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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.
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Team 17
Colorado, 37 miles, Stony Pass to Spring Creek Pass

Karst Hogeboom doesn’t have to scrounge for hiking partners. The Rhode Islander hangs with guys who frequently hit the trail with their kids. Case in point: John Parsons, who just completed the AT with Hogeboom’s 20-year-old son Maarten. When the posse heard BACKPACKER’s call, they offered to pit their Appalachian moxie against the San Juans’ much higher, much more jagged peaks. Fellow Rhode Islander Dick Gregory and Colorado’s Mark Gingrich joined Parsons and the Hogebooms. They expected thin air–their route stayed between 10,800 and 13,400 feet–but they were unprepared for the millions of wildflowers. "Everyone said we should’ve been there two weeks earlier," Karst says, "but what we saw was pretty amazing."

Each hiker assumed a different role on the expedition. Gingrich: videographer. Karst: team leader and photographer. Maarten: GPS guy. Parsons and Gregory: note takers. "It was a real team effort," Karst recalls. "We had a blast thinking our efforts were going to help other people."

Team 36
Montana/Wyoming, 64 miles, Targhee Pass to Old Faithful

Some trips test your mettle and flood you with the glow of mild victory. Others call on every survival instinct and scare the crap out of you. Catherine Cox got the latter when her team endured a 42-mile-long waterless death march. Kurt Elvert, Erik Hansen, JC Harlan, Steffan Fay, and Cox had heard that water might be scarce here last July, but they figured the longest stretch between refills would be 11 miles. Unbeknownst to them, severe drought had changed all that.

On the first day, Cox’s team hiked 15 miles before finding water at the South Fork of the Madison River. Each person filled three liters, hoping it would last them to Summit Lake, two days’ walk and 40 miles away. It did–but barely. Rocky, obsidian-colored terrain amplified the 90°F temps. They breathed through their noses to reduce moisture loss. By noon on the third day, the hikers had only 1.5 liters between them. Summit Lake was still eight miles away.

As her thirst intensified, Cox obsessed about finding water–not the CDT. Several times, the team branched off the trail hoping to locate a stream, but their detours only added more mileage. When they finally reached Summit Lake, they were nearly stumbling in a dehydrated stupor.

Cox hiked the last 10 miles in an elated fog. The team had sufffered, but it had mapped a key segment and gained some toughness to call on in future epics. And what started out rough ended with a bang: Just as the team reached Old Faithful, a great geyser of steaming water shot into the air.

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