What follows are my thoughts on planning a thru-hike on the Continental Divide Trail. I wrote this for submission in Yogi’s CDT Handbook. The wording and formatting may be awkward. It was written in response to questions that I have deleted from this text. Questions? Please leave a comment!
Many CDTers also don’t know squat about navigation. But that doesn’t fly so well out on the divide. It’s not well signed. It doesn’t have a lot of footprints. It’s definitely not always the most major path. It’s often on roads with networks of road intersections. And there often isn’t a single way to hike the trail. On the CDT though, we have GPS. Most CDTers are using GPSs. Yes, it takes the challenge out of it. You look at your screen, see where you are, and see where you need to go. As long as your GPS is working well (it’s not broken, it has batteries, maps and a track), navigating on the CDT is pretty brainless. Hiking the CDT without a GPS requires navigational skill. Having one, not so much. Most people don’t use their GPS all the time. They keep it off and navigate with Ley’s maps and/or Wolf’s guides. Both are outstanding, and if you keep on top of them, you’ll find yourself found.
I’m a skilled navigator and had my GPS on all of the time. And still, I was misplaced about eight times. It’s not big deal. Generally, I just didn’t know where I was, and didn’t want to take the time to figure it out. So, I made a choice, walked on, found out I was wrong and went cross country to where I needed to be.
I brought a compass and I know how to use it. I’ve taught navigation courses before. I found myself rarely using my compass and when I did it was mostly just to orient my map. I’d definitely recommend having a compass. Buy one that has automatic declination.
I brought a GPS. I’m a Map Contributor for Backpacker Magazine (I get paid to thruhike!). I had a GPS on all of the time to collect a map of the trail. You can download it at backpacker.com/cdt (PCT one is backpacker.com/pct). Most people are bringing GPSs. If you do, be sure that it’s a mapping GPS. Have 24k maps loaded on it. Have a track loaded on it. Soon there will be three options of tracks, Out of Order’s, Backpacker Magazine’s (mine) and the CDTA. There is a lot of consider with GPS and it gets complicated quickly.
I’d honestly consider taking an orienteering class if you don’t know much about navigation. Navigating can be a fun, enriching part of backpacking and a class is a great way to learn the skill. I teach these classes, but I’ve never taken one myself.
Nine of us rented a car in East Glacier and drove up to get a permit the day before we wanted to hike. We decided to consolidate our group so that we weren’t taking up a bunch of separate designated camps. The ranger was a nice guy. He was reluctant to let us do the Highline Trail but wouldn’t outright tell us that he wouldn’t permit us for it. After kind of beating around the issue, I asked for his clear opinion. He said: “You’d be stupid to do the highline trail in these conditions.” I think that he was right. Not wanting to carry bear canisters, he had a hard time permitting us to just use camps that had bear lockers. Early in the season, many backcountry camps are designated as being in winter protocol and thus require canisters. The ranger faced that issue and the fact that weekend hikers had some of our needed campsites already reserved. He permitted us anyways by having us sleep in some of the car campgrounds along the way. We would have had a better choice of camps if we’d reserved our permits in advance.
For Yellowstone, I didn’t have a permit and walked into the park to get one at Old Faithful. This was problematic but turned out perfectly. At first, the ranger presented NO options. There simply weren’t any campsites for me to stay at, and I wouldn’t be allowed into the backcountry legally. I was like… “umm… what?!” That’s not really an option… But that’s what her computer was showing her. A big fat, no. I’d heard that other thruhikers were having their permits checked in Yellowstone and that some had gotten large tickets. And then, a bit of trail magic happened. A northbounder came into the permit office to tell them that she wasn’t planning on using a backcountry camp that she’d reserved. She gave it to me. It was the perfect camp for me. For the next night, the ranger decided to lump me with another CDTer. Apparently, they can lump CDTers together in camps without our approval. I’m totally ok with that! I ended up sleeping with a northbounder that night that I’d never met before. It was great. While all of the backcountry camps on the CDT were reserved, very few of them were actually occupied. People reserve them in advance and then don’t actually show up in Yellowstone for their backpacking trip. Yellowstone’s permit system is kind of a mess. I’d reserve my Yellowstone permit in advance next time. I hear that they can be flexible with dates if you have a permit but are there are on the wrong dates.
In Rocky Mountain National Park, I didn’t need a permit as I did it in a day.
THE SOCIAL ASPECT
I hiked with a large group for the first month or so. I found it to be a lot of fun, but hard to be on other people’s schedules. It’s hard to consider where everyone is at with a large group. At times, I felt like I wasn’t being considered, so I separated from the group. Then I hiked with just a partner most of the rest of the trail. Occasionally, we’d have another solo hiker join up with us for a while.
Trail romance is awesome. I was more than willing to compromise in order to stay with people. I hiked with Lost (youngest female triple crowner, I think!), a woman I’d met on the trail. Most of the way, we were simply friends. At some point, that evolved into more than friends. It was great. We didn’t share gear. Our packs were light even with each of us carrying our own stuff. We liked to eat different things for dinner and we were too lazy and cheap to buy a double shelter. Plus, it was less commitment. We didn’t fight. I was bummed a few times when I had to compromise and not walk the actual divide in bad weather because it was too brutal. But it was worth it to be with a partner. If you can find a great hiking partner, I highly recommend it!
