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CDT Post hike reflections

It’s only been two days since finishing, but I’m already suffering post-hike sadness. I was glad to put down my pack since my back and shoulders were killing me (I hiked the last 50 miles with my hipbelt tightly around my stomach and the shoudler straps completly off my shoulders…I can’t even lift my right arm anymore my trap muscles are so shot). Yet, I keep thinking back to all the cool things I did this summer and I’m already twitching for more adventure…

The next few entries, I hope to be a compilation of impressions, advice, and experiences. I hope it will be useful to those planning to thru-hike the CDT in the future.

About Starting late:
We started the CDT really late. Given that I had to take off two weeks to attend a funeral pretty much right after we started the trail, we put our “official” starting date at July 5th.

Benefits of starting late:
-We didn’t have a single nasty, or even slightly scary, ford. I *hate* fords, so this was a major plus for me.
-No bugs for 90% of the hike.
-No snakes spotted slithering in my path (well, no rattlers anyway)
-Nice and cool when we went through the Great Divide Basin. No 100 degree desert walks for us
-Along the same lines, nice and cool through NM, so running out of water and not having any along the trail wasn’t nearly as bad.
-Didn’t need an ice axe in Glacier or the Bob
-Didn’t have to walk across snow in MT, ID, or WY except Glacier.
-Made the hike more of a solitude adventure since we didn’t really see any other thru-hikers for most of the way.

Cons of starting late:
-Snow in the San Juans. However, this was far more manageable than I expected. Even while being snowed on at 13,000 feet, I didn’t think it was as bad as the Sierra on the PCT, especially since I had better gear for this trail than the PCT. None of the snow we were on was scary. I carried an ice axe and never even took it out of my pack. Even if there is snow in the San Juans for SOBOs, I think it can’t be any worse than the NOBOs go through every year. What was scary was the lightening in the San Juans, but you get that regardless of what time of year you head through.
-Freezing cold fords in the Gila in NM. There is no hiking experience I’ve had more painful than fording a river covered in frozen ice 70 times. I’m not sure how this compares to earlier SOBOs or NOBOs’ experiences. I made my first fire in four long trails to desperately warm myself up after the fords. Gnarls.
-All the trail magic sodas left by the side of the trail were consumed by people ahead of us
-Having everyone tell you how late you are! There’s nothing more depressing than nay-sayers telling you that you won’t make it.
-Rushing through the trail because you’re worried about not making it before the snows hit the San Juans. We purposely skipped the Butte route and other alternates, the Rocky Mtn Natl Park Loops, etc. because we didn’t want to waste time getting to the San Juans before the snows hit. Of course, they hit us anyway, and after we got out of the San Juans, it cleared up. Was skipping those cool parts of the trail up north really necessary?

All my pros and cons being said, I know that we lucked out on the weather this year. The big storm didn’t hit the San Juans until the second week in October. Sometimes, the snows come at the end of Sept. You never know how the weather will be your year, so starting out earlier is probably a safer bet. I believe that for my year, starting out late helped us avoid some of the gnarliest parts of the trail–the parts of the CDT that made me really dread doing the CDT (mainly, nasty fords, snakes, and slippery, steep, snow). For that, I am quite grateful. Of course, I think I was only able to make it through the whole trail, even after starting late, is because of the experience I had on the other trails: knowing my own speed, miles per day, and having discipline not succumb too badly to vortexes (townstops that draw you in and never release you back to hiking).

Liz "Snorkel" Thomas

Liz Thomas is a well-traveled adventure athlete most known for breaking the women’s unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail in 2011. She has completed the Triple Crown of Hiking–the Appalachian Trail, the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail–and has backpacked over 15,000 miles across the United States. While not on trail, Liz lives in Denver, Colorado.