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Re: [CDT-L] Trail differences?
Karen Elder wrote:
> How much of the Trail is "officially designated"? Do the
> guidebooks from the two different organizations cover the
> "same" trail?
"Officially designated" is an interesting phrase. For example, much of
Wyoming is now "designated" - and some of it is even "marked" - sorta.
On the route through Yellowstone, the Teton Wilderness and the Wind
River Range - we saw a CDT marker in Idaho and the next one was at the
trailhead at Green River Lake - something over 100 miles later. The
next one was just north of South Pass City - another 100+ miles. South
of there, the BLM had marked "trail" out in the desert to somewhere
close to Bairoil. Problem is that the "trail" cuts across the desert,
through the sagebrush and briars, with lots of PUDS - and
it's within sight of the road that it intersects and then follows 5
miles later. The road has very little elevation gain/loss and makes a
wonderful trail. It's dirt road with minimal traffic and doesn't have
you tripping through the sagebrush and over the rocks. Wanta guess which
one we started to follow - and which one we ended up on?
A bit north of Rawlins the trail follows a power line for a while, then
the "marked trail" cuts off on a side road --- and dies somewhere out in
the desert. We don't even know where it died, because we took the road
that follows the power line and goes straight to the reservoir rather
than take the "designated" trail (road), which winds through the desert
or a couple extra miles to get to the same place. We navigated by the
map and common sense rather than follow the "markers" - this was the end
of a 28 mile day and I was in no mood to play 'where did the trail go
now'. We played that game for too many of those 2700 miles. Several
hikers mentioned getting lost there.
To be fair, Ray Hanson said he was going out the next week to finish
marking the trail through the Basin. Presumably the entire route is
marked from the mountains to the Medicine Bow Forest.
I'll have more to say about "officially designated trail" later - I can
only write a little bit - then I need time to cool down.
Just one point - as noted above, the official trail is not always the
best route. The trail south of Grants is an obvious example.
Ah, yes - do the guidebooks cover the 'same' trail? To some degree,
yes. Jim Wolf began publishing guidebooks for the trail over 20 years
ago. The routes have changed over the years due to a lot of factors,
including private land issues, trail construction, discovery of 'better'
routes, etc. He has updated the guidebooks since, but it is a big job
for one person so some of them are a bit out of date. That's why it
helps to pay attention to the Dividends which list most recent changes
in routes and hiker input into the Trail. When the 'new' Official trail
guides were conceived and were being scouted, to a large degree they
followed Jim Wolf's routes. So basically, they do cover much of the same
One problem is that when the Colorado "Official" guide differs from Jim
Wolf's route, it consistently takes lower, usually longer, and yes,
"safer" routes - almost always with additional mileage and elevation
gains/losses. For example, the"Notch" between James and Parry Peaks is
eliminated from the "Official" guide - thus adding, if memory serves, an
extra 5-10 miles and 3000 ft elevation loss/gain. On the other hand -
you really DON'T want to do that Notch in bad weather - in fact - you
don't even want to be close to that ridge in bad wather. Another major
route difference in Colorado is near Silverthorn: the offical route is
some 50 miles longer, on dirt roads that you share with ATVs and
motorcycles. As of last fall, the connecting trail had not yet been
built, but it is the official route.
But the most egregious difference between the guides is that the
"Official" guide presents one (1) and only one (1) route. I'm gonna
quote David here (hope he doesn't mind - but I'll use truth wherever I
find it) -
"I'd rather pick and choose where I want to hike rather than have
someone corral me with an official route that isn't always the most
scenic or advantageous way to hike."
Jim Wolf's guidebooks present a lot of alternative routes - and David's
"Alternative Routes" is a good thing to factor into your planning. We
found that most of the time, Jim Wolf's routes were good - he likes the
high country, hates PUDs and is after the most scenic route. Sometimes
that makes his preferred routes longer and more difficult. Usually they
were worth the extra effort. David presents the shorter more direct
routes, which can make a difference in planning a thruhike.
We (mostly Ginny) spent three years planning this trip. We used ALL the
guidebooks we could get our hands on, spent a LOT of time, energy and
money on maps and a LOT of time talking to others who had "been there
and done that". Some of the routes we planned were straight out of one
or more of the books, some weren't in any of the guidebooks. Some were
routes that had been taken by other hikers that we communicated with on
e-mail or in person. All of our planning was
based on what WE wanted to see along the way rather than what others
thought we "should" see. And there were still times when we abandoned
the plans and changed our route while we were on the trail - based on
how we felt or the weather or water or .... a dozen other
Anyway - enough rambling for now. There's more coming later.
Jim & Ginny
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