View Full Version : Scary stuff on the CDT?

02-23-2011, 16:08
I saw Wildflower and (forget name)'s CDT video this weekend. I was surprised not to see anything scary.

- I saw no raging rivers to ford
- I saw no Mather Pass-like snow cornices to have to climb over
- I saw no scary snowfields
- Never saw or heard anybody talk about ice axes or crampons

Other than lightening storms and the possibility of grizzly bears, is there anything scary on the CDT?

02-23-2011, 16:20
Perhaps people with video cameras stop recording when they encounter scary stuff .. so they can use both hands to climb - ford - scale - descend?
http://www.cdtrail.org/page.php?pname=risks - might be a better source than videos.

02-23-2011, 16:42
They did not even talk about these things. And I haven't heard anyone talk about them. Sitting around with PCT hikers we often ask each other, What was Mather Pass like when you went through? What was Fuller Ridge like? How about the creeks on the JMT? I've never heard anybody mention any specific places like that on the CDT.

WY Fan
02-23-2011, 17:04
I've done tons of hiking/camping in the Bridger and Fitzpatrick wilderness in wyoming (though mostly with pack mules) and weather (snow) is certainly the scariest. I would think hauling food and water across the red desert would be my biggest concern.

Spirit Walker
02-23-2011, 17:22
On our southbound hike we ran into two rivers we could not cross in the Bob. We ended up doing detours to get around the streams, one of which may have been worse than the original crossing. Places where high water in rivers can be a problem are the Bob Marshall during snowmelt, Glacier if they haven't put the bridges up, and the Gila in a high snow year. (You cross the river about 200 times, but the only notoriously bad area is the confluence of Sapillo Creek and the Gila.) Section hikers can have problems in Wyoming on some routes as well, if they are there during snowmelt. Every year is different though, and a couple of weeks can make a big difference in the amount of water you have to deal with - like the PCT. If you read Jim Wolf's CDTS newsletter, you get a pretty good idea of what some hikers have run into.

Snow will generally be present in early June in Montana and Colorado. Ice axes are a necessity for at least a couple of weeks. There is a section in southern Colorado called the knife edge with a lot of ice chutes. There is a good trail detour around it, but many hikers don't know about it. The detour requires a dozen or more creek crossings - which can also be a problem. The biggest issue with snow is navigation. It's really easy to get lost on an unmarked trail in deep snow.

Getting lost in the snow or in a burn can be scary, it certainly is time consuming. Walking through an active fire zone can be scary too. We ran into five fires on our second thruhike, two of which we walked through.

I think one reason you don't hear about the "scary" parts is that most CDT hikers have a bit more experience than a lot of AT and PCT hikers, so they are more likely to take things in stride. (Though I've read some journals that make the trail seem much more difficult than it really is. There are a lot of drama queens out there.) If they've done any research at all, they should know the hazards.

Also, because there is a much looser attitude toward what constitutes the CDT, many hikers avoid the worst areas (i.e. the San Juans in high snow) by walking around them on lower routes. Flip-flops are common - more so than on the PCT. Because all of Colorado is about 9000', in a high snow year a lot of hikers are going to jump north to avoid it. The San Juans have a long way between resupplies, so if the snow in the first section north of the border is bad, as is frequently the case, many hikers will either jump to Wyoming or road walk around that section. In 2006 several hikers holed up in town for a couple of weeks waiting for the snow to melt.

Spirit Walker
02-23-2011, 17:24
Sorry - Colorado is above 9000', not about. Parts go up to 13000' - or 14000 on alternate routes and the official trail by Grays and Torrey.

02-23-2011, 17:37
Other than lightening storms and the possibility of grizzly bears, is there anything scary on the CDT?

Those aren't enough? I guess you never hiked in Griz country or on the Divide during a lightening storm. :rolleyes:

02-23-2011, 18:13
Seeing Stumpknocker hiking towards me would scare me into going home.

02-23-2011, 18:23
Go find Cookie and Paul's CDT hike video - there's a thread about it here on WB with the link to the video - most likely in the CDT forum. They show some scary stuff here and there. - and it's a great video with a fantastic sound track. Makes you want to and not want to do the CDT.

