A guest post by Ace
As I said in my previous guest post, I’m a rookie. What do I know?
However, as we began planning for the CDT I quickly learned that conditions must be perfect (said to the tune of Flight of the Conchords, of course) in order to hike this big ass trail continuously and without performing any mental, logistical or geographical gymnastics.
Though I have never hiked the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail my understanding from those who have is while those trails are equally physically and mentally hard they are a bit more straightforward. With the exception of snow in the Sierra or fires one can choose either the northern or southern terminus and hike to trails end. That’s not necessarily always the case with the CDT. Those who have been able to do that are lucky.
What I am alluding to is we have a change in plans. Starting Friday, July 3 we are hopping back on trail in Steamboat Springs, CO and heading south. When we get to Chama, NM we will reassess what section of the trail to tackle next.
How did we arrive at this decision?
Let me put some clarity on Mt. Man’s eloquently written post titled “Snowbound.” Ever since Lima, MT (our day 5 miserable day that I previously wrote about) things were swimming along. Sure there were random hail storms we got caught up in; unforeseen rain storms at night that made putting up our hammocks and tarps a bit more challenging and wet; heat; and lots of road walking but we were hitting our stride. #stupidpunintended (all hash tags are for you, Cheray).
On the “Snowbound” day (the 3rd day of our 6 day stretch from Leodore to Chief Joseph Pass) the disappointment to me wasn’t the snow. Sure it was hard to navigate and tiresome to walk in (8 miles in 6 hours) but we were lucky. The weather that day was warm and sunny. I kept thinking what it would be like if it was cold, rainy, windy or even snowing.
The disappointment for the day was how the snow impeded our progress. After getting over the two passes for the day (Goldstone and Overlook), it was supposed to be smooth sailing and we were going to be able to bank some miles (hike 25+ miles that day) in an effort to help minimize the miles we’d need to hike on days 5 and 6 of this stretch. We knew that on those days the weather was turning (dropping temps and rain/snow) and we wanted to minimize the miles we’d need to walk in those conditions.
When we were finally able to start cruising at about a 3 mile/hour clip we saw our first hiker since we started the trail. His name was Storm Dasher. He was only hiking from Chief Joseph Pass (where we were trying to get to) to Bannock Pass (where we had started this stretch). When we asked what the terrain was like from Chief Joseph his eyes (and words) said it all. “Lots of snow, about 30 miles.” We were defeated. How the heck were we going to make it to Chief Joseph Pass in time to catch the ride we had scheduled to get us into Darby which was 30 miles away from the pass? By that point, we’d managed only 11 miles in 8 hours. #defeated.
Looking at the weather and trail conditions we knew it wouldn’t be possible. I’m slowly getting over my weather wimpiness but a slow slog over snow while it’s cold, raining and snowing for multiple days is not a situation any of us wanted to be in. Our decision to get off trail about 50 miles before Chief Joseph Pass was one based on safety.
Once in town (thanks Rick from the Bunkhouse), we were able to look at the weather more closely and the overall snow conditions on the trail going north through MT. The impending storm was expected to bring in about 8 more inches of snow. We were concerned the new snow pack would slow us down even more, while the freezing temps would also make walking on the existing snowpack more dangerous.
On the CDT you are planning around several distinct sections (mostly to minimize travel over last season’s snow and early season snow to come) in hopes to complete the trail in one year. Snow, trail conditions and ability to complete a certain number of miles per day are all factors that need to be considered. So, the sections we started to plan around to avoid the aforementioned variables were broken down as follows:
• Glacier and Northern MT
• The Wind River Range (WY)
• Colorado (the San Juans)
The Great Basin (WY) and New Mexico sections have more flexibility as we really just want to avoid those areas in the heat of summer.
That’s when we sat at our breakfast table at the Jackson Hot Springs Lodge to discuss our options. The idea of flipping down to CO became more real when we looked at snow conditions. Snow has melted faster in CO this year than expected. We also considered the fact that if we hike in CO now the likelihood of being diverted due to fires or forest closures could be minimized. Yes, fires are another possibility we need to consider.
So, how are we getting to Steamboat? A nice college grad from Jackson, MT (pop. 36) drove us to Butte, MT where we rented a car. We proceeded to drive to several other towns in MT where our resupply boxes had already been sent so we can repurpose the food for CO. And, we now find ourselves in Darby MT prepping for the next leg.
I am not bothered by this change in plans which is surprising considering my OCD tendencies that prefer organization, consistency, symmetry. But I attribute this lack of concern to the fact that I have nothing else to compare this experience to. Isn’t this what we signed up for?
However, I do look at Mt. Man, and wonder how he is feeling about all of this. He is making a lot of decisions and compromises he normally wouldn’t if he were hiking alone. But, as he said during our marathon breakfast planning session when we were discussing where to go next, his priority is doing this hike with me, Beardoh and Sweet Pea so his preferences and decisions should be considered but not necessarily prioritized. I believe him. Honesty is one of his greatest attributes. But I still can’t help but feel guilty. Feeling guilty is probably one of my greatest attributes. #yearsoftherapyyetstillfeelguilty
He is a good man this hubby of mine and I love and admire him for so many reasons. But during the “simplicity” of the trail, it is his patience, compassion, empathy and compromise that I admire most.
Off we go to Colorado. I’m ready to be back on the trail. This “little” diversion of ours is far too long and my legs, lungs and mind are yearning for the fresh air, scenery and elevation of whatever lies ahead.
Until next time . . .