Now that I’ve done the AT and the PCT, the logical next step is the CDT – the Continental Divide Trail. I don’t have plans to do it any time soon, but it doesn’t hurt to start reading about it! The CDT runs from Mexico to Canada up the Continental Divide. According to the CDTC, only 72% of the trail is complete. That means lots of road walking and cross country navigating. There are many alternate routes and even multiple termini to choose from so it’s hard to say how long the trail is, but it’s generally around 3,000 miles. That still needs to be done in one season, with harder weather stops than either of the other aforementioned trails, which is a heck of a lot of hiking in a short period of time. I followed some CDT hikers’ blogs last year and people had to leapfrog all over the trail to get through. It seemed that there was too much snow in Colorado, so they skipped it to go to Wyoming, then went back to Colorado, then up to Idaho/Montana. That all seems like a lot of work to me.
Mary “Speedstick” Moynihan hiked the CDT solo in 2011. She, too, had already hiked the AT and PCT so she was an experienced long distance hiker. However, you also need to be experienced in navigation on the CDT, which she decidedly was not. While the AT is incredibly easy to follow (I didn’t even carry maps), and the PCT can have some navigational challenges if you hit snow in the Sierra (I did not as 2015 was a drought year), the CDT definitely requires map and compass skills. There are many bushwhacking sections regardless of weather.
And, boy, did she hit some weather in 2011. The Colorado snowpack was at 200-300% of normal. Speedstick was lucky enough to hook up with some navigationally skilled hikers at the beginning of Colorado to learn from, but she set off solo again after a couple of weeks. The misery of postholing and early season storms and flooded creeks and trail over cornices and constantly frozen boots sounds like the ultimate sufferfest. When I hear about a sufferfest, on the one hand, it justifiably sounds awful, and on the other hand, it makes me want to do it even more. Selective memory of past sufferfests not being “that bad” helps.
Speedstick rarely ran into other hikers and seemed to be almost at the head of the pack heading northbound that year (not that there is much of a pack on the CDT, especially in 2011). The book gives a great introspective look as to what goes through a hiker’s mind when they’re solo so much of the time, and especially in stressful situations like those caused by that year’s weather. A lot of hikers that year chose to jump around the trail to better conditions also, but Speedstick was determined to have a continuous footpath northbound. I understand the decision as long as you have the skill to back it up. She did learn navigation quickly and was able to make it through.
The book has beautiful descriptions of trail scenery and while I wasn’t always a fan of the writing style, I would definitely recommend it for anyone contemplating a CDT hike, especially women. Speedstick finished the trail in 133 days, which is faster than most, and she pushed through conditions that a lot of hikers would be uncomfortable with. Despite that, it’s not an unrealistic look at the trail, unlike how reading about hikers with speed records can sometimes feel. Her hike seemed fast, but reasonable.
Married to the Trail was just published in 2016, coincidentally while Speedstick was attempting a “Calendar Year Triple Crown” – that is, hiking the AT, PCT, and CDT all from January 1st to December 31st of one year. She made it through the AT first in winter, then did a chunk of the CDT before deciding that it was no longer what she wanted to do and wasn’t worth continuing to hurt her body over. That’s a really tough decision to make, especially when lots of people are paying attention to your hike and armchair quarterbacking the whole thing. But she had nothing to prove and stayed true to herself – definitely a badass hiker.