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City: Santa Clara
Country: United States
Begins: Apr 27, 2010
Date: Tue, Oct 12th, 2010
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After Action Report-CDT
Recently a hiker I met on the PCT in 2009 asked me about advice for her upcoming CDT hike. This got me thinking I ought to write a bit about my plan and how it worked out on the CDT. Of course I must preface the whole thing by saying I am an expert only in what worked for me! I had a blast on the CDT. Looking back on it now I really feel like every aspect of the journey was perfect. Flexibility and adaptation to the circumstances were key factors. First off I will describe my plan as executed.
I bought all my food on-trail but I still neede resupply boxes for maps, shoes, socks, and extra gear for snow travel. My resupply points were Chama NM, Silverthorne CO, Rawlins WY, Lima MT, and Helena Mt. Each box had a sections worth of maps (about a pound worth!), Yogi town guide pages, Delorme atlas pages, Injinji Toes socks, Smartwool socks, and a new pair of New Balance 479 Running shoes.
Changes to resupply boxes:
I sent boxes to myself from Deming(Columbus route) to Doc Campbell's Post and Pie Town. In retro-spect I could have bought plenty of food at Doc Campbell's. Pietown was absolutely critical as there really is nothing but Pie to buy there.
Doc Campbell's was really a cool place. Initially he seemed a little peeved and commented that: " If you hikers keep mailing all these boxes I am going to have to start charging you a dollar a piece!" I resisted the urge to hand him a twenty for the next 19 hikers behind me! After I got my package I realized I needed more food anyways and that combined with the four pints of homemade icecream meant that I spent 40 bucks there anyways. He also stocks a bunch of freeze dried food which I did not have the heart to tell him that thru hikers generally don't eat! Anyways Doc Campbell's turned out to be an awesome resupply with many interesting characters and really great icecream. Next time I would just buy all my food for the section from him and skip the box.
Pie Town actually has a very decent store, The Top of the World store, but it is 3 miles down the highway. This is a "dry" county so there is no beer at that store but they do have icecream. By the way, Nita's Toaster house is a trail Icon. You will simply be blown away at the hospitality. Take the "Pie Town Challenge"! Sarong and I ate a whole Strawberry Mango Pie each before we left Pie town. Sarong won the challenge as i had to have a little help to finish mine(shouldn't have eaten all those Pop Tarts for 1st Breakfast). Of course I actually hiked 30 miles out of town after eating that Pie so I allow myself the consolation prize! Yes, I did have to make several stops behind the bushes on the road walk out of town! Anyhow If you send a box to Pietown, address it to Nita's Toaster House and you wont have to worry about arriving on a weekend etc.
The Chama box also contained my iceaxe, snowbaskets for my trekking poles,heavier neoprene gloves, and some sheetmetal screws for ice traction. If I could change anything I would have carried a set of crampons instead of the sheetmetal screws. I made it but through the snow and icy traverses but there were times when the sheetmetal screws were ineffective and I did slip and have to self arrest directly as a result of not having enough traction. The other thing I might have changed in the Chama box would be to include some form of hand cream. I had to wear the neoprene gloves to protect my hands from the freezing cold aluminum ice axe handle and cold from the snow but the rubber cause my hands to dry out and crack.
In Silverthorne I got my Deet (mosquito repellent) and mesh headnet. This was perfect timing for my northbound hike. I also had shipped my water filter here from Chama as I did not treat my water throughout the southern half of Colorado. This was a mistake. I developed the symptoms of Giardiasis the day I climbed Parkview mountain and began a course of Metronidazole immediately. The symptoms disappeared within two days but with antibiotics you must stick to the entire course of treatment to avoid creating a resistant strain of bug in you system. This meant a second alcohol-less 4th of July as Metronidazole and booze don't mix Oh the drama! I would definitely plan on treating my water the whole way next time whether it was Aqua Mira or a filter. Carrying the Metronidazole (Flagyl) was a superb idea and turned out to be a real life saver.
