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Backpacker Magazine – May 2008

The CDT Project

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.

by: Kelly Bastone

See video footage and a photo gallery from BACKPACKER readers and editors out on the CDT.

Team 1
New Mexico, 52 miles, NM 35 to Caledonia Trailhead

Ken Haag knew his CDT assignment would kick his butt. The five-day section through New Mexico's Gila National Forest and Aldo Leopold Wilderness is known for its poor signage, downed trees, and scarce water. And with Truth or Consequences (the nearest town) a four-hour drive from the trailhead, he realized he couldn't count on help should anything go awry. By the time Haag, a pharmaceutical sales rep and former Army captain, joined team members Matt Feeney, Steve Taranowski, and Jason Childre at a remote ranger station, he'd steeled himself for the worst.

The first few miles were gravy. The late May weather was mild, the mountain forest thick and fragrant, and the trail faint but discernible. But beyond 10,015-foot Reed's Peak, the CDT's high point in New Mexico, the hike turned hellish. Haag's team entered a vast burn where jackstrawed piles of downed trees littered the landscape. Scrambling over, under, and around them was "like tackling a military obstacle course," Haag says. Carrying nine liters of water apiece, they staggered under 60-pound loads. At first, they counted each downed tree out loud to pass the time. At 300, Haag kept track in his head. Two days, 25 miles, and 600 uprooted stumps later, they arrived at their vehicle, exhausted and amazed at how trail-less the CDT can be. "These mountains are positively beautiful," says Haag, "but this section is in terrible shape." The few markers they spotted were broken or fallen, and the deadfall in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness was almost impassable. "If they're going to call it a trail," says Haag, "then it needs to be a trail."

Through the ordeal, Haag gained three new friends; the team is planning annual backpacking reunions. Even better, he reports, "I can tell my grandkids I helped map the CDT."

Team 40
Idaho/Montana, 65 miles, Bannack Pass to Bannock Pass

Downed trees weren't a problem for Dwight Worthington, but he gave up trying to count the wildlife he spotted along his team's five-day segment from Idaho's Bannack Pass to Montana's Bannock Pass. "Plus, we had good views, nice campsites, and no one on the trail," says Worthington. His wife, Marita, and friend Darrel Wharton joined the team, along with three llamas, two horses, and two dogs.

Thanks to the pack animals, which each hauled about 60 pounds of food and gear, "we ate pretty good," admits Worthington. They also helped alert the team to the presence of wildlife: Camped near Deadman Lake (at 8,000 feet on day one), they followed the llamas' gaze to a big bull moose. Later, they watched 300 elk grazing along the Montana border, and spied a lone bull frolicking in the snow. Worthington even glimpsed a wolf above Tex Creek.

Dwight and Marita have llama-packed Idaho's backcountry for 23 years, but mapping their favorite wilderness presented fresh challenges. "It was fun not knowing exactly where the trail went and having to search for it," Worthington says. In the end, the rewards far exceeded the effort. The team enjoyed clear skies and big mountain vistas. They skimmed grassy ridgelines and sat atop the Divide. They gazed over a sea of snowcapped peaks and basked in complete solitude. And they paused longer than usual to appreciate a stirring view when the morning sun lit up the granite faces above their third camp. "A long mountain hike is like drinking a good aged wine," says Worthington. "You don't hurry it."

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Reader Rating: -


Jun 20, 2009

Are the GPS waypoints for New Mexico now available?

David Sullivan
Nov 28, 2008

When will the data be available?

Jul 04, 2008

I love backpacker mag. But i seem to never see any articles on the American Discovery Trail.

Jun 28, 2008

Will the project be continued for the teams whose trips were cancelled due to wildfires last summer?

Chris Jaynes
Jun 21, 2008

I was wondering about the southern terminus. When I left Tucson, there was talk about where the trail was to end near Organ Pipe and the Yuma area.

Jun 12, 2008

When will the maps be out for people to use?


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