View Full Version : Lots of CDT Thru-hike Questions

11-24-2009, 22:32
Hello all,

This is exactly what the title implies: a lot of CDT thru-hike questions. I'm in the preliminary stages of planning, favoring Northbound.
If you have personal experience with any of these, I'd be grateful for your help.

1. The South San Juans. I've read that no one goes through on the ridges until mid-June or later, due to snow. That makes sense. How much snow is there, though? What is "impassable"? When mid-June is given as a target time to hit the Juans, is that when it becomes possible to go through? Or just when it becomes comfortable? Are snowshoes or other equipment an option to push that mid-June date earlier?

2. Relating to the first set of questions: How long does it typically take to reach Canada once entering the Juans? If a typical NOBO were to enter the Juans on June 15, about when would that NOBO reach Canada, assuming no major alternate routes or setbacks and a 'normal' pace?

3. What shelters predominate among CDT thru-hikers? I've read of tarp-tents making it through, what about just tarps?

Spirit Walker
11-25-2009, 01:03
The snow issue is different every year. In 2006, we left Chama on June 4 and left Pagosa Springs on June 10. It was a low snow year in the San Juans, but even so we had to do two detours (from Blue Lake to Elwood Pass and again around the Knife Edge on Trout Creek). Other than that, we only had a few sections where snow was really a problem. Most of the northbound hikers were ahead of us. Most did various roadwalks to avoid the worst of the snow, but two who were at least 10 days ahead made it through. The ones who hiked the whole loop were mostly carrying ice axes. We weren't, which is why we did the detour. Biggest issue is navigation in the snow, but also the fact that it is a long way between resupply points, made much longer if you are going slowly because of the snow. Also, since we were later, we had much better conditions through most of Colorado. Where they were dealing with snow and snowmelt, we had wildflowers.

In 2006, most of the northbound hikers finished around September 20-25th. We flipped from Butte to E. Glacier and ended up finishing our hike October 14th. Our intent was to do a six month hike. Most thruhikers aim for 5 months or so. In the past hikers have finished northbound in November, but that gets really chancy. We had snow in Glacier and Helena, but also had some beautiful autumn weather in that stretch. If you are likely to finish after mid-September, have your winter gear sent to you around September 15th. On our first thruhike, our winter bags arrived two days after our first snowfall. Since Glacier mostly closes down at the end of September (no stores, lodges, transportation, etc.), and the border station closes September 30th or so, you need to plan for that if you are intending a longer hike.

Given that tarp tents weigh about the same as tarps, why not get the extra protection? The CDT can be quite cold (thanks in part to the altitude) and, when they are active, bugs can be an issue (biting flies as well as mosquitoes).

11-25-2009, 13:16
The two CDT yo-yoers in '07 (The Onion and Francis) made it through the San Juans in May. Both have incredible stories of perseverance and difficulties (I met them both as I was SOBO), but it can be done.

Ditto everything Spirit Walker says.

11-26-2009, 21:55
I'm planning a 2010 CDT nobo as well.

1. San Juans: There is an alternative to a straight northbound hike that Wilderness Bob did this year. From Chama he flipped north and hiked sobo through the great divide basin and CO back down to Chama then flipped back up to WY and completed his hike northbound. He's filling in his journal now that he's home on trailjournals.com. Two nobos with journals followed the high route through the San Juans this year: San Gabriel (trailjournals.com) and Out of Order (postholer.com). The other nobos with journals took a lower route through the San Juans. I believe San Gabe and OOO had ice axes and traction devices (Kathoola microspikes). Most of these hikers started out from Mex the last week of April.

For another take on the snow situation you can checkout Cookie and Paul's two hour video (see other thread the CDT forum) and compare it to the dates in their journal. Of course, the snow in '10 will probably differ from the snow in '08, but it will give you an idea of what they faced when they went through the San Juans.

I plan to start after the ADZPCTKO around April 28 from either CrazyCook or Columbus so I'll probably get to Chama by early June. Depending on the snow situation, I might follow Wilderness Bob's approach and flip north to hike sobo back to Chama. I don't want to miss the high route through the San Juans as it's said to be a highlight of the trail.

2. How long? Judging from the journals from this year's hikers, 5 to 6 months is the normal time frame.

3. Tarptent vs. Tarp. I'm leaning to taking a SixMoon Designs Wild Oasis which is a floorless tarptent. With a tyvek groundsheet and pegs, it weighs about 20 oz., about 24 oz less than the tarptent rainbow w tyvek I carried on the PCT. The tradeoff is the Rainbow is palatial, while the WildOasis is cozy. Maybe Mags will weigh in on this subject. Some say the Wild Oasis is a bad choice for taller hikers, but for me at 6 ft, it's plenty roomy--I can even fit my pack inside.. I plan to try it out in some fall/winter rains here in Ohio to see how I like it. Unlike the PCT where rain was rare, I'm expecting a reasonable amount of rain on my CDT hike. I'll be happy if I don't get as much rain as the 09 nobos did.

