The Ridiculously Complete and Lengthy CDT Thru-Hike Summary

CDT To GDT Thru-Hike

In many aspects, my Continental Divide Trail experience was the complete opposite of what I experienced on the PCT. Inclement weather conditions, solitude, snow and navigation were all issues I dealt with on a daily basis on the divide. I hope you have gained an idea of what the day-to-day experience on the CDT is like by reading my trip reports, but here I would like to share with you the big picture.

Below I have pulled together all the summary stats I think a person planning a thru-hike of the CDT might appreciate. Even if you are not planning to thru-hike, some of the advice I offer below should be useful to the section hiker as well. If there is something that you are curious about that I have left out, please leave a comment below. I will do my best to reply or update this post.

Finish Stats: Miles/Day, Total Days, Total Layover Days

Total Days Mexico To Canada: 154 days, April 1st – September 1st (Plan=140 days)

Total Miles: Anywhere from 2,600 to 3,000 (depending on which resource you trust)

NOTES ON TOTAL MILEAGE: My plan for my CDT Hike, per Jonathan Ley Miles (as reported in Yogi’s 2012 CDT Guide), was 2,713 miles. If I account for some of the major alternates I took (Creede Route and Anaconda Route) then my actual LEY miles hiked was around 2,560 miles. These are the miles that I used to calculate my miles per day calculations that you see below. However, I hiked with Northern Stryder for about 1,000 miles while on the trail and he used the Bear Creek Survey maps. We compared notes frequently and his mileage calculations were always 10-20% greater than those shown on the Ley Maps; especially in Colorado. Ley miles are notoriously under-estimated, i.e.: he used an estimation method that does not account for elevation gain/loss and detail in the actual route. For example, when the trail switchbacked up or down a mountain, he would often just draw a straight line. My understanding is that he used some kind of device that he rolled over the red line on the physical maps to determine distance. So the reason I gave the range is because I really don’t know how many actual miles I hiked, because I did all of my planning using the inaccurate Ley miles. Per Jerry Brown of Bear Creek Surveys: “…the official trail is between 3,000 and 3,100 miles long. We collected about 2.7 million data points with three pro-grade GPS receivers running simultaneously and thinned it down to about a three meter spacing which is now the official database used by the USFS. Mapping the trail was (and still is) an official forest service project.”
 

Total Layover Days*: 46.5 (Plan=12.5)

  • NM – 7.5 (Plan=3.5)
  • CO – 26 (Plan=2)
  • WY – 5.5 (Plan=4)
  • ID/MT – 7.5 (Plan=3)

*Layover Days includes full days (zero’s) and partial days (nero’s) taken off in trail towns.

Longest Layover Towns: Pagosa Springs-7 days, Chama-6 days, Leadville-4 days

Average Miles/Day (excluding layover days): 23.9 (Plan=21.2)

  • NM – 21.9 (Plan=21)
  • CO – 20.3 (Plan=18)
  • WY – 26.7 (Plan=22.1)
  • ID/MT – 28.3 (Plan=24.3)

Average Miles/Day (including layover days): 16.7 (Plan=19.3)

  • NM – 17.6 (Plan=18.9)
  • CO – 10.9 (Plan=17.1)
  • WY – 20.4 (Plan=18.6)
  • ID/MT – 22.4 (Plan=22.4)

Longest Mileage Day: approximately 38 miles

As you can see from above, my original plan of finishing the CDT at the Canadian border on August 19th was thrown off in Colorado, where I took twenty-six layover days (neros and zeros) instead of my plan of two! Colorado can be explained in part by my time off in Chama (six days) and in Pagosa Springs (seven days) where I chose to wait out the late spring snow-storms and give the snow-pack time to melt off, and honestly, I needed this time off to recover from the strenuous conditions I experienced in the South San Juan’s. Each of the early sections in Colorado were mini-adventures in and of themselves. I also took four days off in Leadville and two and a half days off in Steamboat Springs.

It is pretty clear that I severely under-estimated how much time off I would need at all points on the CDT. Some parts of this trail were so exhausting that to properly recover required much more time in town than anticipated. In addition, my body can only process so many calories in a given day, so consuming as many calories as possible became the most important activity at each town stop. This was not merely an indulgence, it was truly for health and survival!