02-23-2011, 18:27
I think one reason you don't hear about the "scary" parts is that most CDT hikers have a bit more experience than a lot of AT and PCT hikers, so they are more likely to take things in stride. (Though I've read some journals that make the trail seem much more difficult than it really is. There are a lot of drama queens out there.) If they've done any research at all, they should know the hazards.

This. Something ain't too scary if you are used to it. Having done a lot of off trail hiking and winter travel, it was a challenge..but not scary.

Many of my weekend hikes are often more difficult (technically) then some of things seen on the CDT.

I did take a lower rotue in the San Juans to avoid snow. I figure if I wish I had my skis for the white powder...then I should not be hiking it. ;-)

A better question..is there anything really scary on the P C T ? :D When I did the PCT it was a normal snow year..and (again, having winter travel experience) nothing was absolutely scary...


02-23-2011, 20:19
I saw Wildflower and (forget name)'s CDT video this weekend. I was surprised not to see anything scary.

- I saw no raging rivers to ford
- I saw no Mather Pass-like snow cornices to have to climb over
- I saw no scary snowfields
- Never saw or heard anybody talk about ice axes or crampons

Other than lightening storms and the possibility of grizzly bears, is there anything scary on the CDT?

Well, last spring/summer on my nobo "chunk" from Crazy Cook to Steamboat Springs there were:

Raging rivers to ford,----notably the Lower Gila which was running crotch deep on a long-legged 6 footer and swift. That was scary. I did loosen my hip belt (never use the chest belt) and I kept my boots (heavy duty LaSportiva Makalu's) on for added stability on the 35 or so crossings of the Lower Gila. Crossed as per recommendations facing upstream with poles in front moving only one of the poles or one of my feet at a time. The fast current caused the trekking poles to vibrate! I went swimming twice and lost a trekking pole. The stout stick I replaced the lost pole with worked better. The pictures don't do it justice but it was there. OK it was a high snow year in N NM and May is still high snowmelt time. Plus I was solo (as are most CDT thru hikers, I think) until I met Voyageur at Doc Campbells. The Middle/Upper Gila were much more subdued. Compared to this, the fords in the Sierras were relatively mild in June of 08.

Cornices. Yep, I remember 3 cornices in particular. One was about 5 feet high and close to vertical as sidehill trail reached the top of a ridge in the San Juan wilderness. I kicked the existing steps in deeper as I climbed up over the face of the cornice. Below me the trail was a steep snow chute. That sure got the adrenalin going. Another was at Jones Pass and I reached it in a lightening storm. It was about 8 feet high and somewhat less vertical than the former and I needed to go down it to get to the road which was the alternate trail to keep me out of the lightening. Below the cornice was about 20 feet of snowfield then gravelly soil at about a 45 degree angle. There were what looked like good steps kicked into soft snow, so I foolishly tried to plunge step down it. Whoops, did an unscheduled glissade and wound up with my head downhill about 10 feet onto the gravel. Much adrenalin again and a lesson learned: go backwards down a cornice belaying with your ice axe. Got a little road rash on that one and scuffed some of the rubber off the handle of my pole. The last was about 8 feet high, nearly vertical and on the trail a few miles before Monarch Pass. I kicked steps in and climbed up then warned about 20 different mountain bikers about it as they approached me from the pass.

Snowfields galore in the San Juans. Of course it was a high snow year so much of the trail was almost completely covered with snow. From time to time it would emerge from the snow. Finding those sections barren of snow (so you knew you were on the trail) slows one down a lot. One day I made only 11 miles in 12 hours of "hiking". It wasn't because I was postholing, though there were places I needed to kick in steps. I felt bad about the low milage until 20-something Ahab caught up to me and told me about his 1 mph pace through that same section. Fortunately, I'd had some trail beta via a call to Sarong who was about a week ahead with TheThirties and I'd taken an extra day's food.

Ice axe and crampons (well I used Katoohla Microspikes) were used a couple of times especially in early morning on sloped snow fields. Probably should have used them more. But, then it was a high snow year.

I wouldn't have changed anything about my hike in those sections except to get out my ice axe for the cornices and a couple traverses on snow above steep snow fields.

