Romance: I knew it was a long shot, and I didn’t have very high hopes, but there was a very small glimmer of hope that maybe I would find some romance and a future partner on the trail. It didn’t happen. Had it happened, I probably would still be going as that would have been a big incentive not to quit. Haha. Not a big disappointment since I didn’t have high expectations to begin with, but still a bit of a bummer.
Trail Magic: I hate bringing this up because I don’t want to sound like I’m entitled to trail magic or that I’m ungrateful for the help I got. I am so thankful for all the help and trail magic I received. From a trail magic perspective, I knew there were much better trails to do than the CDT, so once again I didn’t have real high expectations. However, it was frustrating hearing stories from other hikers about awesome trail magic they had been a part of, not having received anything like that myself. From another perspective, the hike was great for getting ideas for future trail magic I could do for hikers, and I was recently able to drive over to NM for a few days and give some trail magic, which was a blast.
Friendships: Similar to trail magic, I knew this wasn’t the trail to be doing if I wanted a really social experience along the trail. However, I had hoped that I could find a trail family (“tramily”) along the trail and within that tramily make some great friends along the way. Despite the high number of people on the CDT this year, it still ended up being a very lonely experience on trail for me up until the last couple weeks. It definitely made me cherish those couple weeks I had hiking with the group, but I wish I could have had more time with them. Not having more time with them down the trail was one of the biggest bummers for me when I decided to quit.
Quitter/Failure: This didn’t hit me right away, but after I had a bit to process calling it quits, I realized this was another thing to add to my list of things that haven’t gone my way, that I have quit, or that I have failed at (along with storm chasing, fire fighting, selling fine art prints, etc.). I was really hoping prior to starting the trail that this was something I could finish and put on the success checklist. Despite being a great accomplishment, it didn’t help with the struggle of wondering if I’m not trying hard enough, if I quit too early when things get hard, or if I just haven’t found “my thing” yet.
Road Walking: There are a couple different aspects to this. First, the large amount of road walking. I had heard it was a lot of road walking, but it surprised me how much there actually was. Most of it was on backcountry forest roads and not highways, which was good, but it was still a lot of roads. Second, the highway walks were awful on my feet. The highway walks were generally great for keeping a fast pace, but some of the worst blisters I got were after walking on a long highway stretch.
Job Opportunities/Future Location: When I started the trail, my plan after finishing was to find a job and move close to the CDT, preferably somewhere in Montana or Wyoming. I had hoped that hiking the trail would give me some leads on job opportunities. That didn’t happen, but it did give me an idea on the trail towns that would be at the top of my list to live in, which was nice. Ironically, though, by the time I had quit the CDT, I had decided that NW Arkansas was actually at the top of the list of where I would like to end up. If that didn’t work out, I would start looking into jobs in my top trail towns.
Anaconda Pintler Wilderness: Outside of my friend Kate, this was an area that I didn’t hear much about before trail, but it ended up being one of my favorite stretches of trail. I would love to go back there again sometime and take some time to really enjoy it and take it in.
Towns Days: I had thought before trail that town stops would be a nice relaxing break from the hiking. They were a nice break from hiking, but there was often a big chore list to do, so I’m not sure I would say they were particularly relaxing, especially if it was in town one day and out the next. I still loved town days though.
Recovery: The first couple weeks after quitting were pretty rough physically. I must have hurt my left shoulder more than I realized in the fall right before quitting, because after getting home it was sore for a few days. My legs felt awful when I went running. There were a few days when my lower back was quite sore. I found it quite ironic that I never took any pain medication while on trail, but took some a few times for the back pain after I was home. Thankfully after a couple weeks I started to feel a lot better.
Do I Regret Quitting?: After giving it some thought for a month and a half, do I now regret calling it quits early? I still feel like it was the right choice. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t second guess myself. I often wonder if listening to music on the hard climbs would have made a difference. Someone in our group mentioned this early on in Colorado, but for some reason it never crossed my mind to put in my earbuds and listen to some music during the big climbs. Should I have thought more of all the people cheering me on and sending me encouragement? Seeing the pictures from the San Juans with the fall colors has been a bit depressing. That was one of the things I was looking forward to the most. Some of the hikers in the group I was around were part of a fairly large group in southern Colorado, and had I kept going, I may have ended up in that group, which likely would have been a lot of fun.
On the other hand, I’m really happy I got to participate in the Oklahoma City Memorial Half Marathon. That is always one of my favorite days of the year, and I’m glad I was able to keep my streak in tact (now at 9 consecutive years). I’m also really happy I got the opportunity to do some trail magic on the CDT this year. As I mentioned earlier, that was a blast. Seeing the pictures of the snow and cold weather the last 2-3 weeks has made me pretty glad I’m off the trail as well.
Most of all I keep thinking about how hard it’s going to make it to finish out the trail. If I finish it out, I would like to do it a bit earlier in the year so I’m not having to deal with winter weather, but that would put me in a time where there wouldn’t be many (or even any) other CDT hikers on the trail around me. I would be starting from scratch again with getting my hiker legs (although starting with a fresh body may not be a bad thing). Finally, at this point I would really like to get a job, buy a house, and start getting plugged into and settled into a community instead of continuing to put life on “hold” and having a temporary job and living situation for almost a year. I think the chances of me finishing the trail are pretty small at this point, but we’ll see how things unfold. Maybe we’ll meet again at some point.
So there you have it: a very long response to the question “How did your hike go?”. I’m sure there is still a lot I’m leaving out. Haha.
This three part blog series is my attempt to answer the question “How did your CDT hike go?”. If you missed part one (overview of the MT & ID portion), you can check that out here. As you can tell from the title, this is an overview of the WY and CO portion.
I was super excited to get into Wyoming. It is my birth state, the state where I spent most of my childhood, and it was nice to finally be finished with the MT/ID portion. Ironically, I think this is where things started to unravel on me though. Yellowstone ended up being really easy hiking, but I didn’t find it particularly scenic/interesting. Shortly after that I had a really frustrating town stop in Dubois (the town wasn’t bad, just didn’t go well). Then it was into the Wind River Range (“the Winds”), which was supposed to be one of the main highlights of the entire hike. In the northern part of the Winds I had one of the hardest days physically, and definitely one of my low points mentally/emotionally: the climb over Knapsack Col, where I broke both trekking poles and put a good gash in my shin. In the southern part the smoke returned, so the views were diminished. I rushed through the beautiful Cirque of the Towers area to get over a couple passes before rain moved in. Then a big climb on a cold and rainy morning, followed by awful blowdowns, made for an absolutely miserable day. So while there were some absolutely amazing views and scenery in the Winds, that stretch got heavily tainted by the abundance of miserable moments. Based on how much I struggled with the big climbs in the Winds, I knew I might be in trouble in Colorado and I really started to worry about making it through Colorado.
Lander, WY was a place of big changes in my hike. The first one was with the trail itself. I was going from big mountains into relatively flat desert. This desert section had really worried me since the start of my hike. The second change was that it finally worked out so that I was hiking with a group after leaving town. In the 50+ days up to that point I had done very little hiking with other people. I had run into lots of different southbound hikers up to that point (mainly in towns), but had never been able to consistently stick around the same people for any considerable length of time. I thought it felt a lot like what speed dating must feel like. If the national parks (where camping is regulated) are excluded, up until Lander I believe I only had 3 nights outside of town (out of around 30) where I camped with other hikers. It had been quite lonely, and I was really glad to have some company leaving Lander.
