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So, You Want to Hike The CDT?

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So, you want to hike the Continental Divide Trail? Me too. In fact, I'm doing just that starting this spring. I'll be leaving from the Crazy Cook Monument at the southern terminus on the border of New Mexico and Mexico mid-April, and walking about five months north to Glacier National Park.

CDT MapI have been planning to hike this trail for years, literally! My first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail was 13 years ago in 2002. The Pacific Crest Trail was in 2006, nine years ago, and the CDT, well, let's just say I've been dreaming and scheming my way through my desk job for a long time.

Here's what you need to know about the CDT: It's an incomplete 3,000(ish) mile trail that follows the spine of the Continental Divide. It demands superior navigational skills, and unlike the Appalachian Trail, there is not one specific route for the CDT. Thru-hikers meander through some of the most remote country in the United States (seriously, the tagline for the trail is "embrace the brutality"), and must regularly make route-finding decisions. The trail travels through beautiful country: Glacier National Park, the Tetons, Yellowstone, the Rockies, Gila cliff dwellings, and miles and miles of ridge-walking that will make your heart soar.

I first encountered the CDT when I thru-hiked the Colorado Trail in 2007. About 200 miles of the Colorado Trail and the CDT share tread, and I knew I would have to return for the whole route some day

Why? I am drawn to long distance hiking for the simplicity of walking all day everyday, for the deep connection to wilderness gained from living outside for months on end, for the sense of adventure, and because it feels like my body is at its best when backpacking...possibly tapping into the echo of my nomadic ancestors' way of life.

Renee on the Divide
Renee first hiked on the Continental Divide Trail in 2007 while completing the Colorado Trail. Photo: Renee Patrick

I could write a book on how to plan for such a hike (in fact there already are books: see Yogi's Books). Gear is important, and lightweight gear especially will make your back and feet thank you, but there is no one answer for every hiker out there.

Different bodies want different gear. I'll be carrying a pack and shelter from Six Moon Designs, the Luna and Emerald Peak shoes from Oboz, an inline filter from Sawyer, food from wherever I can get it (true!) but with an eye towards giving my body some good nutrition (GoMacro bars). The list goes on, but you can check out my blog to read more about my preparations and follow along as I head north in mid-April.

Renee Colorado Trail
Did she mention she loves thru-hiking very long and arduous trails? Photo: Renee Patrick

Those wanting to tackle this trail are advised to be seasoned backpackers. You will carry water for 30+ miles of waterless sections, navigate by compass or GPS for cross country travel, and make hard choices on the ground: too much snow? Navigate a different route. Forest fire? Figure out a re-route. Grizzlies? Know how to treat a grizzly encounter different than a black bear encounter (hint: they are almost opposite tactics).

The Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) is an excellent source for planning a thru-hike or even a section hike along the Divide. New in 2015 they are offering a shuttle service to the Southern Terminus along the Mexican border. Better yet, the organization will cache water for you over the first 100 miles or so! That section of New Mexico is dry dry dry desert, and this is an incredible service to hikers.

The CDTC is also working hard to build more trail every year. A recent Indigogo campaign raised more than $20,000 to build 32 more miles of trail in Colorado, taking the tread off of dirt roads, and onto trail in the incredible San Juan Mountains.

So—you still want to hike the CDT? Me too. See you out there.

Renee "She-ra" Patrick is a freelance writer and graphic designer living in Bend, OR, and co-owner/founder of hikertrash (stuff for hikers). The 2015 CDT will be her 8th long distance hike, follow her along at her blog.

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