View Full Version : Route preferences

12-09-2012, 10:25
Sorry if this has already been discussed to exhaustion, but I had a look through here back to 2010 and couldn't see much on the topic. I was just wondering what preferences or recommendations people had on common route choices? I'm mainly going to stick to the "official" route, but am open to alternatives if they're more scenic or whatever. If this has already been covered somewhere else, perhaps somebody could kindly point me in that direction?

12-09-2012, 10:33
Hi, NeanderJoel. Are you talking about for a section hike? Or a thru-hike?

12-09-2012, 12:57
There are sort of "major" and "minor" route choices. Major route choices are things like which start and end point, Anaconda or Butte, San Juan or Creede, maybe a couple of other relatively major choices. Then there are a host of minor choices along the way that you'll be confronted with if you use the Ley maps.

Get Yogi's guide; she talks quite a bit about route alternatives, and there's no reason for someone to try to reproduce all of that here. You'll find advocates for any route, and in some cases you'll adjust and change your mind based on weather, your schedule, heck even current physical issues, whatever.

You can get the Ley maps for free and just look at them on-screen without having to print --- lots of purple vs. red alternatives, often documented on the map with at least some clue as to why you might want a purple (alternate) route. Often not, too --- it's very much of a "make your own adventure" experience.

Spirit Walker
12-09-2012, 13:24
Jim Wolf's guides will also give you alternatives and the reasons for the alternatives. His routes tend to be the most hiker friendly - more water, more scenic, fewer PUDS. The official route is often very very dry. The official routes were chosen to stay on public land as much as possible, but they don't seem to care whether water is available.

12-09-2012, 14:08
+1 to Gadget's "Make your own adventure" comment. While you can get Ley's maps for free, you really should make a Paypal contribution in view of all the work Jonathan does putting them together and to cover the cost of CDs and postage to send it to you in Australia.

As to the major alternatives, probably the most important is the choice of northbound vs. southbound followed by the choice of a start date. These will be dictated by your personal schedule and the snowpack in northern Montana and southern Colorado next spring. I found it useful to plot snow depths on a spread sheet from the info posted on www.postholer.com (registration required to access snow depth info) starting in March so you can track snow melt. Usual start dates for nobo are around the end of April and for sobo around mid-June. There's already a significant amount of snow in the north, and it appears that the south is still quite dry---important since spring is usually dry in the south and water sources are a concern as on the PCT.

I chose to go northbound starting a few days after the PCT kickoff, since I was able to arrange transport to the CDT southern trailheads with friends who I met at the kickoff. The northbound choice keeps the sun at your back rather than in your eyes. It also lets you finish is the glory that is Glacier National Park. I also wouldn't want to miss the San Juans (vs. Creede).

Spirit Walker
12-09-2012, 14:10
It really is a good idea for the CDT to have some idea of alternate routes because quite frequently you end up changing your plan along the way. Fires, snow, water shortages, or wind may force you to go where you had not planned to go originally. In 1999, twice we did reroutes because the wind literally blew us off our feet on the high scenic route. In 2006 we ended up doing an unintended alternate because a usually reliable and essential water source was dry, and fortunately we had J. Ley's map with alternatives. In another case getting to the PO before a holiday weekend forced a route change. Numerous fires caused others. Good maps and the ability to navigate on the fly are definitely an asset there.

12-09-2012, 17:08
Part of the appeal for many CDT hikers is having alternates. You get to customize your own route to some extent. There are so many possible and WORTHY alternates plus new ones being created all the time. I warn you, no one source I'm about to mention has every possible alternate route so get that idea out of your mind! The CDT IS NOT a paint(hike) by the numbers(blazes) trail; there is no trail, are NO blazes, signs, etc in some(MANY) sections! That scares the b-Jesus out of some hikers and it's what attracts other hikers to the CDT. I like that Mag's, Spirt Walker's, Wolf's, Yogi's and Ley's CDT info all provide some reasons why they each took the route that they did or why a CDTer might opt for one route over another. You got to take it from there and run (or hike) with it. It's also one of the reasons why you need OODLES of maps for the CDT.

For example, I'm a thru-hiker who likes higher elev. ridge walks, bushwacking, and seeing nearby scenery that I think is more interesting tham the "official" route. I'm almost always doing alternates because of those reasons which OFTEN entails LONGER miles and LONGER time frames and a generally HARDER thru-hike. Sometimes, I'll do the "official" route as well as an alternate route just so that I don't miss anything. Other hikers are in a gotta ger er done mindset. That's why one CDT thru-hiker who hiked the entire CDT did it in 2500 - 2600 or so miles and another CDT thru-hiker may have hiked 3100 + miles! Each hiker has their own preferences based on different goals and needs and consequently their CDT routes are not exactly the same.

My three main sources for CDT alternate routes were Jim Wolf's guidebooks(he often gives reasons why he thinks one route is better than another), Jonathan Ley's CDT mapset(which has some notes printed on the maps opining why one might opt for one route over another), AND YES IF YOU DO ASK LEY TO SEND YOU HIS FREE UPDATED MAPSET MAKE SURE YOU PROVIDE A DONATION TO HIM FOR ALL HIS CONTINUING HARD WORK!, and Mag's CDT info(he likes doing ridgewalks like me). My last source for describing the worthiness or reasons for specific alternates was contacting other CDTers who had taken certain routes through CDT forums.

12-09-2012, 17:31
If you find yourself taking shortcuts for the sake of taking shortcuts, it might be a good time to stop hiking the CDT. I think there are many good reasons to hike alternate routes, like staying off high routes in storms, or staying away from the valleys if you love the high routes and can carry enough water, etc. For example, I remember loving the Wolf route through NM, but in Northern Colorado I couldn't understand why he picked the low valleys in favor of the high ridges (like Spirit Walker says, he often takes the friendlier route), so I took the higher routes because I wanted to. That, again, is the beauty of the CDT.

12-09-2012, 18:16
Thanks guys, I'm going South in mid June next year. I'll check out Yogi's and Wolf's guides too, I was just looking for personal preferences like about the Winds and stuff like that. And don't worry, I donated to Ley for his maps! When the official route is really dry does it say so in the guides? I don't wanna get stuck without water!

12-09-2012, 18:35
If you find yourself taking shortcuts for the sake of taking shortcuts, it might be a good time to stop hiking the CDT. - Garlic08

+1 Ditto. I noticed that ocurring in 2010. To hike that way and still say you did your BEST to complete a trail/rouete is BS!

12-09-2012, 19:58
I remember the Wolf guides and Ley maps being pretty good about noting water sources and their reliability. But they don't warn you about dry stretches--you need to plan ahead always. And it's always good practice out there to plan on it being dry and carry enough to survive getting to the next one or bailing out somewhere.