After Lander is the stretch known as “the Basin”, which is the relatively flat desert area I referenced in the previous paragraph. I got lucky and went through the Basin with great weather. It wasn’t near as bad as I had thought it might be (due mostly to the cooler weather I had), but it was still quite boring and monotonous, and I was really glad to have some company going through there to help break up the monotony. I managed to get in 40 miles during a day in the Basin, but it involved hiking the last 1.5 miles or so cross country (no trail) in the dark (with a headlamp), which was miserable and I highly discourage. Haha.
Unfortunately for me most of the group I was hiking with left Rawlins, WY about a half day ahead of me, but they were making a brief stop in a town that I would be skipping, so I knew I had a chance at catching them. I hiked the first couple days out of Rawlins really hard to try to catch up to them. I managed to link back up with a few of them on the third day, which was great, but my legs were completely exhausted. The stretch between Rawlins and Steamboat Springs, CO is when I really started to have serious thoughts about quitting, I think mainly due to exhaustion, as well as being miserable and/or “bored” through much of Wyoming.
After getting into Steamboat, getting some rest, and having what is likely my favorite memory from trail (staying at an Airbnb with several other hikers), I decided to keep on going. If I had been by myself, I think there is a high likelihood I would have called it quits in Steamboat. Despite feeling so exhausted getting into Steamboat and not taking a zero, I actually felt pretty good leaving town. Our group got spread out a bit between Steamboat and Grand Lake, CO, but I was still able to stick around a couple of the people in that stretch. There was a really big climb on the third day out of Steamboat that I really struggled with, but it helped a lot having someone with me to help motivate me to keep going. The next day had another big climb that again was a big struggle. There was a portion of the climb with blowdowns across the trail that were really difficult to get around, which made for miserable hiking and put me in an awful mood. After getting to Grand Lake I decided I would be taking an alternate route that would skip the highest point on the CDT and save me some miles and elevation gain/loss. The big climbs had been kicking my butt, and at this point I just wanted to get through Colorado. I could do a “14er” another time with a daypack if I really wanted to check that off my list.
Although the hike out of Grand Lake was beautiful, it was a bit depressing as well since I knew the group I had been hiking with was going to be split up for a bit. Three of the hikers were getting off trail for a couple days to meet with friends. I was the only one I knew of planning on taking the alternate route, which would likely put me a couple days ahead of every one else. The first day out of Grand Lake was the first day in quite some time in which I didn’t see another CDT hiker and camped alone. Hiking with a group had a lot to do with me pushing on the last couple segments, so I was quite bummed to be without the group. Just before camp I tripped and fell hard, which didn’t help anything. The next day had a big climb up above 12,000 ft. Between the big climb, the cold temperature, the wind, and the exposed hiking, I was really miserable that morning. By lunchtime I was already fairly worn out and demoralized, and I had a decision to make: two more big climbs (with a big descent between them) for the day, or call it quits and head into Winter Park, CO. After eating I decided to call it quits. After that morning, there wasn’t much of me that was looking forward to the rest of Colorado and New Mexico. So on the afternoon of Sep. 5 I hiked my final few miles out to Winter Park.
In part 3, I’ll cover some individual topics about the hike in general, so be watching for that in the next few days.
It’s crazy to me that it has already been over a month since I called it quits on my CDT hike. I get asked all the time how the hike went. It’s difficult to give any sort of short (or even long) answer that does the trip justice. Although it’s still quite difficult to put the experience into words, I have spent some time over the last several days trying to put some thoughts about the trip down in writing. I ended up with three different blogs (including this one). I’ll share the other two over the next few days. Hopefully these blogs will give you a glimpse into the main takeaways I had from the trail and give a decent answer to the question “How did the hike go?”.
When I started the hike, I had every intention of going all the way to Mexico. However, some people may have noticed on my Instagram that I put “attempting a thru hike of the CDT” in my profile instead of a more definitive “thru hiking the CDT”. I knew the chances of actually finishing the trail were quite small, so I felt it was more appropriate to put the “attempting” in the bio until I actually finished, but I also wondered if that was an indication I wasn’t in the right mindset right off the bat.
Starting off in Glacier National Park (GNP) was amazing, and I’m really glad I got to hike through the park. I really enjoyed spending time at camp with Little Red and Chuckles. It was a great way to kick off the hike. It was a bit difficult, though, leaving the park and losing the magnificent views, running into lots of blowdowns, hiking through lots of burn areas, and being alone at camp pretty much every night. I think it made for a more pronounced “honey moon phase” at the start.
I said at the start that if I could make it through the first couple weeks, I would feel good about making it to Mexico. After the first two weeks, despite some rough moments, it was full steam ahead. However, it was around this two-week mark that I really started having issues with my first pack not fitting properly. I bought a new pack in Helena, MT and that pack ended up being worse than my first pack. At that point I had my parents send the pack I’ve used on my shorter trips over the last few years to Anaconda, MT. It ended up fitting better, but it still took my body some time to adjust to it. This whole ordeal made for some pretty miserable hiking over a few weeks.
Unfortunately the pack I got in Anaconda was much heavier than the pack I had started out with, which I knew I might regret in Colorado when the elevation gains and losses were a bigger deal. It seemed to take until early Wyoming before I felt like my body was fairly used to carrying the pack. I really wanted to get a lighter pack before Colorado, but I didn’t want to have another fiasco of trying a different pack and it not working out again. I decided in the end to keep the heavier pack, which may have been a contributing factor to me calling it quits early.
The other big story for me in Montana was the fire detour. There were all sorts of different things hikers were doing to get around the trail closure, which unfortunately ended up scattering hikers until northern Wyoming. I ended up skipping about 150 miles of the CDT, and instead doing a roughly 100 mile walk primarily on highways through the Big Hole Valley. It was a bummer not going through the mountains, but the Big Hole Valley was a neat area. The highway walking was really tough on my feet. Some of the worst blisters I had on trail occurred during this stretch.
Other than the pack issue and the fire detour, the Montana/Idaho section overall went fairly well. There were definitely some really difficult/rough parts, but they were sparse enough that they didn’t taint the overall experience. In the next blog I’ll share an overview of the WY/CO section.
I have had quite a few questions about the gear I will be carrying on my Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hike, so I figured at least a few people would find a blog post about my gear interesting. I have made a couple last minute changes this week (shoes and video equipment), so I’m crossing my fingers those work out. My pack weight is definitely on the heavier side compared to others thru hiking the CDT, which makes me a little nervous. I’m still debating whether or not to leave the umbrella and sandals at home to save a little bit of weight, but for now I plan on bringing them. Outside of the weight, I feel pretty good about this gear, so I don’t anticipate a whole lot of changes along the trail other than getting rid of the snow gear at some point, but we’ll see how it goes. Pictures and a list of my gear are below.
If you read my Fears/Struggles/Cons blog, you know that my biggest fears have to do with what happens post trail. One of the main reasons I decided to hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) was the opportunity to make some life changes after finishing. So even though I haven’t hit the trail yet, I have put a decent amount of thought into what I would like after finishing the hike. As it stands right now, the plan is to try to find a job I like – in a place I like – quickly after I finish up the trail (more on this below). I would like to find a place where I can settle down, plant roots, and make a difference. A place where I can find community.
With that being said, I have heard many people talk about wanting to do more long thru hikes after they finish their first one, and a 4-5 month thru hike will give me lots of time to consider what I want after the trail. Thus, I realize my post trail plans could be quite different after finishing the hike. However, I want to throw out where I stand at this point so that it can potentially give people ideas on opportunities I would be interested in post trail, and possibly have something lined up quickly after finishing the trail should I decide this is the route I want to go.
