Back to the CDT

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Winter Olympics
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Go US Ski and Snowboard!
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Hawaii
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Shreddie
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Arctic Winter Games snowboarding in Fort Smith, NWT, Canada
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Part of the amazing crew at USASA Nationals at Copper Mountain, CO

I had a rather wonderful off-season from hiking but I still can’t wait to get back on trail.  My winter was spent traveling a lot–Hawaii a couple of times, Florida for my first 2 visits ever, the Winter Olympics to watch my Alaska snowboarders Ryan Stassel and Rosie Mancari, Fort Smith, NWT, Canada for Arctic Winter Games, Copper Mountain, CO for USASA Nationals and California to see my step-mom and to run the Big Sur 11-miler with friends from Yosemite, Noreen and Vicky.

Somehow, during the times I was at home, I managed to break my little orange Manx cat.  I had the brilliant idea for googling “running mice” while he was sitting next to my laptop.  Now he is fixated on the computer and if I don’t remember to close the cover, I’ll find him walking on the keyboard trying to find the running mice video in history.  I can return home after a week away and Shreddie will greet me and then lead me to the laptop and start purring and rubbing his chin on it, gazing expectantly at the screen.  I think we need to get him his own desktop system and no keyboard and run the video on a loop.  The damage has been done and his tiny cat brain is never going to recover.  Maybe when I’m on the trail, he’ll get into a recovery program. He’s on the wait list.

My plan to complete the CDT this season includes “re-hiking” an interesting section of New Mexico to toughen up my feet and get in trail shape for the San Juans in southern Colorado, Ghost Ranch to Monarch Pass, the approximately 300 mile section I skipped last year to fly home to AK to host visitors.  Then Burning Calves is flying in from Germany to hike the Colorado Trail and I’m going to meet her for the first 100 or so non-CDT miles out of Denver that will connect to the CDT near Frisco and Breckenridge. From there I’ll transit north of Dubois, WY where I left the trail and continue towards Canada.  Montana got well above average snow this winter so it might make sense to head north out of Wyoming the second week of July or maybe I’ll head south from Canada back to Dubois. Sometime in July, my PCT 2015 friend Poppy will join me from Spokane!  Plus, I am going to hike the PCT south out of Tuolumne Meadows in September after another volunteer work week in Yosemite.  All plans are subject to change of course.  It’s a lot more complicated planning a non-thru hike and figuring out transportation logistics rather than just walking north.

I’ve never done this before so bear with me. I am fundraising for Achilles International, an amazing organization I saw in action last November when I ran the NYC Marathon. It’s all about helping adaptive athletes, a group of people who have inspired me for many years, beginning with a snowboarder named Jesse ripping up the Boardercross course at USASA Nationals without legs.

https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/achilles-international-nyc-2018/alisonsterley

Steamboat, CO to Rawlins, WY

Can it only be a week since I got a ride out of Steamboat Springs back to the trail? Feel like I’ve lived a lifetime and walked across a continent.

7/20 I caught the free bus to the post office to mail a box, then paid a taxi to take me back to the trail. I hate hitching. The trail was kind of boring, green tunnel, but mostly level and easy. I met 3 members of the Mighty, Mighty Trail Crew. The work was going well since they get to use chainsaws on the blowdown, not handsaws.  Thanks Mighty, Mighty Trail Crew! I camped a bit past my target stream just as the latest thunderstorm hit with rain and hail.

7/21 As I write this in my tent, I am miserable, worried, cold and wet. Again I had to choose, camp at 2:30 or go up into the alpine and over and down back into treeline. Although the sky had been rumbling in the distance, it looked OK. Then on the last pitch, painful hail, huge, furious pellets and nowhere for me to shelter. I pulled on my rain pants over already cold, wet legs. The jacket I already had on against the wind. I remembered Puff Puff and I getting frozen from the hail storm out of Chester, CA last year. We vowed to put our layers on the next time, just as soon as it started, no waiting. I continued up the flattish, exposed ridge, it wasn’t far, then ran as carefully as I could across the ridge and down the other side, I could see it was a long way to trees. The intense lightning and hail scared me, I ran, crouched as if it would help, breathing fast, not panicked, but chilled and afraid I’d slip on the accumulating hail, be crippled by injury and die of hypothermia. The storm has been on top of me for 3 hours now with ceaseless rain and no pause between the lightning flash and the boom of thunder. I shouldn’t still be cold in my down bag but all is damp. I’ve eaten a stale Snickers and had a hot whey drink. That helps. The Ravens said they are leaving Steamboat at noon today so they are maybe 30 miles behind, low and safe I hope. This storm hit at 3:00, too early.

