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How Dangerous is the Continental Divide Trail?

hey y'all Dixie here today I want to

address the question how dangerous is

the CD team if you're not familiar with

the CBT or Continental Divide Trail it

is one of the three trails in the u.s.

that is part of what is known as the

triple crown of hiking

it's about 3,100 miles long and spans

from Mexico to Canada

through New Mexico Colorado Wyoming a

little part of Idaho and Montana the

reason I want to talk about this today

is when I started my Triple Crown

journey on the Appalachian Trail I'd

heard that of course the 80 and the PCT

or Pacific Crest Trail would be a

challenge but people talked about the

CDT as if it was just this very

dangerous trail and in the trail of all

trails in the Triple Crown of hiking so

today I want to talk about some of those

fears or dangers that are known to exist

on the CDT and kind of go into where

they as bad as I thought they would be

or as bad as everyone kind of hyped it

up to be the first thing I remember

being warned of was that there is nobody

hiking the CDT and if you look up

statistics you'll see that back in 2016

they estimated that about 150 people

attempted to through hike the CDT

annually in 2018 when I threw hiked

there were 75 people who reported

completing their through hike and

usually through hikes have about a 20%

or so success rate of people who attempt

actually completing the hack so I would

hazard a guess that there are more than

150 people attempting to through hike

each year probably even several hundred

but definitely less than a thousand and

on the 18 PCT there are more than a

thousand attempting to through hike each

year so in comparison to the PCT in 80

there really aren't many hackers out

there now Wow I certainly do agree that

there is safety in numbers and that

having more hackers around you know can

one make you feel more comfortable to

you know there's somebody there if you

do get into a band or get in trouble but

I wouldn't say that being alone

necessarily in and of itself makes the

CDT more dangerous but with that said

just with those numbers alone it doesn't

seem like there that many people out

there but I still did see people almost

daily I saw somebody section hiking

or another through hacker or maybe just

somebody out day hacking especially in

Colorado the people in Colorado love

being outside

they love enjoying hiking mountain

biking climbing so while is in Colorado

I would hazard a guess that I saw

another person every single day and if

not them pretty close to it now there

are areas that aren't as recreational

and you know as beautiful as Colorado

for example the Great Basin in Wyoming

it certainly has its charms in its own

ways but there generally aren't a lot of

people out in the basin just frolicking

around in the deserts and so in these

areas I would certainly say that you

might have to be more aware of your

surroundings you might have to take a

little more precaution than you would

have to on the 80 or PCT or other well

populated trail but there are things

that you could do to mitigate this a

little bit so if you can try to pick a

start date where you know other hikers

are going to be starting you can do some

of that through networking on Facebook

groups so there is a CDT Facebook group

in general and then usually there are

ones for each year so like the class of

2018 or class of 2019 from that you

could kind of gauge when other people

are starting and try to make sure that

you start you know in some kind of

bubble of folks also you could invite a

friend to hike with you that's what I

did I started with perc and Aaron and

while we didn't necessarily stick

together all the time we had a general

idea of where each other was and and

kind of checked up on one another and

also more people are going in a

northbound direction say start Mexico

and finish in Canada versus people

starting in Canada and finishing in

Mexico so if you wanted to make sure to

try to be around more people then I

would definitely recommend going in a

northbound direction and finally if the

CDT kind of freaks you out a little bit

because of the thought of being alone or

camping alone you can always take

something like and in reach that way

you're able to communicate with the

outside world and and feel a little

better you know knowing that somebody

knows you're okay each day and and that

you have people to check in with you can

do that with something like the inReach

where it's a two-way communication or

even a spot device where you can just

kind of push a button and it sends an

automated message to your friends and

family or whoever you choose to receive

that and then both of those have an SOS

button

she did get into danger I think having a

device like that was more important to

me on the CDT because it is the most

remote and lonely of the three trails so

again this doesn't make people magically

appear and be there to hike with you but

it did ease my mind a little bit knowing

that you know even though I was alone I

could still communicate and call for

help if I needed the second thing I

heard about the CDT that kind of freaked

me out is that the trail is not complete

I'm like what the trail isn't complete

so how do you hike it but in December of

2015 it was reported that the CDT is 85%

complete so I had this idea that I was

gonna be like bushwhacking all the time

like walking through a jungle and having

had a hatchet and hack things down but

it really wasn't like that yes there

