Reflections after Nearly 3,800 Miles Along the Spine of the Rockies
Editor's Note: On April 22, 2019, Andrew Glenn began a thru-hike connecting the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in the United States to the Great Divide Trail (GDT) in Canada for a 3,800-mile traverse along the spine of the Rockies. You can read about the origins of his trip here and his thoughts on hiking the CDT through Colorado during a high snow year here. Below, he shares some of his thoughts after finishing this journey.
The Details of Hiking Nearly 3,800 Miles along the Rockies
Southern Terminus: Crazy Cook, New Mexico (US-Mexico Border) Northern Terminus: Kakwa Lake, British Columbia Mileage: 3,700 - 3,800 mi (3,100 + 700 - alternates)
Start Date: April 22, 2019 CDT End Date/GDT Start Date: August 23, 2019 End Date: September 25, 2019
CDT Zeros: 14 (6 New Mexico, 7 Colorado, 1 Wyoming) GDT Zeros: 1 (Waterton National Park)
National Parks: 7 (Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Glacier, Waterton, Banff, Kootenay, Yoho, Jasper)
Favorite CDT alternate: Titcomb Basin/Knapsack Col, Wyoming Favorite GDT alternate: "Six Pass Alternate," Jasper National Park, Alberta
Favorite CDT trail town: Salida, Colorado Favorite GDT trail town: Jasper, Alberta
Beyond the Terminus of a Rocky Mountain Journey North
"The only way out is North. The only way out is North. The only way out is North," I repeated aloud while ascending Surprise Pass, my final mountain pass of the Great Divide Trail. Thigh-deep snow slowed my pace dramatically, every item in my pack was soaked, and it had been over a week since I'd seen another person. Empty wrappers of my emergency food ration peaked through my hipbelt pocket and acted as a testament to an unforgiving turning of seasons in the truest wilderness I had ever experienced. It was day 156 of 156, and the Divide was as angsty as ever.
Sometime in the peak of exhaustion and fear a few days previously, I picked up the above mantra in an effort to keep the wheels greased. At the time, my options included:
- Bushwhacking 3+ days in any direction to a traveled road
- Pressing the SOS button on my satellite device
- Hiking North
After a quick assessment, I chose the third and made it my only option.
Back near the crest of Surprise Pass, whiteout conditions broke. Wind tamed and powder steadied a bit. A dark slab of Mount Bastille bruised the horizonless white expanse, bringing clarity and orientation. I repeated the simple mantra a final time and felt it slip off my tongue and down the Divide with warmth. For a moment, the thirteen final miles ahead carried more weight than the 3,700+ behind. I was quickly running out of runway, out of North.
Hiking North was a heartstate that revealed itself in acute decisions every day–some subtle (leaving camp, getting up from a break, etc.), while others pretty notable (pushing out from the CDT's southern terminus, continuing through the Colorado's snowpack in May, stepping from the CDT onto the GDT, and passing the GDT's Mount Robson exit in September). Over time, maintaining a continuous northbound footpath was much less about the accomplishment, and more about the value it was bringing to my life. It was a goal that acted as a vehicle to seeing themost inspiring landscapes, loving myself with more care, and learning the spirit of Rocky Mountains via the communities it backdrops.
Nearly two months have passed since completing the #CDTtoGDT at Lake Kakwa, where the North ran out. I'm mourning the end of a beautiful project and embracing the tension of the runout as my northbound mindset lingers through the day-to-day. It reminds me to trust the course. It reminds me of challenges I've overcome, while gently leading me into the lessons to come. It instructs micro-decisions and is fueled by a greater hope.
I've heard it said that our hearts know deeper seasons than our memories. In each mile I hike, this resonates deeper and deeper. The visceral memories are cherished, but the impact of heart is why I hike. It'll feel the warmth of New Mexico's Ventana Mesa truer than my memory, and it'll carry the massive posthole that was Colorado longer than my recollection. I like to think my heart acts with motivations of alpenglow on glaciers and wildflowers opening to the sun. It responds having danced in sunsets and bushwhacked through the Jackpine. This idea gives grace to time and lengthens trail beyond a northbound direction. With this mindset, the runout isn't much of a runout at all.
Bonus: Obviously, Some Notes on Gear!
Okay, my people. Let's talk gear. Because of the seemingly infinite resources for backpacking gear, I'm just going to stick to a few categorical highlights–gear that paved the way to a successful, safe thru-hike.
Pack: Kumo (NM, WY, ID, MT) and Silverback (CO, GDT). The Kumo was an important move when wanting to cruise through miles. It pairs well with sunset dance parties and spontaneous urges to trail run. On the other hand, the Silverback is the adventure partner that pushes you further. Adding skis and boots? Not a problem. Snowshoes and crampons? Easy peasy. 10 days of food? No stress. Needing a security blanket on a very lonely stretch? "Little Spoon" is its middle name.
Shoes: Nike Wildhorse V - Covered 6,600 miles and counting!
Clothes: I freaking hit my mojo in comfy, layerable clothes this trip. An Arc'teryx puffy vest, Melanzana Microgrid fleece, and a Patagonia lightweight long sleeve kept me warm, while my OR Helium II attempted to keep me dry. Hikers, please don't rock the Helium on a long trail if the forecast calls for dicey conditions. Stay safe and consider another jacket!
Kitchen:I cold-soaked the entire CDT and the first few sections of the GDT. In the final weeks, I added an MSR pocketrocket and GSR pot to boil water in messy shoulder-season weather.
Other: I carried a freaking NALGENE from Chama, New Mexico to the end of the GDT and loved it so, so much. 100% recommend. Ttyl, Smartwater. I still love you <3.