|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – May 2008
We sent 209 readers out to GPS the Continental Divide Trail, the biggest, baddest long-distance path of them all. They brought back the makings of the first authoritative map of this American classic. These are their stories–and their favorite sections.
Cruise the Desert
Mexico border to Hachita, New Mexico
"This section is one of the last remaining outposts where you can still glimpse the Old West," reports mapper Andrew Matranga, who charted this rugged tour de force through the creosote flats and cholla jungles of New Mexico's boot heel. Here, the desert reveals its Jekyll-and-Hyde dualism. Some moments, it envelops you in a tranquil, gold-streaked sunrise; other times, it lashes you with skin-scouring winds. If you go, cache water, buy a wide-brimmed hat, and wear low gaiters to guard against sand and cactus needles.
The flat terrain means you can log big miles, but scant water means you'll carry hefty loads. From the Crazy Cook Monument, which marks the CDT's official southern terminus, the path crawls northwest across sagebrush flats to the Big Hatchet Mountains. Camp at the mouth of Sheridan Canyon, 17 miles from the border, where a shade tree blocks the sun. On day two, trek across a windblown landscape and paved NM 81 to camp at Granite Pass, overlooking the Little Hatchets. The next day runs through rock gardens with foot-long lizards, then past Broken Jug Pass, Hachita Peak, and an 1880s mining encampment. Cross the Continental Divide–here, it's an indistinct point on the plain–then press on to NM 9 and your hike's end.
Soar Above the Cirque
Big Sandy to Green River Lakes, Wyoming
Hovering above treeline at elevations from 9,100 to 11,118 feet, this well-marked segment through the Wind Rivers doesn't just deliver awesome panoramas. It also makes you a weather forecaster. "You could see thunderstorms coming from miles away," says co-leader Leon Nelson. And from your high point at Hat Knob, you get a unique, eagle's-eye view over the Cirque of the Towers, a line of jagged granite monoliths that most hikers admire from below.
From Big Sandy trailhead, follow the CDT northwest for 11 miles as it gradually gains elevation. Camp on a grassy bluff overlooking the meandering East Fork River; come morning, the rising sun burns off the mountains' chill at this open, east-facing site. Day two starts with a stiff climb to 10,500 feet and undulates across mountain-rimmed tundra where sheep graze. After eight miles, pitch your tent among the evergreens at Raid Lake. On day three, hike 11 miles to August Lake, then cross Hat Pass to peer down over the Cirque's spires before ending your trip at Boulder Lake Campground.
Mosey Through Montana
Trailhead 17 to Trailhead 10, Montana
This little-hiked segment delivers a depth of solitude that belies its 30-minute proximity to Butte. That's because thru-hikers typically eschew these east-west miles through the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness in favor of a north-south detour that gets them to Canada faster. That's good news for anyone not border-bound. For you, there are lakeside campsites, evergreen and larch forests, and a reviving burn area–all uninterrupted by other campers.