REFLECTIONS ON THE CDT
Well, here it is six weeks after we finished the CDT. We had a lot of fun picking up our new car in Whitefish and driving south along the same route we hiked. We slept in the back of the Subaru, ate at some of our favorite CDT restaurants, and slack packed some missed sections. Ended the road trip with six days at the Grand Canyon, visiting Emma.
After lots of time to think about the thruhike, I have these comments. The mountains and camping every night felt like going home. I don’t feel changed by the experience, only reassured that I love long demanding journeys. Dopamine, a good appetite, excitement, deep fatigue, and new experiences make me very happy. I was surprised to discover I enjoyed backpacking—the slow pace, the remoteness, the physical challenges. Also surprised that I’m not a nature lover so much as an exercise lover. While other hikers exclaim about the beauty of nature, I’m in my head daydreaming or making plans, grooving on deep breaths and moving.
WE FINISHED!! THE NUMBERS...
We finished hiking the Continental Divide Trail on Wednesday, Sept. 8, around 4:15 pm. I’m still processing my feelings about the experience and will write more sometime in the next week. But I was able to do the math for the trip and came up with the following statistics:
Start date: April 15, 2021
End date: Sept. 8, 2021 (plus five days making up missed miles)
Total days on the trail: 151 days
Days hiking and neros: 123
Days resting (zero days): 28
Average miles hiked per day: 18
Average speed: 1.83 mph, includes meals and breaks
Average hours hiked per day: 9.25
Pairs of shoes: 6 (Beth); 5 (John)
Pounds lost: 10 (Beth); 20-25 (John)
Injuries: Shin splints (Beth); shin splints and blisters from hell (John)
BOB MARSHALL WILDERNESS
Leaving Lincoln, MT, tomorrow morning to hike into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. We may have very limited cell service for the next 11 days but will update when we reach East Glacier, ca. Sept. 7.
The last four days was beautiful hiking. Steep climbs and views of the rolling mountains with sections of woods and golden pastures. Yesterday was one of our toughest days, hiking along the ridge line with strong winds, colder temps, and sleet/hail/rain. But today we were drinking coffee and eating diner food for lunch inLincoln, MT. As the wise and more experienced hikers tell us, good times followed by bad times followed by good times. Don’t leave before the party is over.
BUTTE-BIG SKY CUTOFF
The last two weeks since Yellowstone have been different. Since we took the Butte-Big Sky Cutoff, we have done a lot of roadwalking. Quicker miles but hard on the feet and legs. Our daily mileage average was 23 miles a day, not as fast as most CDT hikers but fast for us! One sad effect is that I’m experiencing shin splints again in my left leg. Fingers crossed it doesn’t become too painful.
Along the Cutoff we passed through a number of small towns: Whitehall, Ennis, and Harrison. All very hospitable and welcoming. We spent the night in the town hall in Whitehall, next door to the fire station in Harrison. Lots of diners and ice cream. All in all, a good time.
Today is our last zero-miles rest day, in Helena. Tomorrow we begin the last stretch: Helena to Lincoln to The Bob Marshall Wilderness to Glacier National Park to FINISH! I’m not sure what to expect along the way, “The Bob” is over 130 miles long and remote. We’ll be carrying eight days of food, one of the heaviest food hauls of our trip. From looking at other hikers’ photos, the landscape looks like some steep climbs mixed with rolling hills. Definitely at a lower elevation than Colorado, with more oxygen and easier breathing.
Will hopefully post next week. We’re spending more time in the woods, less in town. Onward!!
We hiked through Yellowstone this past week. Such a difference between the back country and the tourist areas. Hiking through the Shoshone Geyser Basin, we saw a geyser that erupted every minute, plus beautiful hot pots and thermal areas—all to ourselves. Wonderful scenery and some of the easiest hiking of the trip.
Very different than the Old Faithful Village, with its crowds, overpriced food, and traffic. One night, we stayed at the Grant Village Campground, right next to a large group of young Girl Scouts (7-9 years old). Sad to say, the leaders spent the evening lecturing the girls on cookie sales! Later the same night, John was awoken by the sounds of a domestic argument and the arrival of the police (luckily, I slept through this). Quite the contrast to sleeping in the woods.
We have a little more than 600 miles to go. I’m guessing we will reach the Canada border mid-September. I perceive many thruhikers are going through a seventh inning slump. There’s a cooling in the air, creating an urgency to move faster. We’re taking fewer zero days and hiking bigger miles. At the same time, we’re heading into some of the most remote and demanding sections of the CDT (Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park). Feeling torn between wanting to finish (and resting) and wanting to continue (freedom).
Tomorrow we head north to avoid the fires in Idaho and western Montana, hiking an alternate route known as the Butte-Big Sky Super Cutoff. Roughly the route is Big Sky - Ennis - Whitehall - Helena - Bob Marshall Wilderness - Glacier National Park - Finish!
I overuse the word challenging when writing about our CDT hike. So I’m hitting the thesaurus to describe our last five days of hiking.
