Hiking with Frankenstein

The snow conditions on the CDT this year are forcing us to get pretty creative with our routes. In my last post I discussed how many of us hikers were trying to solve the Colorado problem for ourselves—whether to go into the San Juans, whether to flip up to Wyoming, whether to just turn the hike into a southbound journey and head up to Canada. In the end, I chose an option that hadn’t occurred to me before, but is definitely a more Frankenstein-ish version of the trail than I ever thought I’d end up doing.

When I left Ghost Ranch and hiked into Cumbres Pass, I spent four days hiking alone, postholing and snowshoeing, and “enjoying” three to four thunderstorms a day. I improvised and snowshoed cross-country when lightning kept me off of ridgelines, and I completed New Mexico and made it to Colorado. The weather I had was just bad luck, but the combination of conditions left me feeling less than great about proceeding on the high route.

After a lot of discussion with other hikers in Chama, I decided to take the Great Divide Alternate, which is essentially the mountain bike route that runs east of the San Juans and then bridges back to the CDT at Monarch Pass. I was worried I would be disappointed on that route, but the scenery was gorgeous and it still ran up to Elwood Pass, so I was able to get back up to 11,000 feet shortly after that for scenic, snowy mountain views.

I did, however, worry about reconnecting with the CDT too early. There were some reports that the section right before Monarch Pass was really sketchy, and so I decided to cut the Great Divide Alternate short and road walk into Salida. I wasn’t super happy about that, but it ended up being pretty fun passing through a few small towns that I would probably otherwise never see.

I didn’t flip to another part of the trail for timing reasons, so my goal is to continue to find ways to move north, hopefully with more trail and less road. After once again leveraging the hive mind, I’ve decided to hike the Colorado Trail up to Twin Lakes. It parallels the CDT at a lower elevation, so should be a bit more pleasant to hike. I’ll then rejoin the regular CDT and see how it goes. If you want to see all of the details of the route I took, and will take, you can check out my detailed trail journal. You can also see more photos there, or on Instagram at @UnfetteredFootsteps.

It was hard for me to make these decisions. I was happy to maintain my continuous footsteps from Mexico to Canada, but I hated to miss the San Juans and some of the high elevation views. That said, I know my limits and, given the circumstances, I think I’m making sound choices. I’m super excited to get off of roads and back onto trail tomorrow!

I’ve heard it said before that the CDT requires patience and adaptation. That couldn’t be more clear at this juncture! My thru-hike is starting to feel a little like hiking with Frankenstein. Every night I review my route and continue to patch it together and try to make it stick so that I can continue to hike north. I’m hoping for a little less Mary Shelley and a little more Robert Frost: that, in the end, the road less traveled will make all the difference. We shall see.

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