Even with thirty-four more layover days than I originally planned for this trip, I managed to finish at the Canadian border only twelve days behind schedule by making up big miles in Wyoming and Montana. By the time I reached the Bob Marshall Wilderness in northern Montana, I was regularly hiking 30+ miles per day.

Here is the journal entry from one of my biggest mileage days along the Idaho/Montana border:

I managed a  6:45 AM departure this morning. Stryder was hiking by 6:15 and I waved as he set off and I finished sipping my coffee. I caught Stryder at eight near Lena Lake, after five miles. The scenery was spectacular as the sunrise once again backlit Homer Young’s Peak and reflected from the other craggy peaks near the divide. After Lena Lake I hiked to Slag-O-Melt Lake and then worked my way through valleys and over passes until finally I crossed over to Idaho and into the Salmon National Forest. After a nice hike on some new trail cut into the mountain I dropped down into thick and dense forest and crawled along the south fork of Sheep Creek until ascending up through Brandon Gulch to achieve the divide once again, and Big Hole Pass (just 16.5 miles from Chief Joseph Pass). I rallied after dinner four to five more miles to make thirty-five miles for the day. I am now camped on the divide on an un-named peak, twelve miles from the pass where I will hitch into Darby tomorrow to begin two well-deserved zero days. The sunset was bright orange tonight. – August 7, 2014

Personally, I would rather hike big days and get to town a day early rather than hike smaller days and spend less time in town. I used the motivation of a shower and town food to help push me. This strategy worked well when I had planned poorly for food and when the weather was wet and cold, discouraging me from taking too many breaks. Taking a lingering break when it is cold and raining is really not much fun. Hiking faster and longer and getting to town sooner just seemed like the best option in these cases.

Other Random Stats

Longest Resupply: Pagosa Springs to Salida, 6.6 Days (though I had the opportunity to resupply in Creede, but chose not to)

Favorite Trail Towns: Lander, Pinedale, Pagosa Springs, Salida

Least Favorite Trail Towns: Leadore, Lordsburg, Rawlins

My Starting Weight: 165 lbs

My Finishing Weight: 145 lbs

Favorite CDT Breakfast: Sharky’s Eatery, Frasier, CO. Their Florentine Benedict was amazing! Runner Up: No Sweat Cafe, Helena, MT.

Favorite CDT Brewery: RiffRaff Brewing Company, Pagosa Springs, CO. Seriously, if you have to spend any length of time here, you’ll want to spend happy hour every day at this place!

Town Stops With Smallest Population (per 2013 census): Leadore, ID (102). Lima, MT (226)

Town Stops With Largest Population (per 2013 census): Helena, MT (29,596). Steamboat Springs, CO (12,100). Silver City, NM (10,273).

Town Stop With Highest Elevation: Leadville at 10,152 feet

Town Stop With Lowest Elevation: Lordsburg, NM at 4,250 feet

Highest Point On The CDT: Gray’s Peak, CO at 14,270 feet

Lowest Point On The CDT: Columbus, NM at 3,900 feet, one of several starting points at the Mexican border. Waterton Lake at Glacier National Park, at 4,200 feet, is a close second.

Shoes Worn: Four pairs. I wore one pair of Brooks Cascadias for over 1,000 miles from Steamboat Springs, CO to Helena, MT. My final pair of Cascadias that I wore from Helena, MT to Waterton at the Canadian Border are still going strong! (Note: The Brook’s Cascadia shoes seem to be getting less durable with each new version. The 2014 Cascadia 9’s that I wore to the Canadian border quickly developed an issue with the mesh covering the top-outside of the foot. The Cascadia 8’s that I wore throughout Wyoming and Montana, had no isses. The new 2015 Cascadia 10’s seem even less durable than it’s predecessors!)

Number Of Bear Sightings: Two. I ran across a black bear on the trail in the Wind River Range and again just north of Dubois, WY. Both times they ran away from me quickly after they noticed me. I did not see any grizzly bears on the trail, though I saw many signs of them.

Number Of Major Peaks Summited: This depends on your definition of a major peak. I summited three fourteeners in Colorado: Mt. Elbert, Gray’s Peak and Torrey’s Peak, in addition to a half-dozen or so thirteeners. In New Mexico I summited 11,301 foot Mt. Taylor, and 8,642 foot Mangas Mountain. The highest point I reached in Wyoming is Knapsack Col (a pass) at 12,280 feet. In Montana, Horse Prairie Peak is the highest point on the trail at 10,194 feet.

