Hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) Northbound in 2013- sharing my preparation for the hike and my day to day experience while I'm on the trail. Inspiring people to follow their dreams.

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Rogers Pass to Benchmark


Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark of the famed Lewis & Clark expedition were one of, if not the greatest explorer, in the new America’s.  They crossed the unknown land with shear brute and resolve.  75,607 days later I stand at Lewis and Clark Pass in much more pampered and humbling circumstances.


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This section of the CDT is know as “The Rollercoaster” because of the extreme up and down over the next 56 miles to Benchmark, my next resupply.  The elevation gain gives no mercy, up and down the mountains that stare at you with a snicker.  I was tired, sweat pouring down my face and my thighs feeling every step.  My shoes were starting to give me problems with holes in the mesh around my toes that let in little pebbles causing me to stop frequently to shake them out.  Water is an issue when your walking ridges because there is no water on ridges, those pools and streams are down the mountain and I sure don’t feel like going lower and then coming back up just for a couple liters of water.   Yet, with all these obstacles I felt immense happiness and pride.


I wake up still tired from the tough climbs from yesterday and start eating what I’ve nicknamed “vitamins’ but its Tylenol.  Since I’m prone to developing blood clots I take Coumadin, a blood thinner, so I’m not able to take the traditional thru hiking vitamin, Ibuprofen, which is better for inflammation but Tylenol is better then nothing.  I’m sure my liver or kidney hates me but my legs and back appreciate it.  I begin hiking in the gorgeous, challenging ridges. The view down to one of the valleys is gorgeous and while hiking down I try my best at being Ansel Adams, playing with every setting on my camera; Black and white, Vibrant, Sunset and a bunch of other stuff I have no idea what it does.


I spend miles walking the ridges then dropping down and back up the defined trail while soaking in the view and clouds that are moving past at high speeds.  The lodge pole pines are barely covered with anything as they struggle to even survive at these altitudes and tough conditions.  I skirt past dried up ponds that South Bounders probably used to quench their thirsts months earlier and I wonder what the landscaped looked like to them vs. what I see now.  Moving slowly again up a mountain I’m almost happy that my pack is light.  Its only light because I’m low on food, only about 2 days left of food and more importantly only 2 snickers and a half bag of chips.  This is a problem because candy has become my main stable at this point.  I’m consuming about 6,000 calories a day to keep my body going and I know that I’m not reaching that at all.  I start eating half rations, swallowing my pride and not ask my other hikers for any of their food because that would be like asking for a first-born or for them to carry my tent.  No way, to much pride.


Instead I just crank the music coming through my Yurbuds and start singing along to the Fugee’s.  Hip hop is great while hiking because its got a good beat that keeps you going and like any runner knows the right beat can keep you motivated.  I’m singing loudly as I start descending the mountain coming into the trees.  I turn a corner and smack.  I fall to the ground in pain, rolling around on the forest floor grabbing my right foot as it’s throbbing in pain.  I look back and see the small stump I had just slammed my right foot into.  My toe is throbbing and bleeding.  I’m worried I broke the toe.  I think about just amputating it and moving on but my little blade would probably cause more harm then good.  I instead just sit there for about 5 minutes, pop some ‘vitamins’ and keep going with the pain subsiding the next day.


Being in the Scapegoat Wilderness which is part of the 1.5 million acre Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex is surreal, such a vast wilderness that swallows you.  Its full of bears, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, falcons and moose but I had not seen any of them yet.  Rainbow trout the length of my arm and northern pike gracefully glide in streams waiting for dinner to come by.  I wish I had my fly rod with me now more then ever as I know that this deep in the wilderness, they are rarely tempted by my mere mortal flies.  My biggest joy is the sweet tasting water. It is hands down the best tasting water I have ever and probably will ever drink.  The water is so clear, so pure that it’s hard to believe that it’s real.  It touches my lips and I can already feel its immediate absorption into my body.   To treat this water would be like watering down a 100-year-old bottle of Don Perion, it just isn’t done.