I agree with others, that having had a familiarity with these hazards from the PCT and other winter camping, they didn't seem that noteworthy. Also, I toned down the risks and descriptions in my journal because I didn't want to cause family members to worry knowing they read the journal. (They worried anyhow.)

02-23-2011, 20:47
I met Wildflower and Scarlet in Glacier and we leap-frogged a bit on the way south in '07. It was Scarlet's first thru hike, but Wildflower is extremely experienced and level-headed. I bet not much scares her and she takes a lot in stride. I think she also had the attitude of concentrating on the fun stuff. Some of that may have been to put her friend Scarlet at ease, too.

I also met Sly shortly after that, same area.

That was a very warm and dry year up north. We had no snow issues at all in Glacier. A larger problem that year was wildland fires closing the Bob Marshall Wilderness right behind us and Togwotee Pass right ahead of us.

I agree with the idea that after a PCT hike, you take what the CDT offers in stride. It's not much more risky anywhere, just different--more wild, less resupply, less water, more navigation--but just incrementally so. The PCT is sort of like getting your degree and the CDT is like going to work in that field.

02-23-2011, 21:01
I guess we all have the things that scare us. Some of the things people worry about regarding the CDT don't bother me at all. I just don't do well with deep, swift creeks and have very little snow experience even with the PCT. I did the snowy parts in '08 which was not a big snow year.

I don't know what it is about water. Yesterday I was crossing a river just above my knees, walking along the submerged concrete road. I was hyperventillating. I do not like water. I think all the fear I squelched down deep during the PCT is still in there somewhere. PTSD or something.

02-23-2011, 21:22
Interesting that you are looking for scary stuff in hiking videos.
When we made our triple crown video in 2002, we agreed we would do out best to put no whining in it.
Not normally a whiner anyway, I don't complain when it's raining, the climbs are steep, the snow too deep.
I happen to like that stuff.
Possibly when hikers get to the level to tackle the CDT, they are past that stage.

I have a hard time watching videos where they seem to be trying to show how hard it can be.

02-23-2011, 22:17
The scariest thing on the CDT for me occured on Goldstone pass. It's a sort of u shaped bridge of rock (or so it appeared to me) and i foolishly decided to race a thunderstorm to get across.
Sure enough right when i was mid-span I felt the big gust of cold wind that usually comes right before the hail.
Thats when the lightning began to strike all around me.
It was deafening so i put my foam earplugs in and hunkered down on my ridgerest to wait it out.
At one point I closed my eyes but still saw an electric blue arc though my eyelids and an instanteneous thunderclap I could feel in my chest. I could smell the burning rock and i knew that I was very close to being hit.
It happened over and over for 45 minutes.
There was no where to run for safety as the way forward and back were uphill from where i was on exposed rock so i just sat there.
It scared the shi# out of me but after a while I just started singing my head off. I even cursed the sky a couple of times, I highly recommend that. I would shout: "Don't you have somewhere else to go! Can't you go zap a cow or something?!"
Finally I was just hunkered down there figuring if i get hit.. I get hit.
The lightning scared me the most on the CDT. It was not always avoidable either ,although that incident on Goldstone was.
The thought of Grizzlies, the mosquitos, the danger of sliding down and ice chute in the San Juans, the water crossings.. none of those things scared me as much as the lightning.
But I have to admit I feel kind of proud of myself for not pooping my pants.
Drama queen? You Bet!(We can't all be stoic, detatched, elitists now can we?)
The PCT prepared me for everything else about the CDT except the lightning in New mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Raintana(Montana).
I'm still afraid of lightning but at least now I have some kind of reference to console myself with like: "still not as bad as that time on goldstone."

02-24-2011, 00:02
The worse lightning I ever saw was not on any backpacking trip..it was on trail work.

Less than a mile away, we could see lightning hitting a ridge. While we were surrounded by piles of metal tools. Nine years of Catholic schooling came back to me that day.. ;) (Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you..)

I honestly don't think I was ever scared on the CDT (frustrated, elated, happy, funky, tired...but never scared)..

