This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
I didn’t realize how spoiled I was on the PCT. Beautiful trail the entire way. Little roadwalking. No cows. And I didn’t camp alone a single night. A bad day on the PCT is a good day on the CDT. The CDT is not a nice trail. And while several people have congratulated me on conquering it, I didn’t. I survived it. All of my stories from the PCT are cute and funny. The time we fought raccoons! The bowhunters that scared us! My stories from the CDT are about being alone with big animals that could easily eat me. Almost being struck by lightning. And the things which barely even register any more- rivers so huge I have to back out and find another place to cross, forest fires right by the trail, tens of miles of travel over snow. And the complete loneliness of not seeing another human being for days. It’s not all terror though. There is the mind numbing boredom of yet another roadwalk, yet another cow field, yet another brown lump to walk over. The awesome sections of the CDT are incredible. But between them? There is nothing. This all sounds very negative, and like maybe I should have chosen a different trail. But now it’s over, I’m so glad I hiked. I learned a lot about myself. Hiking through boring scenery? I’ll just push bigger and bigger miles. Think I’m about to die? Turns out my feelings go numb and I can still make smart decisions. And I love solitude, at least for the first few days. And I came to embrace the challenge. I never thought I’d be a fast hiker. But the CDT gave me little choice (What else are you going to do when you have 4 litres of water for 40 miles, or a massive thunderstorm is brewing and there’s no shelter for 60 miles in any direction?) I didn’t think I could be this strong, or this independent. The PCT never tested me or challenged me the way the CDT did. And it turns out I need that challenge to grow. And while I would have been quite happy to skip 60% of the CDT, the other 40% is mind blowing. The Gila, some of Colorado, the Winds and Glacier were all more scenic and unique than anywhere on the PCT. Everyone who likes the outdoors should go hike the Winds. But please don’t. Because the high lonely places up there are the most amazing places I’ve ever been and I don’t want to share them. I know I have several PCT friends who have the CDT on their list. Here’s what I wish I’d known before I hiked. If you don’t want to hike alone, start with someone else. It took over half the trail for me to find other people to hike with, and that’s a common story. If you are hiking alone, expect to not see a single other human being between towns, with the exception of the CT, the popular sections of the Winds and Glacier. Embrace the corridor approach. No one hikes the actual CDT the whole way- snow, fires and sheer stupid sections (56 miles with no water, I’m talking about you!) will make you love alternates. Figure out what is important to you in terms of defining your hike. For me, it was continuous northbound footprints. For others, it’s as much on the official CDT as possible, but flips and skips are ok. There’s not a right way to hike this trail. In the end, choosing my own routes and making my own alternates was one of my favourite things about this trail. Don’t believe the water report. It’s not updated. Guthook comments are slightly more reliable, but it still sucks. Be prepared to find sources you were relying on dry. Expect to get lost! I didn’t get lost once on the PCT, and I used my GPS twice to find water and a campsite. I misplaced the trail at least once a day this summer, more at the start. GPS is essential and I used it multiple times a day. Also, the trail itself? It often sucks. Blow downs, marsh, no tread, tread so faint you can barely follow it, roads, and snow covered for miles. Don’t think it’s going to be the perfectly groomed PCT. Take an umbrella. There is so much less shade on this trail. I think there were maybe 3 trees in the first 100 miles. I picked up an umbrella for the basin and loved it. If you live somewhere that thunderstorms are common, you probably don’t need this warning. But we don’t have them in Scotland or Alaska, so the CDT storms were terrifying for me. They are every. Single. Day. And they can hit at any time- that whole get low before noon thing does not help. Never mind that often on the CDT, you can’t get low, or into treeline. I don’t mean to be discouraging. The CDT is not the fun hike the PCT is. But if you go into it willing to embrace the brutality (a phrase I thought was exaggerated before I hiked), you might enjoy the challenge.