What Worked and What Didn’t – CDT Edition
Normally, I’d leave this post until last, but I think it might actually be more helpful than my usual ramblings. I’m also including a “Needs Improvement” category, in addition to what worked (✅) and what didn’t (❌).
Tent zipper + Candle wax ✅
In my experience, lightweight tent zippers start to wear out after about 70 nights. Prior to the CDT, I lubricated the zipper of my REI Quarter Dome SL1 with candle wax, and it lasted an extra 50 nights before starting to fail. I also used the zipper as little as possible, and I’m sure that helped.
Gregory Baltoro 75, size “M” backpack ❌
I replaced the backpack that I bought about 15 years ago, and then didn’t do a shakedown hike. I’m not sure it would have mattered, because I didn’t have problems until I’d been on the CDT for about two weeks. At that point, my new pack really started giving me trouble.
I’m normally a 32″ waist, but lose about an inch per week for the first three weeks of a thru-hike. After two weeks, I’d tightened the pack’s hip-belt as much as I could, but it wasn’t enough. The pack sat too low, was really uncomfortable, and although it’s highly configurable, no amount of pack adjustment can mitigate the effects of a hip belt that’s one inch too large. To make matters worse, both sides of the hip-belt have an extra length of padding which is held in place by a piece of Velcro. This piece of Velcro is too small to handle a 45 to 50 pound load, and I found that it gradually started slipping within an hour of hiking. It made the hip-belt-too-large problem much worse.
After finishing the CDT, I measured the pack’s hip-belt. Even though the pack I bought was a “medium”, it had min/max waist measurements that matched the “large” size. The devil really is in the details. The only good thing I can say about this pack is that it has all the right pockets in all the right places for all the stuff I like to take with me. I won’t be using it again though.
Glacier National Park Backcountry Permits ❌
Many of Glacier National Park’s backcountry campgrounds only have three or four sites, and typically two of those sites can be reserved from March 15th onwards. Permits for the remaining sites are available in-person, one day in advance. The limits are two tents per site, four people per permit.
Before starting my hike, I checked HalfwayAnywhere‘s data and saw that most SOBOs would likely start the CDT around my start-date of June 21st. What I didn’t consider was that, in addition to all the SOBOs, there’d be a crowd of NOBOs who flipped up to the Canadian border because of Colorado’s snowpack. And because Montana’s snow melted early in 2023, plenty of other backpackers flocked to Glacier NP in June.
By the time I arrived, there were no camping permits available for almost a week. A big thank-you to the ranger at Two Medicine who printed out a list of available campsites and did her best to help me find a route through the park. Unfortunately, we couldn’t thread that particular needle, so I had to start southbound from Two Medicine.
I asked the ranger why there were no permits available for six or seven days, given that walk-in permits are only issued one day in advance. Her theory was that people had requested itineraries of at least six nights in length. Regular backpackers, I imagine. Thru-hikers typically travel through GNP quicker than that.
Thru-hikers south of the park mentioned that some GNP campgrounds had too many people, while others had empty sites. As the CDT becomes more popular, permits will become more of a bottleneck, so it was frustrating to hear that sites might have been reserved but not used.
Two Medicine Campground ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The walk-in sites at Two Medicine Campground aren’t actually walk-in. You might think you’d be able to show up, deposit some cash for an overnight stay, and pitch your tent. You’d be wrong. You can only pay for a campsite using recreation.gov, and there’s no cellphone service in the valley. The nearby General Store has WiFi, but it’s only for credit card transactions. They do have a landline that, if you ask nicely, they’ll let you use to make a campground reservation. If you’re outside office hours though, you’re out of luck.
As I wandered around Two Medicine Campground at sunset, asking potential thru-hikers if they had space on their permit, I noticed that half of the campsites were empty. I remembered something the ranger said earlier that afternoon, “We just don’t have the budget of the more popular National Parks.”
Two Medicine campground would probably make more money if it had a low-tech payment option. I’m pretty sure it used to.
I used FarOut on the PCT and Arizona Trail, and it was equally indispensable on the CDT. In addition to the redline (CDT), there’s navigation data for the most popular alternates. You can also now access your maps from a web-browser on a desktop PC, which would have helped me plan my hike, if I’d known about it. When figuring out your resupply strategy, I recommend that you read the comments for each of your selected towns. If I’d known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have chosen to resupply in Wisdom, MT. (It’s a very nice, but very small town. More details in a future post.)
Just because the app makes navigation convenient, it doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. I expected CDT waypoints to be as well organized as the PCT and AZT, but found that wasn’t always the case. Most of the waypoints originally came from Bear Creek Survey, but many have been added or modified since then. I encountered the same two waypoint-related problems time and time again.
- Waypoints with duplicated or almost-identical coordinates. This effectively hides one waypoint behind another waypoint. If the coordinates are almost identical, only by zooming-in on the map can you see multiple, close-proximity waypoints. If the coordinates are duplicated, no amount of zoom will separate them. (In which case, select the waypoint and look for a “0 MILE” distance to the next/previous waypoint.) In my opinion, duplicated/almost-identical waypoints should be combined into one.
- So, having combined them, what gets displayed on the map? I contacted FarOut Customer Support and was informed that what’s displayed depends on the primary designation of the waypoint. The primary designation might be a water source, a junction, a parking area, etc. – but it isn’t consistent or predictable. Personally, I think there should be a strict order of precedence with “junction” being the most important. (This is a navigation app, after all.) You might disagree, so being able to change the order of precedence would be helpful.
Unfortunately, fixing these waypoint issues will take a lot of work, so it’s probably not going to happen. Customer Support did provide me with a work-around though. Basically, I should have been making use of FarOut’s waypoint filters. I didn’t need them on the PCT or AZT, so it didn’t occur to me to use them on the CDT.
If you find (or have found) FarOut bugs or errors, email [email protected] and let them know. Provide specific examples, screenshots, and as much detail as you can.
Avenza, with Ley maps ✅
You might want to take a CDT alternate that isn’t detailed in FarOut. I used the Avenza navigation app with Jonathan Ley’s maps and didn’t get lost once. I did end up deleting all of the CDTC maps from Avenza though. The app was extremely slow when trying to load such a long list.
Bear Creek’s Waypoints ❌
My backup navigation device on the CDT was a Garmin GPSMAP 64. I loaded it with waypoints, modified to work correctly on the Garmin, from Bearcreek Survey’s website. The data are from 2020, and the CDT has been re-routed in several places since then. (Examples: north of Cuba, NM; south of Lake Ann Pass, CO; west of Brooks Lake, WY.)
When the weather turned bad, I put my phone in a Ziploc bag and tried using the Garmin. I quickly found that it wasn’t much help. Waypoint data on its own isn’t sufficient for navigating the CDT. What I really needed was “track” data indicating the exact location of the trail.
When I got back from the CDT, I traced out its route (and some alternates) using a mapping website. I’ve added the tracks to the waypoint data I took with me on the CDT, and you can find it here. Keep in mind that the location of these tracks comes from maps, and it’s not as precise as the track displayed in FarOut. It should be sufficient to find your way back to the CDT when you miss a junction, or the trail disappears among the hoofprints in the middle of a swampy meadow.
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