I thought about illegals before I hiked. I was pretty excited to hike in a “dangerous” place. During the hike, I encountered some incredulity from New Mexicans and Coloradans when they learned that I was planning on hiking near the border. This fear generally came from people who had no personal experience down there. But as I got closer to the border, I also met concern from actual Mexican-Americans who lived near the border. It seems like there actually is some genuine danger. It’ll be a horrible day if any CDTer ever is robbed or hurt.
I did the official trail to Crazy Cook. I didn’t encounter any illegals. I saw a single set of footprints heading north in the border region. I saw a discarded poncho and a water container used by illegals. I don’t think that illegals hike much of the CDT down there. I didn’t see much evidence of it and it seems like a harder place to cross than most. The trail angel in Deming pushes hard for people to go through his town which he says is “safer”. The trail angel in Hachita says that his area has little illegal problems. I wonder how much of this is bias because each of them want hikers to pass through them. Regardless, I wasn’t worried about illegals on the Crazy Cook route.
I did encounter a lot of border patrol. We had two patrolmen on horses, four on ATVs and one in a truck. All of those had seen our prints and came out specifically to make contact with us. We were also buzzed by two helicopters and a jet. We also so many more border patrol, including military in Hummers. One border patrol guy told me that they were having problems with new rangers shooting holes in our water caches thinking they they were planted for illegals. They were trying to educate their rangers not to do this. We had no problems with this. There was a cache that had a lot of weed in it. That’s cool and all, but I’d strongly recommend against possessing anything illegal in such a heavily policed area!
I had an online journal at my own website. I use wordpress, it’s good. Postholer is better than trailjournals.com, but trailjournals has more readership. Even less people will read your journal if you do what I did, and have your own website. Tjs is nice because the “community” follows it. I updated in towns, and sometimes from the trail on my smartphone. I’d do the same thing again.
I had a lot of electronics! I had a smartphone, a SPOT, a camera, an ipod and a steripen. I also carried a tiny set of speakers, from which I played music and podcasts aloud to alert grizzlies of my presence. A smartphone with Verizon is pretty awesome. I had cell service for much of the trail, and could surf the internet from some really remote places. I had a SPOT because I was “working” for BACKPACKER and it was a neat way for people to follow me. My parents loved me having a Spot, and I like the safety that it provides. I carried an iPod in addition to my smartphone. This was pretty redundant, but I liked having something with a long battery life that didn’t drain my ability to use my phone. I carried a camera as well because phones don’t take great pictures. I also had bought an external battery pack that could run my phone, speakers, and ipod. I sent it home because it was extra weight and I didn’t need to charge my stuff between towns.
That’s a ridiculous amount of electronics! In 2011, I’d carry similar stuff. I’ll probably have a SPOT Connect that interfaces with my smartphone. And I might carry the external battery pack instead of the extra ipod. I’ll have to see how that system works though.
I have a high quality point and shoot camera. It’s a Canon S-90 (now the s95). I like photography and Canon’s take great quality photos. I also have a durable, waterproof camera that I chose not to carry because it doesn’t take as nice a photo. The S-95 also shoots RAW, which is cool if you’re a geek.
I spent about $5500. That doesn’t include money my parents spent mailing me stuff. Nor does it include a lot of my gear. I used stuff I already owned, or I got stuff for free from companies.
I hung my food longer than most other people. I hung my food whenever I felt I was in grizzly habitat. I think that was from Glacier to Helena and then again around Yellowstone. The rest of the time, I kept it on the ground, but not right next to my body (unless it was raining, then it was in the tent). I chose this method because others were doing it and because I was lazy. I think that sleeping with your food is really quite risky and in some areas it’s a bad idea. Thruhikers have been attacked while sleeping with their food. I hung my food around grizzlies because I didn’t want to be attacked. I slept with it when there were just black bears because I was lazy and reckless. I didn’t carry a bear canister, but would consider one for Glacier so that you could use campsites that require them.
For purification, I started with a combination of Aqua Mira and not treating. I got sick, perhaps because of water. I then started regularly using Aqua Mira. Then I bought a Steripen, because Aqua Mira isn’t cheap either and I don’t like consuming chemicals. I liked my Steripen. A set of batteries lasted about three weeks. I recommend buying the batteries on Amazon, where they sell for $1 a piece instead of $6 a piece in some stores on the trail. I’d also buy your steripen from REI because sometimes they break and need to be returned. I’d also carry a backup of the chemical of your choice. I’d consider a pump for New Mexico, because sometimes the water is gross down there.
I used gatorade bottles and soft sided bottles to carry water. My carrying capacity varied depending on where I was. In wet areas, I kept two gatorade (or vitamin water) bottles. In dry areas, I went with a two liter soft sided bottle (Evernew) and a one liter Platypus soft sided bottle. That’s five liters, it was generally enough. For a bit, I felt compelled to have seven liters of capacity.
I used three different packs! First, I started with an Osprey Exos 58. It was too big. I was intimidated by the CDT and thought that I needed burlier and warmer gear than I needed. I’d over prepared Then, I had my well used Golite Jam 2 sent out. It just helped to confirm for me that the Jam 2 has weird fit issues. It’s torso was too short on me. So, I bought an MLD Exodus. It’s a good size, but the shoulder straps flatten out quickly. I’ve found my preferred pack system, and I’m thinking of producing it for sale myself.
