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CDT Facts, Figures and FAQ

Where and what is the CDT?
The Continental Divide Trail (or CDT for short) is one of the US's National Scenic Trails. It follows a route close to the US Continental Divide, through the Rocky Mountains of Montana/Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.How long is the CDT?
The Divide is over 3000 miles long, but the trail is somewhat shorter. The route I took was somewhere around 2700-2800 miles. Since some parts of the CDT are not complete or officially designated, the length is not easy to pin down. Plus, I hiked a number of alternate routes which added or reduced the total mileage.

How many people do this each year?
Of the 3 longest US trails, the CDT gets the least number of thru-hikers. Although, the number is increasing each year. In 2001, I estimated that about 15 people hiked the length of the trail.

When did you start and finish?
I started on June 14, 2001 & finished on November 9, 2001. Just under 5 months on the trail. I took few "days off" along the way.

How many miles per day did you hike?
For a full day of hiking I averaged about 24 miles. The mileage varied quite a bit depending on the terrain. Some of the trail is very steep, some of it is at high elevation, some of it is cross country, some of it is on roads... all of these things can speed up or slow down one's pace. The furthest I hiked in a day was ~37 miles, my shortest day of full hiking (when I wasn't headed in or out of a town, or limited by the NPS) was about 15 miles.

How much did your pack weigh?
Without food and water, my pack weighed about 19 pounds. With food an water, I'd say it averaged about 30-35 pounds.

How did you keep yourself supplied?
The CDT passes through or near a number of towns along the way. Many of those towns had groceries which I bought as I went. In the smaller towns, which had no groceries, I had to mail packages of food to the post office c/o general delivery. I also had a "drift box" which contained my maps, some extra shoes, an extra shirt, and a few other misc. supplies. I forwarded this to ~every other town as I went.

What kind of map/directions did you have?
There are a couple different guidebooks for the CDT. I used the guidebooks published by the CDTS / Jim Wolf, and found them quite accurate. For maps, I downloaded all the USGS 1:24000 maps I needed from Topozone.com & printed them on an ink-jet at a scale of ~1:60000. I had about 220 maps in all. I also supplemented these maps with some forest service, BLM, and other maps which I mostly bought along the way. Click here for an example of a map I created (it is a large file!) click to enlarge

Did you hike south to north? north to south? does it matter?
I hiked from North to South. The snowpack up north was light in 2001, which greatly helped with the start. Generally, one starts in mid-late June for a southbound CDT hike... Late April to early May for a northbound hike.

What is the weather window like on the CDT?
Southbound, if you get through the bulk of the San Juans (say Wolf Creek Pass) by the first week in October, I'd say you have a 75% chance of getting through without any real winter-snow problems. Those odds go down by 25% increments each additional week. Northbound, the same kind of rule applies to the border of Canada, starting with 25% the second week of September. All of this is just a really rough estimate of course.

Did you hike alone?
I hiked with others (who I met along the way) until northern Colorado, I hiked the rest of the trail alone.

Did you see a lot of wildlife?
I saw all kinds of things... to name a few: Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black bears, grizzly bears, marmots, pikas, ptarmigans, elk, mule deer, wild horses, pronghorn, badgers, pine martens, snowshoe hares, jack rabbits, coyotes, a desert tortise, a skunk, a short-tailed weasel, beaver, moose, countless chipmunks and squirrels, all kinds of hawks, eagles, and songbirds, lots of really funky insects, and even some fish and frogs.

How did you keep your journal?
I kept notes as I hiked, and took photos (which I mailed home). I wrote-up the journal after I finished the trail.

How did you take your photos & get them on your site, etc?
I used a film camera for the hike & sent the film home as I went. I scanned and annottated them when I put together the site. Many of the wide-aspect ratio photos are multiple 35mm shots that I spliced together digitally.

Why did you do this?
That's a complicated question, and the answer is equally complicated. The simplest explanation? Life is made from experiences and I hope to have as many as possible.

Do you have any other hiking plans?
The next long (or not so long) hike I do will probably be outside the US... but I really don't know.

I want to hike the CDT or some other long trail, where do I start?

