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[cdt-l] CDT Planning Info - Resources
For those who don’t know us, we’re Ginny and Jim Owen aka Spirit Eagle. We
started our CDT (Continental Divide Trail) thruhike on May 30, 1999. We
finished at Palomas, Mexico on Nov 30, 1999.
We’ve had more than a few people ask us for information about the CDT. So
rather than send out 20 or more individual copies of everything, we’ll put a
series of posts on CDT-L with some of the information that we either used
for planning or acquired along the way during our 1999 CDT thruhike. That
way the information will also be on the CDT-L archives if anyone else wants
There will be 8 to 10 of these posts, but this information is NOT everything
you need to plan for a CDT thruhike. It’s nothing more than pieces that you
might want to add to your planning process – or in some cases that may make
your planning process a little easier – or maybe it’ll just answer a few
questions – or maybe you don’t care. Whatever.
Understand that we wouldn’t give you “everything” to plan a thruhike even if
we could. That would remove a lot of the fun from your planning process –
and, for reasons I won’t elaborate on here, it would be literally dangerous
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that our doing this means that we won’t
answer questions – either publicly (on CDT-L) or privately . If you have
questions – ask them, preferably on the list so others can learn too, but
privately if you must - and we’ll give you what we can. We believe the only
stupid questions are those that aren’t asked. If you don’t ask the
questions, you likely won’t get the answers.
The other reason for asking questions on the list is that there are others
on CDT-L who have walked the trail. They have their own answers – and those
answers are just likely to be different from ours. And they’re certainly no
less valid than ours.
For those who have hiked any significant part of the CDT, please --- add
what you can, especially if it differs from our experience. There is no
“one and only RIGHT way” to thruhike any long trail. That’s especially true
of the CDT.
There’s a presumption on our part that if you’re gonna hike the CDT, you’ve
already hiked one of the other long trails - the AT or the PCT. If you
haven’t, then you’ve got a tough road ahead of you and going with an
experienced partner would be a really good idea. No matter how experienced
you are, hiking alone through bear country (northern Montana and
Yellowstone) is a really BAD idea. Bears just LOVE solo hikers --- they’re
soooo tasty and there are no pesky extraneous humans to interfere with the
I’ll refer you to the Thruhiking Papers at http://trailwise.circumtech.com .
Yeah, I know – I wrote them for the AT. But I recently read them again and
they’re still good information. There are also some (9) thruhiking pieces
under the “Page List (Tidbits of Information)” heading at the same URL.
Those were written before we left for the CDT. They’re still valid too.
As with everything we write, the basic Thruhiking Paper caveats still apply.
I’ve modified them to generalize beyond the AT -
1. This is not a "Thruhikers Manual". It's a collection of our
thoughts, feelings and information about the realities of thruhiking.
2. This is our personal experience, observation and opinion. There's
nothing scientific or even necessarily logical about it. But then,
people aren't logical, are they?
3. We’re "fringe" people whose lives changed drastically on the Trail.
What happened to us is NOT the norm.
4. As thruhikers we are, by definition, crazy and therefore cannot be
held responsible for anything we say.
5. We may wander off in strange directions.
6. You may not like everything we have to say.
7. Advice is worth what you pay for it - and this is free.
One more caveat – this is OUR information - it applied to OUR hike. If you
want it, the information is free – but keep in mind caveat #7 above. If you
can use it, that’s cool. If your route is different, you need to find a
different information source. If you don’t want the information, there’s a
“Delete” key – and you won’t hurt our feelings if you use it. We wanted our
thruhike to be ‘unique’ – we certainly won’t complain if you want yours to
be so too.
One more warning - if you’re gonna read this, then read it carefully. What
Ginny writes is generally clear, but what I write tends to be extremely
terse. I usually don’t use two words if one will do the job. It’s really
easy to miss what’s being said.
Onward – Let’s start with some information on ‘trail planning resources’.
All that means is - where to find things.