The list below contains some criteria that, if met, would place a job high on my list. If a job fits the center of the Venn diagram below (yellow star), it would also be high on my list. If you know of any jobs I might be interested in, please let me know about them or feel free to provide my resume to the appropriate person. You can view my resume by clicking here. Assuming I finish the whole trail, I likely won’t be available for a job until at least late November. If you think I would be interested in a job that doesn’t quite fit this, don’t hesitate to let me know about it.
Has some sort of connection to mountains, backpacking, photography, or art.
Close to the mountains.
Close to the CDT (preferably in WY or MT).
At least a somewhat regular schedule, ideally M-F 9 to 5 type.
Frequent 2 sequential days off work (for short backpacking trips).
At least a couple weeks worth of time off each year.
Somewhere with a good art scene.
Not in a big city.
I have listed some towns/cities below that interest me, along with some pros and cons. I’ll definitely consider places that aren’t on this list, but hopefully this gives you an idea of what I’m looking for.
Pros: Very close to the Wind River Range; close to the CDT; common resupply point for CDT hikers; would be back in my “home state”; has an outdoor gear shop; housing prices don’t seem to be too bad; might be a good place to get my art in front of tourists if I could figure out how to do so. Cons: not sure I would want to go this small; job opportunities limited; doesn’t appear to be much of an art scene.
Pros: close to the Wind River Range; close to the CDT; common resupply point for CDT hikers; would be back in my “home state”; has a couple outdoor gear shops; has a couple other places with job opportunities I might be interested in (NOLS, The Nature Conservancy); appears to be somewhat of an art scene; seems to be one of the more affordable housing markets; relatively close to extended family in WY Cons: no big cons I have thought of at this point
Pros: one of the most affordable housing markets in this list of places; fairly close to several different mountain ranges; has an outdoor gear store; appears to be somewhat of an art scene; on the larger side of towns I’m interested in, so more job & housing opportunities; Cons: not a common resupply stop for CDT hikers; on the larger side of town size I would want; is there a reason housing is so affordable?
Pros: common resupply stop on CDT; several outdoor gear stores; fairly close to Bob Marshall Wilderness; appears to be somewhat of an art scene; on the larger side of towns I’m interested in, so more job & housing opportunities; Cons: on the larger side of town size I would want; housing probably on upper end of what I could afford;
Pagosa Springs, CO
Pros: close to the San Juan Mountains; has an outdoor gear store; somewhat common resupply stop on CDT; appears to be somewhat of an art scene; great place to get my art in front of tourists. Cons: Housing possibly too expensive; on the smaller end of town size I would like;
Pros: lots of family friends and extended family live here or nearby; close to Beartooth Mountains and Big Horn Mountains; an hour away from where I lived most of my childhood; familiar with the town; a couple outdoor gear stores; somewhat of an art scene; great place to get art in front of tourists; Cons: not very close to CDT
Pros: close to extended family in Cody, WY; has an REI, as well as another outdoor gear store; close to the Beartooth Mountains; on the lower end of housing prices compared to other places I’m interested in; on the larger side of towns I’m interested in, so more job & housing opportunities; Cons: bigger city than I would prefer; not close to the CDT;
Pros: have heard great things about this place; close to the Beartooth Mountains; has an REI along with other outdoor gear stores; other places I would be interested in working at (Oboz, Mystery Ranch, Go Fast Campers); appears to have a pretty good art scene; on the larger side of towns I’m interested in, so more job & housing opportunities; Cons: I have no idea how I would afford a house here; not close to the CDT;
Pros: have heard great things about this place; amazing place to live for backpacking; close to several different mountain ranges; has an REI and other outdoor gear stores; appears to have a good art scene; know a couple other backpackers who live here; on the larger side of towns I’m interested in, so more job & housing opportunities; potentially a good place to live to host people about to begin or just finishing the CDT; Cons: not sure if I could afford to purchase a house;
Park City, UT
Pros: close to the Uinta Mountains; great art scene; Cons: not very close to the CDT; not sure I could afford to buy a house here;
One common joke in the thru hiking community, although with some truth behind it, is this: you pack your fears. If you fear getting cold, you may bring extra clothes. If you fear animals (or other humans), you may bring some sort of weapon. Two weeks from today my parents and I will be hitting the road for the drive up to Glacier National Park (GNP). While I’m really excited about my upcoming adventure on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and whatever happens after that, there are definitely some fears and things I’m not looking forward to, and I have done my best not to pack extra for them. I figured some people would be interested in these, so here is a blog post dedicated to my fears, potential struggles, and cons related to this adventure.
Base Weight: Base weight is the weight of your pack, excluding consumables (food, water, fuel, etc.). Generally the lower the better, although at a certain point it becomes a safety (and comfort) issue. I knew my base weight would be on the heavier side for a couple reasons. First, due to carrying my camera gear. Second, I’m leaning more towards comfort than “ultralight”. I’ll definitely have a heavier pack than a lot of people on the trail, but after putting a lot of thought into it and a doing a couple shakedown hikes, I’m comfortable with where I’m at. If I change my mind I can make changes as I go along. If you’re interested in the gear I will be starting out with, stay tuned to my blog as I plan to post a blog before I leave that shows/lists all my gear.
Nasty Water Sources: In the desert portions of the trail there are likely to be a few nasty water sources that I don’t have any choice but to drink from. Between my filter and tablets, I’m not too worried about getting sick from drinking the water. It will just be overcoming the mental mind game of having to drink the water from the source.
Cold Weather: I’m not a big fan of cold weather, which is pretty ironic considering my top places to move after finishing the trail are much colder climates. In general, the part of the day I look forward to the least while backpacking is the time between getting out of the sleeping bag in the morning and the start of hiking, as it’s generally chilly in the mornings. Packing up gear in the cold is no fun, especially when it’s wet. I’m sure there are going to be plenty of cold mornings while hiking, and I’m sure there will be entire days that end up being cold. Historically I have pretty much always made a warm breakfast in the morning while backpacking, but to be a little more efficient and get to hiking quicker, I plan on eating stuff for breakfast that doesn’t need cooked. Hopefully getting moving sooner will help out on cold mornings.
Hike Your Own Hike: This is a popular mantra among thru hikers. The basic premise is pretty simple. If you want to take an alternate route, take the alternate route. If you want to spend an extra day in town, spend an extra day in town. Do the hike how you want to do it, not how others want to do it. While it seems really simple, it isn’t quite so. What happens when I’m hiking around a person or group of people I really enjoy being around, and I want to do something different than the person/group? Will I do my own thing, or will I go with the group? Will I change my pace just to stay with a certain person or people? There can be some really hard decisions around hiking your own hike. Hopefully I can get to the end and be content with the decisions I made.
Going Poop Outside: Had it not been for the Colorado backpacking trips last year, this probably wouldn’t be as big of a worry. If you read my 2020 Lessons Learned blog, you know that I went poop a lot more on the Colorado trips than I had on previous trips. On the second trip it was particularly hard to find spots where it was easy to dig a cat hole. It was also fairly difficult to dig cat holes along the Ozark Highlands Trail. It’s not particularly enjoyable when you have to take a poop and you’re struggling to dig a cat hole. Hopefully there won’t be a lot of instances like this, but I’m sure there will be some.