The last five days of hiking in the Wind River Range have been 1. Beautiful, 2. Rewarding, and 3. Demanding, taxing, formidable, arduous, and effortful.
We are now in grizzly bear country, so we headed out armed with bear spray and a heavy five days of food packed in our Ursacks (bear bags). Our hike began with a gradual 1,000 foot climb back to the CDT red line and continued uphill for another five miles before we camped among the clouds and granite spires of the Wind River Range.
In talking about the more 3. Demanding, taxing, formidable, arduous, and effortful parts of our journey, I worry that I may sound like a bit of a whiner. No shame. I hereby declare that one can be appreciative and a whiner at the same time.
The first evening we encountered hail and rain (comment: raincoats and rain pants are a bit of a joke since we always end up wet through and through). Stopped early at the very top of our climb and set up our tent, scrambling to cook dinner between rain showers. Since we entered grizzly territory, all of our cooking is done far away from the tent, very different than previously when we’d cook and eat in our tent.
But one thing about rainy weather, you gain an immense appreciation for being dry and warm. That night we told one another several times how great it felt to be dressed in our woolies, snuggly in our down sleeping bags. Followed by the next morning, when we put our cold and wet clothes back on and packed our precious dry woolies safely in our packs.
If we had brought along a novice backpacker with us, I truly doubt they would have ever backpacked again after this particular experience. Hiking in hail, cooking and eating in the rain, and putting on cold, wet clothes the next morning. As seasoned hikers, we expect days/nights like these but know that they are followed by sunshine, dry weather, and all of the other rewards that come with using your muscles, heart, lungs, and positive thinking to move through this beautiful world. Good times/bad times.
We had originally planned on hiking through to Yellowstone but diverted to Dubois, WY, so I could visit Urgent Care to check on a suspected UTI. Pretty sure I had an infection but by the time we reached Dubois, it seemed to have run its course. $150 to receive the green light that I was indeed in tip-top shape.
We have collected all of our back country camping permits and are ready to be Yellowstone tourists! Fun times ahead.
After having hiked through severe blowdown for three hours the previous evening, I was not enjoying being on my hands and knees at 5:30am,* crawling through dirt, trying to pass under a large tree. Something on my pack keeps getting caught, holding me back. I keep going lower, until I’m almost on my belly. I lose it.
FRACK it! FRACK IT!! I’ve had enough of this stuff!!” (Actual words substituted to protect the more sensitive reader).
When I say severe blowdown, imagine someone ripping out a forest of trees by the roots and throwing them like Pick Up Sticks on the ground. Trees stacked three or more high, one on top of another. Your job is to either go over, around, or under.
The prior evening, we had both found the blowdown an interesting and fun challenge. Something like a jungle gym adventure. But after moving only 1.8 miles in three hours, I was done with it. Yet the only direction is forward. So after apologizing to the very patient John, we continued through another mile of this stuff.
And on the other side of the blowdown, we entered The Wind River Mountain Range, which includes a CDT alternate route known as the Cirque of the Towers. We had heard it was challenging and beautiful. After experiencing it, we wonder why we had never heard of this stunning mountain range before. We hiked through valleys surrounded by granite spires, with lakes and creeks running through the middle. We climbed four passes in two days, with 3,000 to 4,000 feet of elevation gain a day, spending a good deal of time above tree line. I experienced a touch of vertigo for the first time due to the heights.
When we made it to Pinedale for a nearo and zero rest day, we were exhausted. But also proud of ourselves (physically and mentally) and grateful for having each other, good health, and this amazing opportunity to thruhike the CDT. We’re healing through the powers of good coffee, town food, a bed, and a bathtub.
Tomorrow we head to Yellowstone! 185 miles of hiking with only one brief stop to pick up a resupply box.
To quote Bubbles, “I’m hardcore now!!!”
*A new thing we started that morning, drinking coffee and eating breakfast after we’ve hiked away from camp. No coffee=very grumpy Beth.
Writing an update about our walk through the Great Divide Basin, our third trip through the Basin. We did it in 2018 on the TransAmerica route, in 2019 on the GDMBR, and now this year. There were a few sections that we're common to all three, but it was primarily walking on two-track roads on BLM land.
We put in our biggest mileage on the trip so far, 102 miles in four days, 27.5 miles being our longest day. Primarily this was due to good walking roads (generally few big climbs and smooth surfaces), and us being stronger. We were able to finish 13 to 14 miles by noon, and finish the day around 4:00. A couple of days were pretty uncomfortable, too hot with little breeze, but overall the weather was good, especially the mornings.
Saw lots of other hikers. I've often told people that 'nobody is out there in the basin,' but we saw more hikers this year than we ever saw cyclists on our 2018 and 2019 trips.
We are now in Lander, WY, a favorite town on our 2018 trip, resting and resupplying. Due to fires in Idaho that have closed over 120 miles of the CDT along the ID, WY border, we are having to plan a new route when we leave Yellowstone. This will shorten our route, but after walking over 1200 miles so far we are happy to walk fewer miles.
GREAT DIVIDE BASIN AND ZERO DAY!!