At 6:30 I was warm enough to sit up in my sleeping bag although the storm continued till 8:30. I was so alone that I was reminded of the goodbye notes stranded mountaineers write to their loved ones. I think I get it. You just want to make sure the people you love know that you love them. It’s irrational I guess but that’s another unique gift we get for being human beings.

7/22. What a different day.  I woke to sunrise glowing on my tent walls and the air perfectly clear. I unclipped the storm flaps and tossed my jacket, rain pants, socks, and ditty bags outside to dry while I made my  usual coffee and granola. I headed down the trail with a smile on my face even though my shoes were still soaking wet and reeking from the day before and I wore a jacket. As I entered a big meadow, 2 mama elk and their babies looked up and trotted off.  Then a huge bull elk and another 15-20 animals followed them.  Glorious!  I laughed out loud.  After hours of walking downhill, I met 2 guys in camo and daypacks.  I teased them, “It’s not hunting season yet, is it?”  They were, in fact, training for hunting season, by walking up this incredibly steep trail.  Nice!  Of course I had to mention where I was from and the hunters in my family. They asked if I’d seen any elk.  “Yup, 2 1/2 hours ago.”  “Yup, with a huge bull.”

I came to a trailhead joining a dirt road walk.  A car stopped (it rarely happens) and the young couple asked if I wanted a ride. Its kind of a delicate situation, you don’t want to discourage kindness to the next hiker, who may want a ride.  “Where to?”  I grinned.  Maybe they’re going to Jackson Hole or someplace else way more interesting than this dirt road.   “Oh, a mile or two down the road.”  “Sweet, thanks for the offer, I’m doing OK though.”

The route turned me into a short stretch of blowdown bedecked trail, 200 trees in about a mile. The things you count to have something to think about. To a road. To a campground with a dumpster (the joy of offloading garbage is insane) and an outhouse (even more joy ridding myself of “pack-it-out” TP). To a trail. To a road. To an ATV road.

7/23 Stinking coyotes woke me way too early, before 5 am.  They always sound so cheerful, I fell back asleep and woke late but I still managed over 22 miles.  That’s good, for me. I listened most of the day to Timothy Egan’s fascinating book about Irish history and Irish immigrants from before the Civil War, The Immortal Irishman.  The trail sucks. ATV PUDs and water was an issue.  But there was a nicely graded short cut dirt road for awhile.  Then back to crappy trail. I made it to a beautiful water source, Dale Creek, and a lovely little established tent site was a surprise bonus. It was just far enough away from the burbling creek sounds that I wouldn’t hear voices in the harmonics.

The Wall (of blowdown) between Colorado and Wyoming
Colorado behind, Wyoming ahead. Life is good.

7/24 Stupid, annoying, soggy trail, where there is a trail.  It was only about 11 miles to the highway and my next resupply down the hill in Encampment/Riverside. 2 women, looked older than me, gave me a ride.  They had “run away from home” they giggled,  and were camping for a few days. My kind of women!  I got to Lazy Acres where there is a choice of camping, RVing, or a motel.  No matter what you choose, you can do laundry and take a shower.  My wet shoes, socks and feet are horrendous.  I really, really hate being stinky, what am I doing hiking for days in the same clothes then?  Woohoo, Dassie, AJ and Burning Calves!  They were heading out, but we got lunch and beer together.  It was BC’s birthday! After, they hitched out and I got a perfectly comfy, clean, quiet, cheap motel room.  I studied the maps and info and Yogi’s pages and realized I could shave at least a day and 20 miles by taking a road walk alternate.  Totally cheered me up, I only needed 3 days of food max.  Riverside has a couple of tiny stores, so my food purchases consisted of cheddar cheese, tortillas, candy bars, and individually wrapped danish.  But it’s now just about 60 miles to Rawlins and more than half will be on beautiful, blessed, quick walking roads!  Happy hiker!  Even though the weather forecast was for 2 days of rain, I was OK because there would be no big exposed climbs in the next stretch.