My Five Favorite Section Hikes

The Wind River Range: Hiking north from South Pass City you quickly leave the dry basin and enter the Wind River Range in northern Wyoming. You can hike 125 miles on the CDT and exit at the Elkhart Park Trailhead, having hiked through the Cirque Du Towers and other spectacular scenery, or you can continue north from here to Highway 26 and hitch into the town of Dubois 115 miles farther. By extending your hike to Dubois you are able to hike through one of my favorite CDT alternates at Titcomb Lakes and over Knapsack Col (Read about my experience on this trail in the Wind River Range section of this post).

Gray’s and Torrey’s Peaks: Starting from the tiny town of Montezuma in the Colorado Rockies, hike northeast along the road to the Argentine Pass Trailhead. The trail switch-backs up toward Argentine Pass, crossing several steep snow-chutes in the early season (bring an ice-axe and spikes). Once you reach the pass you continue along the ridge toward Gray’s Peak. To get to Gray’s Peak there is some third-class scrambling along the ridge around large boulders, so be sure you are comfortable with rock scrambling. Once you pass this section, it is just a hike up rock and scree to the summit and a spectacular view. After descending to the saddle you can drop your pack and practically run up to the top of Torrey’s Peak with your lighter load. I made the round trip from the saddle to the top of Torrey’s and back to the saddle in about an hour. You then descend off the mountain toward the Gray’s/Torrey’s Trailhead near Interstate-70 to the north. (Read about my experience on this trail halfway down this post).

CDT to GDT Thru-Hike
May 17 – Sunrise In The San Juans

Cumbres Pass to Wolf Creek Pass: Starting at 10,015 feet in elevation (see the banner image at the top of this post), hike north from Highway 17 into the San Juan Mountains and one of the most spectacularly scenic sections of the CDT. This sixty-five mile section reaches an altitude of approximately 13,000 feet and much of it is straddling the divide along the ridges of the Rio Grande and San Juan National Forests. It is remote and scenic. Again, an ice-axe and spikes are required for anytime of year besides the peak season of August/September.

All of Glacier National Park: I get the feeling that no matter where I walk in Glacier, it would rank high up there with the most scenic trails I have ever hiked. It is easy to reserve backcountry permits as long as you plan in advance and are flexible. Even in the busy season of late August, as a walk-in, I was able to get the exact itinerary I wanted only a day in advance. Bring bear spray as this is Grizzly territory. Other animals you may encounter in Glacier are black bear, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, gray wolf and even the elusive cougar and wolverine, of which there are only a reported 30 or so animals, compared to 300 or so grizzlies in the park. (Read about my hike through Glacier at the bottom of this post).

Gila National Forest: Unique on the CDT is a hike through the Middle Fork of the Gila River. This is in fact not the official CDT route, but an alternate that most hikers opt for. After a hot and dusty hike through the desert, the river provides water, shade and abundant wildlife including javelina, beaver, deer and wild turkey! Start at Doc Campbells near the Gila Hot-Springs Ranch and arrange a pick-up at Highway 12, eighty-five miles later. Don’t forget to plan to spend a few hours at the Jordan Hot Springs which sits just fifty feet above the river and overlooks the river valleys multi-colored hoodoos and cathedral-like cliffs. Plan for low miles through the Gila as a flood washed out much of the trail-tread along the river in 2013 which can make for slow and often frustrating progress. (Read more about my experience in the Gila River here).

My Big Fears – How Did They Work Out?

A general note about preparation: The CDT much more remote and rugged than the other long distance trails. You may have been able to get away with some shortcuts in planning on these other trails such as relying on the generosity of other hikers, resupplying out of hiker boxes, hiking without map and compass,  getting by with ultra-light gear, relying on trail markers and signs to guide you, etc…. However, you should not take shortcuts in preparing for the CDT, as it is an unforgiving trail. You will not just be hiking, but doing mountaineering as well. You may encounter avalanche danger in the South San Jauns. You will certainly be dodging thunder and lightning all throughout Colorado. Water shortages are a big consideration in most of New Mexico and in the Great Basin in Wyoming. If you are not used to high altitude climbing, you should do some training before you start the CDT. Most of the trail in Colorado is at an elevation of more than 10,000 feet. You alone need to be completely responsible for yourself on the trail. If you lose a hiking partner, it is not always possible to find another one as the number of thru-hikers on the CDT is very small; 100 or so per year compared to 600 on the PCT and 4000+ on the AT. Being self-reliant is critical to a successful hike.

