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Brianle - Continental Divide Trail Journal - 2011

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Brian "Gadget" Lewis
City: Bellevue
State: WA
Country: USA
Begins: Jun 12, 2011
Direction: Southbound

Daily Summary
Date: Thu, Nov 17th, 2011
Daily Distance: 0
Trip Distance: 2,523.5

Journal Stats
Entry Visits: 5,849
Journal Visits: 114,672
Guestbook Views: 21,469
Guestbook Entrys: 112

Last PLB Location

Continental Divide Trail Map

Some Final Thoughts

The CDT is truly a butt-kicker, and mine feels well and truly kicked. Rather than impart any sort of arrogance or sense of being some tough-guy hiker, this trail served (for me at least) to in fact reinforce a certain humility. Hiking a lot of miles doesn’t make me some sort of awesome backpacking guru or the like; about all it does mean is that I was barely good enough and tough enough --- and stubborn enough --- to find ways to keep going. Too often on this trail when a wiser person might have reflected on how much fun they were (or were not) having and opted to do something better with their time.

Fortunately, there were good times and rewarding times along the trail. Of course there were. The ratio, however, of good-to-difficult wasn’t as high as I might have liked. When people ask me which of the three long trails I liked best, I won’t hesitate to say “The PCT”. Great views, varied landscape, more of a “social” environment yet not as gonzo-social as the AT can be, and while of course it’s not ‘easy’, it doesn’t hammer you as much as I found the CDT to do. I’m not inclined to go back to hike much of the AT again; there are parts of the CDT I’d very much like to hike again (or in some cases for the first time!) but a whole lot of it I would not be inclined to revisit. Much of the PCT, however, I would be willing to walk again.

But probably not as a thru-hike. My wife reminds me that after the PCT I told her I was unlikely to want to do another long distance trail. But we tend to forget the painful and unhappy parts and remember the good stuff, don’t we? This is almost certainly why many couples end up having more than one child …
So like James Bond, I’ll opt here to “never say never again”. But I do think it unlikely.

Some people have asked me “what’s next”, sometimes followed by a list of improbably adventurous things that they speculate that I might do. Just to be clear, I plan no arctic expeditions, nor outer space adventures, nor do I envision myself sailing around the world or climbing all of the tallest peaks. I think this (CDT thru-hike) is about as aggressive as I’m inclined to be. For 2012 I hope to bike a few hundred miles with my wonderful spouse, perhaps lead (or at least go on) a few backpacking trips with my local outdoor group (Mountaineers), and possibly hike part of Oregon on the PCT with a couple of old backpacking buddies (old in both senses of the word as one informs me that he’s about to become a grandfather!). Perhaps this coming year my wife and I might hike the JMT. And we would like, some year, to hike the Camino de Santiago de Compestela in northern Spain. Beyond those ideas, I don’t have anything specific in mind. Okay, possibly some hiking in Patagonia (Chile/Argentina) at some point. And, and …

Life is too short to do it all. But if I do anything at all lengthy again, I’ll certainly consider blogging it in similar fashion here on

My thanks to --- wow. Start with, in fact, Scott has been very helpful and supportive and has built a really excellent trail blogging site. I much appreciated the SPOT addition, and in particular my wife did too.

My wife is part of why I don’t see myself doing really long solo trips in future. We quite like each other (not just for the week or two after I’ve been gone for months …), it’s not as if I’m hiking to ‘get away from home’. Quite the contrary. She’s a great hiker and backpacker, and I look forward to doing more trips with her that are a bit more sane in terms of overall length and time. Ditto I like seeing my daughters once in a while.

Thanks so very much to everyone who posted such wonderful and supportive comments on my ‘guestbook’ here, and elsewhere, to include facebook, online backpacking discussion forums, emails, Jim Wolf’s surprisingly extensive summary of my trip (along with those of many others) in his October ‘Dividends’ publication, and of course the many nice things people have said in person. I feel a bit awkward as the recipient of such when what I’ve been doing is arguably so very narcissistic and selfish. By doing this in a more formalized “Hey, I’m hiking all of one of the long trails in the same year”, it somehow comes across as more noble and high-minded than it would be if I were to say “I’m going to leave my wife on her own for five months while I bum around on hiking trails like a smelly and disreputable hobo”. Like so many things in life, I guess it’s all about marketing.

Another question I’ve had is “Do you have any recommendations about hiking part or all of the CDT”. I’m afraid that my visceral reaction to that is akin to watching a horror movie at the point where the hero or heroine puts their hand on the door knob of the haunted house and you have to restrain yourself from shouting at the screen “Don’t go in there, you fool!”.

Okay, seriously, the CDT has some really wonderful bits. The sort of “most famous” bits are Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, a sort of corner of Yellowstone National Park, the Wind River Range in Wyoming, I guess the Great Basin portion of Wyoming, the Colorado Trail in, of course, Colorado, and the San Juan Mountains in Colorado.

What I don’t recall hearing much about before hiking in it was how really nice so much of the CDT is in New Mexico. Mind you, NM can hurt you too; the last few days of the trip, Lucky Joe and I would periodically stop, holler, and then swear as yet another thorn came right through our shoe and insole into our otherwise-hardened feet. And of course water can be a real issue there, and I understand that it can get a bit on the warm side in the summertime (I wouldn’t know).

I think my most favorite part of the whole trip was the Gila River Canyon area in NM. There were many other really beautiful areas, but this sort of “intimate beauty” was accompanied by a certain sense of fun (for me at least) and unlike most of the other most beautiful parts, it wasn’t just kicking my heiny so hard along the way. Factor in, however, the time of year that I was at those other parts.

Really, I have no particularly sage advice about hiking this trail. A thru-hike is like a kind of hasty survey of the land you’re walking through, it certainly doesn’t make me any sort of expert on any particular part. I would like to see Glacier National Park again, in slightly less difficult and perilous conditions. I’d like to see the parts of the Bob Marshall wilderness that Milky and I ended up (lo-o-ong) road walking around, particularly the “Chinese Wall”. I’m mixed about going back to walk the northern San Juan loop. Those 12,000’ plus elevations were quite tough, I found, even when acclimated to high elevation and in thru-hiker condition.

So okay, I do have two general recommendations. To potential thru-hikers, seriously consider “chunk hiking” the CDT instead of thru-hiking. A “chunk” is somewhere between a ‘section’ and a ‘thru’, so in this scenario you would hike the trail in perhaps two to four large “chunks”, over two to four years. Big benefits to this, you can really reduce the nasty and dangerous weather aspect of the trip, and not have to be away from home for so many months in a row. By doing it in big chunks you can still reap a lot of the benefits that thru-hikers get. And you still qualify as a “triple crowner” when you’re done, if that moniker means anything to you. Note finally that quite a few (very good, tough, experienced) people end up chunk hiking even though they had intended a thru. It certainly almost happened to me, at any rate. Anyway, keep this option in mind.

To those more intelligent folks who just want to walk the most interesting bits, the list of places a few paragraphs above is a great place to start. Some parts of the trail are particularly difficult to jump on to and start hiking, and I think that perhaps southern Colorado leads the list due to, again, high elevations. Certainly some really beautiful country in there however!

Okay, this is plenty long enough. I’m certain that I haven’t thanked everyone I should. I won’t reply individually to all of the wonderful “end of trip” comments in my guestbook, other than to say here --- thanks. I really appreciate it!

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Gadget's Trail Journal

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:


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