Somewhere in the first 500 miles of hiking the PCT, Gabriel and I knew that we loved long distance hiking and that another trail was in our future. The only question was when could we get out again? Our answer to ourselves: As soon as responsibly possible.
So we’ve taken two and half years off between long hikes. Enough time to be gainfully employed, contribute to our work meaningfully, to climb and ski in the Cascades, to enjoy time with family and friends, and take shorter trips to places we’ve dreamed of over the years (the Grand Canyon and the Ptarmigan Traverse).
But our feet have started to itch for a good trail and our minds seek the simplicity and soul satisfaction of taking a long walk. Now is the time to fulfill that desire for a long trip, to explore, and to appreciate new-to-us ecosystems.
Of all the long trails to choose from, the Continental Divide presents the greatest appeal. It is a trail that travels across classic landscapes of the Rockies and the West. A trail that still has the “choose your own adventure feel” with its multiple route options, off-trail possibilities, and a little less development and support. It is also a route with the luxury of walking to a town every 100-150 miles. Offering a good balance between the worlds of adventure and convenience, making for an ideal long distance hike #2.
And hiking it now, in 2014, I feel like we are getting a taste of the CDT as the trail transitions to a new chapter. A few years ago, perhaps 10-30 people sought to walk the whole distance in a single season. These hikers spoke of meeting a fellow thru-hiker 3-5 times over the course of their trips. Giving the impression that the hike was vast, wild, remote, and, at times, lonesome.
That era is past. With more than 100 hikers setting out this season, the likelihood of meeting other hikers has certainly increased. The CDT community is growing. Each year the route is becoming more established. Each year more trail is built. Each year there is more organization and energy around the trail. Each year things are a little easier.
And we are part of this growth and change. So I don’t mean to sound as if I’m complaining. As I certainly appreciate the evolution of lightweight gear, the incredible network of trail beta, and the growing number of trail angels along the CDT. It’s made the task of organizing and preparing for the hiker MUCH easier. And I’ve declined the offers of borrowing heavier gear from friends, just in case I want to make the hike harder. So I’m looking forward to walking the trail as it is this season.
Still, my mental reference of the CDT has been shaped by the writings of hikers from the 1980s and 1990s. When there were less miles of built trail, when you had to write paper letters to all of the land management agencies to get maps, when you had to write to the First Nations and ranchers to ask for letters of permission to travel across private property. When it was maybe you and 5 others who sought out to hike this long route across vast landscapes.
Fortunately, a few things are more wild now then the accounts I read of hikers pre-1995. Wolves have been reintroduced in Yellowstone and New Mexico, slowly they are regaining acceptance on the landscape. The grizzly still roams Yellowstone and Glacier. The wolverine still travels the snowy mountains of the Rockies. I hope we see their tracks and hear a pack howl. Affirming that the trail remains wild.