I used a Tarptent Moment. It was given to me for testing purposes. I like it. A lengthy review is on my website. It’s a darn good shelter for the CDT, if you’re willing to carry two pounds. I’d be interested in a lighter, floorless shelter next hike.
I carried my totally spent Marmot Helium (an ultralight 15 degree down bag). I wished for a new bag that still had loft in the shoulders. I’d carry a fifteen degree bag again. I used a half length ridgerest foam pad. I find it plenty comfy and it is the frame for my pack. In the fall, at high elevation, I wanted a longer pad, but it wasn’t a huge deal. I carried a Gossamer Gear Polycro groundcloth, it’s light, and I only used it when not using my tent.
I generally slept in my clothes. From Colorado to Mexico, I had long underwear that I slept in. I also used a silk liner.
I used an Evernew alcohol stove and pot stand/wood burning stove. It’s not that great, and I wouldn’t buy it. It was supplied to me for testing. It was slow, but really efficient, so I could boil pasta for a solid 6-8 minutes on it. I also used a 0.9liter Titanium pot, a perfect size for me. I don’t recommend going with a wood burning stove for a thruhike. I found that I was too tired to bother with burning wood and much preferred alcohol. I wasn’t able to buy alcohol in Lordsburg so finished the hike by cooking on tiny wood fires.
I rarely cooked, then hiked. I found that I’d rather just stop around 7:30pm and be done for the day. Stopping at 6pm, cooking until 7pm, then walking until dark, rarely gave me many more miles. It’d work well at the beginning of the hike when it was light super late, but at that time, I wasn’t in shape to hike 30+ mile days. Plus, I like having a little bit of time at the end of the day to joke around or read.
I used trekking poles until New Mexico. I kept them because I was used to them, because they help my knees, are good on snow and really help with stream crossings. I got sick of them, and wanted my hands to be free, so I gave them up for New Mexico. I liked hiking without poles, and I’m not sure if I’d bring them again.
I used a silnylon pack cover. It works pretty marginally. It’s waterproof, but collects lots of water at the bottom which makes my pack and gear wet. I also use a Safeway brand trash compactor bag as a pack liner. I replace every two months or so. And then I also keep stuff in waterproof drybags. It’s a little heavy, but I find it necessary.
My favorite piece of gear was probably my SPOT. Friends and family liked seeing where I was camping, and it helped me feel connected to relationships that matter to me.
My iPod, cell phone, speakers, magazines, cards and books were my luxury items. I only had reading materials at the end of the hike, but I love reading on the trail. I like all of these items because it helps me feel like I’m not death marching.
Like I said before, I carried a tiny set of speakers in grizzly habitat. I played podcasts and music over them to alert the bears of my presence. I did this to avoid feeling compelled to shout “Hey Bear!” often. I found that I was hiking and talking with other people most of the time, but if I’d been solo, they would have been great. Otherwise, nothing really unique. But I do think that smartphones are pretty killer for long trails.
I thought that I needed more warm gear and stuff for the CDT. I was wrong. The stuff I used on the PCT would have been fine for the CDT.
I wore long sleeves, both pants and shirt. I did this to avoid skin cancer mainly, but also to protect myself from bugs and thorns. I prefer shorts and a T-shirt, but I’d do long sleeves again.
My warm top was a Montbell Down Inner jacket. It wasn’t warm enough. I also bought a kick ass hooded fleece from Melanzana in Leadville, CO.
I did appreciate having a higher quality rain jacket. I went from a PU-coated jacket like the Marmot Precip to an Event jacket. It was the same weight, but much higher performance. More expensive too, but I didn’t pay for it… I also used really light golite rain pants, that aren’t actually waterproof.
Montrail had cancelled my favorite shoe, so I tried out a ton of shoes before the hike. Myke, introduced me to the zappos.com VIP program on the CDT. It’s killer! The shoes are full price, but if you’re VIP, you get free overnight shipping. This was pretty helpful. Their website said that their VIP program was closed, but I called them, told them what I was doing and they were happy to make me a VIP for life.
I went through six pairs of shoes. But I had to buy a few pairs earlier than I would have. I really needed a new pair in Dubois, but the only shoes in town weren’t my size. So I bought them, and then had better shoes mail ordered to the next town.
I like dirty girl gaiters, but they wear out fast and I didn’t want to spend the money.
I carried a larger first aid kit than most. This might be a reflection of all of the first aid treatment that I’ve given as a guide and my training as a Wilderness First Responder. I carried gloves, gauze, tape, moleskin, tincture of benzoin, antibiotic cream, burn cream, bandaids, steristrips, a semi-permeable dressing, immodium, ibuprofen, pepto bismol, tylenol, vicodin and benadryl.
I didn’t even attempt to keep clean on the trail. I don’t have problems with chafing. But if you want to treat it, zinc works well. Boudreaux’s Butt Paste is one product.
I carried used TP in a ziplock bag to town. Sometimes I buried it. I did this when I was pooping in areas with good soil that see very little use. I’m not a woman, but a lot of burly mountain women that I know like the “Keeper” and dark chocolate during their period.
