Sunday, January 6, 2013

Getting Started on the CDT

Just before starting an overnight up Mt. Elden
     Here we are.  We can finally say we are going to hike the Continental Divide Trail this year.  Up to this point April 2013 still seemed like a far off date.  Something about switching to 2013 suddenly makes it seem a lot closer, and our 3100 mile hike a lot more daunting.  We still have a lot of work to do before we hit the trail, but at this point we have already done a lot of thinking and planning about what we are getting ourselves into.  

     The idea for this started almost a year ago.  Sara, who has done a long trip on bikes through Canada, kept mentioning that she wanted to have another grand adventure, and a few weeks was not long enough.  I was mildly surprised and excited that she actually wanted to go on some long trip, especially since I was going to be her only companion.  My parents hiked the more well-traveled Pacific Crest Trail before the era of lightweight gear and people racing thru hikes so I was somewhat familiar with what an epic adventure would require in terms of planning, fitness, etc.  Hiking a long trail had always been a slim option for me, albeit one that was stuck so far back in the recesses of my mind that it would have been acceptable remaining there.  My big hangup with a long hike/adventure was finding someone interested in, and capable of, joining me.  Enter Sara.

At Crack-In-The-Rock in Wupatki National Monument
     Early last spring we began tentatively planning for this summer.  We both had jobs to consider.  Sara at Grand Canyon Youth, and me at Run Flagstaff.  We both are also involved with the Flagstaff High School track and cross country teams, which would be difficult to leave mid-season.  Fortunately my boss at Run Flagstaff is letting me go without saying I am fired and Sara's commitment at GCY ended in December so we only have to ditch a few weeks of track.

In early summer we ordered maps and guidebooks.  I immediately fell in love with the Colorado through Montana sections of trail.  I love being above treeline and since we will hopefully not stray more than 50 miles from the Divide there should be a lot of time spent at that elevation.  Sara, on the other hand, is inexplicably excited about New Mexico.  Something about heat and scarce water makes her yearn for adventure.  Admittedly, New Mexico has it charms, like the Gila River Wilderness, but dehydration is not one of them to which I am looking forward.  This is definitely a trail for all interests in nature.
Forrest, Sara, and Zeno (who will join us on our hike) in West Fork of Oak Creek

All through 2012 we tried to make time for shorter backpack trips to test out equipment and gear we may take with us.  Just before Thanksgiving we managed to fit in a 4-day trip in the Grand Canyon that allowed us to become comfortable with what shoes, sleeping pads, and clothing we would like to take.  At this point our biggest piece of equipment in question is our stove.  We are looking for a liquid gas stove so we do not have to take canisters that do not allow us to know exactly how many more meals we can cook.  We are managing to go close to ultra-light, but have splurged on a camera.  Since Sara is an art major and has the ability to make things look pretty, we got her a DSLR for Christmas.  This will add extra weight, but the quality of pictures should make up for it.
Sara at Palisades Campground in the bottom of the Grand Canyon

At this point we have gone through all the maps, provided by Jonathan Ley, and plotted resupply points every 4-8 days.  Our next step is to go back through the maps and make sure we did not make too many math mistakes (which I have a tendency to do) and decide at which points we will mail ourselves boxes and at which points we will buy from a local store.
Rafts on the Colorado before Cardenas beach in the Grand Canyon

For now though we are just excited to have the opportunity to take such an adventure.  In the next week or so we will post our tentative schedule and gear-list.  We hope to begin posting about once a week with updates and pictures from previous trips from now until Canada in late September.  If you have any questions, comments or would like to help out please share.  If you would like another take on the trip please read the article by Abbie Gripman that appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun this

Forrest and Sara


  1. :) Great idea, great start, good hiking, guys! In brief, I was raised in Flag, ran and hiked the area for many years, did a career with the FS there, moved to Pagosa Springs after retirement a few years ago along with my wife (NAU) and our horses, we are on the CDT a lot in the Summer from about Chama N.M. (the South San Juan Wilderness) to Silverton, CO, (the Weminuche Wilderness), would be glad to help out in this area if needed? John N.

  2. Thanks John! That is one of our longer sections without a resupply so we might take you up on that. Should be to that section in early June.


  3. Really excited for you & looking forward to reading your posts!! - Mary Ellen

  4. Thanks Mary Ellen! I hope you are doing well. -sara

  5. Sara and Forrest,
    I'm planning a start with three other ladies I met on the PCT at CC April 23 -- I'm sure that at some point we'll cross paths!

    (Also, I carried a canister stove after mile 700 on the PCT and was surprised by how long they actually lasted! It's personal preference, but I personally was annoyed having to top off my alcohol stove in every town stop, so canister was nicer in that regard. Also, I like cooking in my tent when it's cold/wet/buggy...)

    Going to link your blog on :)

    See you soon :) Cheers, Liz.

  6. Hi Liz!

    Thanks for your message! We will try to catch up with you on the CDT. We won't be starting until the week after. Thanks for the suggestion about the stove. We just found the Caldera Cone System by Trail Systems. So far, we have found it to be perfect for our needs (and price range).

    I look forward to meeting you and hearing some of your stories. April is fast approaching!