Selecting a Start Date and Getting to the Trail
Sunday, March 1, 2020 9:05 pm

Having a start date makes a hike much more real: it sets an actual deadline. It’s also much easier to plan for a hike when you know when it’s going to start.

Planning the Continental Divide Trail

Timing Constraints Recap

To recap from my previous post on picking a direction of travel, the largest impact on timing is snow, which for northbound hiking presents as two constraints: a restriction on how early to enter the San Juans in southern Colorado, and a restriction on how late one can be hiking in northern Montana.

In selecting which alternates in New Mexico to take, I nailed down the New Mexico section of the trail to roughly 704 miles. That gives me enough information to select a start date.

Estimating Speed

The trail in New Mexico has roughly a 220 ft/mile elevation change, which would make it some of the flattest trail I’ve ever hiked. Thus, hot dry desert aside, in theory, this should be relatively easy hiking.

For comparison, the roughly 450 miles of trail in Oregon on the Pacific Crest Trail have about 290 ft/mile of elevation change. I hiked the 430 mile stretch from Ashland to Cascade Locks in 20 days, averaging 21.5 miles/day. Granted, this was four months into my hike, so I already had trail legs at that point, but starting out a hike at 20+ miles/day and not taking a break of any kind for three weeks is a good way to get injured. (I suspect that the back injury I sustained on the Benton MacKaye Trail last year was partially due to a somewhat aggressive plan to start the hike and not take a zero until after two weeks.)

So, I’m going to start off with a more modest goal of 17 miles/day. This is, by far, a fast start for me. But, I think this aggressive starting pace is doable thanks to the flatter terrain. This would give 42 days of hiking in New Mexico. If I add in six days of zeros, one per week, that would bring New Mexico to 48 days, just under 7 weeks. Alternatively, I could do it in 42 days if I hike 19 miles per day, six days a week.

Targeting June 1st for reaching Colorado, six weeks back from June 1st is April 20, so I decided that would be a goal for my start date.

Getting to the Terminus

With a start date in mind, the next step was figuring out how to get to the southern terminus, which is in a pretty remote corner of New Mexico, over very rugged dirt roads. Fortunately, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition offers a shuttle service from Lordsburg to the terminus. So that solved part of that problem.

There are several ways to get to Lordsburg, but as with my Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Benton MacKaye Trail hikes, I’m getting to the trail by friend.

A friend of mine, Ryan, lives in Albuquerque. A few months ago, he offered to drive me (the four hours!) from Albuquerque to Lordsburg. So a couple of weeks ago, I coordinated with him on a start date that worked with his availability and the availability of the CDTC terminus shuttle.

I’ll be starting the CDT on Saturday, April 25.

I’ll also be spending a few days in Albuquerque with Ryan and his family, which will give me some time to acclimatize to the high elevation desert I’ll be hiking in. Albuquerque’s elevation of 5,300 ft rivals Denver for the title of “mile-high city”, and is about a thousand feet higher than the southern terminus, so if I can get at least a little hiking in around Albuquerque while I’m there, I should be good to start the CDT.

Thanks Ryan & family for your support, and I’m looking forward to seeing you all soon!

Odds & Ends

After confirming my start date, I arranged for a spot on the terminus shuttle for the 25th, and got a hotel room in Lordsburg for the evening before. (Since the shuttle to the terminus leaves Lordsburg at 6:30 am, anything else would have been impractical.)

Next: New Challenges on the CDT