Rattlesnakes: My guess is, on the animal front, most people would say grizzly bears or mountain lions are their biggest fear (I frequently get asked if I’m bringing some sort of weapon to protect myself). For me it’s rattlesnakes. Grizzly bears and mountain lions are intimidating, for sure. However, in all the backpacking I have done, I have yet to see a mountain lion, and I have only seen one bear (a long way off). Thus I probably realize the chances of having a run in with either of those is fairly small, and a run in that results in injury even smaller still. However, I have heard a lot of thru hikers say they have come across multiple rattlesnakes. What scares me so much about rattlesnakes is the difficulty of seeing them, and thus getting too close without realizing it. I haven’t heard of any thru hikers who actually got bit, but I have heard plenty say they got quite close to the snake before realizing it was even there.
Thunderstorms: I talked about this in my 2020 Lessons Learned blog. I love thunderstorms, unless I’m caught outside during one. With thru hiking, chances are quite high I’ll be stuck outside during one, probably several. There are several stretches of trail where there won’t be much cover either. This will probably be the most prevalent, and dangerous, fear I run into during the hike.
Annual Trip With My Brother: My brother and I have done a multi-day backpacking trip in the mountains each year for the last 7 years. In part due to hiking the CDT this year, it’s not looking promising for getting our trip in this year, and it will be a bummer if we break the streak. But we’ll see what happens. Maybe we’ll be able to work something out.
Letting Facial Hair Grow: I’m not a big fan of letting my facial hair grow out. I generally don’t go more than 3 or so days without shaving unless I’m backpacking. I currently don’t plan on shaving during this trip, which means it’s not going to take long for my facial hair to get longer than it has ever been before. We’ll see how that goes.
Over-Romanticizing: I have listened to so many people talk about their thru hikes and all of them have been overall positive. There have been bad days mixed in, but overall positive. Late in 2020 I read the book The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, which puts a really positive spin on spending time out in nature. In January I read Journeys North by Barney “Scout” Mann, which is about the journey of several people along the Pacific Crest Trail, and it was wonderful as well. I worry that all this is giving me too high of expectations for the hike, and I may not be prepared for, or I’ll struggle with, the difficult days when they happen. What if I get out there and it’s not living up to my expectations? Part of me thinks I should listen to a couple people who didn’t have a good experience on trail to help tamper my expectations. Haha. I’m definitely going to have to keep the quote at the bottom of this blog in mind.
Post Trail: This is the biggest fear of them all. Many hikers talk about getting “post trail depression” after completing one of these big thru hikes. Going back to “normal” life after an adventure like a thru hike can be quite difficult. I’m hoping job searching afterwards, as well as photo/video editing and potentially putting a book together, will at least give me something to keep me busy and prevent me from getting too down. However, if the job search starts to take a while, I could definitely see it being a struggle. What if things don’t work out? What if I can’t find a job I want? What if I’m stuck living with my parents for months and have to get a job I don’t like?
At this point you’re probably asking yourself, “Why does he even want to do this hike?” Haha. While this is a long list, I think the potential pros in the end far outweigh the potential cons. I have plenty of reasons for doing this hike, which you can find in my blog I posted announcing my hike.
And maybe it’s like that with every important aspect of your life. Whatever it is you are pursuing, whatever it is you are seeking, whatever it is you are creating, be carful not to quit too soon. As my friend Pastor Rob Bell warns: “Don’t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform you.” Don’t let go of your courage the moment things stop being easy or rewarding. Because that moment? That’s the moment when interesting begins.
It has been pretty weird seeing the northbound CDT hikers starting (or preparing to start) their hikes while I still have a couple months to go. Even with a couple months left before my start, preparations are starting to pick up. I did a couple hikes along the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) during the last month to test out my new gear. They were great trial runs and I’m really glad I was able to get them in. I’ll put some links to blogs about the hikes at the end of this blog. Late last week I started printing off maps to carry along on the CDT. Over the weekend I took my first load of stuff to storage. I’ll likely take another load at the end of the month before my house goes on the market at the beginning of May. My last day at work should be June 1.
I was excited to find out a few weeks back that the east entrances to Glacier National Park (GNP) will be open this year. That means I will be able to follow the official CDT alternate route that starts at the Chief Mountain border crossing. I could have made it work otherwise, but it will be great to hike the CDT through GNP. I still don’t have a specific start date set yet. I probably won’t have an idea on that until early June.
So while seeing others start their hikes makes me really want to get out there, it’s nice to be able to start more of the preparations myself. I’m sure my start date will be here before I know it, and I’m looking forward to running into the northbound hikers at some point 🙂
I haven’t said much about the CDT since posting my announcement that I’ll be hiking it, and there have been some developments in the last couple weeks, so I thought it’s a good time for an update.
A couple weeks ago I had some realtors come by to start the discussions about selling my house. All of them said my house would sell quickly (and at a price I was happy with) based on the market right now. That was encouraging. I got a realtor picked out, and then it was a matter of figuring out when we would need to list it, which would depend on when I would be leaving work.
When I gave my notice at work back in October, I told them that I could stick around until either mid-April or mid-June. I learned this past week that they will be keeping me around until June, which really wasn’t much of a surprise. With that in mind my realtor and I decided to list the house in early May. That makes me a little nervous since it gives some time for something to happen to the housing market. I looked into apartments that would do short leases, and wasn’t particularly thrilled with what I found. They were either more than I want to pay, or weren’t particularly appealing. After that I did some reading about forecasts for the housing market, and pretty much everybody seems to think it should stay fairly hot this year, so I think I’ll take my chances and list the house in late April/early May. Fingers crossed!
I have gone through my gear a couple times this month and weighed stuff and tried packing it into my pack. After the first round I realized it weighed more than I would prefer, so I purchased a new tent this past Friday to drop a couple pounds. I was hoping to avoid that, but it was needed. Even with the new tent it is heavier than I would like, but I don’t plan on making any other changes at this point. There will likely be a gear blog after my Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) hike next month.
The June start date means I will be starting at the Canada border (likely mid to late June) and going SOBO (southbound). There are pros and cons to this:
I would rather finish in the mountains at the north end than in the desert at the south end.
Starting in the mountains will be harder than starting in the desert.
I will break my streak of consecutive OKC Memorial races (currently at 8). There was a small chance I could still make the race if I started in April and hiked NOBO, but I won’t be finished in time going SOBO.
Later start date hopefully allows some more time to get COVID under control before starting, although I’m not too terribly optimistic.
San Juan Mountains should be a lot better going SOBO (assuming they don’t get some major, early snow storms). NOBO hikers generally run into a bunch of snow in the San Juans, and it’s fairly common for them to take an alternate route through there. The snow should be gone by the time I go through, and there were a lot of SOBO hikers last year that had amazing fall color pictures in the San Juans. I’m hoping I can time that right.
I’m sure I’ll think of more pros/cons over the next few months, but that’s what I can think of right now. While it’s definitely nice to have the starting point/timeframe figured out, there is a lot about the start that is still up in the air. Last year a good chunk of Glacier National Park (GNP) was closed, including the official CDT route. I believe most people did a road hike on the west side of the park. I don’t think any official decision has been announced yet in regards to what will be open this year. I would definitely like to hike on the official trail through the park, but if that is closed, I’ll have to figure out another route to the Canadian border. So lots to be figured out there still.
Other than that, not much more to put out there at this point. I have had a few people ask if I’m busy planning the hike. There really isn’t a whole lot to plan with the hike itself. More of the planning/preparation will have to do with life stuff (selling the house, getting storage figured out, getting business stuff sorted out, etc.). Haha. Really for the hike itself it’ll mainly be figuring out a start date and point, and then figuring out where I need to send resupply boxes and if I want any particular gear sent to a particular place. I’ll probably spend some time pretty soon figuring out alternate routes at the northern end in case the CDT in GNP is closed. I do still plan to do a “shakedown” hike on the OHT in mid-February to test out new gear and make sure I’m happy with everything. I’m really looking forward to that. There will definitely be some pictures and updates after that.