were some areas where there was not a

defined trail and it was a little

bushwhack II but most the time it was in

the desert where you're standing at a

fence post looking for the next fence

post you know so it wasn't extremely

brushy and and there were times where it

got a little like that

but for the majority of the trail there

was a well-defined path and enough

signage to where I just didn't get

completely lost and a lot of the areas

that are deemed not complete our road

walks but compared to the ATM PCT it is

certainly easier to get turned around on

the CDT it is not a highway like it is

on the other two trails so sometimes

it's kind of questionable exactly where

the trail goes but for that I highly

recommend using gut hook and with gut

hook you can look at the track that they

have in the app that you download to

your phone and see exactly how far from

the trail you are and once you get

turned around so many times and end up

doing extra mileage because you know you

got a mile off trail on another path and

realized you know the the clear path

that you thought was the trail was

actually not in the you know barely

beaten down path was actually the

correct way to go so once you kind of

get a feel for things and you make so

many mistakes you start learning to

check that app a little more often but

nowhere on the CDT did I really feel

like I was gonna get lost and perish in

the wilderness because I couldn't find

my way now on the 80 and PC

it didn't stress me out as much not

having a backup form of navigation on

the CDT I definitely wanted that extra

backup form of navigation so I had the

app on my phone gut hook and then I also

had the inReach that had the CDT in it

so I could also use that if for some

reason my phone died or got crushed and

lost so while guess the trail not being

100% complete could make it a little

more dangerous and a little more easy to

get lost it really was not as bad as I

had heard it would be and as I thought

it would be next I was warned of all of

the exposure on the CDT I heard that I

would be up on ridge lines and I would

be just at the mercy of the wind rain

sleet hail snow and it was all true on

the 80 you can make more mistakes as far

as your gear and equipment because you

have the green tunnel to protect you

somewhat from the elements from the Sun

wind hail all of those things on the PCT

you know not as much there is definitely

more exposure on that especially because

the first 700 miles is desert but it's

like desert it's there still trees there

are still areas that you aren't as

exposed but on the CDT it was certainly

the most exposed of the three trails but

this just means that you have to

properly prepare ahead of time you have

to make sure that you're protected from

the Sun so that means either long

sleeves and long pants or a Sun umbrella

I use Sun gloves

sunscreen a hat sunglasses you know you

just really have to make sure that

you're prepared to deal with that and

then at the flip of a switch deal with

hail hail and your bridges you know are

you prepared mentally to okay if it

starts hailing on me am I going to be in

the mindset that I need to take cover so

I need to go hide under a rock or if I'm

in a place that there is nowhere to

really take cover you know I need to

think okay what do I need to protect the

most probably my head so I need to sit

down put my pack over my head and

protect myself the best that I can you

need to make sure that you can stay warm

so whether that's having gloves or an

extra base layer or

whatever you think that you'll need

depending where on the trail that you

are so just knowing that you're prepared

now how do you do that well you can look

at the gear list that I have a line I'll

have that link in the video description

also other people that have hiked the

CDT

you know check out their gear lists

there are people who are happy to share

their experience but I wouldn't be

hard-headed you know I would I would

make sure to take advice from folks who

have done it before like I said on the

80 I saw a lot of people who are like

yeah I've heard this is suggested but I

don't need that you know and they just

kind of brush it off and the next thing

you know they're getting the thing that

was originally suggested to them and

they're like yeah these people who did

it before successfully were actually

kind of right and I probably should have

listened to that advice so there really

isn't as much room for error on the CDT

like there is on the 80 or even somewhat

on the PCT now the exposure talk kind of

leads us into the next thing which is

lightning I had heard in Colorado at the

time of year that I'd likely be going

through that there would be a lot of

storms rolling in and being at a high

elevation up on an exposed Ridge you're

really setting yourself up for some

danger with lightning again this one

definitely proved to be true all of the

rumors and warnings were absolutely true

I'm not saying that the other trails the

80 PCT or any other trail that you're

interested in hacking doesn't have some

risk of lightning but because there are

so many exposed areas on the CDT and you

know like I said the time of year and

everything I feel like the risk just it

seemed a lot higher and it seemed like I

had to deal with hiding from lightning

more often on the CDT so what is

recommended to protect yourself from

being in a situation where you might get

struck by lightning is to avoid peaks

exposed areas high points anything like

that in the afternoon because it could

be a very beautiful day next thing you