We finished the Great Divide Basin!! Five days of hiking through flat, hot, and repetitive landscape. We made fast miles, hiking an average of 26 miles a day. Others hiked between 35-40 miles a day. Young whippersnappers.
Many of the water supplies were poopy cow ponds (I may never get the smell of cow poop out of my nose), others were cold springs. We timed our campsites with small oases—a river or large pond. And know what? We had a lot of fun and enjoyed ourselves. Heat be damned. One morning we woke up at 2:30 am to beat the heat. Sunrise is the best time of day, for sure.
We finished this section more exhausted than usual due to the high miles and long days. Landed in one of our favorite trail towns, Lander, Wyoming. And as promised, I’ll describe our most excellent nearo, followed by a zero day.
NEARO FOLLOWED BY A ZERO IN LANDER!
Monday, July 19.
2:30 am. Wake up, excited to be hiking into Lander! Feeling tired due to lack of sleep, heat, and long miles.
9:30. Nice surprise, we hike into South Pass City, a restored ghost town. Since the CDT goes right through the town, it’s free for CDT hikers. Plus they sell ice cream and root beer! We call for a shuttle to pick us up and enjoy being tourists.
Noon. Have our shuttle driver and trail angel, Pulp Fiction, drop us off at The Lander Bake Shop where we drink lots of good coffee and eat baked goods. Yum.
Marvel at how my bowels seem to know when we’re in town.
1:30. Walk to NOLS to buy dehydrated food. Hang out with fellow thruhiker, Costanza, while doing laundry.
3:00. Go to grocery store to buy some late lunch: fried chicken, potato salad, Hawaiian rolls, and mango smoothie.
4:00. Go to the Aquatic Center to shower.
5:00. Set up our tent in the city park. Live music. Pulp Fiction and Costanza supply dinner for the hungry hiker masses. Spend the evening talking and eating with others.
8:00. Go to tent and sleep like babies.
Tuesday, July 20.
6 am. Sleep late, until 6 am!! Go eat breakfast at the Ox Bow. Marvel at the low cost of dining in Wyoming compared with Colorado.
8:00 Go to nearby coffee shop. Drink lots of good coffee. Stare at phones, make lists of things to do. Talk about an alternate route to avoid Idaho/Montana forest fires.
9:50 Go back to Lander Bake Shop to buy scones for tomorrow’s breakfast.
10:00 Go to the public library!! Charge batteries (literal and metaphorical), write letters and blog entry.
1:30 Go back to Lander Bake Shop a third time to buy a lemon bar and a chocolate/peanut butter bar. Eat these for lunch, along with salad-in-a-bag purchased yesterday.
2:00 Head to grocery store to buy resupply. I love to grocery shop!! I spend hours creating resupply lists, looking for that right combination of low weight, high calorie, and good tasting food.
3:00 Arrive back at tent, now soaked by the park sprinklers. Assess damage.
5:00 Eat dinner at the Chinese restaurant. Lots of veggies.
6:30 Repackage food and pack our backpacks. Read a book or watch something downloaded on my phone.
8:00 Set our alarm for early morning and sleep... onward through the Wind River Range!!
Well, we made it to Rawlins, Wyoming. A forest fire behind us (Morgan Creek) and forest fires ahead of us in Idaho and Montana. For some reason Wyoming has been spared at the moment but is a bit smoky, making for some magnificent sunrises and sunsets.
I really enjoyed the hiking the past eight days. Even the 36 miles of paved roadwalk. We saw a moose, a bunch of elk, and some antelope. Got in a dust/wind storm. Beautiful sunrises. We hike between 11-13 hours a day but we’re slow, so around 17-19 miles a day. The climbs are easier, and I’ll tell you a secret, steep climbs are really hard on me. A combination of trouble breathing (asthma) and not building muscle like I used to. One reason I’m looking forward to next week...
Tomorrow morning we head into the Great Divide Basin, a relatively flat and hot section, about 120 miles. Little shade and long water hauls—but I’m looking forward to making good time. Hopefully 25 mile days. And we‘ll be carrying some great food: small cereal packets (think Cinnamon Crisp, Frosted Cheerios, etc.), jalapeño kettle chips, dehydrated chili with an avocado, peanut butter-filled pretzels, dill pickles... we’ve gotten sick of the same old, same old, so we’re forging new territory in meal planning.
TYPICAL DAY ON TRAIL
4:00 am Wake up. Eat breakfast, drink coffee, break down camp.
8:00 Snack break
10:30 Lunch break
12:30 Snack break
3:00 Snack break
4:30-6:30 Make camp, have tea and a sweet treat, eat dinner.
7:30 Watch something or read a book downloaded on my phone.
YES! I know, exciting, right? In my next blog entry I’ll describe a typical day in town.
I’m happy to say we’re still are enjoying ourselves and have the appetite to continue. Many have quit and gone home, due to fatigue, injury, or personal matters. Lucky to have each other and this opportunity. Onward to Landers, Wyoming. One of our favorite trail towns.