I’ll keep everybody updated as more things come into focus.
First off, for those of you who subscribe to my blog and got the unintended teaser email about this post Thursday night, sorry for any confusion. I posted a password protected version to have a couple people proofread, and I had no idea WordPress would send a post notification out to everybody for that. Now I know. Haha.
Second: hopefully you have a few minutes, because it’s going to take you a few minutes to read through this.
From the outside looking in, I think most people would likely conclude that life is going pretty well for me. I’m a bachelor with a six figure salary. My job has fantastic benefits and time off. I own a house and have been able to remodel it over the last 4 years to make it my own. I could likely pay off the mortgage in 2021 if I wanted to. I have family relatively close. I have been able to get in a couple big backpacking trips each year for the last couple years. I have been able to put a lot of money towards retirement in the last few years. I started my own business in 2019 to try to start selling fine art prints at art shows. There are probably quite a few people who would like to be in this position. Why would anybody want to throw this away? And yet here I am on the cusp of doing just that.
Let’s rewind a little bit back to September 2019 when I read the book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. The book is about Cheryl’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). After reading the book, I made this post on Facebook:
I didn’t really put much thought into it at the time for all the reasons listed in the opening paragraph. I also wasn’t quite sure if a big thru hike was for me. Little did I know the sequence of events that were about to unfold over the next year or so.
In early 2020 I had ads for Backpacker Magazine start popping up in Facebook, and after seeing the ads for a little while I decided to subscribe to the magazine. Not too long after I subscribed I watched an interview they did with Chris Burkard, who was photographing cover images for them at the time. After that I started to follow Chris on social media, which introduced me to the “Mountain and Prairie” podcast. This was shortly after I had started listening to the “Out Alive” podcast by Backpacker Magazine. After getting into those two podcasts I started listening to some other podcasts, with many of the podcasts having themes around hiking, getting outdoors, and chasing your dreams.
Then, in June 2020, I had an epiphany: I could attempt one of these long thru hikes if I really wanted. People with no backpacking experience had done them. People with less money had done them. People in worse physical shape had done them. There really wasn’t anything saying I couldn’t do it, other than the fact that it wasn’t the “expected” or “safe” path to follow, particularly for someone in my position.
However, I knew doing a long thru hike meant quitting my job. Although my job isn’t something I’m really passionate about, it’s so good that, even though I’m not passionate about it, quitting it was a huge drawback to doing the hike. Chances were quite small I would find something with the same pay and benefits post trail.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized I could use the opportunity to make some big life changes. Although it would appear that life was great, that wasn’t the whole truth. Ever since college, whenever I have tried to go down a path I’m personally interested in, I have essentially had the door slammed in my face. Meteorology didn’t work out. Fire fighting didn’t work out. Fine art hasn’t worked out (although I’m not completely giving up on this quite yet). In addition, my social life has pretty much been non-existent over the last few years. Outside of some social events for work and a few dates here and there, I haven’t had any sort of social life. It has been quite some time since I could say I had any close friends. For the most part this hasn’t bothered me, but I think it has been wearing on me lately. Speaking of dates, I’m 32 and single, which gets me frustrated a lot of times. If I remember correctly, over the last 6 years, I have only had 8 dates with three different women. Some days I would like to have a significant other, but I know the chances of finding someone single, around my age, who doesn’t want to have kids, and isn’t a dog person, are ridiculously small. There are other days I’m not even sure I want to be married. So this has provided a lot of mental wear recently as well. Finally, I have loved living in OKC, but the smaller town lifestyle has become more appealing to me recently, so I would like to give that a try if possible.
So although I would be giving up a lot, I saw it as another opportunity to pursue something I’m interested in, and a chance to work on improving some other areas of life as well. After putting a lot of thought into it, I was leaning towards taking the risk of giving everything up and attempting the big thru hike. On Labor Day weekend 2020 I broke the news to my parents that I was thinking about all this. They were stunned/dumbfounded. They said they would support me if that’s what I wanted to do, but I’m pretty sure they thought I was crazy, and I’m not sure they thought I was really that serious about it. If they had votes, the votes would definitely be against me doing it. Ironically, that same weekend, my brother made some sort of comment about me never leaving Oklahoma City, at which point I broke the news to him I was thinking about this.
At this point, my plan was to hike a 164 mile stretch of the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) starting right after Christmas as a sort of test/prep hike. I had learned about this trail earlier in 2020 while hiking the Eagle Rock Loop in Arkansas. If hiking the OHT went really badly and I decided that thru hiking wasn’t for me, I would scratch this whole idea. If it went well, I would put my notice in at work in January, which would give them time to plan for my departure and get someone trained to take my place before I left in April or June.
It wasn’t too long before I had a wrench thrown in my plan though. In late September, the company I work for announced a merger with another company that would likely close in January 2021, which would likely be followed by layoffs. I hadn’t planned to tell my employer about any of this until after my OHT hike, just in case I decided it wasn’t for me after that. However, I really didn’t want to wait until January/February to give my notice at work, and possibly have someone get laid off that would have stayed to take my place (or have people scrambling to adjust layoff plans last minute). I also knew there was a small chance, if it worked out right, I could volunteer to be part of the layoff and get a layoff package. It was definitely a struggle deciding what to do.
Then, in October 2020, I listened to a Hiking Thru podcast episode with Lani Advokat, in which she talked about the difficult conversation with her employer about deciding to do her thru hike. It was encouraging to hear someone else talk about that aspect of doing a big hike. Also, in early October, I got this email from Erin Outdoors:
Most certainly a mass marketing email, but it was like it was meant just for me. After both of these, I finally decided it was time to tell my employer, and pretty much commit to taking the risk and attempting the thru hike. In mid-October I broke the news to three people at work who would need to know to start putting plans in place. At that point it was pretty much a made decision, and it was just about getting plans in place to make it happen. Last week it was made public at work that I would be leaving. It was nice to finally get that out and not have to keep it a secret. Unfortunately, just a day earlier, I found out that a minor medical procedure was going to have to be rescheduled to when I was supposed to be hiking the OHT, so the OHT hike will have to be delayed. I’m hoping I can still get to that sometime in the next 3 months or so.
So, in summary, it was really a sequence of small events/nudges over quite some time that convinced me it was the right choice to make, and the right time to do it. I feel like it’s time for a change if I want to go down the path I would like to pursue. It’s honestly just as much about the opportunity for life changes as it is about the adventure of the hike itself. I relate a lot to these two quotes that I have heard recently:
“I know life is going great, and I could milk this for all it’s worth, I could milk this, this moment in my career where I’m kind of elevating. But if I don’t stop, and I don’t consider what I could do for the long term health, of not only me, but of my career, to do something meaningful…it’s in those moments of great success you have to learn to stop, and maybe even take a step back, and be like ‘What am I doing to sustain my own health?'”
Chris Burkard – Rich Roll Podcast #554
All I need to do is be happy, be confident, and do the things for me. If I’m going to do something, it has to be just for me, and for inspiring others in a good way. And feeling that freedom, that opens my mind and opens my heart to reconnect why I’m a rock climber…The passion for what we love to do, our purpose in life, is stronger than any economic limitations, so money is not an excuse.