CDT to GDT thru-hike
Snow-shoe tracks

Snow: Snow was undoubtedly the biggest challenge for me on the CDT this year. Snow is the reason why I finished on September 1st instead of my planned finish date of August 19th. Pagosa Springs and Chama represented most of this time as I was waiting for late spring storms to blow through and for snow to melt.

Snow was ever-present in Colorado. Just a day after leaving Ghost Ranch in New Mexico I encountered snow and I didn’t have more than a few days of dry trail again until Badger Pass north of Encampment (near the start of The Great Basin). Only a few sections of Colorado dipped below 10,000 feet and were therefore snow-free for short stretches; these include the Creede alternate and the section north of San Luis Pass.

Loneliness: I managed my time alone pretty well. I hiked the first two months completely alone. Until I reached Creede on May 28th, I only passed a handful of section hikers on the trail. In Creede I met my first thru-hiker and beginning at San Luis Pass we hiked for just a few days together. Once I arrived in Salida, I met Northern Stryder and from Leadville to Anaconda, about 1200 miles, we shared campsites and hotel rooms. Once I left Stryder back in Anaconda, I finished the trail mostly alone.

I actually enjoyed my alone time on the trail. Far from going crazy, I began to trust my instincts and became self-reliant. There were some tense moments where I would have loved the encouragement of a hiking partner: my iPhone (and thus my gps) died in a snow-storm and I had a significant challenge navigating through the fresh snow with a map and compass, there were several instances where I thought I might slide down the mountain swept away by an avalanche, I ran short of food more times than I want to admit, I was near hypothermic in the Bob Marshall Wilderness after four days of rain; but I survived all of these episodes and learned to enjoy the challenge each new day presented. It is quite possible that if I had a partner or hiked in a group through these sections I would have had to compromise my experience, or lose these experiences al-together.

Injury: Be prepared. This is my best advice for avoiding injury on a thru-hike. This means not only carrying a small first-aid kit, but also training your body to take on the challenge of five months of hiking 20-30 miles per day. Being physically fit before you embark on a thru-hike, and pacing yourself, will prevent most of the common injuries on the trail; shin-splints, Achilles Tendonitis, knee and hip injuries, muscle strains.

The most common causes of these types of injuries is either being unfit when you start, or attempting to push your body too far too quickly. Those first few days should be on the short side…12-15 miles per day. Then you can begin to push bigger miles…perhaps 20 miles per day for a week or ten days. You need this time to develop your “trail legs”. As a general rule (and this all depends on your level of fitness at the start of a hike) you don’t want to push yourself beyond about 80% of your maximum daily mileage for at least the first 400-500 miles. For me, about 35 miles is about my max and so I stayed at around 25 miles/day or less for most of New Mexico.

Once I reached Colorado, I knew the threat of injury was much less, though the terrain was much more challenging. By the time I crossed over into Wyoming and the Great Basin I felt unstoppable and was pushing 30+ miles per day regularly. The most important thing you can do throughout a hike is to listen to your body and allow yourself plenty of time in town to rest when you feel an injury coming on.

Other injuries can happen no matter how well you prepare, so having some key items in your fits-aid kit is necessary. After leaving Ghost Ranch and hiking up toward the Colorado plateau, I used my Kershaw knife to cut off a piece of bandage that was hanging off of my right index finger (my fingers were cracking and bleeding near the nail due to dehydration and dry conditions) and accidentally sliced through my finger. I quickly put pressure on it, dabbed it with antiseptic, wrapped it with gauze and taped it up with surgical tape. Other items I would recommend carrying are a dozen or so aspirin (or Advil), a compression wrap (for shin-splints), a spare lighter or matches, a variety of bandages, moleskin blister tape, tweezers, a signal mirror and an emergency whistle.

