Wisdom from 2019 Continental Divide Trail Thru-Hikers (Pt. I)

Anyone interested in hearing from some Triple Crowners? Well, you have come from the right place! Today we’re chatting with three who have achieved the rare glory of having hiked the AT, PCT, and the CDT. Check out what they have to say about wrapping up the CDT and how it compares to the rest of the Triple Crown.

Check out the rest of the series here

Wisdom from 2018 Thru-Hikers

Wisdom from 2019 Pacific Trail Thru-Hikers (Pt. I)

Akuna” |  April 1 – September 15 (NOBO)

Favorite trail town, and why?

Steamboat Springs because it was 4th of July and it was the first time we got to hang out without other hikers. Over 10 of us got hosted by a local couple and had a great 4th.

What did you do to prepare for your hike that you think directly affected the outcome?

I hiked as much as I could in the off-season even if it was in town so I could get my legs trail ready

What were your luxuries on-trail?

My luxury items included a pillow from Klymit and a battery-operated pump for my sleep pad by Therm-a-Rest.

What piece of gear did you bring but not need? What piece of gear did you wish you had?

I used everything that I brought. Every now and then I wished I had camp shoes.

What’s your best wildlife story from your thru-hike?

One night in Montana, a deer keep trying to enter my tent over and over. Kept me up all night.

Did you hike more in a group or solo?

Group.

What was your trail family like?

My girlfriend and I started and finished together, both completing our Triple Crowns.

What was your favorite part of hiking in a group?

Hearing about her day and the things she saw that I didn’t and having someone to motivate me on the tough days.

Alone?

Zoning out and just focusing on all the things that pop into my head that I normally put off.

What did you turn to, on a rough day, to keep yourself motivated and driven?

Good audiobooks to kind go somewhere else in my mind. Game of Thrones books are bomb.

What do you miss most about the trail (life)?

The quiet. Being home, there’s always noise and hustle and bustle. Sensory overload.

What is one piece of advice you would give aspiring thru-hikers?

There are many suck moments in a thru-hike, but ultimately, this is supposed to be fun. If you’re not enjoying it, it’s time to make some adjustments and maybe even take a day in town to do something fun that’s not hiking related.

What do you think changed the most about your personality or outlook on life, from this experience?

I think since this was my fourth consecutive season of hiking that my personality did change from what it was. I feel, if anything, reinforced that I can accomplish great things.

What sets the CDT apart from other long-distance trails (for you)?

The CDT is a beautiful trail like the others, but I felt more isolated on this trail than the others. With a heavy snow year and people having to flip meant undecided and I would go long stretches before we saw any other hikers.

The CDT is the least hiked of the Triple Crown trails in the US. What made you decide to do it, and how does it compare to other trails (if you’ve done them)?

I hiked the PCT and the AT already and had heard about the CDT being a brutal hike, and I wanted the challenge. Also, the CDT runs through some beautiful states that I had never visited, so hiking it was a no-brainer for me.

Jeff “Ducky” Leeson | April 30 to August 30 NOBO

Favorite trail town, and why?

Grand Lake, because they had this pseudo YMCA building, they let hikers use with air conditioning, Wi-Fi, La-Z-Boy chairs, and Mario Kart. Soooo nice on a hot day.

What did you do to prepare for your hike that you think directly affected the outcome?

Making my baseweight light greatly lessened the chance I had for injuries.

What were your luxuries on-trail?

  • Big Sky Dream Sleeper inflatable pillow (1.6 ounces)
  • Cook kit (9 ounces)
  • Sony a5100 + 30mm f1.4 (21 ounces)
  • Nail clippers (.5 ounces)

What piece of gear did you bring but not need? What piece of gear did you wish you had?

I had an extra pole for my poncho tarp that I never used, and—I wouldn’t bring it—sometimes I was jealous of my buddy’s sunbrella.

What’s your best wildlife story from your thru-hike?

There was just a random black bear waltzing through this luxury hotel’s outdoor dining area in Grand Lake. A weird sight to behold for sure!

Did you hike more in a group or solo?

I always had a group, and we’d decide where to camp that night, but I’d hike through the day by myself most of the time. It’s nice to go at your own pace.

What was your trail family like?

The best. I hiked with two sisters who attempted a calendar triple the year prior and couldn’t be described as anything but badass. I also hiked with a guy going for his Triple Crown, one who had previously done the PCT and then one girl who decided to do the CDT as her first trail. The wide variety of experiences made it so fun because everyone had a different style of hiking.

What was your favorite part of hiking in a group?

Recapping the day at camp and knowing that you’ll have their back, and they’ll have yours if anything goes disastrously wrong on-trail.

Alone?

Being able to yell at the top of your lungs when you summit big peaks.

What did you turn to, on a rough day, to keep yourself motivated and driven?

I knew if I quit, I’d definitely regret it six months down the road. I never had the thought of quitting just because of that.

What do you miss most about the trail (life)?

Not knowing what is going to happen that day and feeling accomplished when you get to camp.

What is one piece of advice you would give aspiring thru-hikers?

I have hiked all three trails. I could give thousands of pieces of advice, but there are two that I place above all else:

  1. IT’S ALL MENTAL. Walking is easy, but how do you deal with sleeping in the same tent, eating roughly the same foodm and walking every day for three to five MONTHS?? In the end, you and you alone are the only one that gets you off-trail (or injury, see 2)
  2. GO LIGHT. Seriously, it’s incredibly easy to have a full-comfort, three-season kit plus luxuries at a 10-pound baseweight for under $1,000. There’s literally no excuse not to go light. Many first-timers go heavy, which might be fine for the first two months, but they don’t fully realize how long a thru-hike is and what toll it can take on your body. This is the number one thing by far that leads to injuries.