Will this make sense to most people? I don’t know. I have actually been quite surprised by the positive reactions I have got from most people. There are definitely some days where I still question whether or not it makes sense to me though. It’s scary for sure. For someone who likes to have everything planned out, it’s quite scary to just “go with the flow” and go down a path with an unknown destination. I could look back on this a few years from now and see that it was the best decision I have ever made. I could also look back and see that it was the worst decision I have ever made. But in my gut, it feels like the right time and place to try it and take a leap of faith, and I’m going to hold onto the popular mantra of thru hikers that “the trail provides”.
Which trail am I going to attempt? I will be attempting to hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). The CDT is a roughly 3,100 mile trail that goes between the Mexico and Canadian borders, sticking close to the Continental Divide. You can find out more about the trail here. You can follow me on my journey on my Facebook page or Instagram page. I will likely post some blogs leading up to the hike, but I’m not planning on blogging during the hike. If you would like some more insight into these long thru hikes, there are plenty of resources out there. The Homemade Wanderlust Youtube page, Elina Osborne’s Youtube page, and the Hiking Thru podcast are three of my favorites.
You can read more about my “why” for making this leap below.
Adventure/Experience: I did a semester of study abroad in Australia while I was in college. Although there were plenty of bad days during my study abroad, I still look back on that experience and wish I was still there. I don’t see the bad days, just the amazing experience as a whole. Based on what I have read/heard from others who have done these long thru hikes, they are a very similar experience. Although there were some really difficult and bad days in the experience, pretty much everybody who has finished one talks/writes about it being a life changing experience (in a positive way). I’m totally up for another one of those types of experiences.
Job Change: My job for the last 7 years has been great. I’m really good at it, I have worked with some wonderful people, and it has brought me to a fantastic place in life. However, it isn’t related to something I’m personally passionate about, and I’m not sure I can see myself doing it for another 25-30 years. As I mentioned earlier, essentially everything I have tried to pursue that interests me has hit a dead end up to this point. I’m hoping hiking the CDT will give me the opportunity to come across people who can connect me with job opportunities I’m interested in, and see if a different path works out after finishing the CDT.
Location Change: Oklahoma City has been a wonderful place to live, and I rarely thought about leaving prior to coming up with this idea. It will always have a special place in my heart. Despite growing up in a very small town, I have always considered myself more of a city guy than a small town guy. However, over the last couple years, I have started to feel like I might like the more laid back lifestyle of a smaller town. As much as I have loved the city, I want to try going back to a small(er) town close to the CDT. I would be able to get out and do more (short) backpacking trips, I could be a trail angel (more on this below), and I feel like the lifestyle would be less stressful. This isn’t to say I won’t end up in another large city post trail, but all other things being equal, I would prefer to try the small town lifestyle.
Friends/Community: This is the one part of life that really hasn’t gone well over the past few years. I have always struggled making friends. It was hard when my family moved to New Mexico. It was hard when I went to college. It was hard when I studied abroad. And ever since my group of friends fell apart back in 2014, I really haven’t been able to find any sort of solid support group. I’m 32, still single, and I can count on one had the number of women I have dated in the last 6 years, and on two hands the number of dates I have been on in that same time span. Most of the time I don’t really mind being a loner, but there are definitely times I wish I had a group of good friends. From what I can gather, the thru hiker community seems to be a great community to be a part of. I’m hoping that, during my hike, I can make some life long friends in this community. Granted, of the three “Triple Crown” trails, the CDT is by far the least traveled trail, so it will be harder on that trail, but hopefully I can still make a few great friends along the way. I’m also hoping, by moving closer to the mountains, that I can find and be a part of a community who shares a love for the mountains.
Marketing photography: I spent most of the first half of 2019 preparing to start selling fine art prints of my photos at art shows, and started selling at shows in the second half of the year. I haven’t had much luck selling my photography at shows. I think a lot of that is because I started out with my prices too high, and by the time I was getting my prices to where they probably should have been to start, COVID hit. I also wonder sometimes if it’s just not the right market for it around here. I’m hoping this trip will allow me to get my photography in front of a lot more people who wouldn’t otherwise see it, and then have some opportunities crop up from that.
Trail Magic Insight: Helping out hikers on these long thru hikes is generally referred to as trail magic, and people who do it on a consistent basis are often referred to as trail angels. If I’m going to totally upend my life, I would love to move somewhere close to the CDT (or possibly even the PCT), where I could take part in providing trail magic and give back to the hiking community. Doing a long thru hike myself would give me great insight on what some good ideas for trail magic would be. This would also be a great way to expand my connections in the thru hiker community, and possibly make some great friends.
Prior to the backpacking trip my brother and I took in the Weminuche Wilderness in late July (trip report here) I had done nine other backpacking trips, none of which were in Colorado. Now I have done two backpacking trips to Colorado in essentially a month. Haha. That wasn’t the original plan this year, but COVID happened, and I got some Colorado backpacking in sooner than I expected. I had originally planned this trip as a 6 day trip, but I ended up only doing 5 days due to getting a blister on each heel. Since I’ll be running a half marathon in early October, I wanted to try and minimize damage to my feet. I still got to see most of what I wanted to, so I wasn’t too disappointed to cut a day off the trip. This honestly goes down towards the bottom of favorite hikes I have done, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad trip. Keep reading for the details of the trip and some overall thoughts/comments.
Day 1: I left my camp spot in the Conejos campground around 7:30 A.M., and reached the Elk Creek Trailhead just before 8:00 A.M. Just before I hit the trail, I talked to a guy who was going in with someone else on horseback, and he stated that they were going into Second Meadows to get some cows. That got me a little bit worried about running into them going the opposite way on the trail. I signed in at the trail register, and then hit the trail. The trail immediately crossed Elk Creek on a bridge, and quickly after that there was an unmarked trail intersection. I went right, and after hiking a short ways and pulling up Avenza Maps, I realized I had gone the wrong way. I went back and went the correct way. A few minutes later, I came upon another unmarked trail junction. I once again went right, and once again realized I had gone the wrong way after walking a short distance and pulling up Avenza maps. So a little bit of a frustrating start. Haha.
About 2 miles in, just before First Meadows, I ran into Roy. He was hiking out after spending 10 days backpacking around the area. We probably spent around 20 minutes chatting, mainly about photography. That was really neat. Just after that I came up to First Meadows (which ended up being my personal favorite of the four). I reached the start of Second Meadows just before noon. There were four guys there, three of whom were fishing. I talked to the one guy not fishing for a few minutes, then set my stuff down and took a lunch break. That was a neat spot to have lunch. After I ate I grabbed some pictures and then hit the trail again. Just after hitting the trail it started to thunder. I got sprinkled on a bit, but thankfully that was it.
I met the guys with the cows in Second Meadows. The trail ran around the edge of the meadow. I saw the first guy down in the meadow with a few cows, and a short while later ran into the second guy with a few more cows just as they were getting off the trail and going down into the meadow. Thankfully I didn’t run into them on the trail. That probably would have got interesting real quick. My plan had me camping somewhere along Second Meadows, but I knew I could likely get farther than that, which I did. Around 2:00 P.M., while I was in Third Meadows, it started to look pretty stormy, and started to thunder again, just at the same time the trail I was on pretty much disappeared, so I decided to call it a day.
I got camp set up, then went down to the creek to get water. It started to rain just as I got back to the tent. I laid down in the tent until it cleared up around 4:00 P.M. The rest of the evening consisted of cleaning my feet and socks, letting my feet soak in the cold creek for a bit, making dinner, and reading. I probably would have kept going a bit had it not been for the thunderstorms, but I was definitely happy with the progress I made during the day, and it ended up being a good place to stop.