  • There are a lot of resources on the www and elsewhere. My first recommendation would be to join an e-mail discussion group on backcountry.net. You can also participate via the www on backcountry.net - you don't even have to "sign up"! Read some of the information that's been posted recently. There will be a lot more "general long distance hiking info" on the PCT-L and AT-L.
  • Wherever you live, there is probably somebody in your area who's recently hiked one of these trails, I'd suggest contacting them... invite them to lunch... ask them face-to-face questions to see if this is something that's really "for you". Most people who've hiked these trails are willing to help - but keep in mind that you're only getting one person's opinion that way - there area thousand ways to hike a long trail, all of them are correct.
  • You might consider hiking just a section of long trail. If you're thinking of hiking farther some day, consider hiking when the bulk of thru-hikers are coming through - talk to them, ask them questions.
  • You don't have to be an "outdoor stud" or in "olympic athelete shape" to hike one of these trails. If you can make it past the first couple weeks, you'll probably notice that your body will adapt.
  • Remember, the hardest part of hiking any of these long trails is taking that very first step - after that, it's just a lot of walking.

Should I hike the CDT as my "first thru-hike"?
I get asked this question from time-to-time. The first thing I'd say is "hike your own hike" - you are the ultimate judge of whether you can pull-off the CDT as a first thru-hike. Many people have done this successfully. That said, if you're not sure, having doubts might be an indication that you need to think about it, and consider some things...

One of the hardest parts of doing a thru-hike is keeping your head in it. This seems like an odd thing to worry about when you're back at home, planning... all excited about the adventure to come. But, after a week of slogging through rain, post-holing through snow, getting misplaced, frustrated, and not seeing or meeting any other hikers, one's attitude can quickly change. You might be living in your own mind for days at a time - think about it... have you ever done that? met nobody for days at a time, while doing something physically challenging that most people think is nuts? You have to fill your head with something... It helps immeasurably to have someone to talk to - someone to share the experience with. Talking to other hikers who are going through the same experiences will give you some idea if you're on the right track. If you just spent a few frustrating days in the mountains, it can be really reassuring to learn that others are having a similar experience. Or, it can be educational to learn they were better prepared - you can then pick up some ideas to make your hike more enjoyable. There are just fewer people hiking the CDT, and while those numbers are increasing (thereby increasing your chances of meeting & hiking with others), there is a good chance you'll be hiking hundreds of miles alone - and a good chance that those miles will be near the start of your hike - just where it can be the hardest. Of course, if you WANT to hike alone, you'll have no problem doing that on the CDT.

When I hiked the PCT, I started with a number of other hikers who were coincidentally on the same schedule I was on. I had like zero experience with this whole thru-hiking thing when I started the PCT. I learned a ton just by watching others and talking to them - things like which equipment really worked, how & why to stretch, what was good to eat, how to plan a day, how to plan-out a section, what to do about blisters, why zero-days are important, etc. I'm not sure if I would have had a successful hike had there been no other hikers... maybe, but it probably wouldn't have been as enjoyable. I didn't really feel completely confident until a month had passed.

Most of the people who hike the CDT have already hiked another long trail, so the general attitude and "trail talk" is a bit different. There is less discussion among hikers about basic "how to" things, and more talk about specific CDT logistics (and "remember on the PCT..." discussions...). That said, hikers are generally very eager to help other hikers, so if you have questions and there are people around, you're likely to get some really good advice. You just might feel like a little bit of an outsider at times - that'll be less of an issue as the miles roll by. After a few hundred miles or so, you should have the kinks worked out, be pretty experienced, and feel less like "the new person".

As far as scenery & wilderness experience go... both the PCT and CDT are outstanding. (I can't comment on the AT, as I haven't hiked it). There are a few "boring bits" on the CDT (i.e. roadwalks or forested tunnels), but whether you enjoy those depends greatly on your attitude. If you just remember that - "hey, I'm WALKING across the frickin' country!", those bits become more enjoyable. Plus, there are more than enough amazing things along the way to make you forget about the less amazing stuff (i.e. the road walks near Rawlins & Pie Town, etc).

No matter how much you plan beforehand, there are things you'll learn about yourself and the trail that will change your plan while you're out there - count on it. It's important to have a plan, but also plan that your plan will change.

So, is the CDT right for your first hike? That's something only you can answer. If you have your heart set on it, there's really only one way to find out - put on your pack & start walkin'!


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