11-26-2009, 22:34
Watch out for the mountain bikers!

11-27-2009, 01:16
Watch out for the mountain bikers!

Never had a problem with them...in fact I do trail work with them and have enjoyed the experience.

WILD OASIS: use it, love it, works well for me. Used the gatewood cape (essentially the same thing) on the CDT..bad snowstorms and all.

Finally, my own contribution to the CDT info:

Lucy Lulu
12-01-2009, 19:27
I hit the Southern San Juans around 6/2. There were a lot of other NOBO's that arrived around the same time. About half the ones I knew road walked out of Chama due to snow, and there were those of us that gave the mountains a go. I made it in about 3 days, and then ended up back tracking a few miles, to bushwack and follow elk trails down the Navajo (a whole experience in itself). For me, that was some tough snow hiking, and cut my daily mileage almost in half. There were definitely several that made it all the way through though (Gabe, OOO, etc).

I used the Wild Oasis by Six Moon Designs the entire trip. I used a slightly heavier ground cloth, and the whole set-up held up against snow storms, rain storms, some pretty fierce WY winds, and some nasty Wind River mosquitoes. I would definitely use it again. It is a great little tarp, and sitting on the shelf waiting for the next trip, that is oh so far away (sigh).

Lucy Lulu
12-01-2009, 19:31
Oh yeah....

I am 5'11, and had plenty of room in the Wild Oasis, for me and my gear. The only irritating thing was that the tarp would always touch the toe of my sleeping bag, making it damp from condensation, no matter how high I set it. That was a small price to pay for the weight reduction, and it's ability to handle some crazy weather.

I also used tiny plastic camlocks from Backpackinglight, which made it even quicker to adjust. The locks held up the whole trip, which suprised me.

12-01-2009, 22:18
I'm looking further into Wilderness Bob's(Handlebar's) #1 suggestion about having, as a back up plan, flipping up north to go SOBO through the Great Basin and Colorado back to where I left off in Chama, IF snow hiking just gets TOO crazy going NOBO. Tenatively, planning a LATE Apr start date at Columbus. For those who have thrued the CDT anyone see any problems with that, again, as a back up plan on a NOBO CDT thru-hike?

12-01-2009, 22:29
[quote=Dogwood;927429]I'm looking further into Wilderness Bob's(Handlebar's) #1 suggestion about having, as a back up plan, flipping up north to go SOBO through the Great Basin and Colorado back to where I left off in Chama, /quote]

My buddy Sidewinder did a similar strategy. Started NoBo, slogged through the San Juans to Berthoud Pass (he lives in Denver) and then flipped up to GNP and hiked south to finish at Berthoud.


12-01-2009, 22:32
Thanks PMags!
Any others?

01-21-2010, 20:48
Are snowshoes something that are needed? I hate postholing. Thanks.

01-21-2010, 21:44
The South San Juans are one of the most beautiful hikes in the lower 48 IMO.

However, it is tough to do a NOBO thru-hike and hike them in mid-June.
I tried it and bailed after 2 days.

We then flipped from Atlantic City WY and did them in the summer.
We figured we went about twice as fast in the south San Juan's as when we tried thru the snow in June.

The other option of course is a SOBO hike but then you can't really start until late June or early July and will have snow up north.

If I did it again, I'd go NOBO, take snowshoes, and plan extra food, especially the first section from Chama to Wolf Creek pass.
Once you get to Pagosa, you will know what you need to get to your next resupply. (add a day anyway)

Whatever you decide, have fun.

Spirit Walker
01-22-2010, 00:11
Late April is fine for a nobo hike. It usually takes about 6 weeks to hike the 700 miles of NM - so you'd hit the San Juans in early to mid-June.

If you are really concerned about the snow - pay attention to snow levels. Some years Colorado is high but Montana is low. Some years it's vice versa. Some years both have a lot of snow. When we did our first thruhike, we started in Butte on Memorial Day and hiked north for a month. We had intermittent snow, but the trail was passable. Snowmelt was an issue, but we got through. When we finished Glacier NP (actually, we were kicked out of the park due to bear activity) we took train and bus back to Butte and hiked south. It was a high snow year, but it was doable.

On our second hike, we were able to hike north through Colorado since it was a low snow year, but we ended up flipping for the last 300 or so miles (Butte to Glacier).

When we hike again, we may combine the two - start in NM at the end of April, hike north to Chama or Pagosa Springs, then flip north to Glacier in mid-June and hike south. I enjoyed both my northbound and southbound hikes - that would combine the best of both.