I put sunscreen on as I want to avoid skin cancer. I was a little lazy about it, but I put it on my face, neck and the backs of my hands.
I wear sunglasses because I want to avoid going blind when I’m older. I don’t use really cheap sunglasses for that reason. You bet, I wear a sun hat. I prefer the Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat. It provides great coverage, is crushable and does ok when wet. For hunting season I switched to a blaze orange ball cap so that idiots and drunks wouldn’t shoot me. I wish I had a blaze orange Adventure Hat.
We had a “heavy” snow year, but snow wasn’t an issue south of Glacier. Sure, we walked across snow in the Bob, but no steep slopes that would have required gear. Sobo in a deep snow year, I was surprised that it wasn’t more of a challenge. Well, that’s except for the deep, new, unstable snow that fell.
I was shocked that we had avalanche conditions. It was concerning that most thruhikers didn’t know squat about avalanche safety, and they exposed themselves to deadly conditions. This is rare, but concerning.
I carried an ice axe and crampons for Glacier, but ended up road walking most of the park. I used both of them going over Piegan Pass and was happy to have them. I’d definitely recommend them for passing through both Glacier and Colorado if there is snow.
I didn’t do any glissading. In general, it’s lots of fun, and can be a great way to get hurt.
Again, I was surprised that we didn’t have worse stream crossings. There were one or two in the Bob where we did “team” crossings. Learn techniques on how to cross streams with groups of people. I don’t think that I had to cross anything that was waist deep though.
I prefer bug free campsites that are LNT and have epic views. Generally, I just camp wherever though.
Mosquitos weren’t as bad as I was expecting. They were worst in central and southern Montana. I was expecting bad bugs in the Winds, but they were mostly gone. I hardly had to use Deet, and I put it on my face and hands. Otherwise, I had long sleeves.
If I hiked again, I’d try harder to stay on the divide, even when conditions were rough in Colorado. I’d also carry a general antibiotic.
I started at Chief Mountain because the conditions warranted it. Plus the ranger said that we’d “be stupid” if we tried starting at Waterton. I’d love to hike from Waterton, but I think that a Chief Mountain start is pretty common.
I took a shuttle from Utah to Las Vegas, flew to Spokane and got on the late train to East Glacier. From there, I teamed up with other hikers, rented a car, and got an acquaintance to drive us to Chief Mountain. I might consider flying in to Kalispell. Flights from Vegas were really cheap to there. Then I might just try to hitch hike.
Lost and I were the only sobos to hike the official trail to Crazy Cook. I wanted to hike the official trail because I love the CDT, and I preferred a wilderness finish to the pavement at Columbus. I’d recommend Crazy Cook to others, but if I hiked again, I’d probably do Columbus just for a change. I don’t think that anyone was using Antelope Wells.
Three of us paid Sam Hughes $160 total to pick us up and drive us to Deming. He’d have taken $110 to Hachita, but that’s in the middle of nowhere, and there are so many cops around that I wouldn’t want to hitchhike. Sam’s a nice guy, but he’s old and sick. He talked of having a friend lined up already if he ever couldn’t do the shuttles. It turns out that he’s an official, permitted shuttle driver, so he pays extra money to the government which is factored into his price. I thought that Sam had a beefed up truck, but really he doesn’t. I’d consider hiring him for the hour and a half on dirt even if I was having family drive down there with high clearance 4×4. The road truly is brutally rough in places, you could easily do $100 in damage to your car driving it. From Deming, we stayed a night with trail angel El Coyote, then got on Greyhound to El Paso. Greyhound can be a problem. Even with a reservation, it’s often full. We were told that we weren’t going to be able to get on it, but it turned out to have two seats left when it came by. That was critical for us to be able to make our flights out of El Paso. There was a local bus from the Greyhound station in El Paso to the airport, and we got a great deal on a hotel by the airport by reserving online via hotels.com or some such business. We flew Southwest out of El Paso.
I was content with my decision to go southbound. If I hiked again, I’d be open to either direction.
I had two days off, then started working again. I didn’t really have to deal with re-entry but that’s because I don’t do re-entry. I spend most of my life outside.
I’m most likely leaving for the AT in a month. I might do the Hayduke Trail immediately after that. Otherwise, I want to spend a summer in the Sierra and I’d love to move to Bolivia or Nepal. I’m likely to continue being obsessed with backpacking, but I might be done with long distance hiking after these plans are done. I’d like to start long distance bikepacking.
Cooking Crow in Lander had pretty sweet $5 gourmet lunch items. Best deal on the trail was the HUGE “half” of a chicken and mango quesadilla from the main restaurant (whatever it’s called) in Lincoln for only $4! Best burger? Perhaps the same place.
I like the phrase “Embrace the Brutality” but I have some problems with it. Mainly, I disagree that the CDT is brutal. It rarely was for me. Sure, there were some brutal moments (three rain/snow events come to mind) but generally the divide was enjoyable. This phrase helps me feel “extreme”. It helps me feel adequate, capable and special. But I can also feel those things without “proving” it to others. That’s why I don’t feel the need to maximize the challenges I face.
I try to avoid maximizing in my speech. I say simply that it’s hot or cold, easy or hard, and let those words speak for themselves. Avoidance of maximizing, helps me see things more as they really are. I can be assertive in my language without maximizing. The day was beautiful. The weather was rainy. It’s a zen way of seeing the world. Talking of the CDT as “brutal” is inaccurate (to me) and unhelpful.