7/25 I was extremely lucky to get an early ride to the trail from a nice local who decided that he could put off pouring concrete in the rain to give a hiker a ride back up to Battle Pass. I barely stuck out my thumb, he was the first truck. He had been in the Seabees at Adak, AK in 1979.  Wow, I told him about my friend Cody Carpenter who has recently gone way out there to hunt caribou and stay in the old officers quarters.

It rained and drizzled all day, not cold, not windy.  Actually it was quite pleasant hiking temperatures.  Mostly roads today including another alternate, slightly longer than the official route, but I know now that better tread makes for faster progress. Lessons learned in New Mexico.  And when I rejoined the trail, it was in terrible shape as usual.  Makes me wonder if I could have found more alternatives.  I had to go over, under, around and through more messy, boggy, nearly impenetrable blowdown.  I carried extra water weight since the maps and notes warned about undrinkable, alkaline water on the road alternate to Rawlins.  I found a dry, open campsite with crazy squirrels and some new bird calls.  Cranes maybe?  It rained some more but I was at such low elevation that cold was not an issue.  It was a happy place.

7/26 Picked up plenty more water but my pack is light because I don’t need to carry much food. Not a bad walk in the cool cloud cover. Saw several cyclists.  The road rolls a bit, goes from dirt to paved and has very little traffic.  I saw tons of pronghorn antelope in the sagebrush.  New animal to me, beautiful, smart and skittish.  They bound away in dun colored herds with what looks like gigantic, fluffy white bunnies clinging to their bums.  Since Battle Pass, Wyoming has been what I hoped for, namely not Colorado.  Finally the skunk bush stink is gone, replaced with the divine (truly, ask the First People of this area) scent of sagebrush.  The trail and alternate join up and cross I-80 and railroad tracks, then go through Rawlins.  I got my resupply box with new shoes and then holed up in a motel.  Tomorrow I will tour the old Wyoming prison and buy groceries.

Grand Lake to Highway 40

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Trail Crew

7/13 It’s a lovely place, the Shadowcliff, and not expensive, but the hostel was full so I took a room in the main lodge and the noise was challenging, so I moved to the very quiet Bighorn for a second night.  Did all the chores: laundry, fuel, groceries.  And ate an early dinner for the second night at the Stagecoach happy hour.  Cheap, delicious and a welcoming place. I got a text from Dassie.  The next morning we met for breakfast (“We thought the Fat Cat Cafe would be appropriate,” joked Dassie) and the big surprise wasn’t AJ (Mudslide) but Burning Calves back on the CDT from the AT!  It was great to see friends, the CDT has been lonesome. I told them to give me a head start and I’d see them on the trail. They slackpacked the RMNP loop today.

7/14 I took the RMNP shortcut to save miles and because you need a permit and a bear canister to camp in “Rocky” as the cheerful trail crew called it.  It was an uneventful but beautiful day filled with day hikers.  Best question of the day was “Have you seen anything?”  I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain…  “Anything?”  “Animals!”  I camped below Bowen Pass near water.  Today I finally finished listening to the 10th anniversary edition of American Gods.  There was an Epilogue, then a Post Script, then an Appendix.

7/15 I walked up the valley to Bowen Pass and saw a bull moose curled under a tree like a cow, then just past him, 3 more moose, the mythical herd.  Our moose don’t herd up like this.  Then a minute later, a hare came bounding up to me.  That’s a new one. Somebody been feeding this guy?  I thought I’d have to settle for the usual fleeing butt.