Day 2: This was by far the shortest mileage day, but it was by no means easy. I got out of bed at 6:15 A.M. and probably spent 15 minutes trying to find a spot I could dig a cathole, but wasn’t having any luck. I finally gave up and made breakfast. While I was eating I saw an elk way off in the distance on the opposite side of the canyon. That was cool. After breakfast I tried again to find a spot to dig a cathole, and after about another 15 minutes was finally successful. After that I got camp packed up. The rain fly was soaked by condensation, both inside and outside. I always hate packing up a wet tent. I hit the trail at about 7:50, which was later than I had hoped. As I had mentioned in day 1 above, the trail by where I camped disappeared, so I tried a different trail I had found while wandering around the area. This one ended up taking me through a marsh and disappeared, and I eventually came to the conclusion that this couldn’t be the correct trail. I pulled up Avenza maps and used that to get me back to the correct trail, which could actually be seen where I got back to it.
In both Third Meadows and Fourth Meadows the trail was difficult to follow in spots. After Fourth Meadows there were a lot of blow downs, which made for slow progress. After the trail crossed Elk Creek, it completely disappeared. Either that or I completely missed it. However, I used Avenza Maps to try and stay on the trail as best I could, and never really could find any sort of trail. The entire segment between the red arrows in the image above didn’t seem to exist. It was really slow, difficult progress through marshy areas and over lots of blow downs. Had it not been for Avenza Maps, I would have been in a real dilemma. I’m not sure if I would have kept going or not. Thankfully the trail eventually reappeared, but it still remained difficult and hard to follow in several spots. The farther I got, the better the trail became. I was quite glad when I reached the intersection with the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). I made it to Dipping Lakes around 10:30 A.M. I would definitely put those 4 miles towards the top of the most difficult 4 miles of any trip I have done.
I had a Clif Bar and then spent a while trying to find a camp spot. I got camp set up and then rinsed off and soaked my feet for a while. I also rinsed off my socks, shoes, and bottom half of pants, as they were all really dirty from walking through the marshy areas and climbing over trees. After that I had lunch. After getting to Dipping Lakes I had gone back and forth several times about whether I wanted to try and do the hike to Red Lake and back. Finally, around 1:00, I decided to go ahead and head that way. It looked a little stormy, but nothing too threatening. Around 10 minutes down trail, I heard some thunder, and I took that as my sign to just stay at camp for the day. Haha.
While looking for camp spots, I noticed a couple with trash in the fire rings, so I got that cleaned up after getting back to my camp. It started to get pretty stormy around 2:00 P.M., so I got in my tent and laid down. It started raining around 2:15, and rained lightly for 15-20 minutes. I got up around 3, looked at maps, and did some reading. The rest of the evening after dinner was spent reading and taking some photos. The lake was like glass most of the evening, which made for some fun photography.
Day 3: I got out of bed at 6:45 A.M., made breakfast, and hit the trail just before 8. According to my calculation on Avenza maps, it was roughly 4.5 miles to Red Lake, with not much elevation gain. With my daypack, I figured it would only take 2 hours to get there, at most. So I figured a pretty easy day. I was quite wrong. Haha.
All the elevation gain was pretty much in the first half mile or so. The hike along the CDT was really neat. There were some fantastic views along that trail. At one point, I pulled up Avenza maps and realized that I had missed the trail to Red Lake. I had figured there would be a sign marking the trail junction, but that wasn’t the case. Thankfully I wasn’t too far past it. Since it was fairly flat and open, I cut across to the trail. However, it turned out that there was no “trail” to Red Lake. It was a cross country route marked my cairns, and it wasn’t marked that well. I was honestly using Avenza maps more than I was using cairns. However, it made for more of a zig-zag pattern getting to the lake, which added to the miles. It was rough ground as well, which made me realize how nice smooth maintained trails are. Once again, if it wasn’t for Avenza Maps, I’m not sure I would have actually kept going. I could have used my map and compass and possibly made it, but I’m not sure I would have been willing to risk getting myself lost.
I reached Red Lake around 10:30, and realized that one of my feet had a blister on the heel. That was a big bummer. It wasn’t really a scenic lake (in my opinion), but I would have liked to spend some time there resting. However, it was already looking stormy, and this was not a hike I wanted to do in a thunderstorm. Most of it is up on a high plateau with very few trees. So I took just enough time to eat a Clif Bar and refill on water, and then headed back towards camp. Sure enough, about 15 minutes after leaving Red Lake, I heard the first thunder. At that point the race was on to try to get back to camp before I got stormed on, and this was definitely not the route I wanted to be trying to race through.
I did a little better on the way back staying close to the trail marked on the map, but still got off course a couple times. I was really glad when I reached the actual trail again. I was in the zone booking it back to camp when, with a little under a mile to go, I passed a guy resting just off trail. I’m not sure if I saw him first, or he said something first, but either way he scared me pretty good. Haha. He was section hiking the CDT, and goes by the trail name Cache 22. We chatted for 20 minutes or so about backpacking, and then headed our separate ways. It was really cool to get to chat with him.
I got back to camp around 1:00 P.M. The roughly 9 miles round trip had turned into roughly 12, according to my Garmin. It was much harder than I had expected. It also didn’t help that I was quite stressed out about getting caught in a thunderstorm. Had there actually been a trail, I think it would have been quite easy. If I was going to do it again, I would actually keep going down the CDT a ways, as that seemed to have the more scenic views (again, in my opinion). If I were going to go to Red Lake again, I would likely try using my map and compass and just following a heading. Assuming I could stick to that heading, I think that would be the better option than trying to follow the cairns.
When I got back to camp there were a couple different storms around with thunder. I ate lunch and then washed my feet off. I ended up getting a blister on each heel during the hike. At that point I knew the 6 days was likely going to turn into 5. It started to rain just before 2:00 P.M., and I laid down in the tent until 3:00 P.M. It stayed cloudy and chilly the rest of the day, and I spent most of the rest of the day doing some reading.
Day 4: The original plan for this day was to go to Green Lake, but due to the blisters on my heels, I decided to skip Green Lake and get to Alverjones Lake. I knew that a good chunk of this hike was going to be in areas where I wouldn’t want to get caught in a thunderstorm. To try and avoid a repeat of the previous day, I set my alarm for 5:30 A.M., ate a Clif Bar instead of oatmeal for breakfast, and hit the trail around 6:30 A.M. The hike between Dipping Lakes and Trail Lake was easily the best section of this trip. The views once I started climbing above Dipping Lakes were spectacular. It was fantastic in the morning light. It definitely made me glad I got an early start. I stopped often to snap some photos, while in the back of my mind thinking I might regret it later if I get caught in a storm. Haha.
I reached Trail Lake around 8:30 A.M. The intersection where the trail to Alverjones Lake splits off of the CDT was actually marked. That was nice. There was a small pond there where I refilled my water. While I was doing that, another backpacker went by on the CDT. Prior to the trip, a coworker had mentioned he thought the trail towards Alverjones was marked by cairns, and after my experience with Red Lake, I had a hunch we was correct. It became obvious quite quickly that it would be a cross country route marked by cairns, at least initially. There was one spot with two massive cairns, one probably at least 7 feet tall, and another one probably over 6 feet tall. Those were quite impressive. I was really wishing I had someone with me to take a photo of me between the two massive cairns.