I enjoy hitchhiking. I like meeting strangers, accepting what’s outside my control and realizing my connection and dependence on others. Generally, I got hitches easily. I even had some remarkable good luck.I shoulder tapped someone coming out of McDonalds, and he was going to the exact trailhead that I need to get to. Twice, I had to wait an hour and a half. Once, I just sat down a read a magazine and someone stopped to offer me a ride. Once, I had a guy show me his gun.
I like zeros. I wish that I could have taken more in Colorado, but I felt compelled to get through the mountains before it snowed. I’d recommend zeroing most places. I enjoyed spending time at both Ghost Ranch and Circle A (most didn’t stop at Circle A, but it was great!)
I could see myself living in Lander, Steamboat Springs, Leadville, Salida and Silver City. I wasn’t a huge fan of Chama. Lima and Leadore are tiny but friendly. I didn’t care for Sawtelle, Mack’s Inn and Old Faithful. Grants is lame, but the trail angel’s there are awesome. Lordsburg is a dump but has great chinese food.
Thanks be to all the Angels! I’d really like to give a “shout out” to Nita for keeping a house for us in Pie Town and Hugo and Carol in Grants for driving around to drop individual water caches for all of us hikers! And of course, thanks to everyone!
My advice for hiking the CDT would be to go Southbound, start at Chief Mountain (Waterton would be better, but conditions make it unlikely), hike via Butte, Henry’s Lake, the Great Divide Basin, do the RMNP loop, do the Grays-Torreys Route, go via the San Juans, and finish at Crazy Cook.
From home, I brought food to Glacier and mailed to Benchmark and Leadore. I also had various food items that I couldn’t get on the trail mailed to me. Generally, boxes with shoes or maps also had a random collection of delicious extras placed in them. I ate better because I got organic dried veggies from the farmer’s market, fancy cured meats from Italian deli’s, and dehydrated beans mailed to me. My mom is awesome, and a foodie, so she mailed me delicious stuff. My hiking partner kept having excessive amounts of homemade baked goods mailed to her, which I ate a lot of. From Grand Lake, I mailed a box of food to Twin Lakes. From Salida, I mailed food to Ghost Ranch, Pie Town and Doc Campbell’s. The store in Leadore is run by a very hiker friendly woman who is doing a better job of stocking hiker food, but all of the other places I’ve mentioned here require mail drops. I really liked my food system. I’m pretty burned out on processed supermarket/hiker food. I really appreciated, having specialty items from home. I’d love to eat more beans and rice on the trail, which isn’t available in most towns, but I’m not willing to do mail drops all over the place.
I got sick of bars and all of my breakfast food. I really like eating beans and rice. Unusually, I ate dried kale and chipolini onions. I’m also an advocate for Barilla Pasta Plus, which is widely available, delicious and more nutritious than normal pasta. I’d generally eat something for breakfast (two bars perhaps), have a snack in the morning (a bar, trail mix or chips), a lunch of two sandwiches (meat, cheese, veggies or peanut butter and dried fruit) and flavored rice, pasta or potatoes for dinner. I almost always left town with a bag of chips and a large bag of almond m&ms. I eat a lot of nuts too. Typically peanuts because they’re cheapest.
I was vegetarian for the PCT but not the CDT. I had no problems with it. It was delicious and better for my health and the planet. The meat that I ate on the CDT was typically the worst type of meat. Unethical, and full of additives like MSG, nitrates and nitrites. Eating “trail meat” isn’t good for your body. You can get plenty of protein from nuts, tofu, seitan, tempeh, beans and protein powder.
I wish that I got more care packages. I love them. I got two. Both of which I asked for. My family was excited about my hike, so I “charged” my uncle and grandmother to send me food boxes. I provided some ideas as to what they could put in them, and told them how many meals I could use. I had them mail them to Leadore and Lima. Both are places that I could have bought some food items in, if their boxes were inadequate. I loved their boxes. They were surprises, and delicious. I liked the uncertainty of this approach.
I generally don’t think that bounce boxes are worth it. Sure, it’s nice to mail certain things ahead. I did this with my trekking poles once. I was sick of using them, but didn’t know if I’d like not having them. So I sent them to the next town, via priority mail. When I got there, I decided that I didn’t want them still, so I forwarded them again to the next town for free. At that town, I just forwarded them home. Bouncing clothing and the like can be great.
A standard bounce box is a waste of money. What’s going to be in it? Camera charger? ipod charger? Town stuff like clothing or shampoo? Food? Bug spray? Sunscreen? It can cost between $10-15+ to mail the box each time. Say you do that ten times, that’s substantial money. I carry my chargers, and do without the bounce box. Everything else I just buy when I need it. Saves on mailing, and means that my electronics never goes without a charge.
I think that a bounce box makes sense if you are from a foreign country, or otherwise have no one to mail you things while on the trail. Most of us have people at home that can mail us a few weeks worth of maps and guidebooks every once in a while. Those are also boxes that friends and family tend to put in treats for me. And if I need something like a pair of socks or a supply of some consumable, they can throw it in the box and i’ll usually have it pretty soon. I figure that I save at least a hundred dollars by not using a bounce box.