I've been more concerned driving trailheads to winter (2wd drive pickup! yo!), was once scared getting when woken up by a bunny rabbit the first time I slept under the stars in Vermont (I'm a manly man!), and rappelling for the first time off a cliff this past summer (100k yrs of evolution was useless and my my primate brain deep down inside was yelling: DON'T FALL OF THIS PERFECTLY GOOD ROCK!!! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING! GET BACK! WHAT THE HELL! OH SH**! )


02-24-2011, 00:49
...and hunkered down on my ridgerest to wait it out..."

That's probably the best thing you could do in that situation (other than not get into it). I've tried to outrun lightning and have had to do that several times. When I can, I get to a flatter area and pitch my tarp, too, and have a bite to eat.

I agree with the lightning in the Rockies being pretty scary. I never felt that threatened by lightning in the Sierra or Cascades--all the stuff I experienced seemed to be cloud-to-cloud strikes or maybe just lucky enough to be far away.

I had a pretty close call with lighting on the AT in NY. It didn't seem scary because I was under heavy tree canopy, but it was frequent and close. Smelled the smoke, too, then came across this:

Spirit Walker
02-24-2011, 01:21
We were lucky on our CDT hikes - the worst lightning storms, the ones with the closest hits, all seemed to happen at night. We had one storm on each hike where there was lightning all around while we were hiking, but not on the ridge we were crossing at the time. Never had bad lightning that struck close to us while we were on the trail. A couple of the night storms otoh were terrifying.

Me, I'm terrified of falling, and on all the trails there are numerous opportunities to confront that fear. Snow, ice, scree, crossing rivers on logs, rock climbing - they all get my heart racing. It doesn't get any easier. But I'd rather be afraid than not do what I love.

02-24-2011, 15:05
> But I'd rather be afraid than not do what I love.

Me, too.

I just thought it was strange that I didn't even see any snow or creeks in the movie except that Gila creek at the end. I started to wonder if maybe the trail stays so high there just aren't any really big ones, or maybe there are bridges. And possibly doing it sobo eliminates slogging through tons of snow. I don't really know. Just asking.

The first time I went to Half Dome there's this big sign at the base of the final climb warning to get the heck out of there if there's lightning anywhere on the horizon. We're all standing there with all our hairs sticking straight up. Thunder booming. The dumb guys I was with decide to climb. I started to climb but freaked out and had to come down (freaked out from the height.) Fortunately nothing happened.

Once I stayed at a cabin in the Catskills on the screen porch. I was awakened by rain on my face. Lots of wind and lightning. In the morning we learned the nearest town was destroyed by tornadoes. I thought it was all really exciting.

We get very little weather where I live. Average daily high temp is 70. But the range is so narrow that it's actually pretty much 70 every day. I like weather and clouds because they're a novelty to me.

02-24-2011, 15:39
The scary stuff on the CDT really depends on when you go and whether you're NOBO or SOBO. I started SOBO two weeks behind the herd, and after 5 days on trail, had to take two weeks off for a funeral. By the time I was back on trail, I was a month behind--but it made for easy fording.

I hate fords pretty much more than anything and the grizz and fords were my biggest concerns about the CDT. But it turned out, that there weren't any gnarly fords or even remotely scary fords. My stomach still tightens when I think of some PCT fords, but I can't even really remember any of the CDT fords. The worst ones were in the Gila, and that was because it was COLD not because it was swift or deep.

Even though every SOBO tries to get through the San Juans before the snow, we "didn't make it," and got dumped on in the San Juans. To emphasize what everyone else is saying, even with all the snow (it was still soft, so very slow moving, but not cornice-y so not scary), the scariest part of the San Juans was the lightening. On that unnamed pass by La Rincon La Vaca, the CDT curls around this big treed cirque/valley. When we first saw lightening we had to hop of the CDT and run down steep goat trails into the cirque. There wasn't any lower spot we could get to without going up, so we set up camp and got to watch-hear lightening for most of the night hit right where the CDT is. When there's nothing else I could have done, going to sleep is the best thing I could do.

02-24-2011, 16:00
Go find Cookie and Paul's CDT hike video -

02-24-2011, 19:05
Hmm. I don't know if I should watch any more videos. I had a dream last night I was hiking the CDT. Oh man. I thought I was getting "back to normal". I guess I'm seriously sick. I have to hike the PCT one more time before any of this CDT nonsense, too.