The Magic of Hiking the CDT in Colorado During a High Snow Year
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 stay tuned to the Gossamer Gear blog for more updates from the trail like this one!
As many 2019 Continental Divide Trail thru-hikers can attest, the journey through Colorado began far before we reached its border with New Mexico. The San Juans of southern Colorado were all the talk for hundreds of miles–in fact, perhaps for the entirety of New Mexico. Given the high snow year, fear mongering was real. Some northbounders entertained the idea of becoming southbounders, and, really, nobody had reliable beta for the trail ahead.
I was optimistically ready to backcountry ski through the snowy conditions, so I built a setup around this idea and called it Plan A. As thru-hikers know, however, Plan A often becomes Plan B, C, or D–especially in a high snow year.
After I finished New Mexico on skis in a gnarly multi-day snowstorm, I quickly realized my setup wasn't right for the conditions. I contemplated flipping to Wyoming, but was pretty set on a northbound thru-hike of the CDT to the GDT. So, I swapped skis for snowshoes (thanks, Craigslist!), and followed a route through Elwood Pass and Creede before jumping back up to the official CDT for what would be the start of weeks of high-alpine light mountaineering.
Through all of this, my newly-acquired Silverback 55 adapted well to the gear swaps, and quickly became my favorite pack I've ever used. Seriously, gang. Don't let the full-frame scare you away. The Silverback is the crème de la crème of packs for a more aggressive thru-hike. (BONUS: It's hipbelt pockets can hold approximately 747,382,862 goldfish!)
The CDT's high route through the western side of the Collegiate Peaks, boasting fear-inducing passes and ridgelines, have been some of my favorite miles of trail so far. The miles didn't come easy (i.e., post-holing and side-sloping galore), but I understood the challenge as the cost of admission to the surrounding beauty. "Grab your ice axe, snowshoes, and crampons," Colorado said. "Let's have some fun!"
And so went Colorado, one incredibly aggressive day after another, each requiring a new tenacity and deeper desire to be out there. I was solo for the majority of the state, and grew to understand a new form of positivity, one backed by hope and an energy from time spent outside. Peaks and passes were crossed, alternates and audibles were called, but the footsteps were continuously kept, even through the surprises (like that 22-inch dumping of powder on the summer solstice in Rocky Mountain National Park!).
Looking back, I wouldn't change a single thing about this stretch of my journey so far. Getting to experience the Continential Divide early in the season during a high snow year is a privilege I will never forget.