know and afternoon thunderstorm comes

rolling in and you find yourself in a

bad spot so sure they tell you check the

forecast avoid any of these areas

afternoon and you know just don't put

yourself in that situation that's the

general rule of how to deal with

lightning but when you're honest

through hack you can't avoid all of the

exposed areas and Peaks noon and later

because you would just never make it to

Canada on time so the best thing that

you can do if you're at a peak and

suddenly you see the storm rolling in

just go ahead and put your head between

your legs and then kiss your butt

goodbye I'm just kidding there actually

is a lightning stance that they suggest

that I will discuss in a minute but the

idea is if you can take shelter or cover

somewhere to do that now they do tell

you that you don't want to be under the

one highest object or tree or you know

anything like that so if there's like

one tree on a hillside you don't want to

go you know huddle up under that tree to

take cover because chances are the

lightning might hit that tree because

it's the tallest thing in that open area

but if you can seek shelter like in a

3-sided shelter structure if there is

something like that or in a low point

you know in in maybe a more densely

forested area obviously you know get

down to lower ground if you can but if

there is not a prime location to seek

shelter then it is recommended that you

do the lightning stance now the

lightning stance is supposedly the

optimal position to minimize any harmful

side effects of being struck by

lightning so it's supposed to allow the

lightning to travel through your body in

such a way that it does the least amount

of harm to you so you you crouch down on

the balls of your feet with your feet

together and then you're going to duck

your head and cover your ears and that's

supposedly you know covering your ears

protect your hearing somewhat from from

when you're struck I imagine that it

makes a pretty good boom but apparently

there isn't really any evidence that

proves that this is actually effective I

haven't found anything like that if

you'll have I would love for you to

share that in the comments as far as I

know this is all just kind of theory and

what they feel like would be the best

but I don't know that there is actually

anything that says like this actually

does help if you are struck by lightning

so I'm not saying - to not do that but

I'm just saying for myself when I was up

in Colorado on an open Ridgeline and

lightning rolled in I definitely saw

shelter where I could and crouched

behind bushes and stuff if if that's

what I had to do to feel a little bit

better there was one time when my hair

was standing up and it was pretty

obvious that there was some serious

danger and and there were pretty high

chances of me being struck by lightning

in that that moment I probably should

have just gone down into the lightning

pose but I just wanted off the ridge so

I felt for myself the best idea was to

just get low as fast as I could find

tree line and and get down below that

but in a lightning storm how do you know

that you're supposed to seek shelter

like how do you know that it's to that

point the rule of thumb is the 30

seconds 30 minute rule if you see

lightning strike if you see the light

from lightning and within 30 seconds you

hear the rumble then that means that you

should seek shelter or you know get down

low as fast as you can or potentially

the lightning stands and you're supposed

to remain in shelter mode until 30

minutes after the last rumble of thunder

it is important to remember in a

lightning storm you are supposed to

avoid metal objects so be mindful of

things like tent poles are trekking

poles also if you are on an open Ridge

with a group you're supposed to spread

out that way if lightning hits it

doesn't hit everybody and everybody is

laying there unconscious needing CPR you

know that way it just hits one

individual and the other person or

people can come to that person's aid if

need be I did a video previously about

my experiences and protocol with

lightning on the Appalachian Trail it'd

probably be a good idea for me to re-up

date it now that I've been through some

more severe lightning in Colorado but if

you want to check out that lightning

video with some more details I'll add

that in the video description today also

before my experience on the CDT I had

also heard that the water was absolute

garbage or it was very far apart and so

dehydration was something to really be

concerned with I feel like in any

outdoor experience where you have to

carry water and you're not all the time

near water dehydration can be a real

thing so I don't know that it's

necessarily more extreme on the CDT

again come

or to the other two trails I actually

think that I experienced longer carries

on the PCT but on the 80 there is a

water source probably like every four or

five miles so on the CDT I did find that

I went through some carry areas 15 to 20

miles was not abnormal I think on the

CDT you certainly do have to be mindful

of water and when you will get to the

next source on gut hook the app that I

was talking about that I use to navigate

it also has waypoints in there for water

and hikers can comment and say hey this

water source is still running you know

there's still water at such-and-such

Springs that way you can actually look

ahead and not just see that a water

source does exist sometimes but also

find out if it has gone dry or if it

still has flow you do have to get used

