Calendar-Year Triple Crown — My “Plan”
About the Calendar-Year Triple Crown (CYTC)
The Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail are collectively known as the “Triple Crown” of hiking, so the Calendar-Year Triple Crown is walking all three in the same calendar year (e.g. 2024). Completing the whole thing involves hiking around 7,500 on-trail miles, plus many bonus miles to detour around closures, resupply in town, and see cool stuff.
- Appalachian Trail (AT) ~2,200 miles
- Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) ~2,650 miles
- Continental Divide Trail (CDT) ~2,750 miles
(Since I haven’t hiked any of these trails yet, I’ve included photos from a few Triple Crown trail states — New Hampshire is up top.)
Why the CYTC?
I’d been reading up on all three trails as I considered a long thru-hike but didn’t have a strong front-runner. As soon as I heard about the Calendar-Year Triple Crown, however, it captured my imagination in a way that none of the trails had individually. For some reason a goal that I very likely won’t achieve is much more enticing than one that I could probably manage. I also love the idea of seeing so many different environments over the course of a year and having periods of solitude along with periods of abundant camaraderie.
As a kid, one of the soothing daydreams I often visited when trying to calm my mind at bedtime was that I’d been selected to be part of a group of children who would walk across the country. Remembering that fantasy 30 years later, and recognizing that I’m now an adult who can choose myself for such an adventure, gave me the inspiration I needed to commit to a CYTC attempt in 2024 rather than deferring it to a more convenient time that may never arrive.
I did consider literally walking across the country, perhaps on the American Discovery Trail, but since I love mountains and hate long road walks, the CYTC seemed like a better fit. I’ve also lived in states along all three trails, so the mix of new and familiar landscapes, ecosystems, and local cultures adds to the appeal.
Other than walking 7,500+ miles in a year, the biggest challenge to completing a CYTC hike is the weather. The main thru-hiking seasons for all three trails overlap, and the PCT and CDT in particular have long sections that are considered unhikable at least 5 months of the year due to avalanche danger.
The PCT and CDT do have sections that can be hiked early or late in the year, but I’m hoping to minimize hopping around between trails because that sounds expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive the flow of a thru-hike. Therefore, my “plan” (in quotes because I know I’ll need to change it many times) is to do a flip-flop hike of the Appalachian Trial early and late in the year, leaving peak hiking season available for the PCT and CDT.
Although I’ve been aware of the AT for as long as I can remember, I had written off hiking my local long trail for many years because I find summer to be the least pleasant season for a walk in the Appalachian woods. Researching the CYTC made the AT much more appealing by introducing me to the possibility of hiking it “off-season” and avoiding the humidity, poison ivy, and biting insects. I love the cold and snow, and am excited to attempt to hike the northern half of the AT in winter despite the significantly increased difficulty level.
Other than hiking solo, and perhaps because I usually hike solo, I’m pretty cautious and have already accepted that I may ultimately encounter conditions where the risks outweigh the rewards and bailing to a more southerly stretch of trail is my best option. I’ve also given myself a lot of time for this section to account for dramatically reduced daily mileage farther north and days spent awaiting good weather windows, while hopefully still making it to Baxter State Park before Katahdin closes for the spring at the end of March.
Pacific Crest & Continental Divide Trails
If weather and snowpack allow, I’d like to hike the PCT before the CDT to take advantage of the secret season in the Sierra and to feel less time pressure on the CDT to prioritize fast alternates over fun alternates. Also, wildfire risk usually increases over the course of the summer, so I’d rather focus first on the PCT, which doesn’t have a lot of easy reroute options, and then move to the CDT, where it’s usually possible find alternates that allow a continuous footpath around any closures.
Very Tentative Itinerary
Knowing that many kinds of luck would need to converge for this “plan” to become reality, and that my body would need to adapt very well to thru-hiking, here’s my current CYTC schedule:
- January to March: first half of northbound AT flip-flop from Harper’s Ferry to Katahdin
- April to July: northbound Pacific Crest Trail
- July to November: southbound Continental Divide Trail
- November to December: second half of northbound AT flip-flop from Georgia to Harper’s Ferry
A feature of this itinerary that I especially like is that I would be starting my journey by hiking north away from home (PA) and then finishing by hiking back home from Georgia at the end.
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