The pass wasn’t so bad, and the down went quite a ways, full of blowdown to a “road,” a skinny, slippery canyon full of 4-wheelers, Mr and Mrs plus the kids.  The road transitioned to trail, ominously marked with tire treads. A few minutes later the dirt bikes were barreling downhill at me on the single track as I continued a 3-hour uphill trudge. They were polite and legal, and there was no blowdown in this section, just noise, fumes and dust. I turned off onto a no-motorized trail that crossed a paved highway and continued up.  I found a sheltered tent site and called it a day before the cloud burst.  I had been packing 3 liters of water since there were 9 more dry miles in the morning.

7/16 This morning was hard but gorgeous.  A goat!  Mama grouse and her two chicks, all equally stupid. I could be dining on fresh grouse daily if I would just take advantage and whack one with my hiking stick. There were a couple long waterless stretches.  People in cars on the dirt roads are a little weird. I walked onto an isolated dirt road junction and a lone old guy in a car drove slowly into and out of view with just a little wave, didn’t even roll down his window to check if I was OK.


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Crew Chief


7/17 Up and over this morning to a series of good dirt roads.  Fat Albert overtook me, super friendly and helpful.

Fat Albert

As I walked down the road, I chatted with a 4-wheeler couple who later in the day on their return trip told me my friends behind were trying to catch up. Yay! Then a retired couple invited me into their RV and a cold drink.  Nice!  I made over 25 miles today, although I am now stealth camped behind some bushes on Highway 14.  I feel like a freaking hobo.

7/18 I hiked the blacktop 8.5 miles to Hwy 40 to hitch to Steamboat.  I hate hitching, it also makes me feel like a bum.  I waited an hour until a really nice woman, 24, picked me up on her way to see a friend about a job with a SUP company in Steamboat.  Thank you!  I had happy hour beer and tapas with Dassie, AJ and Burning Calves who rolled into town an hour or two after me.

 

 

 

 

Silverthorne Alternate: Copper to CDT via Jones Pass

I hit the trail, the paved road actually, at 8 am, July 4th, out of Copper. I remember strategically avoiding the holiday in 2015 on the PCT and how pleased I was to miss the loud, drunken festivities in Sierra City. The trail was fine to the top of a pass, then blowdown, muck, and dim scrubby forest. The next pass had a nearby trailhead and better trail. Going over, there were a few snowfields left and I ran into a couple of guys with daypacks and fishing rods, who looked at me with incomprehension as I walked down towards them, it was weird. Weed is legal in Colorado, weird is legal everywhere.  Plus there weren’t any fish in the half frozen lake, or in any of the lakes or streams I’d walked by. Although I had thought about slack packing the 22 or so miles to Silverthorne, the unknown conditions of the passes made me worry about being caught on a dayhike without shelter, so I camped just a few miles from Silverthorne.

7/5 A short walk into Silverthorne, the trail went from blowdown to clear trail with a few runners to a trailhead and paved subdivision roads down to very busy streets, a highway and a freeway.  I met and talked with a USFS volunteer who just moved to Summit County in the Fall after retiring in Chicago.  I learned all kinds of interesting stuff about the area, thanks Bob! I marched my way past the outlet stores and booked a room.  Then since it was the morning, and they needed to clean the rooms, I got second breakfast, bought some replacement tent stakes and freeze dried dinners at the brand new REI, and finished the rest of my food shopping at the next door City Market. Turns out fireworks started a fire near Breckinridge which means almost everybody will have to take the shorter but less scenic Alternate.

7/6 A slow, miserable day to a campsite where the trail teed into another crappy trail. The trail was fine to the pass, there were gobs of day trippers, where the maps showed a junction.  If there was a junction, I couldn’t tell.  So I navigated cross country on a tussocked side hill, and through bogs and wind, finding a cairn here and there, and towards late afternoon a switchbacked downhill with rocks and side slope, dwindling to nothing here and there. Slow, treacherous.