Don’t worry about carrying anything more than these basics. If you have a serious injury while on the trail, such as a broken leg, ankle or something more serious, than nothing you carry will help you. Many hikers carry a SPOT or InReach emergency communication device that allows you to use a satellite signal to send an emergency message to search and rescue and/or a designated contact. If you are hiking alone a lot or you want to give your loved ones peace of mind, this is certainly an option.

River Crossings: Surprisingly, river crossings were not a big issue for me on the CDT. Most of the significant crossings had bridges or logs to cross over. There are a couple of exceptions. In southern Colorado just south of Salida I crossed the Cochetopa River at a waist-high crossing because the log bridge had been washed out. A week or two later, another hiker was swept away at the same crossing and ended up at a beaver dam down-river. He suffered some lost gear but otherwise he was ok. On the Buffalo River north of Brooks Lake Lodge there is apparently no bridge crossing and I had heard that fording the river could be quite dangerous. My hiking partner, Stryder, and I decided to take an alternate route by hitching down the highway to Togwotee Lodge, hiking several miles along a pack trail and crossing the river on a steel bridge. Several hikers who reached the official crossing a week later reported that it was no longer dangerous.

My Top Ten Recommendations For Future CDT Thru-Hikers

1. Plan for at least thirty zero days. This may seem extreme, but if you want to enjoy your town stays as well as your overall hiking experience, then time off is essential. The CDT is a different animal than other long trails. The challenges of navigation, constant wind on the divide, snow, bushwhacking, and other conditions will drain your energy much more quickly on this trail. If you plan for thirty zero days than you have more flexibility and can always adjust your plan later if you feel especially motivated. However, if you plan only ten or fifteen zero days and end up needing more, than you will be rushing through the rest of the trail to catch up, adding stress and reducing enjoyment.

2. Prepare for snow. You will not know what snow conditions you will encounter until you are already on trail. If you reach Colorado before snow has melted during a heavy snow year, then you will need snow-shoes and an ice-axe. Even in a normal snow-year, ice and snow can linger into July in the CO Rockies. Though I had planned for snow due to my early start date of April 1st, many behind me were caught off guard by the late snow storms and the amount of snow on the ground, and therefore had to purchase snow gear in Pagosa Springs or flip up to Wyoming to hike the Basin while the snow melted out in Colorado. Always have the gear ready to be sent to Pagosa. You can always make the decision to send the gear back home once you reach Colorado. The section from Ghost Ranch to Cumbres Pass will be a litmus test for snow conditions farther north in Colorado.

3. Over-pack for food. If you have ever been on a week-long backpacking trip than you know how quickly hunger can take hold of your thoughts and become an uncomfortable focus of your experience. Now double your daily mileage, add a few thousand feet of elevation gain and loss per day and repeat twenty times. Your body will burn up to 6,000 calories a day on a hike while most male adults consume 2,640 calories (1,785 calories for women) on average (according to the Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2010 from the US Dept. of Agriculture and the US Dept. of Health and Human Services). You will not be able to close this gap. For the first few weeks of your hike, your body still has plenty of fat stores, but each day of hiking puts you in a deficit of calories that is very difficult to replenish, even if you eat a gallon of ice-cream at every town stop. By the end of a thru-hike, this deficit has pulled most of the stored energy from your body and you suffer from malnourishment much more quickly. This seems to be a bigger issue for males than for females, many of which report no weight-loss after a thru-hike. Bottom line: carry as much food as you can stuff in your pack, and eat at every opportunity while in town. This later recommendation will not be a problem for any thru-hiker!

One of the reasons I decided to not continue hiking the Great Divide Trail (GDT) immediately following the CDT is because I could feel the shortness of energy from my 145 pound frame. I had no more reserves. It would have been a struggle, and perhaps a health concern, to hike for another six weeks.

4. Take your time through Colorado. Colorado has some of the best trail towns, and the best hostels on the trail. Spend time here and enjoy yourself. The trail is rugged and you are often climbing over two or three passes in one day. Plan for fifteen miles/day here, no more than twenty, and give yourself plenty of time to set up camp before dark. You will be rewarded with more sunsets, wildlife encounters and you will reduce your risk of making bad judgement calls if you plan for low miles.

CDT To GDT Thru-Hike
Divide Why?

