The Beginning of the CT vs the AT

The Time in-Between

I’m sure this is a common occurrence, where after you finish a thru-hike, the only thing your brain wants to do is reflect on that hike and plan the next one. At this point, I’ve spent almost a year doing just that; thinking about my AT hike and planning for the CT. And trying to focus on my undergrad work. 

Despite some hiccups, the time has come, and I made it to the CT. Immediately I have been struck by how different it is from the Appalachian Trail.


First Impressions: How are these trails the same?

Trail Community Support:

The AT is such a long-established trail, there is no shortage of trail angels and off trail support. Everywhere from coolers of trail magic, to friendly people offering you showers and rides. Trail angel support and enthusiasm has been no different on the CT. I flew into Denver after having a twice delayed flight because of weather. I had connected with a trail angel a couple weeks before who had offered to let me stay over, and then drive me to the trail head in the morning. She kept consistent contact with me throughout the day of travel, and also gave me fuel and brought me to the grocery store for free.

Trail Towns and Hitching: 

A feeling of nostalgia washed over me when I was dropped off in Jefferson Colorado. The sight of packs leaned up against the building with tents drying in the grass was such a familiar image, despite not recognizing any of the packs. And the now natural process of hitching and telling tales of the trails to the excited driver of the vehicle was no different. 

Emotions of the beginning:

The first few days of any backpack trip feel ~different~ than the rest of the hike. You are just getting comfortable, your brain is still wired for regular life, and when you reflect back on the trail, those first days exist as a separate time. The first week of the AT I felt incredibly introspective and unsure of my reasons for being there. So far the CT has been no different. 

How do these trails differ?

Physicality of the trail:

AT: The AT (if you do the approach) begins with the infamous staircase at Amicalola Falls. With your new thru-hiker AT tag clipped to your pack, you pass under the arch. It feels very official. Once you step foot into the woods and the white blazes begin, you are pretty much surrounded by trees for the next few months.

CT: The CT trailhead is at Waterton Canyon; you cross the street, through a gate, and your hike begins. And you walk six miles down on a gravel road, hugging the river.  It felt less official, like I was going for a day hike. There are several pit toilets, people walking dogs, and secure garbage cans. The Colorado trail is much more sun exposed, as you frequently walk through old burn zones and meadows. 

On Trail Community:

AT: A big part of the AT is the community aspect, and this is much to do with the shelters. I was nervous about being on the AT alone, but after the first few nights where 20-30 people were hanging out together at shelters, that worry quickly faded. I feel like I was talking non-stop for the first few days of the AT.

CT: The CT doesn’t have shelters, which I think definitely makes it easier to hike solo. The first night, second, and third night I camped by myself, and spent most of the days hiking alone. The fourth night I was pointedly asked why I didn’t wash my hiking clothes with the nearby stream water. 

Trail names:

AT: When you start hiking the AT, you have two obligations: walk north, and get a trail name. By day three, I’d probably been given three separate names before one really stuck. The trail name is everything.

CT: When I first introduced myself with my trail name, I got some weird looks. It seemed like either people did not have trail names yet, weren’t aware of the trail tradition, or hadn’t hiked trails in the US. It wasn’t until I ran into another couple who had done the AT that I didn’t feel weird using my trail name. 

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Comments 3

  • Earnest Keiser : Jul 28th

    CT? Where is that? Never heard of it.
    There is a long trail called the ‘Continental Divide Trail’ but that is known as the CDT.
    No one would use CT to mean the CDT trail that would be oddly lazy.

    • Clara : Jul 28th

      Oh! CT is the Colorado Trail

  • Paul : Jul 29th

    I’ll be interested to follow your hike. I’m also an AT NOBO Class of ’22 and have tentatively started planning a CT hike for ’24.


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