to the idea of dry camping on the CDT

it's not really feasible that you will

always be camped next to water so dry

camping is just where you don't have a

water source there at camp so you have

to get water at the source before you

stop and then towed it to wherever

you're camping and it is very important

to stay hydrated at higher elevations to

help with this I use different drink

mixes because sometimes you just get

sick of the way that water tastes or

sometimes when you're drinking out of

the cow ponds of New Mexico in the

desert and it doesn't taste the greatest

even after you filter it then having

some kind of drink mix to just cover up

the gross flavor it helps a little bit

in fact there was a certain type of

drink mix called zip fizz that I really

liked it had all sorts of good stuff in

there for you the flavor was pretty good

and it had almost like a carbonated type

feel to it which zip fizz that way if

you were craving like a coke or

something like that it wasn't quite the

same thing but it was something that was

helping to hydrate you and restore some

electrolytes but also had a little bit

of fizz to it so it was pretty good but

the main thing with dehydration that

applies on any trail that you have you

just need to be conscious that you're

drinking water sometimes you can be

having so much fun and everything's so

pretty and you're distracted that you

don't realize like hey I haven't haven't

drink water in forever

next up is wildlife on the CDT I do feel

like it makes sense to be a bit more

concerned about the wildlife out

there because on the 18 you've got

basically black bears and venomous

snakes is for me at least the main thing

that I was worried about and while both

of those are definitely intimidating

when you start the PCT you add in

mountain ones and then when you start

the CDT

you add in Grizzlies on top of all of

the rest of that so I can certainly see

how on the CDT people would be more

concerned with wildlife than the other

two Triple Crown trails and if you look

up Encounters of those types of animals

you are in far more danger driving to

the terminus to start your thru-hike

then then you really are encountering

those and being attacked or you know

killed by one of those animals on your

through hack I have done videos

specifically on black bears Grizzlies

and mountain lions so I will include

those in the video description that way

this video isn't like five hours long of

me going into all those details but if

you want to learn more about those and

how to minimize your chances of having a

bad experience with those animals then

check those out through hackers for some

reason there isn't a whole lot of

history of them being bitten by venomous

snakes and and I'm actually really

surprised because of how many go through

the trails all the time but it's just

especially rattlesnakes most the time

they're gonna let you know they're there

and if you're just paying attention and

you don't have both ear buds in and

you're aware of your surroundings

a lot of that risk is significantly

reduced I would say the best practice

though is to do your research wherever

you're hiking on the wildlife that

you're going to encounter and the best

way to interact and coexist with them on

the trail

I was also warned of snowy traverses

specifically in the San Juan Mountains

now I'm certainly not going to downplay

snowy traverses it is something that can

be intimidating and at times is for me

more of a mental thing than actually a

you know physical challenge there were a

couple of iffy spots on the CDT this

year but for the most part we got lucky

with the San Juans it just wasn't a real

high snow year and we ended up having to

bypass or you know take an alternate and

didn't get to go through the full extent

of the San Juans because of a fire

closure so this is something to

definitely be taken seriously I would

say if you're planning to hike a CDT and

you

are concerned about snowy traverses

especially in the San Juans then you

know it's important to listen to the

snow reports has it been a high snow

year to listen to some of the locals and

find out you know what sections are

still real bad and which ones aren't if

you check the gut hook app like I've

mentioned before hikers leave comments

for one another in there like I would

definitely recommend still having an ass

axe and micro spikes and the proper gear

because there are a couple of traverses

that you know I feel like it's important

to have that and people leave that

information for one another to help each

other out so there was one pretty

sketchy spot in the San Juans that we

went over and we had been warned about

and I was really glad that we did know

about it because had we gone late in the

afternoon when it was real slushy it

could have been more dangerous so I

wanted to go when the snow was still

pretty firm and I knew that my micro

spikes could get a good bite into the

snow so it's good to know all of those

little tips and tricks if you don't have

a lot of snow experience I would highly

recommend going in with somebody else

that has more experience than you if

possible you can sign up for classes to

kind of help with traversing snow we're

at the minimum at least watch some

YouTube videos and then when you start

getting into snowy sections kind of

practice self arresting and learn how to

do some of that because you don't want

to be in a situation where you're like

well I'll have an ice axe and I have

Micro specs but I don't know how to use

them so I'm just gonna tote them across

