montana was long, difficult in many ways, incredibly diverse from high desert walking on the divide to unmatched beauty in Glacier National Park. I really enjoyed the towns in the first half of the state, including Lima and Leadore, but really enjoyed the landscape in the second half of the state in Glacier.

-I am seriously scared of grizzly bears. We had one encounter with one and that was enough, not to mention walking up on a fresh pool of blood just a mile from our campsite, and seeing a half-eaten moose carcass in a creek, surrounded by huge piles of grizzly poop. The bears presence did but a damper on my enjoyment of Montana and I was relieved when we were finally out of grizzly country.

-The CDT needs work. A lot of NM is unfinished, as well as parts of all the other states. Few townspeople seem to know much about the trail, even in the towns the trail walks right through. It takes money and time to make a better trail, and at 3,000 miles it’s going to take a lot of both, so I’m not complaining, but stating a fact. The CDT needs a lot of love in many aspects and I hope I can be a part of that going forward with either my wallet or my labor.

-Route finding is for real. We used our GPS all day, every day, and got off track at least once a day. We were terrible at route finding in NM because we were new to it and got better as the trail went along. There were so many portions where tread was non-existent, where there were no signs, or where rock cairns weren’t placed at all, and that was the most frustrating part of the hike for me, that we had to be constantly aware of staying on route.

-There is no eject button. Unlike the AT, if things aren’t going well in the woods, we didn’t have many options for getting out of the woods. Once we left town and entered the woods, the only way out was to get to the next town, which was usually 3-5 days away. On the AT and even parts of the PCT, there are ways to get off the trail and into a town for food or rest, but the CDT is so remote that towns are few and far between. This was a scary prospect at many times and part of the reason we got off the trail once the rains got so bad that all our gear, including sleeping bags, got wet.

-No one hikes the same CDT. While there is an official route that the US Forest Service has chosen, and while there are maps and GPS waypoints to match that route, no one hikes all of it. Only Matt and 4 other hikers this year will have hiked that entire route. Otherwise, there are alternates that people take in order to have more water, to see a more beautiful route, to cut miles in a roundabout section (Butte come to mind), to take a lower elevation route in the case of lightning, and so no one hikes the same route. While some people like that they can choose their own route, I would prefer one objective, cut and dry route that we all take in order to really say we all did a comparable CDT hike. I’ll admit, a lot of the official route is terribly marked, cross-country walking or bushwacking, and some of it is downright stupid with where they take us. The official route needs a lot of work, so unil it’s improved and has tread, it’s understandable that people take alternates and therefore we all have a different definition of our CDT hike.

-The CDT mystery is solved, yet not conquered. I’m glad I can finally talk about the CDT with knowledge and confidence, yet I am still humbled by just how difficult it is across the board. Much of the trail is remote, wild, untouched, and therefore that much more difficult because it’s so far from civilization. It really is like earning a PhD in hiking and while I’m proud that I made it through it relatively unscathed, I am exhausted mentally and physically, and most of all logistically. I’m happy to have closed this chapter of my thru-hiking resume and am more than ready to be living indoors once again, knowing how much the outdoors can crush me at any moment with its wild, unpredictable forces.

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2 Responses to CDT Final Thoughts-Julie

  1. Judy says:

    I realize route finding is difficult and it is nice to be able to compare journeys, but not having an exact route puts adventure and discovery back into the experience. When a trail is well defined and marked, it soon becomes overused. The JMT section of the PCT is in terrible condition because of this. Everyone wants to go out and play in the woods, but few would be able to if they had to route find and deal with the extremes. The Sierra is full of beautiful places, hundreds of square miles of pristine wilderness. It would be nice if those of us who don’t have your strength and skill had more trails to enjoy. The CDT may be the place for those who are willing and able to meet those challenges. Every long trail doesn’t have to be for the masses. Some wilderness needs to be left wild and available for those to choose their own route. Have really enjoyed your adventures. Congratulations on becoming a parent. Sharing the trails with our children has been one of our greatest experiences. Enjoy.

    • Julie says:

      Thanks for your insights Judy and thanks for reading about our adventures. Now that we’ve been a couple years removed from the CDT, I see more of the benefit of having hiked such a remote, unfinished trail. I also feel lucky that we hiked the PCT in 2007 before it was so popular. Thanks again for reaching out – we’re already looking forward to when Paavo can go hiking with us, even if it’s in a backpack to start.

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