7/7 An even slower day. There is not much trail or tread to follow, so I pick my route through eroded side slopes and snow patches. Eventually I dropped into a super lush valley, where an occasional hint of a trail followed the stream. I saw moose tracks, then 2 people, Laura and Winter drying their gear in a clearing. “How do you like the CDT?” Laura, section hiking, asked.  “I hate it, it’s so slow, I can’t make any miles.  But, it’s so great to see people out here,” I added lamely.  Just after I passed them I saw a handsome young bull moose, his little antlers all fuzzy. Next to him a cow, sister? These moose are not Alaska-Yukon moose Alces alces gigas (“gigantic moose”) but reintroduced moose from Utah and Wyoming Alces alces shirasi (“mini moose”), I talked to them, they stared back and finally trotted away, good moose. I continued down the valley, and saw a third moose across the creek. These guys take their reintroduction to Colorado seriously and as I saw, they are thriving. I finally crossed the stream and continued up steeply on a beautiful, smooth, blessed dirt road. After all the roads in New Mexico, I have developed a true appreciation for the ease of walking and the faster pace I can summon up on decent tread. Thunder rumbled, lightning flashed and I was going to soon be above treeline for many miles. It started raining, then pouring. I debated with myself what to do. So few miles, so early in the day, such a wimp. I pitched my tent on a lovely flat spot at the notch of the last switchback that was still in the tree line. I crawled in as the rain pounded and the wind howled. Winter and Laura called out as they trudged uphill past me during a lull in the rain. The rain let up for a few minutes and I thought I would continue but the skies clouded and more rain started. Another hiker went by, Acorn. I decided to stay put. Inbar, the Israeli I last saw at Pie Town, stopped and talked. He’s doing great although his new backpack blew out after 3 days so he’s got to get to Grand Lake to remedy that. It got dark, the rain let up, the wind died, and it was the flattest, warmest, most comfortable night I’d had on the trail in a long time.

7/8 I congratulated myself on an excellent decision. I would have been grabby and anxious if I’d hiked up Jones Pass, and along a cirque yesterday and would have missed the beauty and views and joy of the mountains today. At the top of the dirt road, the Alternate rejoined the much better kept official CDT. When you start seeing day hikers, you know you’re near a trailhead and because there’s easy access, I envision all the volunteers who come out and work hard to give hikers of all stripes, good trails. Thank you!  On an impulse, when I reached Berthoud Pass, facing another climb into thunderclouds, I hitched to Winter Park, rather than camp a mile from the highway.  Within 12 seconds, Bambi and John picked me up.  I felt way less chicken when they told me they were coming from a talk about thunderstorms, over 300 people per year get struck by lightning in Colorado. 10% are fatal, but the remaining 90% experience permanent affects, mostly invisible mental processing problems, just what I don’t need more of.  Also you can apparently be struck from a storm more than 6 miles away.

So this is how it’s going to be, eh?  A motel at every opportunity, slow, slow hiking in between.  This trail ain’t your mama’s PCT.

Cuba to Ghost Ranch 54 miles


 

5/26 The Subway says it opens at 7 for breakfast so we dropped our keys in the motel box and walked, arriving just past 7. Wefound that the doors were open but the woman was still setting up. It took till 7:30 for her to be ready and she said coffee wouldn’t finish brewing until noon. Deal breaker. We got take-out sandwiches for the trail and I grumpily made the Ravens backtrack to McD’s for breakfast and coffee. We didn’t start hiking the highway out of Cuba and the 15 miles of uphill until 8:30.

The trail got into trees.  There was plenty of snow in the shade under their protection. Nothing steep so the open areas were full of melt, all marshy and muddy. Out of the barren mesas into the lovely forests, spruce and pine, facing east and northeast, a little intro into what’s ahead. It wasn’t a hard day, but wet, cold feet can take their toll. Mama feels bad that I “had to put up with” her family. Really? After my meltdown this morning over no coffee at Subway? But I think it’s because Mama thinks she lost her patience when Joon had a mini hissy fit when it became apparent that she couldn’t keep feet dry in the umpteenth marsh we had to navigate. Mom guilt! It’s a trap! Anyway we camped at the top of all the climbing on dry ground and no wind. And I heard the usual wonderful sound of the kids laughing in their tent as the light faded from the sky. I love this family.  The day is done, tomorrow we go downhill to start with.

5/27 Since we did the big up yesterday, today was quite easy and enjoyable. I’m getting used to how the Ravens take their breaks and they’re not adverse to speeding them up a bit.