I make a few more winding turns on the trail and start noticing more foot prints, more evidence of civilization and realize I must be getting close to Benchmark.  I pass a couple of day hikers, a older couple out for the sights gripping their bear spray tightly next to their hip.  One last turn and I hit the trailhead and the dirt road.  I throw my pack off and sit down leaning up against the old trailhead board and pull out my food bag.  I find one lonely cherry starburst sitting at the bottom of the bag and nothing else.  I unwrap it, pop it into my mouth and wait for my ride down to Augusta.


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Helena to Rogers Pass

P1010839 Taking a shower after 10 days is a great feeling.  The mud, dirt and grime of your body washes away, sloshing down the drain and quickly forgotten.  How much dirt and grime I put down the drain is a badge of honor and this time it didn’t disappoint. We were dropped off at the Lamplighter Motel, a collection of small individual ‘bunkhouses’ that accommodated various sized groups.  The owner was a kind man who offered us a little discount because we were hikers but crammed 5 of us into a 2-room bunkhouse.  It’s a crazy atmosphere with 5 people in one little room.  It’s a yard sale of clothes, groceries, beer cans, cell phones, drying sleeping bags and cameras being charged and prepared for the next section.  My first stop was the grocery store to pick up all the cravings I had during the last section including chicken, grape gatorade and popcorn.  With my food needs satisfied, the group settled in to watch the beginning of the NFL season with my beloved Broncos playing their season opener.  We slept that night two to a bed with the smell of nasty shoes and Taco Bell clinging in the air. The next morning came on like a tidal wave.  The guy who had dropped us off called and said he could take us back to the pass at 9 am.  It was 8:30 am.  I had hoped to hang out more in town and relax but a guaranteed ride is hard to pass up.  I couldn’t decide but soon opted for the guaranteed ride.  I now had 15 minutes to shop for the 64-mile section to Rogers Pass, which would get me to Lincoln for resupply.  You would have thought I was on the old 90’s  TV show Super Market sweep for how fast I got all my grocery shopping done. Before I knew it, I was riding in the back of the pickup, waving good-bye, ending my “lengthy” 12-hour stay in Helena. The trail snaked up and around the mountain.  I opted to take the Ley purple route, staying low in the valley versus going up high on the divide because of the thick clouds in the distant.  Walking the dirt roads for a few hours I found a nice patch of shade and had a quick lunch.  Surprisingly I got a call from my mom who lives in Europe and I Skyped with her awhile, sitting in the shade of the trees.  All was well until a large crack broke the conversation.  I quickly, and probably to my mothers horror, hung up while yelling something like ‘Here it comes!’.   I quickly threw on my rain gear and battened down my pack and walked right into the storm.  The marble sized hail came with a fury, slamming into my head and body from all angles.  Trickles of water quickly collaborated with the others to create large streams where there once was a dirt road.  I cowered under a tree that offered little protection and after a while I just said “to hell with it” and walked out into the bombing of hail.   The hail bombardment continued for a solid 30 minutes before letting up and the sun finally smiled on me again.