In Rawlins Wyoming I might have shipped myself an umbrella. My personal choice would be a reflective trekking umbrella so that it could be used to beat some of the suns heat out in the Great Basin divide but the real reason was all the rain I encountered from Northern Wyoming all the way to Canada. it might have just been a weird year but I began to think of it as Rain-tana instead of Montana. I really don't mind the rain as long as I am not all cloistered inside a parka hood all day. There were times when I just dropped my hood and let the rain beat on my skull cause I got tired of feeling wrapped up in wet plastic. The jury is still out on the best rain-gear. Personally I have not found any of the so called "water-proof breathable" to stay dry inside under summertime rain conditions. I agree with PI and Froggers assessment that Breathable fabrics work best when there is a large temperature and humidity difference across the membrane. Ideally it is really cold and dry air outside. Under summer time conditions the warm moist air trapped inside migrates through the under layers but condeses once it hits the cooler shell of the rain jacket. I like PI's approach of just a cheap plastic non-permeable jacket and an umbrella. Of couse I can only speak to the effectiveness of what I used. Well, my breathablej acket wetted out in less than an hour on the CDT. The replacement I bought in West Yellowstone also succumbed to moisture quickly. I am beginning to think a cheap plastic poncho, perhaps even those disposable types, combined with an umbrella would work better. About the only time my Jacket worked well was the second to last day on the trail when up in Glacier I got snowed on. Under those conditions the high tech-ery works well. Basically the "pendulum" is swinging the other way now as I began my hiking carrer in the late eighties wearing a poncho, went to a parka, now back to a poncho umbrella arrangement. I am still looking for the silver bullet of raingear. I also sent a boxes of food from Rawlins to Atlantic city and Brooks lake lodge WY. In retrospect if I had sent 6 days of food instead of four to Atlantic city I could have gone all the way throught the winds to Brooks lake without a resupply. Although Pinedale Wyoming was an easy hitch and the Pole creek and Seneca lake trails are spectacular. Be aware that July in the Wind river range means massive mosquitos. Every person I met in the winds either wore a headnet or tried to buy mine off my head! Seriously, the Winds were the most intense mosquito experience of my life. So I would say some Ben's Deet and a Mossie proof head net were critical to my enjoyment of the trail here.
Helena's resupply contained my passport. This was the last box of the trail so this was a perfect place to get it for my border crossing into Canada. I also sent a box from here to Benchmark ranch with food to ease the long section to East Glacier. Benchmark has a small steel lock box for our packages so make sure to keep them small. These are some really kind folks and run this service for us free of charge. Their main buisiness is horse packing so be extra careful of your comments regarding horses on the trail. Just like Big Sandy lodge and Brooks Lake lodge in the Wind river range, these are horse folk. We represent the minority here by a long shot. It was tempting to get really pissed off at them when I had to slog through 4 iches of slimy mud on the rain soaked horse beaten CDT through these areas but I just had to keep things in perspective. Nothing on the trail lasts for long. Anyhow I am not trying to tell you how to feel about the issue and I would be lying if I said the motorcycles, mountain bikes, or horses did not get on my nerves sometimes. But those things represent miniscule moments of discomfort in a veritable sea of solitude and a fantastic unspoiled wilderness experience.
The maps:I used Jonathan Ley's maps and a compass to navigate the trail. I also carried the relevant Delorme atlas pages. This worked for me. The only thing I might have done different would be to have the maps printed on both side of each page. This would have cut my map weight in half. I folded each page twice and they fit nicely in the pocket of my columbia tianium shirt. Each night I would pull out the next 20-30 miles worth of maps and put them in my right breast pocket. I kept my camera in the left pocket. My compass was always on a lanyard around my neck. This system worked perfect for me the whole trail. I had the Wolf guides but found they were difficult to translate from Sobo to NoBo so I usually just studied them at the beginning of each section and mailed them home. There were times I wished I had the natural history/information sections of the books so I knew exactly what I was seeing on the trail.
