How do you handle navigation on such a long, complex course?
On a treeless ridgeline, it’s no big deal, but when I’m in the trees or a whiteout, I’ll use map, compass, and GPS together. I haven’t gotten lost, aside from a temporary setback in a snowstorm in the San Juans. I was absolutely sure the GPS was wrong, but of course it wasn’t. The maps have been good, too–I’ve only found one error. In southern Yellowstone, I was climbing over piles of fallen lodgepole from the ’88 fires, trying to follow the Divide despite not touching ground for a quarter of a mile at a time. In one minor spot, the map showed the Divide going the wrong way.
What’s been the toughest part?
In the southern San Juans, I kept encountering this band of rock that’s so rotten that it’s hard to even stand on it. You can’t be roped up because rockfall would just cut your rope, and protection points are impossible. That rock is as close to unclimbable as anything I’ve ever seen. If I pull off the Divide, I won’t claim to have ‘done it,’ because there are 50-yard sections I’ve had to skirt.
What’s been your favorite area?
Strangely, since it’s low-lying, the Great Divide Basin, south of the Wind Rivers. There are gigantic herds of elk, deer, and wild horses, and lots of sage grouse and mountain plover–along with a huge oil and gas boom. It was pretty surreal with these massive oil trucks rolling by all day. The north end of the Basin hasn’t been developed yet and it’s fabulous, but there are survey stakes everywhere.
What keeps you going back to the Divide?
Because the crest itself isn’t on trails, and it isn’t a destination or a famous peak, it’s not a place people flock to. So the solitude is a draw. And freeform wilderness journeys are where I came from. Going out for a stroll on the Divide under a 50-pound pack just seems like a good, normal thing to do.
How long will it take you to finish?
Probably several more years. I have much of Colorado and Wyoming done, and some of New Mexico, and that’s taken 100 days. There’s still Glacier and the Wind Rivers. If it weren’t for the realities of life, I’d be done by now. But I have a job, and I’m married, and I’d like to stay that way.
For Dunmire’s progress reports, log onto therealcontinentaldivide.com.