I’m finally in Boulder, CO mapping the CDT. It’s really quite nice to be sitting in front of a computer for a week. A snip of the behind the scenes workings of Backpacker Magazine has been educational. Quality work, I say.
Lordsburg. It’s dumpy.
Lordsburg, where I settled into two hotel rooms before realizing that they were unacceptably filty, bug infested, and broken. Lordsburg, where there really wasn’t anything going on. Lordsburg, where the dump of a chinese restaurant, turned out to be delicious. We’d hemmed and hawed about even going in. We *knew* it’d be bad. It was only $4.50 and the food sat under heat lamps that didn’t even look strong. But the friendly, straight from the east, via the west coast, family cooked up a delicious portion. Wanted something in the buffet? They probably didn’t have enough under the lamp to serve you, but they’d cook it up for you fresh in three mintues. It was awesome. We ate there twice.
Hiked on. Again, the red route. It was pretty much just following posts from here on to the border. They were pretty newly placed. They were pretty easy to follow. Later we saw a sign stating that they were placed every twenty yards. It was more like every 100 yards in the begining. And then it turned to every 1/4 mile, and then in some sad places, every 1/2 mile. It should be obivious that you can’t see one post from the other when they’re a quarter of a mile away. It was somewhat frustrating. Again, no footprints. No faint foot path. In one section, not even any information from the guy who makes the maps. No one who had hiked it had reported back anything about it. We were the ones to find the water sources and report to the mapmaker their quality and location. It was good hiking. I was happy to be doing that route instead of the commonly done road walking. I like the offical route to Crazy Cook.
It flet like snake habitat, but I saw only one tiny snake. It felt like “illegal” habitat, but I saw only one set of sneaker prints heading northbound away from the border. I did find an abandonded poncho and someone’s water jug that’d been painted black. They do that so they’re not carrying a big white object as they move through the night.
We had numerous encounters with border patrol. First, two guys on horse back who’d been following us for a while. Then helicopters. Three of them. Not sure if they were really out flying for us, but i’d like to think that the fighter jet that buzzed our heads was dispatched in our direction. Also, four guys in body armor on ATVs. And a guy in a truck. Each time, they’d been dispatched specifically to intercept us. They weren’t out there just wandering around. They knew we were there, and they came looking to see who we were. Each time: “Will you state your citizenship?”, “Can I see the bottom of your shoes?” Once: “If you like walking so much, you should come work for us.” hmm….
And then we were done. I walked from Canada to Mexico. I finished the CDT! It was good. Like chocolate ice cream. I had fun. I’m a little sad. Lost and I are parting ways and that’s a bummer. She’s been a great friend over the months and a killer hiking companion.
We got a ride away from Crazy Cook with Sam Hughes. Fugitive was there too, we met up with him on the last morning. Sam is a nice guy. The dirt road to Crazy Cook really is pretty bad. You can drive a stock, 4×4 pickup down it, but be prepared to damage your truck. It costs the three of us $160 total to be picked up at the border and driven to Deming. You could easily do more damage than that to your truck. I’d hire Sam. He dropped us off at Walmart.
The guy in front of me was buying a shirt. He bragged to the cashier that he was famous. “A nobel peace prize nominee”, “a motivational speaker”, “going to hollywood to make a movie”, “and author”. I held back a laugh, feeling sure that he was blowing smoke. Then he asked me if my chocolate cream pie was my favorite flavor. (It’s not). Then he bought it for me. Who the heck does that? What’s his story? Some famous dude isn’t bragging to the walmart clerk in Deming while shopping for clothing. And why buy my pie? I’m just some grungy dude. To top his tales, I said: “I just walked from Canada to Mexico.” It was true. It was all true. Turns out that the guy was http://www.bryantmcgill.com He’s what he said he was. And he bought me a pie. He’s also the guy that a podcast that I listened made fun of a while ago. From his website, he looks like the epitome of cheese. And he bought me a pie. It was a great finish to the trail.
I am now done with the CDT. Stayed with trail angel El Coyote last night. On a bus to El Paso in two hours. Then tomorrow, flying to Utah. It’s my birthday the next day. Then a day to unpack and repack. And then my next trip. I don’t quite do re-rentry. I backpack full time. Tuesday is work. Work = backpacking. I’m looking forward to being back.
Life continues and the trail stays within.
Left Silver City on a road walk. I continue to not be a fan of road
walking. Sure, sometimes it’s nice to have easy going miles on a
quite, unused jeep road. You can walk side by side. You can switch
sides when to walk on smoother tread. You can shut your mind off and
just walk. But highway walking? That sucks. We did a bunch of it. Ten
miles? Then turned off to the right on a good quality dirt road for
another bunch of miles. It was the start of our own adventure.
No other southbounders (and I bet, few northbounders) hiked the way we
hiked. That’s a little strange because the only radical thing that we
did was to stay on the official trail. We hiked the “Red Route”. No
one else did. Turned off the highway, onto that dirt road, at a huge
mine site. Kind of cool seeing the oversized earth moving equipment
moving around the site looking like tiny toys.
