Thruhiking the Conti D: An Overview of the Continental Divide Trail

CDT 2018 Overview

Our Stats

Mexico – Canada, Northbound
April 25 – August 18
Total Miles Walked – 2530.5
116 Days
12 0-Mile Days
Miles Per Day Average – 21.8
Miles Per Day Average w/o 0’s – 24.3

Most Miles in 1 Day – 40.1
Most Miles in 7 Consecutive Days – 220.7, 31.5 Miles Per Day Average
Most Miles in 30 Consecutive Days – 803.9, 26.8 Miles Per Day Average

Choose Your Own Adventure

The Continental Divide Trail Coalition lists the “official” mileage at 3100 miles from the Crazy Cook monument at the Mexico – New Mexico border to the Waterton Lakes monument at the Montana – Canada border. The “official” trail is what is designated as the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST) and is federally funded. We used the Guthook Guide App this year on trail which puts the CDNST at 3014 miles.

So, why did we “only” hike 2530?

Unlike the Appalachian Trail (AT) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) has many alternates one can take that will still get you from Mexico to Canada or vice versa. There are a number of reasons to take alternates along the way like more favorable trail towns and distance between resupply, different scenery, trail conditions, weather, distance between water sources, or perhaps because one route is just plain shorter. From what we can tell, hardly anyone hikes the “official” route the entire way. Most hikers will choose alternates for whatever reason and that’s just a part of the CDT that distinguishes it from the other trails that make up the Triple Crown.

As always, Hike Your Own Hike! Choose your alternates and don’t let anyone guilt you into one way over another. It’s pretty cool that everyone’s CDT hike will be unique.

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This shot is from the Gila River Alternate which was actually my favorite section in New Mexico.

Geographic Highlights

Here’s a short list of my favorite places on the CDT. Click the link to each one to see more pics and read the stories.

 

Road Walking – It’s Part of It

If you’re thinking about a CDT thruhike, just go ahead and swallow this pill now – you’ll be doing a lot of road walking. I would estimate that 20-25% of the CDT is on a road which can be anything from a forest service road to full on highway shoulder. Sometimes these stretches of road can be a short couple miles connecting single track. Other times, you can just settle in for 20 miles (or about 7 hours) of road walking down a highway. This is another big distinguishing factor from the AT and PCT which have very little road walking.

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I had to narrow down this collage from a dozen other road walking pics…

Trail Towns and Resupply

Compared to the AT and PCT, the CDT is considerably more remote meaning that, on average, the stretches between resupply are longer and the towns you come to are smaller. Our longest stretch between resupplies was 168 miles – our longest to date, but most of the stretches were 100-120 miles. Many of the trail towns only had a post office, diner, motel, and a small grocery store. The majority of the land along the CDT is ranching land meaning the culture is a little… lacking. I did appreciate that the CDT brings you right into town about half of the time so we didn’t have to hitchhike as often for resupply. Most of the trail towns weren’t much, but there were a few small cities that I very much enjoyed – Salida, CO; Breckenridge, CO; Steamboat Springs, CO; and Helena, MT.

Many people ask if they should stage drop boxes for a thruhike. While drop boxes can be awesome when the alternative is resupplying at a gas station, there are only a couple times when they would be “necessary.” In fact, I think you could thruhike the CDT without any drop boxes if you don’t mind the occasional limited gas station options. We relied on resupply drop boxes that our “Home Base Manager” sent out to us upon request in order to accommodate our vegan diet a little easier. Our friend, Gusher, also hiked on a vegan diet and only sent himself a couple of boxes to the most remote locations. Long story short, drop boxes can be nice but are far from necessary – even if you’re on a strict diet.

(For anyone interested in tips for backpacking on vegan diet – stay tuned! I’ll update this article as soon as I get that one published.)

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Our group goofing around in Dubois, WY, at the World’s Largest Jackalope exhibit.

Environmental Extremes

The CDT and the PCT have similar structure in terms of environment – a large southern desert portion, a long central stretch above 10,000 ft, and beautiful alpine areas in the north. The varying environments produce their own distinct challenges such as water scarcity, snow covered trail, and exposure to sun, wind, and storms. Each challenge will test a hiker’s patience at a minimum and, at the maximum, could lead to loss of limb or life. When travelling in the backcountry, it is important to know what the trail conditions are and to be prepared for the situation. Know where your water sources are and if they are dependable. Wear long sleeves, a sun hat, and carry sunscreen where needed. Get down to lower elevations during a storm. Carry and use crampons and an ice ax where necessary. Wait to cross swollen rivers or streams until another person shows up. Mother Nature is considerably more powerful than you – and she doesn’t care if you live or die.

Facebook is actually a really good resource for thruhikers. Each trail has an associated group for that year – Continental Divide Trail Class of 2018, for example. It is a great place to ask questions, connect with other hikers, and keep up to date on trail conditions.20180605_085055Fotor_1528410755632720180425_103908

It’s Not All Awesome

With a motto like “Embrace the Brutality” the CDT is no cookie-cutter trail, but more like a series of trials testing your will and patience. We experienced sun exposure on the ridgeline for days on end, hours upon hours of nonstop wind, steep climbs coming out of nowhere, lots of bushwhacking and way finding, and, of course, getting lost. Oh yeah, and I think I mentioned the road walking. While I truly value my experience on the CDT, I’ll admit that there’s a lot of “filler” in between the “good stuff.”

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Scenery (and exposure) like this went on for miles and miles, days upon days. The monotony of the CDT is definitely one of its challenges.

Overall

The CDT is not for everyone. While we met a couple of first time thruhikers, most of the other hikers we met were experienced with at least one other trail. Although it can be done – I do not recommend the CDT as your first thruhike. The environmental extremes, road walking, and at times “boring” scenery is a physical and mental test for experienced hikers, let alone first timers.

We do, however, consider our time on the CDT perhaps our biggest adventure. The fact that “anything goes” on the CDT kept us on our toes. We appreciated hiking with other experienced hikers and truly enjoyed connecting with like minded backpackers. We’ve been off trail for four weeks, and we’re already missing it like crazy.

The Triple Crown is in the bag, but I doubt we’re done hiking.

What’s next?

Sky’s the limit.

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We are Sean and Bekah (or BigFoot and Micro), new Triple Crowners with over 8000 miles of backpacking under our belts. We’ve dedicated the last five years of our lives to making our travel dreams come true. Connect with us on Facebook and Instagram to follow our next adventure, learn some tips and tricks, and begin a travel path of your own.

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3 Comments on “Thruhiking the Conti D: An Overview of the Continental Divide Trail

  1. Pingback: Appalachian Trail vs Pacific Crest Trail

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