Since Ginny and I are readers, let’s talk about books first. There aren’t
that many yet, but they’re multiplying. So – the short list :
1. The best first – “Where the Waters Divide” by Karen Berger and Dan
2. Very good, but different – “The Great Divide” by Stephen Pern (out of
print but check Amazon)
3. The original – useless for a thruhike except as an example of how
not to do it, but entertaining - “The Ultimate Journey” by Eric and
4. Too short to be really useful, but a good story – “The Great
Backpacking Adventure” by Chris Townsend.
5. Also very good - the new Westcliffe ‘story’ books – “Along Montana &
Idaho’s Continental Divide Trail” and the 3 companion volumes for
Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico (New Mexico hasn’t been published as
of Feb 1, 2001). They have lots of beautiful pictures and some
interesting trail journals. Keep in mind that these weren’t written
from a ‘thruhiking’ viewpoint, but they’re still good.
6. Out of print but may be available at used book stores – “Along the
Continental Divide” by Michael Robbins. This is a National
Those books are all good reading and they’ll give a ‘flavor’ for the trail,
but the books you really want if you’re gonna thruhike are – guidebooks. I
know, some of you think you don’t need them or can’t afford them. God bless
you. We’ve seen several people hike without them. But I don’t like the idea
of using partially empty, cast-off water bottles along the road as my water
source because I don’t know where the springs are located and the maps are
lying to me. Yeah – we know those who did that. We don’t. So –
1. The best (that’s our opinion), most detailed – and with the best
water source information is the set sold by Jim Wolf’s Continental
Divide Trail Society. Some of the books are (or at least were) out
of date, but they are constantly being updated or there are
supplements for them. These guidebooks are written for a North to
South hike, except for Northern Montana which is written in both
directions. They’re available at
2. The new Westcliffe series of “Official” guidebooks. (Note that
the “Official” designation is not an indication of NPS, USFS or BLM
approval. It relates only to the financial arrangement that the
publisher made with CDTA.) We haven’t used all of these guidebooks
and haven’t had time to check all of them out thoroughly. But based
on our use of the Colorado guidebook and a detailed check of sections
of the Montana and Wyoming books, they’re reasonably good guide
books – with the following caveats – they have errors in mileage and
detail (as does every other guidebook ever written), they lack the
detail that Jim Wolf’s CDTS guidebooks provide, and while it’ll
likely do very nicely if there’s no snow on the ground (several
people used them in 1999 and 2000 under those conditions), I don’t
believe the Montana book would be very effective in northern Montana
in early June (It wasn't written for snow conditions). The Montana
and Wyoming books are written for a South to North hike, while the
Colorado book is written for a North to South hike. The New Mexico
Book is not yet available, but will probably be written for a South
to North hike. These are available at www.amazon.com or at the CDTA
Web site at: http://www.cdtrail.org/store.html . Check for the best
price. Again – these books were just published – and they’re already
out of date. That’s unavoidable when you’re writing about a trail
that’s still “Under Construction”.
3. David Patterson’s “Alternative Routes for the Continental Divide
Trail” is a good addition to your planning process.
4. Ray Jardine’s “Pocket Planner for the Continental Divide Trail” is
out of print.
There are also a couple videos available –
1. Joe and Carol McVeigh thruhiked the CDT in 1991 and they made a video
of their hike titled “Border to Border II”. There are two versions –
a short version and a long version. We have both. If you’re gonna
hike, you might want the long version – it has a little more
information. These are available from Jim Wolf at CDTS – URL:
http://www.gorp.com/cdts/market.htm . They may also be available from
Purple Dragon Ventures, P.O. Box 164, Virginia City, NV 89440. We
haven’t tried that address. This video has a definite Sierra Club
slant which, whether it was true in 1991 or not, was definitely not
true in 1999. Take it with a grain of salt.
