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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.

What’s the first thing you do when planning a backcountry trip? Consult a map. You check distances, scan for campsites, mark the best water sources, calculate elevation gain.

Not so with the Continental Divide Trail. Until now, you would have searched in vain for a land manager-approved guide to this transcontinental gem. Why? For one thing, mapping 3,000-plus rugged miles is a mammoth project. For another, the CDT, unlike the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, is only 67 percent complete. That’s left huge segments where hikers have had to design their own course. And even the "finished" parts have been ambiguous: Many sections are poorly marked, and three different locations along the Mexico border vie for the title of southern terminus.

To rectify the situation, we asked BACKPACKER readers to help us collect GPS tracks, photos, and notes for sections of the route. Nearly 3,000 responded, every one of them eager to explore little-trod territory and create something of lasting value. Entries came from geologists, 30-year trail veterans, wilderness guides–an incredible pool from which we handpicked the folks on the following pages. The first team hit New Mexico last April; all told, we provided 50 teams with GPS units, training, and up to 65 miles of trail to map.

Their adventures produced the most accurate data to date on the CDT. But it didn’t come easily: Some teams got lost, others suffered dehydration, and a few cursed us as they navigated tough terrain and bandaged blisters. But most created lifelong friendships, a few found salvation, and almost all came back with incredible tales.

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