What do you think changed the most about your personality or outlook on life, from this experience?

Just the fact that the sky is the limit on what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it.

What sets the CDT apart from other long-distance trails (for you)?

It’s just big, vast, open, and exposed. There are a lot more “annoyances” hikers have to deal with than the other two long trails that I think would deter first-time thru-hikers, but I don’t think it’s that much harder than the other two that people make it out to be

The CDT is the least hiked of the Triple Crown trails in the US. What made you decide to do it and how does it compare to other trails (if you’ve done them)?

Had to get that Triple Crown, babyyy. I loved it. I loved the challenge and the fact that the vast majority of hikers had a thru-hike under their belt and knew what was up. If you liked the PCT, you would most likely love this trail as well.

Kate “Waterfall” Yugo | April 8 – September 28 (NOBO)

Favorite trail town and why?

Old Faithful Village. I love watching the muggles/tourists and the crazy reactions I get from people who have no idea the CDT exists when I tell them I walked here from Mexico. Also, there is a delicious AYCE buffet.

What did you do to prepare for your hike that you think directly affected the outcome?

I’ve never really prepared for any of my hikes, but I definitely don’t recommend that. When I started, all I knew was how much food and water I needed to start with and where in New Mexico, I was sending a resupply box. Everything else will work itself out. I’m not much of a planner, so this is usual for me, and I don’t think it affected the outcome of my hike. Although maybe if I planned more, I wouldn’t have fallen so far behind that I wasn’t able to finish without taking a short cut or alternate. The short cut was great, though, so I really can’t complain.

What were your luxuries on-trail?

I carried a journal that I wrote in every day. I carried one on all of my trails, and I am so thankful I did. It is the best way to look back on the experience and know exactly how I was feeling at the time.

What piece of gear did you bring but not need? What piece of gear did you wish you had?

I used everything I brought with me. After this many miles, I have my gear pretty figured out. The only thing I wished I had was a personal locator beacon when I was alone in the extreme snow conditions in Colorado. Luckily I made it through mostly unscathed.

What’s your best wildlife story from your thru-hike?

I was hiking in the rain when out of nowhere, a moose and her calf came running down the trail at me. I had to jump off into the trees, and they stopped only a few feet away from me before running off again.

Did you hike more in a group or solo?

I hiked mostly alone, especially after the end of New Mexico. Once we hit snow a lot of people flipped or took time off. The CDT is already less populated so people became very scarce. I like hiking alone for the freedom and independence, but this trail was the first time that I wished there were more people around.

What did you turn to, on a rough day, to keep yourself motivated and driven?

Music. I can always count on music to get me to the top of the climb that seems impossible.

What do you miss most about the trail (life)?

The freedom of carrying your home on your back. I am currently still traveling, but with a suitcase, and I feel so tied down because of it. I can’t just follow Guthook and walk to wherever I need to go. I’m still trying to adjust even though it’s been over a month.

What is one piece of advice you would give aspiring thru-hikers?

Stay off the Facebook group for the trails. I couldn’t sleep sometimes because I got so freaked out by all the fear-mongering when I was in New Mexico. Then I would go on fear induced shopping sprees at 3 a.m. Just stay away.

What do you think changed the most about your personality or outlook on life, from this experience?

I have turned to thru-hiking as a way to escape from the expectations of society and living the life that I am told I am supposed to live. I thought I learned that lesson, but I think that now I’m stuck following the expectations of the thru-hiking community. For example, I skipped about 50 miles of road walking on the CDT, and I do not regret it because it helped to keep me from quitting. However, I feel weird saying I hiked the CDT because I don’t want to claim I did something I didn’t, and I don’t want other people saying that about me. This was my CDT hike, and I have no plans of going back to walk along highways to fill in the gaps (ew). The only reason I feel this way is because of the expectations and reactions of others, so I think I am still working on accepting that I can do what I want, and it doesn’t matter what others think about it.

What sets the CDT apart from other long-distance trails (for you)?

The CDT was the most difficult trail I’ve ever done. I learned a lot of new skills on this trail, including snowshoeing and route finding. This trail is still very wild, and while that can be frustrating at times that is what makes it special. The best part of the CDT was all the alternates. I ended up doing around 700 miles on alternates, and those were some of my favorite parts. On other trails, if you take an alternate, sometimes people will say you can’t call yourself a thru-hiker (cough AT cough). People on the CDT not only accept it but are constantly creating new routes. I ended up taking a new route based on the recommendation of a hiker I talked to for 10 minutes, and I cannot picture that happening on any of the other Triple Crown trails.

The CDT is the least hiked of the Triple Crown trails in the US. What made you decide to do it and how does it compare to other trails (if you’ve done them)?

I had to do it because I did the AT and the PCT. You either do one or all of them, right? Honestly, I just love backpacking and have no plans to stop. I imagine the CDT now is similar to what the PCT was many years ago. I wanted to experience the trail before it got more popular because I wanted the challenge and to learn how to be better at route finding. I definitely got what I wanted.

Sincere thanks and congratulations to Akuna, Ducky, and Waterfall. Finishing a Triple Crown is an incredible achievement, the Holy Grail of thru-hiking, and they should be very proud of that accomplishment.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 2

What Do You Think?