2. Lynne Whelden released a video last year (2000) titled “How to Hike
the Continental Divide Trail”. It’s almost 7 hours long and has a
LOT of information. Lynne videotaped a number of thruhikers – and
used those interviews to put together a collection of information,
techniques and opinions from those who have “been there and done
that” - or were trying to do so. Yeah – we’re in it, but it’s good
anyway. You may be able to get it from CDTS at
http://www.gorp.com/cdts/market.htm. Or from Lynne Whelden. His
address is 90 E. Union St, Canton, PA 177724. URL: www.Lwgear.com
The Continental Divide Trail Society (CDTS) was founded by Jim Wolf, and is
one of the best sources for information about hiking the trail. The CDTS Web
page is at: http://www.gorp.com/cdts and contains information about the
trail and about thruhiking. The Society is hiker-friendly, sells guidebooks,
map packs, videos and books, and issues a twice-a-year newsletter
(DividEnds) which includes realistic state of the trail and re-route
information, information about other hikers who may be out there, etc. The
Web site has links to short descriptions of each trail segment, as well as
town and Post Office information and an analysis of the
advantages/disadvantages of North-South vs South-North hikes.
The other CDT organization is the Continental Divide Trail Alliance (CDTA).
If you’re interested in trail ‘politics’ and perhaps in trail construction,
this may be the place to go. The Alliance also issues a newsletter and sells
guidebooks and maps, although you’ll likely do better price-wise elsewhere.
The CDTA URL is: http://www.cdtrail.org. But take this site with a grain of
salt – it has apparently not been updated for almost 2 years. I believe the
RMNP trail information it contains is outdated.
The books and guidebooks are also available at Amazon (www.amazon.com ) and
at Barnes and Noble (www.bn.com ). The videos, as well as the books and
guidebooks, are available at Adventurous Traveler
(www.adventuroustraveler.com). I shouldn’t have to say this, but shop for
the best price - they’re not all necessarily the same.
The “hiker” organization most concerned with the CDT is ALDHA-West. This is
a long distance hiking organization based on the West Coast. They also issue
a newsletter that often has articles about the CDT. Their Web site is at:
http://www.gorp.com/nonprof/aldhaw. The Web site also has several
If you want to “talk” to people, there’s the CDT-L e-mail list. There are a
LOT of thruhikers on the list – some former AT thruhikers, some former PCT
thruhikers, some CDT thruhikers and some who have done two, or even all
three of the trails. The access page (URL) for the list is:
http://mailman.backcountry.net/mailman/listinfo/cdt-l. There’s also an
archive page for CDT-L at: http://mailman.backcountry.net/pipermail/cdt-l.
At present the archive only dates back to Jan 1, 2001. The complete archives
for the list may be available at a later date.
The GORP Web site has a couple short CDT thruhiker journals and a short
description of the trail at:
http://www.gorp.com/gorp/resource/us_trail/continen.htm . GORP also hosts
the CDTS Web site, an associated CDT forum and a CDT Destination section.
The Backpacker forum at www.bpbasecamp.com also has a Long Trails forum – go
to Destinations Forums from the home page. This isn’t very active, but it’s
worth a try.
The New Mexico Mountain Club has done considerable work on the CDT in New
Mexico, and have some information on their Web site at:
Tom Bombaci is a private individual who lives near Grants, NM and has also
done a lot of work on the CDT. He and his wife also run an informal ‘hostel’
for thruhikers. His Web site has a lot of New Mexico information and other
links and is located at: http://bombaci.rootsweb.com/hiking.html.
Then there’s the Trailquest page, which is a private Web site with
information about all three of the major long distance trails. It has a chat
room and a GORP Forum link as well as other information at:
http://www.trailquest.mynet.ws/CDTTrailQuest.html . This site is still under
Dick Mallery also deserves honorable mention here – his Web site is at
http://www.dickebird.com and contains his 1999 CDT thruhike journal.
There are other sources on the Web, but these are the most significant at
Enough for now – next time we’ll talk about maps and then maybe about town
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