This should be my last night on the trail for awhile. I’m really excited to fly home to Anchorage and be tour guide for son Chris, his Ashlee and their ginormous dog Grimm.

I caught up to Robinath from Amsterdam on the switchbacks down to the creek, he hiked out from Cuba the afternoon before us.

5/28 13 miles to Ghost Ranch. Great setting, I see why Georgia O’Keefe lived here. There’s a fossil quarry nearby from which dinosaurs were dug, and this area has had culture upon culture through the millennia, each with their own tool making, pottery, basketry, and creation stories.

Arriving at the conference center, we were greeted on the deck by Treeman, Burning Calves, Dassie, Nuthatch, Party Saver, AJ and Quicksilver. Treeman had taken time off to trail angel but when he got back on trail, he slipped and split open his knee which is now stitched. From Berlin, and a PCT 2015 hiker, he said the last time he had that knee stitched due to another trail incident, he was told, “You have skin like an elephant!”  Apparently, thick, tough skin develops in athletes like hikers.  Treeman is friends with the Ravens from the PCT and they’d all been hoping to do some hiking together this year.  He’d reserved a bunk room that slept all 6 of us and included the all-you-can-eat breakfast.  We all had dinner in the cafeteria with more hikers.  The 100 or so regular people here for retreats and classes looked like they were enjoying this place too, although the hiker table was the only one that had a constant parade of people going back for seconds or thirds.  Hilarious!  Dan will arrive tomorrow to bring  me and Burning Calves, to Albuquerque airport.  She’s going to Atlanta to hike the AT with a friend but may come back to the CDT a bit later in the season.   Meanwhile I am drafting an “Application to Marry My Daughter” for Treeman.  It’s a perfect match.

Bling, Treeman, Robinath in the dining hall
Joon and Bling get to go on a trail ride!

5/29 I love small museums.  Ghost Ranch has both a museum of Anthropology and Palaentology that I visited while waiting for Dan.  He arrived and met all the hikers and ate lunch with us.  As we said our goodbyes before heading out, Treeman said “Bye Mom, bye Dad.”  He’s racking up points.

Next Up: The CDT

Well my feet stopped hurting, almost anyway.  All of my toenails have grown back except for the one I lost somewhere on the JMT in October.   The plantar fasciitis that has plagued me for 18 months, including every single day on the SOBO is kaput.  So I’m back to running, in the freaking snow and cold of Anchorage.  But hey I got third in my age group in the Frostbite Footrace 5K during Fur Rondy which I never do, and snowboarding has been awesome since Alaska finally has snow after three winters of drought.

Since finishing the PCT SOBO November 25, I’ve thought a lot about the differences between hiking north and hiking south from border to border in the Lower 48 (continental US).  And I’ve come to some useful conclusions for the next long hike.

Living in the North, my entire adult life in Alaska, you mark special times of the year–Summer Solstice, Fall Equinox, Winter Solstice, Breakup, and Freezeup. The longest day of the year June 21 or 22, Summer Solstice, is accompanied by manic celebrations all over–people hike all night or throw parties, have soccer tournaments or drink Midnight Sun Brewing Company beer. A celebration certainly but also a wake–a celebration of a life passed, because Summer Solstice is the beginning of the dying of the light and the all too quick slide to winter, cold, aurora borealis and dark. Up here, Summer Solstice weather wise isn’t even the warmest weather, there’s still snowfields, gardens are barely greening up and the first hatch of mosquitoes are rapidly being replaced by gazillions of their quicker, itchier progeny. And it’s starting to get dark again.

The Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) offers a shuttle service from Lordsburg, NM to the Crazy Cook start on the border with Mexico.  I want to start the CDT in the last half of April or early May in order to beat some of the desert heat, but looking at weather maps, New Mexico is having an early spring, while snow in southern Colorado is at record highs.  Hopefully, the early spring will sweep massive heat north and melt some of the snowpack before I get there.  I’m glad I’m not hiking the PCT north this year as the Sierra snowpack is super high (some ski resorts are planning on continuing operations to July 4) which means there will be a lot more snow slogging in the High Sierra this year than 2016 which was way more than I had on the PCT NOBO 2015.  The thing about the Sierra though is that you mostly go up over passes and then down to lower elevations.  I never had to pitch my tent on snow even if I spent all day hiking through it. In 2015 the only pass socked in on both sides was Muir, but since I’d hiked that route three previous times, my memory combined with my maps and I navigated through snow without major incidents–I broke through a minor ice bridge and got my feet wet but only postholed up to my knees and I was able to camp on dry ground at the end of the day.  The most treacherous pass was Glen because of its pitch, but I knew where the trail was supposed to go and there were plenty of tracks ahead of me.

The CDT apparently climbs high and stays on the Divide so once you’re in the snow, you stay in the snow–other than when you hitch down a highway to pick up more food and stay in a motel.  That’s the impression I get anyway and that’s what I need to be prepared for.  Reading hiker stories from past years (and there’s not a lot of them), this is normal if you’re going NOBO:  walk through the desert for hundreds of miles, hot during the day, freezing at night, then climb into snowfields and continue hiking for hundreds of miles more.  Snowshoes, an ice ax and proper avalanche training and practice are nearly universal recommendations.  The other option for the CDT is, of course, to hike south from Canada.  I have experience with this on the PCT as well since I hiked SOBO in 2016.  Hikers going south on either the PCT or the CDT generally pick a later start date to give the snow a chance to melt up north, then run like hell to get through the High Sierra (PCT) or Colorado (CDT) before it starts snowing the Fall.  A later date means June or July.

My CDT hiking strategy is based on my experiences hiking the PCT NOBO in 2015 and SOBO in 2016.  I liked both hikes, but I tell people that if they’ve never done the PCT before, I think hiking north is the better choice.

To me, it comes down to this:  daylight hours.  If you’re going to be hiking for 4 or 5 months, and you’re relatively slow, or would rather hike without a headlamp, starting in the spring means you’ve got 2 months of gradually increasing daylight hours till Summer Solstice, then 2 months of gradually dwindling daylight hours through the rest of the summer months.  It doesn’t mean you won’t be cold or get snowed on or won’t have to walk through snow, it just means that you’ll have more daylight hours to get it done.

Hiking in snow or snowfields, no matter the daylight hours is just slower.  SOBO hikers on the PCT and CDT generally begin at the border with Canada in the later part of June or early July.  NOBO hikers generally begin at the border with Mexico in April or early May.  Another option on the CDT where there is less peer pressure to do a “true thru” is to flip around–hike as far as you want in one direction then catch a ride to a different location, hike that stretch and so forth, eventually completing the entire trail, linking footsteps, rather than walking continuous footsteps.  I might do this.  I get to do whatever I feel like doing, so there.

I really loved hiking with other people on the NOBO, I met and got to know so many interesting, wonderful, kind folks.  On the other hand, I loved the relative solitude of going SOBO.  My hiking partner for 1600 miles, Puff Puff, and I would go days without seeing other people all the way through California and were (mostly) stoked that we had each other’s company for a part of each day and could camp together and hang out in towns together.  The Sierra in October was nothing like the Sierra in June–we could truly be in the wilderness without the hordes (human and mosquito) of summer.  We had to discipline ourselves to get up and go at first light and often camped just as the light was going.  In the last month of the SOBO we had about 11 hours of daylight.  The final 700 miles of So Cal desert were cool, rarely cold, but increasingly dark, by the very end, we were in our tents by 5 pm, full on dark.

I don’t know how the CDT hike will go, but I’m going.  I’ll begin hiking at Crazy Cook on April 21.  I will probably take a week or two off the trail the beginning of June to let the snow melt in Colorado and to go home to Alaska to get bit by mosquitoes and because my youngest is bring his beloved for her first visit to Alaska and they want to do some hiking in my home mountains.  One way or another I want to be in Wyoming August 21 wearing special solar eclipse glasses.

I’ll blog the CDT hike and will try to do a better job of it than I did in 2016.  I seem to do more writing when I have fewer people to talk to, and when a trail is all new to me.