Camped that night up at Mud Spring, in a mountain range that I’ve
already forgotten the name of. Besides having to drink directly from a
cattle trough that had no inflow, it wasn’t a bad site. Then, a little
after midnight, calamity struck. Lost and I bolted upright with a
sizeable FIRE burning right next to us. FIRE! Holy hell! Within a half
a second of waking up, it grabbed Lost’s burning pack to pull it
farther to safety. Regretably, I hadn’t seen that her pack was already
aflames. The FIRE! panic switched to pain and greater fear. I burned
my hand! Water! Sure enough, grabbing a burning pack isn’t a good
idea. I now had melted plastic all over my hand. SHIT. I could prolong
the writing of this, simply because I’m a fan of myself. And being
badly burned is an important event in my eyes…. But… Well… I
peeled off all the plastic. It was mostly superficial. I had partial
thickness burns on two of my fingers, and a number of burn blisters.
It took a vicodin and some time to ease the pain enough to go to sleep
again. Lost, lost a lot of important and expensive stuff in the fire.
The entire bottom of her pack burned, as did her iPod, camera, cell
phone, some food, and various odds and ends. Not good at all.
Remarkably, she fashioned a fix for her pack and we could continue the
thruhike without interuption. We guess that she’d lit some duff on
fire hours before while cooking. It smoldered for hours, then burst
into flames when the wind picked up later in the night.
That’s definitely the big story of the section. On other topics? The
mountain range with Jack’s Peak was small, but quite nice. It was
novel hiking trail that was mostly well built and always well signed.
It was novel hiking trail that had seen no footprints for months. We
left the mountains and did some desert walking. We drank out of
another cattle trough. Two in a row. That one had a solar well near
by, but those don’t work when you’re there only in the dark hours. We
learned to hate grass seeds. More bothersome than cactus spines, these
tiny grass seeds would go right through our shoes, into our socks and
into our feet. Their needly quality called for immediate stopping. It
was so sharp and painful that we had to remove them instantly. It was
at it’s worst just north of Lordsburg, but continued for dozens of
miles south of there as well.
This section has been both full and fullfilling. It’s intimidating to start this journal entry, I feel like I’ve done so much since Pie Town.
I’ll start with the beginning. It was a road walk out of Pie Town. Lost, Stretch and I made decent time along the mostly flat, little used dirt road. The weather was good. We passed an animal sanctuary that had a water cache and a request not to linger. Their dogs mostly roam free, and had a tendency to follow hikers. A headache and a problem they say. A truck passing by stopped to chat. The friendly guy lives out in the middle of no place significant. He told me an interesting story about how one of his newer neighbors was recently arrested. Turns out the man had bought his property with the proceeds of a major Las Vegas gold and silver robbery. He was in the process of building his new off the grid lifestyle when the law tracked him down. The new owners of the place have erected a sign calling it “Robber’s Roost”. That afternoon thunder clouds bloomed, banged and flashed as we walked past some pyramid shapped peaks.
Second day and third.. I hardly remember. It wasn’t a very remarkable section. We walked on roads, we walked on trails. I got us beer and soda from some drunk hunters. That was nice. Lost let out a scream in camp one night. She’s a pretty quite girl so it wasn’t a significant scream. But a minute later Stretch and I definitely heard her shout “A dog’s running towards you!” It was dark, I expected something that’d be growling and biting. She turned out to be one of the friendliest dogs I’ve met in a long time. Sure, she’d been rolling in cow poo, probably eating it too, but man what a wonderful dog! She sat in our laps. She obeyed our requests without hesitation. She didn’t beg for our dinner. And come bed time, she followed us and slept right by my head. In the morning, we had high hopes of keeping her. Planned to hitch to the nearest town and buy dog food, print “Lost Dog” posters and Lost would have a new dog. But first, Lost went searching for the owner, a dim prospect considering we weren’t anyplace. But sure enough, after an hour and a half she came back dogless and sad having found the owner.
The next night, we stopped a little early. The forecast was for 70% chance of thunderstorms and we were facing dark black clouds right before a substantial treeless section. I called for a stop at the last of the trees. It was early. But keeping with our current theme, we weren’t worried about making miles. So we stopped and played cards. (I’m killing Lost at Gin Rummy.) Had to search for another campsite as it started to sprinkle. The first one had the remains of at least two gutted and skinned Elk. Thanks for leaving them directly in camp, assholes. It’s so nice to have the luxury of doing low mileage days. We’d stopped early, and we’d stopped just before it started snowing. Snow. hmmmmmm….
Dry, but cold, we packed up early the next morning. It hadn’t snowed a lot. That walk across the long grasslands towards T-Bar Canyon was absolutely stunning. It didn’t warm up for a few hours. Walking through the frozen, snow dusted grass, sun rising, fog lingering, it was one of the most beautiful bits of the trail. We were thankful that the weather had stopped us. For that and because just as it started to warm, we headed down into the Gila River. 70+ crossings? I believe it.
We hiked along the Gila for fifty miles I believe. It was a highlight of the entire trail. The river was never too deep. Above the knees at the most. The forest was mature, diverse and welcoming. The hot springs sublime. The cliffs! Thousand foot cliffs. Lots of wildlife. Other friendly backpackers.
