[cdt-l] To Stimulate Discussion

John Brennan john at frozenpoodle.com
Mon Nov 13 11:47:22 CST 2006

Being home, sick, on a rainy day gives me the chance to chime in on a few of
Ginny's questions. 
Background for some of you: I intended to thru-hike in 2004. My
unwillingness to hike along non-trail roads and highways because of snow on
a southbound hike pulled me off the trail at Berthoud Pass in the top third
of Colorado.  In 2006, I intended on finishing the trail, but only finished
Colorado. I have New Mexico remaining, which is on the calendar for April,

1. What did you expect before you hiked the CDT?
As I spent May, 2006, waiting out my injury and the heavy snow in the San
Juans, I expected that, since others had been through, I would have an
easier time with the snow in the South San Juans. Even though the snow had
melted for 2-3 weeks since the first thru-hikers made it through, hiking was
still tough. The snow was crappy, perhaps even less firm that the people
ahead had experience. One 8-mile day was particularly exhausting between the
slogging and post-holing and the need to be on top of my navigation (because
the trail was covered and there were no tracks from earlier hikers).
Although it was hard and I was cursing the trail at the time, I would do it
again in a second. I learned a lot about myself while increasing/proving my
way-finding skills.

Part of the frustration was my expectation about mileage, not meeting it,
and not knowing what conditions were ahead. That led to concerns about
running out of food. I never ran out because I carried extra food, but I was
vague about how much extra I had.

4.  How would you compare it to the other long trails you've hiked?
For non-trail friends who ask, I say that hiking the PCT was like going to
Lion Country Safari (or other drive-through zoos) and that hiking the CDT
was like going to Africa (the real thing). (This is not a put-down of the
PCT. I plan to hike it again. It's just a means of comparison.)

6.  Would you/will you do the CDT again?  What would/will you do 
I would love the opportunity to hike the CDT again. The experience of living
in the corridor of landscape that is the CDT was amazing. Occasionally
crossing paths (or even hiking with!) other hikers was all the more
thrilling and enjoyable because of the stretches spend alone.
If I did it again, I'd consider mustering up ride support to hike each
section during the most desirable time of year, something like this:
  Great Basin, WY: May
  Glacier/the Bob, MT: August
  Colorado: July
  New Mexico: April (or September of a wet year)

I'd also lower my mileage expectations in Glacier and much of Colorado from
18 miles a day to 16. 

7.  Favorite and/or least favorite Trail towns?
I didn't like Twin Lakes, CO, in 2006, although it wasn't bad. I hear that
the inn has a new hiker-friendly owner, so it could be different already. 
If I had to choose again, I'd choose Creede, CO, over Lake City, CO. From
the trail crossing at the pass, it's just a matter of hitching in the other
direction. Creed sounded more hiker-friendly.
I liked Leadville, CO, in 2006. Although it was spread out a bit, it had
everything I needed.
I got stuck in Rawlins, WY, on a three-day weekend. A lot of places were
closed for the holiday. 

8.  Good/bad wildlife encounters?
[Step on soap box] I had many bad wildlife encounters with elk. They were
bad because, although hunters have the right to hunt elk, I, as a hiker, do
not have the right to view wildlife undisturbed. Elk can not distinguish me
from a hunter and, because of poachers (those hunting outside of hunting
season), elk fear humans all the time, not just hunting season. Most elk
hunting is recreational.  Although people do eat the meat they take, they
spend far more on equipment and lost work time. I overheard one woman saying
that elk cost $600 a pound in her household. [Step off soap box]

I had a great encounter with a long, furry tube, probably a ferret, just
north of Snow Mesa, CO. It was very curious, and I got to see it a lot as it
ran from rock to rock, pausing at each, to check me out.

A bird urged me on as I sat, exposed above 12,000', in a hailstorm
proceeding riotous lightning. I had no visual on the trail where I thought
it should be, a visual on a trail that was going the wrong direction and not
on the maps, and a soaked and tattered map. The insistently chirping and
hovering bird brought me out of despair and into reality. I hiked lower into
the thickening hail toward my best guess.

9.  Best/worst part about hiking the CDT?
Best: learning that I could hold my own in the vast landscape and the
indifferent weather.

Worst: Being exposed to the extent that man has raped the landscape.

Another Worst: Having to pass up a true Divide segment because of lightning
and choosing not to wait it out. Several times weather kept me off of higher
alternate routes. 

10.  Any rants or raves?
Again, hunters: Sawing off the antlers of a kill and leaving evidence of the
violence for me to find is disturbing and unnecessary. Tossing sawed-off
legs along the trail is savage and inconsiderate. I have as much right, if
not more, to not be affected by your violence as you do to create violence.

Mechanized vehicles, including bicycles: Those that leave the trail ruin it
for all of you that follow the rules.  Don't destroy the landscape. Those of
you riding on trail designed for horses and people: Build your own trails.
Those roaring through the wilderness on dirt bikes and ATVs: I have the
right to quiet and solitude, and I choose to have it in the wilderness. You
guys can be anywhere. There's only one CDT.

11.  Were you lonely or did you enjoy the solitude? Did you have solitude?
I enjoyed the solitude, and was really happy to meet other hikers. I would
have like another set of eyes and ears to help make navigation decisions

12.  Any words of wisdom for next year's hikers?  Final thoughts?? 
-I wish I was better at figuring out bail out points and exit strategies.
It's not something I feel I can do as well as other hikers I've met. Perhaps
that's what keeps me on the trail when others bail.
-If you are slogging along in snow the side of a valley, look at the map and
the landscape.  If there's a trail (or even if there's not) in the snow-free
valley below, determine if you can drop down to it rather than risk injury
and exhaust yourself sticking to the trail in sub-optimal conditions. 
-Be willing to backtrack when making navigation decisions. I would look at
the map, look at the landscape and get an idea where I thought the trail
should be. Rather than spending time increasing my certainty, I'd start
hiking. Being off trail, even a little, then getting back to the trail, led
to many wonders for me: an obsidian arrowhead, an elk skull with antlers,
and many wildlife encounters.
-Many libraries (internet access) in towns along the CDT close on holidays.

>From Santa Cruz, CA,

-----Original Message-----
From: cdt-l-bounces at backcountry.net [mailto:cdt-l-bounces at backcountry.net]
On Behalf Of Jim and/or Ginny Owen
Sent: Sunday, November 12, 2006 11:41 AM
To: cdt-l at mailman.backcountry.net
Subject: [cdt-l] To Stimulate Discussion

It's been quiet around here, so since most of this year's hikers have 
completed their journeys, or will soon, I thought I'd ask some post-hike 
questions. <snip>

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