the snowy Traverse and you know slide

down and fall to my death and I have the

proper equipment I just didn't know how

to use it properly now on this people

could say to me that I should practice

what I preach because on the PCT when I

hiked it in 2017 it was a very high snow

year and I had no experience with snow

whatsoever but I made a point to not go

in alone to have other people around me

to ask people you know hey do you mind

practicing with me on self arresting I

want to learn how to do that so just

using all of the resources that you can

using your brain taking it slow you know

don't have too much pride if you hit a

point where you're like I don't feel

comfortable with this at my current

level of experience then you know have

enough sense to turn back and either

wait flip ahead come back to that

section later whatever you have to do

but the good news is on the CDT there

are a lot of different alternates there

there are alternates from Mexico to

Canada and you can create your own

alternates as long as you're within 50

miles of the geological divide and you

have a continuous foot path from Mexico

to Canada it is considered a thru-hike

of the CDT so if you did not feel

comfortable with going into the San

Juans there are areas to to bypass and

take alternates if you have to and

finally a big concern of mine on the

trail was hypothermia a lot of folks

think that you have to be in freezing

cold weather like I was at the end of

the ATP CT and CDT to get hypothermia

but the truth is you it doesn't have to

be the winter or even snowy or extreme

cold temperatures to get hypothermia it

just means that your body loses enough

heat that it drops below your normal

temperature significantly enough that it

starts to affect the function of your

body now being in snowy rainy sleety

exposed windy conditions certainly can

increase your chances of having

hypothermia something else to be mindful

of in regards to hypothermia on the CD T

is how drastically the temperature can

change from daytime to nighttime now

this isn't just early in the spring or

late in the fall but also in the

summertime when you're at higher

elevations like you see on the CDT you

can be hiking during the day and be

completely comfortable but then at night

it really gets pretty cool and say

you're hiking into the evening you stop

and take a break your clothes are just

matted with sweat but you don't really

think about it you could potentially put

yourself into a situation where you're

dealing with hypothermia so it's just

something to think about and something

you might want to evaluate if you do

stop for a break and you've got a lot of

sweat on you from the day and the

temperatures have already dropped I

learned for myself that it's important

to have the proper layers you have to

have enough clothing and an extra set of

dry clothing to be able to sleep in at

night you need to have enough clothing

to hike in and stay warm while you're

hiking I think having dry socks even

things like having proper waterproof

gloves to keep your hands warm and again

all of the stuff that I used is in

my gear list which will be in the video

description also it's important to know

the signs of hypothermia so if you

notice that one of your buddies is

constantly shivering they become

confused or kind of disoriented if they

seem sleepy or they're being irrational

or just kind of sluggish you know those

are things to tune into if you think

that there's a chance that they could

have hypothermia I definitely read up on

hypothermia how to recognize it and make

sure you're prepared to prevent that

from happening

the best that you can be I guess the

risk of this could be a little bit

higher but the risk is constantly there

when you're doing things outdoors so I

don't think that it necessarily makes

the CDT all-in-all more dangerous those

are the main points or fears or warnings

that I heard before starting the CDT and

I think that it's important to remember

that any experience outdoors can be

dangerous there are risks involved with

anything after you step out your front

door and I mean even in your house I

don't prefer to live my life sheltered I

feel like taking risks and having

adventure is is part of living and

feeling alive I don't think that it's so

dangerous that it can't be somebody's

first through hike in fact if you look

at halfway to anywhere blog he does

surveys for the PCT and CDT each year so

in 2018 the year that I hike 20% of the

people who started were starting their

first through hike on the CDT and if you

saw CS or famous in my videos those are

two of the folks that were starting

their first through hacks and Aaron just

to one up it was his first backpacking

experience ever and even though the CDT

is kind of viewed as the scary trail of

the AC PCT and CDT 60% of the people who

started last year started alone now I'm

not downplaying this trail at all or

saying like oh it's so easy it's like a

little stroll in the park

it is a difficult trail that has its own

challenges but I don't think that it's

necessarily significantly more dangerous

than 80 or PCT but I do feel that it is

worth taking some extra precautions like

carrying an in reach spot device or

personal locator beacon

and making sure that you are truly

prepared to deal with the elements but I

think in the wilderness in general that

you can minimize most risk by just using

your brain and making smart decisions

all right well that is all I have for

you all today if you like this video or

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