About the CDT and the Triple Crown

As we move into 2018, our travels and blog will be focused on our attempt to hike the CDT and complete hiking’s Triple Crown.

What is the Triple Crown?

The Triple Crown of Hiking refers to the 3 great long trails in the US: The Appalachian Trail (AT), The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).  Hikers who walk the entirety of all 3 trails are referred to as “Triple Crowners” in the long distance hiking community, and every year ALDHA-West (American Long Distance Hiking Association) presents the award as a plaque to the newest Triple Crowners.  About 300 people have completed the feat thus far, but the number grows a little more each year.  Paul and I have hiked both the AT and PCT together, so if we complete the CDT, we will have achieved the Triple Crown.


What is the CDT?

The CDT stands for Continental Divide Trail, and as the name suggests, the trail traverses along or parallel to the Continental Divide from Mexico to Canada through the Rocky Mountains. The trail begins in the boot heel of New Mexico, traverses through the desert into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, through Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone National Park before skirting the state line of Idaho/Montana to travel through Glacier National park and end at the Canadian border.

The CDT is different to the AT and the PCT in many ways.  While over 3,000 hikers set out to thru-hike each of those trails per year, the CDT sees about 150 hikers attempting a thru-hike, of which around 50 will succeed.  The lack of a large hiker bubble means there is less of a support system in place: fewer trail angels and hiker hostels, longer hitches into towns, fewer people on trail.  While the AT passes through few truly remote areas, and the PCT travels through the remote High Sierra and North Cascades, the CDT travels through much more remote terrain, particularly through the wide open landscapes of Montana and Wyoming.  The CDT is the highest of the three trails, hitting many 13,000 foot peaks in the Colorado Rockies.  Perhaps most importantly, the CDT is not complete yet.  While the route is established and the trail is nearing 80% completion, there are many trail-less sections and jeep road walks.  Being still incomplete there are many variations and alternate routes, so there is no single official route hikers stick to like the AT with it’s well blazed single track.  Finally, the weather window is tighter on the CDT.  You don’t want to leave too early and hit snow in the San Juans, but you don’t want to arrive in Montana too late and get snowed on either.  In short, this trail is the hardest, but it offers the most adventure and the greatest scenery.


When do We Start?

That all depends on a variety of factors, including the weather and direction of travel.  We will be travelling Northbound (NoBo) from Mexico to Canada. Most NoBo hikers begin in April or May, and we will most likely be starting around the first week of May.

How Long Does it Take?

Most hikers take 4-5 months to hike the CDT.  How long the trail takes varies because the mileage varies based on route selection, but the weather window usually closes in Montana by mid-late September, which would give us about 4.5 months.  For most hikers, the total mileage is similar to the PCT (but can be as high as 3100 miles), so if we maintain a similar pace we should finish comfortably.  (We hiked the PCT in 5 months but took nearly a month of zero days, mostly due to our flip-flop).

What New Challenges Will We Face?

The challenges will be similar to our previous thru-hikes, but a little bigger.  There will be cross-country navigation.  We’ve done a little of that in the snowbound Sierra, but this will be different and there will be more of it.  There will be more extreme weather, and certainly more cold weather.  Probably some longer water carries in the desert.  Higher altitudes and all it’s associated risks. The trail is more remote with fewer people.  There are many road walks, which can be demoralizing. We cross Grizzly Bear country.  All of these challenges and risks are mitigated with a little extra preparation.