5. Hike your own hike. There are lots of recommended alternates and many more options for road walks on the CDT. If you have hiked other longs trail such as the AT or PCT, you will be tempted to treat this experience the same. The CDT is nothing like those other trails. There is no such thing as “touching every blaze” or “walking a continuous line from Mexico to Canada” on the CDT. Make peace with this early on. If you do not like the idea of walking on a highway for 20 miles into town (Silver City, Anaconda), then get a hitch and never look back. If the snow conditions make it dangerous to take the San Juan Route, then skip it and hike through Creede. You can always explore the missed routes on another trip. If thunder storms force you to take a lower route in Colorado,  do it! If you want to take the Big Sky Alternate through Yellowstone National Park (and skip the ID/MT border hike) then you should. There is no right or wrong way to hike the CDT. If you are worried about others judging your hike based on specific routes you chose, then perhaps you are hiking for the wrong reasons.

6. During the miserable or frustrating times, know that it is only temporary. Every time I suffered through inclement weather or struggled through deep snow or felt extreme loneliness, there was a high point immediately following. When an early winter storm blew in and shrouded me in fog and rain for four days, I struggled. After leaving Benchmark Ranch and arriving at the The Chinese Wall on day five, I was rewarded with my first sunrise in five days reflecting brilliantly off of the wall and a thrilling encounter with a coyote who kept me company all morning. You learn most about your character when you are faced with difficult times, so learn to embrace them as part of the overall experience of your journey.

7. Wear two pairs of socks, including toe socks. I can remember getting blisters only ONE TIME, a blood blister underneath my big toe-nail in the Chihuahua Desert of New Mexico. This was likely due to stubbing my toes a few too many times on rocks. I eventually lost that nail. I attribute my success avoiding blisters to wearing two pairs of socks at all times; a toe-sock liner and a heavier wool sock layer. The two layers combat friction and protect your feet from hot-spots. Smartwool toe-socks and mountaineering socks were the perfect combination for climbing in the higher elevations. For desert hiking, switch from the mountaineering socks to an ankle-high lighter weight hiking sock.

8. Stretch frequently. Make it a habit of setting aside about ten minutes every night after you set up camp, to stretch your calves, hamstrings and quads. The calves are the most important, as tight calves can lead to developing Achilles Tendonitis. Some hikers also bring a tennis ball to use their tent at night to roll under their calves. I also found that giving myself a foot massage at night helped reduce the soreness of my feet the next morning.

9. Start your hike with a base level of fitness. Many hikers will tell you that it is not necessary to train for a thru-hike. Their reasoning is that you can never train your body to hike twenty-five miles/day until you are actually on the trail. Once you start, you just begin with low mileage days and work up to bigger miles as you gain strength and endurance. While this is practical advice for those of us who are already active runners, hikers and bikers; many people with thru-hiker ambitions are not capable of hiking even ten miles/day repeatedly. My recommendation, regardless of your fitness level, is to do at least a couple of long weekend hikes in the run-up to your start date, covering 15-20 miles/day for a 2-3 day hike, while carrying the same pack weight as you expect to be carrying on your thru-hike. If you can successfully complete these hikes without injury, than you have a much better chance of escaping a stress injury when out on the CDT.

CDT to GDT Thru-Hike
Summit of Gray’s Peak

10. Be adventurous. You are about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. Don’t shortcut your adventure. Take the more challenging alternates including the San Juan Route, the alternate over James Peak, the Gray’s/Torrey’s Route, Cirque de Towers, Knapsack Col, and the Highline Route through the Winds. Walk as few roads as possible. Push your boundaries of fear and comfort. Climb Mt. Elbert – you are already at the base of the mountain so why not stand on the second highest point in the lower 48? There will be times to do big miles and “just get through” a section, and then there will be times to linger and explore. Would you rather complete the trail at all costs just to be able to say you finished, or do you want those rewarding experiences that form the lasting memories that you will daydream about for years to come. Why are you hiking this trail anyways? As one of my good friends likes to explain it, you are walking through a living museum. Why be in a hurry?

Additional Thoughts On Gear

I have posted my pre-hike gear list here, along with updates from part-way through my hike. Now that I have completed the hike, I have a few additional thoughts on gear.