Hail bombardment

Hail bombardment

Twice this size before melting in my hand

Twice this size before melting in my hand

I was walking alone and climbed even higher into the Helena National Forest feeling great.  That day I learned that I actually enjoy being wet, cold and a little miserable while hiking.   Cresting a ridge I found my next water source, which I definitely felt in need of.  I opened up the lid of the spring and found it to be nearly empty.  I was able to get enough water out of it for that night and a little for the next day to make it.   I would later learn that the group behind me would find it in even worse condition, filled with dead squirrels that had fallen in. My nose awoke me the next morning.  It was a clean smell; a freshness that absorbed into my nostrils.  I rolled to my side, still in my sleeping bag and peeked out under my vestibule and saw that I was surrounded in mud thick fog.  I could barely see 15 feet from the tent.  It was a slow moving ghost of white that flowed over me like a stone in a creek. P1010842 I crawled out of my bag and stood outside my tent with my bare feet sending a cold mossy chill up my body as the fog engulfed me.  It was the freshest air I had ever smelled in my life.  I raised my arms out, puffed out my chest, tilted my head back, opened up my nose and took a long deep breath.  The air quickly ran down my throat, into my lungs and was absorbed throughout my entire body.  I was cleansed.  I was free and I knew it. The whole day was full of amazing hiking.  The fog rolled in and over me all day leaving the forest mysterious and medieval.  Pine trees with green moss hanging from its limbs and fog hiding everything else in the background.  The fog was my mistress, teasing me with quick flashes of distant peaks and trail.  I snaked up and down the crest of the mountain excited to feel its next move and tantalizing surprise. P1010845 This day had been an experience that I would soon not forget.  The day ended with a continued rain but I didn’t care.  I was happy and content.  I made it to Stemple Pass where a hunter invited me into his RV for hamburger steak and 2 tasty beers.  I slept that night with a smile stretched across my face. In the morning I woke to a revived spirit, one that was ready to tackle the trail with no worries, only focus on the end goal.  I hiked along the mix of trail and dusty dirt road having to choose between the confusing official CDT route and or the alternates.  Thinking I was on the alternate I headed around a mountain and came to a clearing.   An established trail was to my left; a more defined one was on the right.  I choose right.  Wrong choice.  I went for about 2 miles, always looking back, questioning my decision.  Finally I realized I had taken a wrong turn.  Instead of turning around and going back the way I came, I figured why not just go cross country and connect back up with the trail I should have gone with.  I was in the middle of the woods, following game trails that lead nowhere but somewhere.  I knew I was in the middle of nothing but kept going thinking that eventually I would hit a road I saw on my map but wasn’t particularly sure if I would.  The place was uninviting but not scary.  I decided to just keeping going, assuming it was the best course of action at this point.  Stop thinking and just go. P1010809 I hit a road about 2 hours later and followed it to what I figured was an intersection with the trail I should have been on from the get go.  I needed to clear my head so I sat there, drying out my gear from the night before, digging into my food bag finding whatever chocolate I had left.  I eventually went cross -country to meet up with the original trail and followed it until nightfall, giving up on the ridge walk that awaited me in the morning. P1010904 In the morning I woke up to beautiful conditions of more fog and clouds that covered my path.  It was glorious.  I was high up on a ridge that was obscured with clouds rolling through, up and over the ridge.  I felt like I was part of the clouds and not just passing through.  This lasted for about 15 miles before coming down the mountain to Rogers Pass and my highway to Lincoln.  I was semi-happy to have hit the road, not really needing to get to town other than to satisfy my stomach’s desire for the indulgences of town food.  I put out my thumb in the cold and waited for a ride.  No ride came.  I didn’t care deep down if someone stopped or not, I was in the zone, fully charged and ready to tackle the trail.  My trail friends popped out of trees and I noticed them out of the corner of my eye.  I felt happy to see them, and ready to abandon my hitchhiking quest. After standing by the side of the road for the better part of 2 hours I felt ready to hike, instead of hitchhiking. It was 53 miles to my next resupply in Benchmark.  My food bag was getting a little light but I had bought more food then I needed in Helena.  Maybe I would make it on what I had to eat or maybe I would go hungry for a day or so. What I lacked in food I made up in desire to keep going and not stop.  I was ready for the next section dubbed “The Roller Coaster”.

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New Data book for the CDT 2014

Here’s a great resource for the 2014 class of CDT hikers.  Its a Data book  compiled by Beacon, a great CDT hiker that lists, mileage, notes, water sources and pretty much step by step instruction on the CDT.  These are great guides to help you on your trip.  Use these as a resource, not a end all to your on trail navigation.
Here’s what’s new for the 2014 version

-Nobo & Sobo versions

-Alternate routes now included at the end of the Data Book.

-Available in Word & Excel versions

-Font & Margins can be edited to your preference


Thanks to Beacon and Wired for sharing this new update!