We hit the Cliff Dwellings. I bought a book. 1491. I’m enthralled by it. We sat at Dog Campbell’s Country Store. The owner is a pretty high strung dude, and I thought the ice cream to be only so-so. But the camping at the hot springs down by the river was sublime. We hiked the Lower Gila as well. Saw two rattle snakes. Walking behind Lost, I jumped and scampered. We’d both just walked three inches away from a rattle snake. She hadn’t even noticed it. A few hours later, sitting at lunch, another rattler slithered right up to us and then got angy with *us*. Poison Oak along the trail and higher stream crossings combined for a little bit of tension filled walking.
Left the Gila. Again, a highlight. Then headed up and away, finally leaving the beautiful river. Walked through some nice forests. Split off from the CDTS/Columbus Route. We’ve chosen to take the “official” CDTA/Government approved route to the finish at Crazy Cook. Most other hikers this year are going the other way. It was interesting that as soon as we chose the official trail, it pretty well disappeared. It was really nice walking. Lots of cactus and yucca. But seriously. What happened to the trail? I spent some time building some miles of cairns for future hikers.
Camped at the end of public land before Silver City last night. Ordered pizza to be delivered to our campsite.
Saw a lot of wildlife as I said. Lots of Elk, tons of deer, two bears, three snakes, a skunk,…
We’ve got a really relaxed schedule. Plenty of time for cards, reading, sleeping while it’s still cold and being lazy in town. Some hikers rush towards the finish of the long trails, ready to be done. Not us.
I’m loving Silver City.. Friendliest people. Lamb burger at a cool, hidden cafe. Single cup drip coffee at another cool shop. On to the co-op for my resupply. I could live here.
I’m in Pie Town at the Toaster House. This awesome reality is
eclipsing the past few days. But first, the past.
It’s been a nearly continuous road walk since the malpais. A little on
the highway brought us to a large arch. From there we scurried
crosscountry up a mesa to walk a little up high. Good views of what I
think must be the largest lava field that I’ve ever seen. Looks like
pretty old flows though as there are trees dispersed throughout. After
passing a couple getting it on hot and heavy at the picnic area, we
hit the highway for some more ipod listening and road walking.
We swung by a solar well that was working when we heard that it
wasn’t, then hit dirt for the rest of the section. I ate my bagels,
cream cheese and veggies at our first ever windmill source. It hadn’t
occurred to me that I’d have to wait a little for it to be windy
before the windmill would pump water. Not a big deal that day because
a gust came along quickly, but some days there is no wind for hours.
Later, we scurried up another mesa to a little known ruin site. It was
so awesome! They’d built their community in an easily defensible
perch. Lots of walls, storage areas and pottery shards were left
around. Really great!
Night hiking was the order of the night. We’ve got to do what we’ve
got to do! Road walking ain’t so bad at night. Plus it set us up for a
doable distance the next day into Pie Town the next day.
I can’t say that it felt good to throw a thirty five mile day, but we
did it.In the morning, a full 27 miles out, we hit the road that we’d
be on the rest of the day. I don’t remember if I laughed, cried or
just whined at the sight of the road stretching ahead of us. But I do
remember the distinct lack of excitement about it.
Ain’t much to report about a full day of walking on a high standard
road. No breaks except lunch. A few people stopped to offer us rides.
One, after it got dark, asked if we were hunting. “No, we’re hiking
the Continental Divide Trail.” He gave us a thoroughly confused and
bewildered look, said “ummm, ok…” and gunned his engine away. Pretty
The definite highlight of the day was stopping at a ranch house to get
water. I was expecting to just use the rancher’s spigot. Instead, I
got a full trail angel encounter with John and Anzie Thomas. What
great people! They love meeting the hikers that stop at their house
for water. They showed me around their cool antiques. And they showed
me the CDTS newsletter that I’d never seen before. Funny because my
name was in it!
Pulled into the Toaster House after dark and met up with Stretch.
Nita’s old house, is free and open to long distance hikers and bikers.
It’s homey, stocked with food and has everything one needs. Truly a
home for us hikers. What a special place. I haven’t yet met the owner
but am already touched by her generosity and love. It reminds me of
various old hippy houses that I’ve been in in northern california.
It’s a true community house for this long distance community that
stretches over thousands of miles, many states, and many years. Really
it feels like home for this vagabond group of world hikers. So
I’ve drank a bunch of coffee, done laundry, read High Country News,
visited with the chickens, given a water report to Mr. Ley, and am
just waiting for the Pie-O-Neer to open so I can gorge on some famous
I love Pie Town!
Two nights out of grants and we are at the second water cache just
after the malpais. Thanks trail angels!
Feeling a little haggard this evening. Likely cause is only drinking a
liter since lunch and hiking without break. We kept booking it because
the going was slow across the lava fields. In terms of trail tread, El
Malpais was easily the roughest section of the CDT. Cool but we’re
looking forward to some of the road walking coming up. Knowing how
much I dislike roads we’re planning on getting off of it a few times.
We hear that there is a three hundred room ruin complex tomorrow!
On a frustrating note, Lost is carrying a six moon designs pack that
is a total piece of junk! Today her shoulder strap ripped off for the
third time! Add to that the countless holes in the pack, and the fact
that I’ve seen similar problems with other smd packs, I’d never buy
one of their packs. Earlier today before the strap broke, she jokingly
asked if I’d walk behind her the rest of the way incase anything fell
through the holes.
On the plus side we are both carrying tons of food. My pack is full of