Attached at the bottom of this post is the first of many updates of my GDT To CDT itinerary. For now, I have set my start date to April 1, 2014. My actual start date will be anywhere from April 1st to April 15th, depending on snow and weather conditions in the South San Juans next spring. I will finish my hike on October 1st or sooner.
CDT To GDT Hike – Summary Statistics
- I will hike for 128 days on the CDT and 37 days on the GDT, for a total of 165 days (excludes zero days – see below)
- My average pace, when on trail, will be 20.7 miles/day
- I have scheduled a total of 19 “zero days”
- I will be mailing myself 11 resupply packages on the CDT and 6 resupply packages on the GDT
- My longest stretch between resuppies will be approximately 9 days in the last stretch between Jasper and Kakwa Lake.
You will also notice that the Average Mi/Day column is highlighted. These figures can and will be updated as I do more research and get better estimates about my pace in specific sections. (NOTE: These paces were updated on February 2, 2014. I will show actual paces once I complete the hike to facilitate future CDT and GDT thru-hikers planning efforts.)
CDT To GDT Hike – Additional Thoughts
Layover Days. I am planning approximately 19 layover days (zero days) to be used as rest and resupply days in towns along the trail. It is not uncommon to take rest days approximately every week or so on a thru-hike. On the PCT I took 23 zero days, and an additional 19 “nero days” (partial zero’s) during the 5 month hike. I have the flexibility of cutting back or adding to these to time my hike around bad weather or unexpected delays.
See my PCT wrap-up and summary statistics on my PCT Blog.
Colorado. The schedule below has me in Chama, the last New Mexico town, on May 7th. Even before Chama I have been warned that I can expect to hit accumulated snow in the foothills of NM. Most CDT thru-hikers plan to reach Colorado no earlier than June 1st but as late as June 15th during heavy snow years, to avoid the worst snow in the Rockies. However, if I have already settled on hiking through most of CO over snowpack, than does it really matter if I hike through on May 1st or May 16th?
Snow and Thunderstorms. Yes, the weather in CO will be slightly colder and the trail will be buried under snow in May, forcing me to navigate with map and compass and possibly navigate a few really cold river fords. But colder weather also means more solid packed snow, less post-holing and better perch on steep traverses. Also, the primary thunderstorm months on the divide are June, July and August, with a shoulder seasons of May and September. This means less frequent storms in May, when I will be passing through. Also, most storms in May tend to occur in the lower elevations, and I will be traversing the ridges above tree-line for the most part. Finally, I will have the place all to myself as most hikers do not enter the mountains before June!
GDT Timing. Prime hiking season in the Canadian Rockies is short, from mid-July through mid-August, this period being considered the warmest time of the year. Temps in the upper elevations (>6,500 feet) range between 15°C (59°F) and 3°C (37°F). While temps in the valleys range from 22°C(72°F) and 7°C(45°F). When I enter Waterton N.P. in mid-August, I can expect most snow to be melted off, no mosquitos (mosquito season peaks in late June/early July), generally warm temperatures rarely dipping below freezing, and lots of tourists in the National Parks.
*Source for the previous GDT Data: Canadian Rockies Trail Guide by Brian Patton & Bart Robinson
Bears. Bears will be a concern once I get north of Colorado. Grizzly and Black Bears inhabit all of the GDT and are prevalent in Wyoming and Montana. I will be carrying bear spray from from Yellowstone Park north.
If you have hiked the PCT or the AT, you may be thinking that bears are nothing to worry about. I do have a healthy skepticism when someone tells me to be afraid of something-“fear-mongering” is a tradition on long trails. Word spreads from hikers farther up the trail about the snow level or the river crossings or what-not, and these get repeated and altered until the story gets blown out of proportion and hikers make big decision based on something they themselves have not experienced or witnessed first-hand.
Now the chances of a bear knawing on my arms as an appetizer before moving on to my meaty quads and glutes is extremely rare. But due to my inexperience hiking through Grizzly country, I choose to appeal to my healthy fear of 800 lb, 10 ft tall big-clawed mammals with bear-spray.
The video below, taken during a four-month period when a trail in Waterton Lakes National Park (the GDT passes through the same park) shows that bears are a constant presence, using our trails to move through their territory.
Pace. Besides trying to average approximately 21 miles/day, I have a made a few small adjustments. My first few days on the trail will be at an 18 mile pace to get myself acclimated and my legs and feet broken in. Beyond a few slow days, I feel comfortable hiking the rest of NM at a leisurely 22 miles per day. In CO I have set a goal of 18 miles due to the snow and elevation (this may need to be adjusted downward) and then in parts of WY and MT I have increased the pace to 25 miles. I have left most of the GDT at 20 miles to get me to the finish line On October 1st. This is a fairly conservative plan as I know that I am capable of hiking 25-30 miles/day on a pretty regular basis. My goal here was to get to the finish line before October, but there is a lot of flexibility built into this schedule. For example, I reserve the right to hike faster while on the trail and spend that extra time earned in town if that floats my boat!
Resupply. I have marked each town with (P) to indicate towns I will send myself a resupply package, or S to indicate towns where I will resupply at groceries in town. Blue highlighted towns are essential package resupply towns-where there are no options for other resupply. My longest stretches between resupplies are 8.5 days from Elkhart Park Trailhead to Old Faithful Village, and 9.0 miles from Jasper to Kakwa Lake at the end of my hike. Elkhart Park may be a mistake on my spreadsheet (shouldn’t I be resupplying from Dubois?) and the Jasper section may need to be broken up with a resupply stop near Mt. Robson.
Totals. The total CDT To GDT hike is 3,453 miles or 5,557 km. This can and will vary depending on which alternate routes I take, or choose not to take. Total days on the trail stands at 167 days (plus an additional 19 zero days) while my average pace, when I am on trail, is 20.7 miles per day. A hike like this includes many variables and planning every one would defeat the purpose, so this itinerary will be used merely as a guideline.
A Note On Sources: The sources for most of my CDT data, including estimated mileage and resupply towns, are Yogi’s CDT Handbook, and the Jonathan Ley Maps. The source for most of my GDT data is the guidebook Hiking Canada’s Great Continental Divide Trail, by Dustin Lynx. This book and Yogi’s Handbook are available for sale at the links provided. The CDT maps are available from Jonathan Ley by request (he will send you a CD-ROM) or by download at Francis Tapon’s website. All of these sources continue to be indispensable in my planning. If you download the Ley maps, please consider making a donation to him directly via his website as he does not charge a penny for his efforts.
(P) = Package Resupply, S = Town Resupply, Blue Highlight = No Town Resupply Available
If you have hiked the CDT or GDT and can offer any advice on my estimated pace, choice of resupply towns, planned layover days or anything else, I would love to hear from you!
Please leave a comment and tell me what a fool I am. I will most likely agree with you and then go along with my plan anyways, but at least you can say I told you so next summer when I stumble down the mountain frost-bitten and starving. :)
– Russ (aka: Morrissey)