  • Wear gaiters. Wear tall gaiters for Colorado snows, such as the MLD LightSnow Gaiters , and dirty girl gaiters (or a similar short gaiter) for the rest of the trail. After I sent my snow gear home from Steamboat I decided against purchasing some short gaiters from the outdoor supply store because the price tag was a little steep. I spent all of Wyoming and Montana dumping rocks, thorns and other debris out of my shoes every couple of hours. Spare yourself this annoyance and spend the money on gaiters.
  • If possible, carry a spare set of zipper sliders for your tent or tarp. I used the Tarptent Notch made by Henry Shires for both the PCT and CDT. About halfway through Colorado I started noticing the zippers for the bug net and the vestibule entrances were not working, and I was about to enter mosquito country! I learned later that these are easy to replace at a town stop or even while on trail.
  • Shoes. After leaving Steamboat Springs near the CO/MT border, you will not have another good opportunity to replace shoes until Helena, MT (with the exception of possibly Lander?) If you are like me, and you find it hard to plan ahead (to mail-order a pair of shoes to arrive at a post-office) than make sure you walk out of Steamboat with a new pair of shoes.
  • Sunglasses. At Ghost Ranch I ordered a pair of Julbo Colorado Glacier Glasses from REI Online, delivered down the trail to Salida. After losing my Sun-Cloud glasses in New Mexico, and having to suffer with a ten-dollar pair of Ghost Ranch sunglasses in the South San Juans (and flirting with snow-blindness) I decided I needed a good pair of dark glasses to protect me from the intense sun at the higher elevations. These have worked extremely well and they are stylish. A great buy for only $60!
  • If you are carrying Ley Maps, opt for the larger 11×17 maps. I found myself unable to see important information on the 8.5×11 size maps, including elevations and other markers. Of course you should also be carrying a GPS solution which should give you this detail, but having maps that are detailed an read-able is extremely important when your GPS battery dies or you realize that you failed to download the maps for the next state onto your smart phone.

I hope this information gives you some ideas on your planning. But if this trail has taught me anything, it is that you cannot plan for everything, nor do you want to. You will not really understand the CDT until you are deep in the thick of it, and every person’s experience on the trail differs from everybody else’s. You just need to plan as much as possible in the months before you start, and then be prepared to throw it all out when you step on trail. After all, the mark of a true adventure is the uncertainty of not always knowing what is around the next corner.

HI! My name is Russell Mease. I am on a mission to challenge conventional wisdom and question existing paradigms, while stumbling my way toward a more balanced, lifestyle. Thank you for reading.


6 responses on “The Ridiculously Complete and Lengthy CDT Thru-Hike Summary

  1. Jim Dunlap

    Slight factual correction. From above:

    “10. Be adventurous…..Push your boundaries of fear and comfort. Climb Mt. Elbert-you are already at the base of the mountain so why not stand on the highest point in the lower 48? ”

    Mt. Whitney in CA is the highest point in the Lower 48 (14505 ft). Mt Elbert is the highest point in the Rocky Mountains (14440 ft).

  2. Wild Feather

    Thank you for this wonderful overview. I am looking forward to my experience on the CDT. Luckily, I have many friends and supporters throughout New Mexico along the way and even in Chama, which is great if I have to hang tight for a while for the forecast to change in CO. Thanks again for this information.

    1. Russell Mease Post author

      Wild Feather, Yes I had a friend pick me up from Chama and I crashed with her for 3 days while waiting out the late spring storms in the South San Juans. You won’t know about these storms until you’re at the border, so having a backup plan is key! Thanks for reading!! -Russ

  3. Tree

    Russell,
    I recently discovered your site while planning a mere section hike of the NM portion of the CDT. I enjoy your clear, fresh, literate writing style unbesmirched by the mindless obscenity that is increasingly common in the blogosphere.
    Also, I read your post about how you are trying to generate a revenue stream through this site. I am endeavoring to do the same through my site, http://www.Strongility@gmail.com.
    How are matters working out for you? I recently placed a link to your site in a blog post I did reviewing headlamps.

    Anyway, best wishes and keep up the adventuring!

    I’m off to the Gila next week!

    1. Russell Mease Post author

      Tree, Thanks for your comments. I’ll check out your site. It has been difficult for me to generate an income…I just haven’t found the key yet. I am finding that I love photography so I think that will be the direction I move, selling prints and images, for an income. Enjoy the Gila!

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