Total Miles: 2570.8
When we had gone to bed, the sun still dominated the sky with only a handful of brave clouds fending for space amid its rays. When we had woken up, everything had changed. What first began with the lightest of drizzles morphed slowly into droplets that sounded a bit more like sleet. By morning, the snow that dusted the ground and our tents told the rest of the night’s story.
The calendar had turned the page to a new month and it seemed like that new month wanted to make an impression. Echoing our experience in the snows of September while on the CDT last year, we emerged from our little cocoons of down to a winter wonderland. A cloud had settled in on the mountain that had been framed by a brilliant blue sky only hours before and a dusting of snow had made the familiar seem foreign.
Aside from the chill, there was a hushed stillness to the air and a deep quiet as though everything had been temporarily frozen in place.
Just 15 miles from watching the final puzzle piece of our CDT adventure fall into place, the only question was whether the beautiful snow would yield back to the sun and blue that we’d been hoping for to celebrate the occasion. It wasn’t the only thing we were celebrating today—it was also Ace’s birthday. In what has now become a trail tradition, there was a single Swedish Fish and a tiny candle waiting as a birthday cake of sorts. A year removed from celebrating with the same “cake” on the same trail, we’d come full circle back to a chilly Montana to repeat the ritual.
It might have taken until the afternoon, but as we neared ever closer to the border with Canada the sun had finally begun to win the battle it had been waging with the clouds ever since the snow had ceased. An expanse of blue hung over our heads to match the deep blue of Waterton Lake, the shore of which the trail now followed, as if an entirely different day had dawned.
Stretching across the international boundary, Waterton Lake is known first among hikers for the end of the journey it represents, but it’s also the answer to a different bit of Continental Divide Trail trivia: at an elevation of just over 4,200 feet, it marks the low point of the entire trail. Perhaps it’s that fact that best puts this entire trail into perspective: a trail of elevation. Traveling some 2,600 miles from the border of Mexico, there is not a single moment where the CDT dips below 4,000 feet, spending most of it far higher in the sky.
When we reached a lonely stone obelisk at the US-Mexico border last November to complete our CDT thru-hike, it felt both finished and unfinished. Back then, I wrote that standing at the border felt like the ceremonial end to the Triple Crown but that it wouldn’t feel truly complete until Glacier National Park reopened the trail within its boundary and we could finally hike the missing piece. These past few days hiking through such spectacular country with such dear friends was about finishing the unfinished and finally putting a period at the end of our CDT story.
After we had finished the Pacific Crest Trail together in 2016, I’d slowly come to realize that more than any mountaintop view, bringing friends with a shared passion into my life like Beardoh and Sweet Pea was the trail’s greatest gift. When we finally stood next to the US-Canada border monument that marked the official end of the Triple Crown for all three of us, I can’t imagine it coming to an end any differently or with anyone else. After a thru-hike last year that had ended with an asterisk, standing at that monument with Ace and my friends, admiring the mountains that had delivered a dramatic conclusion, the moment was both a climax and a denouement all at once.
How do you celebrate the official end to a journey that has stretched across 17 years and more than 7,000 miles? With more hiking, of course! 26 miles await us tomorrow before a car ride to California where Beardoh, Sweet Pea, Ace and I are off to renew our love for the High Sierra on a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail.
Why? Because the world on foot is different. Time slows. Focus narrows. Perspective widens. And a sense of what truly matters seems clearer than it ever did before. Having loved ones to share it with? Priceless.