The town guide: I used Yogi's CDT Town guide. Along with the map packs I included the relevant town guide pages. The guide really took all the stress out of the logistical end of the hike. Some business have changed hands but the book was overall very accurate. There were towns where I knew more than the locals due to the guide pages! The contact information on national Park permits for Yellowstone and Glacier was critical. I would definitely carry this guide again!
Gear: I used the same type of gear and clothing as on the PCT. Although the CDT was the wetter, cooler, and windier of the two trails. The same 20 degree down sleeping bag, a Western mountaineering ultralight, was used and I slept cold on only one occasion when my bag became wet in Rain-tana from condensation and the humid air which would not let it dry. I am still considering converting to a quilt system. It could mean up to a 1lb weight savings and I used my sleeping bag like a quilt much of the time anyways. For me it seems the 20 degree bag is more than adequate and perhaps a bit too warm. As far as shelter I was very happy with my Gossamer Gear One again. It has 5600 miles on it. There were a few times, due to the rocky ground, when I wished for a free standing tent. Of course my preferred mode of shelter is none at all but as it turned out the rain precluded Cowboy camping for much of the latter half of the hike. I will admit that I am tempted, after meeting fellow hikers with 6 ounce tarps, to try and fiddle with my shelter system. PI uses a Mountain Laurel designs Patrol shelter in conjunction with a golite umbella and a piece of no-see-um mesh for a shelter. On the PCT Lint and AVO used similar tarps. Sage had a very small light tarp similar to a Six Moon refuge and the smallest titanium stakes I have ever seen! Anyhow, I am always willing to learn from my fellow hikers so for the Appalachian Trail I might try and emulate some of their strategy. I am already intent on using a trekking umbrella so it makes sense to try an offset it's weight by integrating it with my shelter system.
The Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus performed admirably throughout the whole CDT. The only damage it suffered was some torn mesh from an off trail romp through the willow thickets of Colorado and an assault by a very determined packrat in Glacier. In fact my pack is in good enough shape to take on the AT next year. I learned a lot about frame-less backpacks while carrying a Golite Pinnacle on the PCT. The MLD Exodus proved to be tough and comfortable provided the weight did not exceed 25 lbs for long and I stuffed my ridge-rest inside the pack as a foam "frame". Another lesson I learned on the CDT this year was that stuff sacks are not needed for most gear. Lined with a garbage compactor bag, my pack becomes the stuff sack. Sleeping bag, clothes, socks all just get stuffed into the pack together and I really feel my sleeping bag in particular benfits from not being squashed all the time. Particularly when the weather turned wet and the sleeping bag became wet, stuffing it into a stuff sack seemed to cause the moisture to wet the down more than when the bag was pushed into the more generous confines of the pack itself. Another change i made on the CDT was to store my shelter in the outside pocket of my pack. It is weird how I got into the habit of storing my tent way down in the bottom of the pack only to have to pull all my gear out into the rain to set up my shelter. Rain-tana cured me of this issue!
Food: I went without a stove after Silverton Colorado and I may never carry one ever again. The "no-cook" strategy worked very well for me. I re-hydrated food by simply putting it into a ziplock container with water and hiked on for an hour or so until the contents were edible. Again this is something I picked up from another hiker, Sarong in this case. I saved some weight, the hassle of obtaining fuel, but most of all I enjoyed the simplicity of not having to boil water. I also discovered that potato flakes and oatmeal or "tater-oats" are energy dense, quick to rehydrate, and damn tasty! Potato Buds rehydrate in a few minutes as well and i would often add fried chowmein noodles or bar-b-que flavor fritos to them to add variety. I also learned that I never get tired of peanut butter or Nutella. About the only thing I missed about not having a stove was the ability to make hot water bottles for my feet on wet and rainy nights and perhaps a hot cup of coffee on the trail. For the latter I found that those little tubes of instant coffee are just as good ice cold and carnation instant breakfast and instant coffee make a fabulous morning trail shake.