Things seemed to be going well until I got to a cairn and couldn’t see any more cairns. I pulled up Avenza Maps, and it showed that I was off trail a bit. I hiked back towards trail, eventually saw a couple more cairns, and then found an actual trail just above Laguna Venado. The trail came and went between there and Laguna Venado, and then was pretty consistent after Laguna Venado. My original plan had me going by Victoria Lake, but the maps indicated the hike might be pretty marshy, and based on what I had seen so far, I figured it probably wouldn’t be the kind of lake I consider scenic, so I decided to skip it. Most of the hike from near the Victoria Lake trail intersection to Alverjones Lake was through open meadow.
I reached Alverjones Lake a little after 11, and it was already starting to look a bit stormy. Once again, I was glad I had got the early start. I found a previously used camp site quickly, although I wasn’t a huge fan of it. There was a fire ring, and some pre cut firewood. It honestly looked like it was a campsite used by hunters. There were lots of cow pies around, and it was probably a 1/4 mile walk to the lake. However, the rest of the lake didn’t look too promising for camp sites, so I decided to stay there and got camp set up. I ate lunch, then went down to the lake to get water. These long walks to the water are when I’m really glad I have my 2L bag to fill up and bring to camp.
The first thunder was a little after 12. It started to rain about 1:15. It didn’t rain for very long. I read and listened to podcasts most of the afternoon. The clouds actually cleared up about 3:15 and there was a light breeze. All the previous days it had stayed cloudy after the storms, and went pretty much calm, so that was a little bit of a change. Several cows showed up on the opposite side of the lake. I figured they would probably stroll into my camp at some point, but they never did, thankfully. I believe about 5:00 P.M. a thunderstorm went up to my NE, and I was quite glad I wasn’t under that storm. It looked like it was dumping a lot of rain, had a bunch of thunder, and moved very, very slowly. I got some cold outflow winds from that storm around 7:20 P.M. Thankfully I was pretty much ready for bed already, so I hopped in my tent. I looked out of my tent towards the lake around 7:30 P.M. and noticed several elk walking along the opposite side of the lake. I counted 9 elk. That was really cool to watch them for a few minutes.
I eventually got into my tent for good around 8:00 P.M. and tried to get to sleep. It took me forever to get to sleep. It started raining lightly around 10:00 P.M., which I wasn’t thrilled about since that meant I would have a wet tent in the morning. I’m not sure what time I finally fell asleep, but it was much later than I would have liked.
Day 5: After the change in plans, the goal for this day was to hike out to the trailhead. I once again set my alarm for 5:30 A.M. and hit the trail around 6:30 A.M. I dried my tent off as best I could with my towel before getting it packed up. I ended up wearing my rain jacket and beanie starting out. This seemed like the coldest morning of the trip. If you look closely at my actual map, you can see that I went the wrong way at the first trail intersection. Once again, the intersection wasn’t marked, and I never even saw the other trail. I only found out I had gone the wrong way when I checked Avenza maps at the second intersection. I was able to see the correct trail taking off on my way back to the first intersection.
Just as I was about to stop to take off my rain jacket, a band of coyotes started making noise, and they seemed to be quite close, so I decided to keep going for a bit before I stopped. Haha. At some point during the hike I had a Ptarmigan take off just ahead of me, which scared me pretty good. Those things are quite good at scaring you. The trail was quite difficult in spots where it started going down into the canyon for Elk Creek. There were several spots that were quite steep and were nothing but loose rock and dirt. There were several instances where, if it hadn’t been for my trekking poles, I probably would have ended up on my butt. I passed a random trail sign partway down into the canyon. I had only seen signs at a few intersections, and this sign wasn’t in a spot where the map indicated any sort of trail intersection, so that had me a little bit confused. Not sure why it was placed there.
I reached Elk Creek about 9:45 A.M. I stopped for a break, refilled water, and ate a Clif Bar. I had heard some voices as I got close to the Elk Creek trail, but nobody came by while I was taking my break. After that I resumed my trek towards the trailhead. I passed several people hiking in. All appeared to be day hikers. I reached the trailhead around 11:45 A.M., and noticed what looked like a trail crew sitting next to their van eating. I asked them if they were about to start some trail maintenance, which was actually a pretty stupid question. If I had been observant, I would have noticed they looked pretty worn out. I’ll blame it on being worn out and probably dehydrated myself. Haha. But they replied they had just finished a four day trip of trail maintenance. I assumed they had been the voices I heard as I got close to the Elk Creek Trail. I chatted with them for a couple minutes, and then opened up my trunk to start putting stuff in.
That is when I noticed that at least one mouse had made my car home while I was backpacking. That quickly put a big damper on the day. It had eaten most of the food that I had in the trunk, and left evidence of itself all throughout the car. I spent a while looking through the car to see if I could find it, but had no luck. This was the second time I had had this happen, and I got quite frustrated. I had planned to use the restroom, get my tent out and let it dry out, and each lunch, but I decided to just get to Chama and try to get the mouse situation taken care of. Looking back on it, I would have loved to stick around and chat with the trail crew, and I’m really bummed I didn’t, but I really wanted to try and get that mouse out of the car as soon as I could.
I drove to Chama, NM, bought some mouse traps and peanut butter, and then got a room at “The Hotel and Shops”. It wasn’t anything fancy by any means, but it had a bed, a shower, was in a great location, and they had some tasty looking sweets for purchase, which was really all I needed. Haha. The customer service was great as well. Once I got everything out of the car, I put some peanut butter on the traps and put them in the car. I got washed up, got some cheesecake from the hotel for lunch, then got stuff organized and did some reading. For dinner I got a green chile smothered cheeseburger and a slice of apple pie from The Boxcar Cafe.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this hike goes towards the bottom of the list of favorite hikes I have done. It just seemed like a lot of effort for not that much scenery. The only part I really considered scenic was the part along the CDT, which was just a small portion of the trip. The trip up Elk Creek wasn’t too bad either. If you’re into meadows, this would be a good trip for you. There are some massive meadows/open areas on this trip. While I was quite impressed with some of the meadows, I would much rather hike through forest or in an area with views of big mountains. Also, much of the forest on this hike was dead, I’m assuming from a beetle infestation, so that was a bummer. It made finding a camp spot away from dead trees nearly impossible, unless I wanted to be out in the middle of a large open area, which wasn’t preferable either.
With that said, though, the experience of hiking cross country was a good experience to have. I definitely have some work to do to get better at that. Haha. You often hear of large mountains making people feel small, but the huge open plateau between the CDT and Laguna Venado made me feel quite small as well, which wasn’t really expected. That may be the most isolated I have ever felt. I could see forever in pretty much every direction. There was no trail, and really no evidence of any human activity other than the occasional cairn. The only other trip that I may have felt more isolated was my solo trip in the Uintas when I didn’t see anybody for nearly 3 days.
One thing I forgot mention in my Weminuche Wilderness trip summary, and was the same on this trip, was the lack of mosquitoes. That was so nice. There was plenty of evidence of wildlife on this trip, although I didn’t really see much other than the elk. I was super excited to get to see the big group of elk though. That was easily more elk than I had seen in all my previous trips combined.
So, in short, met some great people, saw a new area, had some new experiences, but just not quite the scenery I would have liked.
If you pack it in, please pack it out. Fortunately, most of the trail was quite clean, but a couple camp spots at Dipping Lakes had some trash left in the fire rings. I had brought a bag just in case I ran into something like this, so before I left Dipping Lakes I picked up the trash and packed it out. Please do the same if you come across trash while you’re out in the backcountry.