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Ridge Runner

Undeterred by injuries that would cripple most men, a Colorado hiker nears the halfway point in a pioneering attempt to thru-hike the true crest of the Continental Divide. In this extended online interview, Dunmire talks about his gear essentials, near misses, and the challenges that lay ahead as he continues to trace North America's spine.
dunmire_continental_divideDunmire on the Lizard Head Trail, Colorado. Photo by Scott DW Smith.

What’s been the toughest part?

In the southern San Juans, I kept encountering this band of rock that’s so rotten it’s hard to even stand on it. You can’t be roped up because the rockfall would just cut your rope, and protection points are impossible. It’s 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 kind of climbing gear are you hauling on the technical sections?

Mostly just an ice axe, which I used a lot in the San Juans last spring for self-arrest and to chip steps in icy slopes. I carried a light rope on some sections, but I’ve never used it. I’ll have to go back with gear for a few spots I wasn’t comfortable soloing, like the Cleaver in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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.

I also ran into water trouble. Wild horses found some of my cached jugs and stomped them open. I ended up going two days on a single liter, then drinking this nasty milkshake-like stuff from a muddy cattle pond. It was grim. But yeah, that was my favorite area.

What’s up on the Divide that keeps you going back?

Because the crest itself isn’t on trails, and 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.

What big obstacles lay ahead?

New Mexico has a lot of cruising terrain, but I’ve heard scary stories about armed rancher run-ins, and getting permission [to cross private property] is tough. I haven’t done the Wind Rivers, and I’m looking forward to those the most. The rock is so solid, and every time there’s a thunderstorm, well, that’s just an opportunity to do some fishing. As I go north, the season will get much shorter, and then in Glacier there’s more of that rotten rock.

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.

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