Water: My total capacity to carry water never exceeded 5 liters. I had a 3 liter Platypus bladder and a 1 liter soda bottle for 90% of the trail. A couple of times, like the Great Basin Divide in Wyoming, I picked up and extra 1 liter soda bottle for the section and jettisoned(recycled) it on the other side of the "desert". I once had a 25 mile carry where I had no water at all. This was the result of my being squeemish about some water that became cattle contaminated after a lightning stike induced stampede. I had made the mistake of trusting that a seasonal spring would have water.. it did not. By the end of that 25 miles I drank from the very first cattle-poop puddle of water I could find! Actually, in general, the water was as good or better than that found on the PCT. But the CDT definitely has a lot more cattle, elk, antelope,sheep, and wild horses sharing the water sources. The Jonathan Ley maps have excellant water data. Also it seemed a lot easier to "read" the landscape on the Continental Divide. I found it easy to predict where water would be based on where it had been in the prior miles. The landscape does change dramatically but on the divide you can most often see it coming and plan ahead. Of course I must say I found I was easily able to go 7-10 miles on a liter of water most days in cool weather. During the hotter stretches I tended to use about 1 liter in 5-7 miles. I always tried to carry as little as possible and only once, as stated above, was I caught completely dry. The CDT seemed to me much wetter than the PCT. Perhaps I was just better prepared to deal with it because of my recent experience on the PCT. My best advice is trust the J. Ley maps and your instincts. Water was never a serious problem on the trail.
Bear Repellent Spray: I caved in and bought a can in Pinedale Wyoming. A 7 ounce can I carried all the way into Glacier National Park. At first it seemed a little ridiculous but somewhat less so after a poor chap got mauled to death in Yellowstone. This brings up a major difference between the PCT and the CDT. There were times when I did not see another person for a week. If I had been mauled or had a mishap I might remain alone and injured for quite some time. I even began to carry a sheath knife and magnesium firestarter. My logic was that I neede a way to reliably make fire in any weather. The only way I know of to pull dry wood from a wet forest is either digging it out from under a log or cutting it from the inner bark of deadfall. Another factor is the intense thunderstorms that came to characterize the hike the further north I got. Some of the hail that fell was huge and perfectly capable of destroying any fabric shelter I can imagine. The sheath knife was my way of insuring that I could create shelter from natural materials for myself should the need arise. Perhaps the long days of solitude began to work on my imagination but the CDT really felt a few orders of magnitude more remote than any place I have ever been. It is easy to look back now and think myself a bit paranoid for carrying an extra pound of Bear spray, knife, and firestarter but I slept soundly.
One thing that began on the PCT and became even more apparent on the CDT is, at least for me; going lighter makes a more enjoyable trail experience. For the Appalachian trail I fully intend to bring my base weight down even lower and I know just where to begin thanks to my most recent experience on the divide. If you want to reduce pack-weight the easiest place to begin is with the "Big Three"; Pack, Bag, and Shelter. I have set myself a goal. I will reduce my big three to 3lbs or less. My total base weight shall be no more than 8 lbs for the AT. It is going to be a challenge for me but it is one that pays big dividends. My experience had been that the lighter the load the better and 3 ounces off a 30 lb pack are not the same as 3 ounces off a 20lb pack. Yes, I once again have a case of "ounce madness"! I am excited to go out East and hike the AT. So far my plan is to be on the approach trail around March 15 2011. I will have my triple crown atop Mt. Katahdin in Maine sometime next year! It has been quite an interesting set of hikes i've had these past two seasons. I have seen amazing things, met amazing people, been places you would not believe. I find I am quite ready for another adventure!
Continental Divide Trail
The Continental Divide Trail is a national scenic trail that runs from Mexico to Canada via New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. This unfinished trail can potentially span up to 3,100 miles. Learn more: www.continentaldividetrail.org
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