Great Divide Trail + Continential Divide Trail: A Challenging Epic Thru-Hike from Mexico into Canada
Lead-Up to Connecting the Great Divide Trail with the CDT
On September 19, 2017, I reached the northern terminus of the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail after 3 years of dreaming, 7 months of detailed planning, and 148 unforgettable days of hiking. As many thru-hikers can testify, there are simply no words to describe the experience of a long-distance hike and the gift of celebrating life together.
My first steps off the PCT felt like graduation. The tassel was turned, and the thrill of completing a multi-year project rushed in my veins. Standing at the northern terminus, pride for my trail family ran deep, tears were shed, and it was a cinematic end to a wonderful story. But, dang y'all, I was exhausted. Mentally, physically, and spiritually. It was time. Standing at Monument 78, I told my friend Linnea Otter, "I'm never thru-hiking again." That's it. Doneso. Kapeesh. Sayonara. Adios. Next chapter.
On my flight back to Texas, I flew over Washington's Goat Rocks Wilderness, a PCT highlight, and the oh-shit-I-didn't-expect-theseemotions flushed in. Pride turned into loss and frustration, joy into mourning, exhaustion into an electric hum. I was being taken back to Texas by strangers, having mistaken my eviction as a graduation. Immediately, I knew thru-hiking wasn't leaving my life anytime soon.
Skip forward 9 months to June 2018, and you'd find me back on the summit of Mount Whitney, now with my dad, celebrating our father-son thru-hike of the 210-mile John Muir Trail. This trek affirmed a dream to cover more ground in 2019, with a penciled-in idea of what the project would look like. When 2018 came to a close, the familiar reality of dreams making way to plans set in.
Making Plans for the Great Divide Trail + CDT
On April 22, I'll begin my third long trek, connecting the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in the United States to Canada's Great Divide Trail (GDT) for a 3,800-mile traverse along the spine of the Rockies. Unlike the PCT, my route will cover a few hundred miles of route finding, including a next-level alternate on Wyoming's Wind River High Route.
Long-distance hiking has become a tool to re-sharpen senses and better understand self. It has pressed me to be curious about Creation and its planetary relationship with the Cosmos, while giving me space to strengthen my spirituality and mature my faith. The world of thru-hiking has introduced me to some of my all-time favorite people. Plus, living outside is just freaking rad. It is a joy to get to share the journey.
My good friend and absolute badass hiker woman, Danielle "Giggles" O'Farrell, will also be attempting this route across the Rockies with me. We plan to connect before hitting Wyoming, finishing the back half of the route together. Our hope is to provide beta and backcountry information where there has previously been little, while challenging the limits of what's feasible in a typical northbound hiking season.
The Great Divide Trail + CDT Route
As I mentioned, the route exists through the connection of two scenic pathways, the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and the Great Divide Trail. I'll also be tacking on Wyoming's Wind River High Route (WRHR), but more on that later.
Let's start with the CDT in the United States. The trail is a biggie–it stretches 3,100 miles from the U.S./Mexico border in New Mexico to Montana's border with Alberta, Canada. The CDT boasts world-famous landscapes through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, following the spine of the American Rockies. Alongside the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail, it makes up one of the Triple Crown trails of hiking, and is the créme de la créme of backcountry experience.
Spicing things up, my plan is to link the CDT to Canada's Great Divide Trail (GDT). This trail picks up at the northern terminus of the CDT at Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada. Banff, Yoho, Jasper, and Lake Kakwa are just a few of the many national parks through which this route passes. Unlike the Pacific Crest or Continental Divide Trails, the Great Divide Trail is a route that requires GPS navigation, bushwacking, and the ability to say "see ya" to any type of trail for hundreds of miles. Rumor has it, the Great Divide Trail offers pretty gnarly terrain and ecology over its 750 miles. Guess we'll see, eh?
So, if you're counting, that's 3,850 miles to cover in the 5-month hiking season between April and September. Calculating this linkage (plus the WRHR) has already brought a beautiful frustration the Rockies are rumored to give.
Frustration aside, I'm stoked for the opportunity to attempt this linkage. I'm optimistic about the road to come, and hopeful it will develop into a project beyond another white male hiker "crushing miles." Similar to my last two major hikes (PCT '17, JMT '18), I have a good feeling about this one.
If [the Great Divide Trail] were tacked onto the northern terminus of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT)–as some believe it should be–the combined routes would create, without a doubt, the most eye-popping, jaw-dropping, challenging wilderness trail on Earth.
Concerns about the Great Divide Trail + CDT Route
There are fears that I won't like it, or that the pace the linkage demands will take away from things I found most valuable on previous thru-hikes–friendship, stillness, and a pressure off of performance. My brain has been asking itself the same questions, which only leads to a higher level of concern:
- The CDT is already the "wilder" long trail, so if I'm already to Wyoming in June, will there be any hikers in my area?
- Will I experience the Wind River Range solo?
- What if I feel like the Rockies just aren't my jam?
- Would I sacrifice a healthy mind to achieve a goal if it came to it?
- Can I really eat ramen and mashed potatoes for another 5 months?
- Are these miles actually doable?
- What if I have to take 10 days off unexpectedly?
- What if I did the Appalachian Trail and the Te Araroa instead?
- Is it worth it to go through post-trail depression again?
- What is my motivation for thru-hiking?
- Am I trying to hike away from something?
- What if I fail?
Regardless of my concerns, I'm pumped to share the journey with ya–and hope you'll explore some of these questions with me. My desire is to share stories well, stir up some conversation, brain dump, and hopefully make a life outdoors seem a little more close to home. Let's do this!
Details of the Great Divide Trail + CDT Route
Here are some additional details on my journey ahead.
- Continental Divide Trail: 3,100 miles - New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana
- Great Divide Trail: 750 miles - Alberta, British Columbia
- CDT + GDT: 3,850 miles - New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Alberta, British Columbia
- Northbound GCDT start date: April 22, 2019
- Estimated CDT end date: August 22, 2019
- Estimated CDT + GDT end date: September 23, 2019
Map found here (excluding Skurka's WRHR alternate).
CDT estimates made on 27 mile/day average, with 5 built-in Zeros. GDT estimates made on 24 mile/day average, with 2 built-in Zeros.